The Price of Poundland Pedagogy

Masks.jpgBeing a trainee teacher often involves shifting from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again with astonishing speed. As we heard today from our experienced GPS speakers, saying ‘crisps and dick,’ instead of ‘crisps and dip’ can entirely ruin a lesson. I am still internally smiling, no laughing even, about what happened in yesterday’s English lesson…

On Tuesday, wanting to create the salubrious environs of a noble Veronese banquet and ball, I rushed into the neon-lit cornucopia that is the Poundshop in Chelmsford. Here was a diversity of Venetian-style masks, all ornate and beautifully decorated, choosing for myself a particularly pretty, damask pinky-red mirrored number, swathed in lace; many other different masks went into the shopping basket. I parted with a few pounds spent on goodies, including some fake tashes, promising myself they’d be used many times into the future: for the masquerade ball in ‘Much Ado…’ with the year 8s and 9s and maybe for a party at home. The gender bender disguises of the heroines in ‘Twelfth Night,’ ‘Merchant of Venice,’ and ‘As You LIke It,’ could definitely be facilitated by the right facial hair or mask.

The Capulet ball would be a chance to have fun with a new bunch of recalcitrant teens, to charm and enthuse them to the delights of Shakespeare and to give them incentives to read out loud for the first time. I had just taken on the year ten class with a new timetable at the beginning of this week. After a series of cover teachers, the class of thirty had got used to being plain rude to whoever stood at the front of the class. But my plan, I hoped, would change all this…

A break before the lesson allowed me to prepare the scene. Tables were pulled together and clothed in white, I used elegant cream place-cards, recycled from a recent Golden anniversary of a family member, to set out the seating plan, having spent the previous night finding a diversity of interesting and obscure aristocratic titles for my new English students. Each of the 6 tables had a plate with a course from a formal Italian meal and the task for that table. The aperitivo was to consider the stage directions – the lighting, choreography and other aspects of how to direct the scene; the antipasto -changes in Lord Capulet as he welcomes high society into his home and scolds his nephew; secondo – the theme of love, for this is the key scene where our eponymous young lovers meet and fall in love for the first time. The contorno was to consider Tybalt and the theme of honour; Insalata- Imagery; and Dolce – impressions of Juliet. Masks were artfully arranged at the front on my desk as an incentive for students to become actors, to read out loud for the first time this term.

When the lively bunch queued outside the class and peered into the room, they were definitely excited. They came in loudly and found their names, sat down and excitedly began to introduce themselves to each other. Princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, lord lieutenants and viceroys, marquesses and dukes, to name but a few, began to assume a more upright bearing. I explained what each table had to write notes on and was about to explain that people would move around the tables, when I realised this cramped room was far too small for anybody to move, except the actors maybe. A few introductory powerpoints later (a summary, setting the scene) and the required roles for 11 actors was up on screen, with big speaking parts highlighted in red. I asked for volunteers and they duly put up their hands, but only 7 of them. Here is where I came unstuck. It was all too exciting, there was too much to accomplish and I picked the first people to put their hands up, nervous that no-one else would like to read. I should have waited, teased out more people, refused more. The actors that came to the front were part of a cool, disruptive gaggle. I was just happy that someone had volunteered, I was buoyed up on the vision, the plan…

God, they struggled with the text! They slumped into their chairs, when I had asked them stand, mumbling quietly, embarrassed. Capulet faltered and gave up, I became Capulet. They took off their masks, no-one else could hear what they were saying. I stopped the action periodically, perhaps confusingly (I was Capulet after all), to explain the plot and decode the language. One girl who played a servant at the beginning of the scene, sat at the front, and began to lean against the white board, flicking the powerpoint from the prompts/ scaffolding I had put for each of the 6 topics. I was distracted, trying to get that slide up again, in a little struggle with her, with me at the computer, her sitting near the front, leaning back to change the slide.

For the classroom, I fear, Romeo and Juliet met inconsequentially, against a more interesting flickering background. Their poignant words, full of tender, nearly ecstatic, religious imagery was mostly not heard properly. It was perhaps not understood fully that this is their first electric touch and kiss. I became Capulet again, Benvolio, the Nurse, then at last, the teacher…

All back to the seats for the last 20 minutes of questioning and formative assessment. Order, order! I pull off my pretty damask mask and everyone is looking at me, all the students, these newly assumed members of the upper-class, pointing, staring and laughing and laughing more. “Miss, Miss, Miss,” (I know it was a bit of a miss wasn’t it? But still…) “Miss, miss, miss…”( more uproarious laughter) “Your face, your face, your face…” laughter almost obscures their words, “Your face… IT IS ALL RED!”

Lesson learnt – Poundshop pedagogy can come at a price. Of course, soap washes off the stains; new ideas may leave you red-faced at the end, but hopefully, the memories are indelible. The classroom quietened down, we got on some serious study and I put my mask on til the end of the lesson.

Sheri Haward

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Teaching Sixth Form: Making Progress and Making Learners Inspired!

My lesson idea was inspired after observing a Year 12 lesson in which they learned about the assessment objectives for their essay writing. I wondered how the students would cope with applying those AOs to their own writing. Sure enough, the class teacher set an essay question for homework and off they went.

I planned my lesson and was ready to teach when they arrived with their newly written essays in hand.  I put each of the assessment objective numbers on the board and asked them to describe what the criteria was for each; they easily remembered the AO that involved language analysis but needed to work as a group to identify what each of the others required. As I explained how to use the AOs to write essays, there were obviously some puzzle pieces beginning to fall into place.

I then paired up the pupils and gave them two essays to mark – one was (close to!) perfect and another was full of common errors. They immediately recognised that the bad essay hadn’t been proofread, was full of spelling errors, didn’t engage with the assessment criteria and they found only a couple of instances where they could award marks. Upon reading the better essay, they found it easy to identify how AOs had been met and were using the AO list as a checklist when setting improvement targets for each essay.

As they discussed their opinions of the essays, there was clear dismay on some of their faces and a muttered ‘I wish I could edit mine.’ I asked if they had identified anything from this activity that they would use to improve their own work. One pupil said he would proofread now, while another said she would integrate context differently. Unanimously, they agreed that they would use the AOs more closely next time.

All of this had taken place in the first 30 minutes of the lesson; I had allocated the second half for the pupils to use the computers to edit their homework essays. When they were told they had half an hour to edit their work, the students were excited and hurried to improve their work where possible. They used a different colour ‘ink’ to make their improvements and I assisted each pupil by answering any questions and by identifying an extract of their essay for them to review.

By the end of the lesson, all pupils had a greater understanding of what each AO was about and of how to apply these when responding to a text in order to improve their essay writing. They were inspired and motivated to improve their work, they made measurable progress as a result of the lesson, and they were able to use their new understanding to get better results on their essays – yay!

Rebecca Churchman

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In the Firing Line – Teaching My First Lesson



It’s 10:05am and suddenly it hits me. This is really it. All the ideas, dreams and wondering about what it will be like are about to become reality. In 60 seconds time I will finally find out what it is like to stand in front of a room of teenagers and try to teach them.

We are now about 5 intensive weeks into our Initial Teacher Training course and I have so far spent numerous lessons observing teachers, offering small group support and ‘critically reflecting’ on specific aspects of their teaching practice.

That was an interesting technique…think I’ll magpie that

Hmm, I possibly wouldn’t have taken that approach with that student

And other such scenarios. All good evidence, all a learning process, each lesson another piece of knowledge to store away for when I need it most. Like now. Of course, I’m not stood here in front of the class, hoping to deliver the most amazing lesson about atomic structure to a year 9 bottom set. I’m fully expecting all manner of things to go wrong and if I survive till break I’ll consider it a success. But then at the same time, I’m secretly hoping that it all works really well, that I’ll be some revelation in the classroom and that this crazy idea of becoming a teacher wont be dashed at the first attempt. Frankly, that I wont hate it.

And I don’t. Sure, the realisation that it’s just me in front of all those baying teenagers is somewhat daunting at first, but I love it. The answering back, the lack of respect, the constant low level disruption, those few students that do what they have been asked to do. I made that happen. And I survived, I didn’t cry, shout, put the whole class in detention or physically assault anyone. And next time, I know, it will be just that little bit better, and that little bit easier and I might even know their names.

It’s time to get teaching.

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Social media, Technology and the Modern Teacher

Each month, we’ll post some suggestions of things to try relating to either social media or technology in the classroom (edtech). This month (October) it’s the turn of Twitter.



The above image is a great resource for if you are starting to realise the benefits of using Twitter for your own CPD. Each stop on the tube map is a teacher you might wish to follow. The different colours on the tube line correspond to their specific interests atwitter-photond there are some specific mentions of particularly strong Tweachers (teachers who tweet) and the reasons for following them.

If you are not on Twitter, it is well worth the few minutes it takes to sign up. Some of our favourite tweachers and organisations can be found in the link below:

101 Great Teachers to Follow on Twitter

This link should also support you if you haven’t yet made a Twitter account.

The photo above is a screenshot of a Twitter feed that includes conversations on how children learn, a debate regarding the possible subjective nature of some types of exams, teacher well-being and a link to a GCSE computing quiz resource. It’s a daily dose of CPD that can help with day to day teaching alongside helping you to keep up-to-date with a range of topics relating to educational reform.

If you’re convinced, sign up and don’t forget to follow @MidessexITT!