Monday, 7 September 2015

On the first day

After six and a half weeks off, today was the very first day back in the classroom for me. Friday I had a staff training day, so I hardly count that. Luckily, my school very cleverly invites only Year 7 students in on the first day, to make their transition to secondary a little less daunting.

As a Year 7 tutor, I was tasked with meeting my new form in the hall. I had met some of them previously on the Year 6 induction day way back in June, so I knew some faces to look out for. The same students who had keenly tried to impress me back then immediately waved at me as I entered the hall. It was an odd feeling, being warmly welcomed by eager faces, particularly after saying goodbye to my Year 11 form last year; I can't remember the last time one of their faces looked at me with anything other than extreme exhaustion.

As I stood beside them, listening to the opening remarks of the Head of Year, I found myself reminiscing about the time my previous form had been in Year 7. It made the time between then and now feel like nothing at all. I could literally feel a grey hair sprouting from the top of my head. Where had the time gone?! Was I really about to take another bunch of students through?

Luckily, the day progressed without incident. It usually does on the first day though, doesn't it? Everyone is still in shock about being back in school, staff and students alike. The fact that it was only Year 7 students milling about made it that much easier; at this stage, they're still scared and nervous. Lack of confidence means a lack of unwanted behaviour.

The only thing of note that I did today was implement a new technique, taken from reading Alison Cook-Sather's 2009 text. She suggests that teachers ask students 'What issues do you have with [subject]? What do you like? How do you learn?' on the first day of class. I did this with my year 7 group, collecting their books after lesson to have a read through their responses. What they wrote was interesting and informative. I'll record the brief list of items here:

1) Punctuation came up repeatedly as an issue, although I failed to see very many improper usages in their writing. Commas, semi-colons and hyphens were singled out specifically, so I will have to ensure that in our fortnightly SPaG (Spelling, punctuation and grammar) lesson I work on them.

2) A large majority of students suggested that group work enabled them to learn better. I must admit that this is an area that I have not read up on much. As such, I will make sure to track down some journal articles, texts, etc., in order to make sure that I'm using group work effectively.

3) Many students also expressed a desire for all instructions to be clear. This is something that I was made aware of while doing the literature review of my Thesis, so it's not news to me that students like instructions to be clear and linked to success criteria. It felt good to be able to tell the students that providing clear instructions is a 'strong point' of mine. I must be doing something right.

4) A few students also said that they didn't like it when the teacher talked 'on and on' and didn't give enough time for work to be done. While I know I can waffle on now and again (I am the Reflective Rambler, after all), I do tend to keep my talking in class to a minimum. I'll never forget being told, during my teacher training, to 'Do less, well' It's a phrase that's stuck, at least in terms of how I teach; blogging is a whole other kettle of fish.

5) Having enough time to work through tasks was another thing that repeatedly came up. This is an area which I've been working on over the past few years, and I think I've finally cracked it. I bought a digital cooking timer last year, and have found that it really helps me (and subsequently the students) budget and use time better.

6) The use of clear examples was also highlighted as something which helped students to learn. Again, this wasn't a surprise to me. I've build the use of examples of multiple levels of work into all of my schemes of work, so I feel quite confident that I can provide my students with this.

and finally, a few students made specific mention to how a 'clam and quiet' environment helped them to learn best. While this isn't always possible in a school environment, I certainly do strive to ensure that students are able to work in relative quietness. As for being calm, that's easy; calm is my middle name. Unless there's a spider around...

Anyways, that's the most 'research-based' work that I've managed to complete today. I really enjoyed the experience of reading what my students wrote, and will make sure to ask the same of my other classes. I think I will go through the list with the group as well, to let them know that I have considered what they said and will try to incorporate their wishes as best I can.

On another not, a member of SLT walked by and caught me with the books out, pen in hand, notepad at the ready and remarked that I had surely 'won the award for earliest marker of the year'. When I tried to protest, saying that it wasn't necessarily marking, he disagreed, pointing to my comments in their books and my notepad full of jottings.

'You are most definitely marking, but I understand what you're doing. I do something similar myself...'

All I could do was smile, laugh and remember that it's my aspirations for my students that drove me to mark on the first day of term, not anything or anybody else. That's all that matters, in the end, isn't it?