‘but Miss… there aren’t any witches in Hamlet.’ – Teaching Another Subject

As part of my NQT induction program we had to conduct a lesson swap between ourselves and observe one another teaching our subject. The purpose of this is to reflect on what is left of our pedagogy once our subject knowledge has been removed and how we can apply this to the unfamiliar. Being a textiles specialist with a newly found secondary specialism in graphics I started off feeling relatively confident that this would be easy – I sort of do this all the time! I’m always learning! etc etc… That quickly changed once I was paired up with an English teacher! Whilst I did A-level English Lit and love to read teaching the technicalities of language is in a totally different ball park and something I certainly am not confident in in myself. To top it off, I had previously taught a year 8 cover lesson on Hamlet and was enthusiastically questioning them when I asked what role the witches play in Hamlet. Needless to say, it led to a very awkward moment where the class goes quiet and one of the very sweet ones pipes up ‘but Miss… there aren’t any witches in Hamlet.’ Whoops.  Cue panic!

Thankfully the English NQT I was paired with (Elle, who blogs at Clarks Calling) was really understanding and helped me plan a lesson for years 7 about topic sentences, feeding into their current learning about analysing texts.  My biggest concern within this was how to gauge their understanding of what I was teaching. Elle’s class is mixed ability with some SEN pupils and high starters so there was quite a range of differentiation needed to meet all their needs. In my normal lessons I know my pupils well and ask pupils questions randomly using lollipop sticks with their names on, tailoring the question to my pupil’s ability. Then, if they get it wrong I either ask another pupil if they can help or use my subject knowledge to ask follow up questions to twist their thinking in the right direction. Without my subject knowledge to help me get the pupils to the correct answer I decided to ask a yes/no question (I gave them a selection of sentences and they had to say if they were topic sentences or not) and asked for thumbs up or down for if their answer was yes/no. I then chose pupils with the correct answer to explain their reasons why and found this method was actually more beneficial than my usual method because the pupils were less confused and weren’t led astray by hearing wrong information. Whilst I can’t use this with every question I ask my classes, for yes/no questions it was much more effective and enabled me to see which pupils ‘got it’ out of the whole class and not just the select few I choose to give an answer, and pupils who were chosen to give answers were delighted to help ‘teach’ the class.

The first thing I did when I entered the room was begin to set up my routines to encourage good behaviour. I then clearly explained to the pupils that they needed to line up outside and then collect their books from the front and sit in their seats. Even though this wasn’t their normal routine the pupils responded really calmly and followed it, following the rhythm and routines of the lesson and meeting my set out expectations for behaviour. I was surprised by how well they responded to this, which highlighted to me how crucial routines and clear expectations are for encouraging good behaviour.

One of the elements of my practice that is most important to me is that the learning environment I’m creating is positive and that pupils feel positive about being there. My main method for doing this in my normal lessons is to be really enthusiastic about what I’m teaching because I’m enjoying it and I want my pupils to as well. Initially as the lesson started I was really nervous and was quite serious and flat, focusing on not giving away my fear! However, after setting them off on the starter I was able to move round and ask the pupils questions individually – I quickly became more enthused about how much they were learning and they seemed to really respond to my interest in their learning. The rest of the lesson felt much more relaxed and pupils matched my enthusiasm for the lesson and were excited to learn. It was amazing the impact my mood had on the atmosphere of the class and this is definitely something I need to be aware of in the future.

My final strategy was using lots of praise and praising the effort as well as the outcome. Because I am not their usual teacher I used our school reward system of points stickers in addition to verbal praise as I was initially concerned that my praise would feel meaningless as they didn’t know who I was! However, the opposite appeared true – whilst the pupils gratefully accepted stickers and were thrilled I was giving out so many  it was the ones who were told that their work was brilliant, or fantastic, or that I was impressed with how hard they were working that really made a difference. Uncertain pupils were over the moon when I confirmed to them that not only were they right, I wanted to use their answer as an example. It made me realise (and feel a little guilty!) that in my own lessons I often create my own examples of good work for them to see rather than relying on the class to make them and that I should have more faith in them to produce high quality work.

Overall, the lesson swap was a fantastic experience which helped me reflect on how I interact with my pupils and enabled me to come to the conclusion that little things, such as my own attitude towards the lesson and the way I check their understanding, can have a deeper impact on pupil learning than I realise, and that sometimes I should use my pupils to help the lesson progress rather than being so teacher led.

Elle and Tahir both covered my textiles lesson, their blogs can be found at: Clarks Calling & T Nowaz