Looking back at my PGDE, I realised at how useful reflection is, and whilst we may do it in our heads, there is a benefit to writing it all down. Sometimes, I still fall into the trap. Mine is more showing consequences of not reflecting and the reasons why I didn’t at the time. Because I am nervous in my lessons, I have found that I have an unfortunate ability to talk too much and not give clear instructions sometimes. I have opted for the plan, implement, reflect process as I understand it! As Scrivener (1994, p.25) points out when he first started teaching ‘I found it hard to worry about the ‘bigger’ questions until I had gained at least some initial confidence in the basic mechanics of running activities and working with students’, which I have also found sometimes, even after a few years of being out in the big bad world of teaching on your own.
I decided to use a warmer activity that we had done in one of our lessons with our tutor Karen, mainly because I found it enjoyable, and I saw the benefit that this activity was to take lots of pictures to elicit how the students feel about learning literacy. I had a quiet class of 3, with one ESOL E1 learner who had been unexpectedly rough sleeping for a few weeks (when he has previously come to class, he has been eager, although not accurate), a L1 learner who won’t write and a L1 learner who is arguably consolidating E3 but has recently passed an E3 Functional Skills qualification. Then the learners were to move on to an activity where they complete sentence starters ‘Learning is…/I like to learn…/learn best when…’ One learner picked a picture of an eye test, reporting that learning literacy is ‘knowing your ABCs and then trying to make sense of the bigger picture. Impressed, I asked my ESOL learner why he chose a picture. He said he chose a picture of the docks because he likes Liverpool. The other learner refused to pick a picture or get involved. This happens every now and again, and I usually set a productive writing task using their lives as a stimulus. Usually, these are the learners who have little intention of coming back to class and can be disruptive to the rest of the group (edit: I was feeling frustrated this day. The learners I work with often aren’t in a position where literacy is the highest priority and I have a high drop-out rate). Last week I had a list of questions, with the subject omitted, had the students fold the paper in 3 to hide the questions and write their name on the sheet before passing it to their left. They then continued to write their name in the next question. They then had to open it up, guess what the answer to the questions were, then go and ask other students what their answers would have been.
I noticed because of the lack of focus my learners had as a group, it was difficult to elicit discussion about their pictures and also after they’d finished writing their sentences. The learners were not interested in each other, or the activity at all. I noticed that my instructions may not have been clear as they students seemed to be confused about what they had to do and also seemed bored of having to write their name ten times. This stage seemed to drag on a little too. The students asked each other questions to find out if they were right or not. The activity ended up successful in the class, but left me wondering the purpose as it seemed difficult from start to finish.
In the first warmer:
1. I could have changed the activity when I knew the learners I had. Saying that though, I don’t regret doing the activity as to encourage group dynamics in future, changing activities to non-discussion ones probably isn’t the best idea if I actually want them to develop their speaking and listening skills.
2. Appropriateness: I knew before I undertook the activity that the learners aren’t familiar with working with each other. I knew the ESOL learner might find it difficult, but thought with explanation it would be ok. I didn’t anticipate a learner being completely disinterested and under the influence of alcohol.
3. I need to discuss with the drop in service the tyoe of learner that is appropriate. It is difficult though as I do not want to exclude any learner from participating. Sometimes because they are not in the right frame of mind for a session, and lack their own motivation, it has a serious impact of the progress made in the session which is always difficult to manage.
With the second warmer, on reflection I could see a number of problems:
1. Give students clearer instructions, INCLUDING PURPOSE: by setting up the activity better/simplifying it/writing instructions on the board ‘pass to your left’.
2. Clarification/classroom management: Ensure that students know what they have to do next by asking a student to tell me before letting them get on with the activity, make sure everyone is listening to the explanation.
3. Appropriateness: The students knew each other better than I thought, so choose activities carefully. Maybe a simpler warmer would be more appropriate. I can also see that what I found enjoyable when I’ve done the activity before, students may not!
4. Time management: If clearer instructions are given, the activity would not have lasted so long. I could also introduce a time limit for the learners to complete the activity in.
Plan & implement
In different activities in the following lessons, I had planned to write down and give clearer instructions to students. I asked a learner to tell me what they had to do before letting them continue with an activity. I had alas decided that dependant on the activity, I would choose either to give, or not to give time limits, depending on the purpose. For warmers, I need to continue to introduce time limits. I spoke to the drop in and discussed the referrals up to the class that they make. I am hopeful this will be taken forward, however I am still not comfortable where the whether a learner is allowed to participate line lies. We have our code of conduct (below) however we are also operating on an outreach basis and also have to comply with the venue’s rules. In this particular drop-in, it is for rough sleepers. Whilst it isn’t a wet drop-in, many clients may be under the influence, suffer from mental health problems, health problems and are waiting to see the nurse (the same night as my class) rough sleep, are hungry, disengaged, and have one or more than one of these challenges. It is easy to see why the environment and their situation in general may not be conducive to learning. This doesn’t make me want to try less, but be more assertive and confident in my teaching.
Code of conduct
• Participate in classes and have a positive attitude towards learning
• Treat everyone with equal respect, courtesy and consideration
• Under no circumstance to display racist or sexist behaviour or language
• To respect the learning environment and share resources
• To respect confidentiality in a group setting
• Under no circumstances to possess or be under the influence of alcohol or drugs
• Under no circumstances to engage in any illegal or offensive activity
• Under no circumstances to display abusive or aggressive behaviour towards anyone
By writing down my instructions and staging them better, I have found this has helped the students understand what they have to do better and the lesson flowed better. By learners repeating what they had to do, it helped me to see whether I needed to step in or take a step back and let them get on with it. Time management was improved and I found it a useful tool to ask students how long they needed as it helped me to get to know the students and their capabilities a little better, improving my formative assessment too. I have also found a quote that I like. It’s a little wordy but when I started writing this post, I was worried whether I have actually improved on anything but this showed me that it becomes easier to find and analyse practice. This is taken from Scrivener (1994, p.19). It comes at the end of a chapter reviewing potential problems and reads, ‘These are the kind of problems we all have. You’ll find yourself doing these things – so notice yourself doing them and note the ways in which they do or don’t seem to ‘prevent’ learning. But also accept that this is part of the natural process of your own learning and development. As your awareness and confidence grow you’ll find that you not only become more able to recognise such problems in your own teaching, but that you can also start to find effective alternative options that can enable rather than hinder learning’. I can completely relate to this quote as I feel swamped relatively often. I suppose it’s the same as when learners’ filters are up, they find it difficult to see the wood for the trees. I feel the same sometimes, but will try to reflect more and liaise with colleagues more regularly with peers.
Scrivener, J. (1994) Learning Teaching. Heninmann:Oxford