A Tale of Two Year 11s

I inherited two year 11 groups upon my arrival at the new school. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The best: sparky students, quicker relationship building due to seeing them more often, the promise of future down time. The worst: two sets of mocks, two sets of coursework that they handed in in June and therefore desperately want back, two sets of lessons to plan: to begin with I had to finish off the Germany course with one set and begin Medicine with the other. To add to the confusion, the school is following this course for the first and last time this year, having adhered strictly to Modern World previously. So, a dearth of resources too. Fun.

I thought, however, that once I stopped teaching Germany to group A, I could start reusing my lessons from group B to teach them Medicine. A few tweaks needed, maybe, but the same basic activities and so on. It has quickly become evident that this is not the case, in a way that helpfully demonstrates why I think pragmatism in the classroom, rather than a strict adherence to the church of trad or prog, is the best way to go.

In November I had a performance management lesson observation with group B. I wheeled out one of my favourite prog activities. It involved answering questions from a video, group work, animation (Commoncraft-style, which is one of the few I’ve found where the knowledge building isn’t subsumed by the process of animating) and using iPods. The class loved it. The observer loved it. I loved it. We all loved the resulting revision videos. It was a lot of love.

When the time came to try this with group A, it quickly became apparent that this was not going to fly with them. Group A like being told things. I apologised once, at the end of a lesson where we had timelined a period from the Medicine course on the board and I had spoken for nearly 45 minutes, for too much copying from the board. “Please keep doing this Miss,” they replied. “We like it. It means we have stuff to revise from. Most teachers don’t put enough on the board.” They did not like the video lesson. We sacked it off and I told them the stuff.

I duly planned more traditional lessons for group A, going forward. They overtook group B as they have an extra lesson a fortnight, so in the last week of term I recycled one of group A’s lessons for group B. “Miiiiissss we’ve done soooooo much writing from the board today! Can’t we do something else?”

Going forward then, a more pragmatic approach and different activities for each class, it seems.

A caveat: I’m not advocating that everybody doubles their workload to ensure the activities are tailored to class preference. In this case, I’m going to do that as far as possible, because this is year 11 – they’ve had a year of building a relationship with one teacher, only to find themselves with a new one at the most critical time. I think I owe it to them to make this transition as smooth as possible. I’m the professional, after all. They’re stressed teenagers. I’m not pandering to their preferences to extract good behaviour from them. I’m packaging the topics in the way they will find most accessible, to build their confidence and knowledge of the course. I’ve been teaching a while and know Medicine inside out, so this is not a significant commitment of time for me. I also enjoy planning lessons…

However, I do favour a mixed economy across the board, which is why my KS3 lessons have a broad variety of activities in that cater to a range of preferences. A diet of fudge sickens the stomach, after all. Was it Tebbit who said that?

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