In my first post I wrote about some effective and less effective teaching and learning strategies that I’ve used this year. This post will focus more on the classroom management changes that I’ve made, and the effect these have had on my lessons.
1. I set out the desks in my classroom in rows
When I got my job, I inherited a classroom that was arranged in the horseshoe formation, with three rows of two desks in the middle of the horseshoe. I had seen this set-up in many classrooms on my teacher training placements, and it seemed fairly popular across the school as a whole. The benefits were modest: tables and chairs could be easily and quickly rearranged for group tasks, and pupils could easily turn to a variety of other pupils for discussion activities. This system became redundant when I decided to deliberately avoid using group work activities (see point 2). So in September I set up my room in two halves, each half having four rows of two tables each. The most immediate (and obvious) benefit was the reduction in opportunities for off-task chatting. More practically, it is much easier for me to get around the class room to respond to pupils’ needs, and simpler to hand out and collect in books. In terms of teaching and learning, it’s pretty obvious to say but I’ll do it anyway: less time off task has meant more time on task, and more stuff learned.
2. I deliberately avoided using group work activities
First, a disclaimer: this isn’t an attack on the concept of group work as a teaching and learning tool, but rather a response to the way group tasks have worked (or rather, not worked) in my lessons. When I did my PGCE (2007-08), and on many of the external CPDs I have attended, group work was presented as a panacea: the stronger pupils wiil pull up the weaker ones; everyone can be assigned a task appropriate to their skills and ability, and so on. I haven’t found that to be the case in my lessons. These failings may well have been down to my management of the tasks, the actual tasks I had the pupils attempting, or the composition of the groups. Whatever the reason, I regularly found with group work that at least one pupil would contribute very little, if nothing, and that one pupil would dominate the work.
So this year, I have consciously planned lessons that involve solo learning (not SOLO; haven’t got there yet). Again, it may be blindingly obvious, but it’s been much easier to accurately monitor and plan appropriate interventions for pupils when they are consistently producing their own work and their own work only. There are also the class management benefits, with again fewer opportunities for pupils to be off task.
3. Spending time on the little things does pay off, eventually
By ‘the little things’ I mean orderly starts to lessons (queuing up quietly outside), applying sanctions to disorganised and ill-equipped pupils (a detention for forgetting their book twice rarely results in them forgetting a third time). I don’t wish to suggest that I hadn’t been doing these things for the four years prior to this one; rather, I have started to see the long-term benefits. For example, a year 10 pupil who I’ve taught since year 7 and who had a horrendous homework and punctuality record has finally started to turn things around. Clearly I can’t claim to be the only factor influencing this, but she did say to me recently after I’d praised her homework record “it’s because I’m starting to listen to what you’ve been saying to me”. That was nice.
I have no idea what to blog about over summer, so maybe I won’t. Next year sees me teaching only one hour of Key Stage 3 in a 21-hour week, with six of those 21 hours being an AS and A2 course I’ve never taught before. I have pencilled in my breakdown for February.