“I remember about the rabbits George…”

Please ignore grammatical and spelling mistakes: I am ranting.

Today I taught the same lesson twice. The first time it was observed. I don’t know how well I did yet but I’m doing what I’m meant to do and OBSESSIVELY REFLECTING. That’s what Wilshaw wants isn’t it? So it was not horrific, nor awful, nor bad, but certainly not great. It was just a lesson. A busy and slightly over planned lesson that really did not go how I wanted but perhaps if honest went exactly how I expected. Like George and Lennie I had a dream; the dream being my apathetic and slightly sulky year 10s would stand up from their chairs and be at least amused, interested or at the least indifferent to what I had put in front of them. I haven’t done many whizzy lessons with this class because I quickly realised they weren’t the whizzy type. They like facts, the like believing me and writing things down. They don’t like it when I ask them why? or how? or sometimes even who? when? and where?. It’s not that they don’t like English they just seem afraid of thinking. So to avoid thinking they sit, stare into space or at each other or pick at their finger polish until I ask them to go outside and take it off. At which we get the ‘Where’s your nail varnish from miss?’ chat.

Basically, they’re tricky and I cannot work out why. They aren’t naughty – they chat a bit too much and they chuckle at silly things. A few of them have been caught out misbehaving when I’ve had to be away and they’ve been covered but I’ve voiced my disappointment and thankfully they never behave badly when I am there. I think or rather hope that they respect me even if they don’t like me that much. The odd thing is they don’t really seem to like the book either. As you may have guessed it is Of Mice and Men. I’ve done all the usual and more. They hate reading aloud so we’ve found ways of getting them to read parts. We never read for too long because they look like they will fall asleep. We don’t work in groups too much because they don’t like sharing ideas. We don’t work independently too much because they don’t know how. It’s all a bit confusing for them and me! I don’t think either of us know what it is we want from the lessons anymore. So today was an experiment of sorts – I wanted to interest them and I thought this would work. Turns out it didn’t really. A few of them became more engaged than usual but not all of them. I get the feedback from this lesson tomorrow as I was observed for the first time in my NQT year. I wasn’t too bothered until I realised all the things I perhaps forgot to do whilst I was trying to engage them. I tried to check their progress, praise them, nudge them in the right direction, ask the right question but everything seemed to hit this teenage wall of ‘not being bothered’. Any advice to sort this out would be helpful!

As for the lesson it was a lesson based on racism using SOLO stations to increase pupil knowledge and relate to chapter 4 before they write a draft assessment on Crooks. The lesson started by feeding back to last lesson where we had watched Nina Simone’s song Strange Fruit. I asked pupils to think about the video and their current understanding of racism during this period. From this point I explained the relationship between the Controlled Assessment mark scheme and their success criteria for today (their SOLO sheets). I then went on to explain SOLO stations (they have a good and solid understanding of this but you wouldn’t have known it from their faces!) and how they had to move around. The assessed their current level and went to the station.

Each station had ipads and information for them to collect. Including graphs, pictures, texts and reports. Something for everyone but not too much. The clips were classed for different stations depending on ability. They had to move round gathering information and then go back into groups after about 20 minutes. Each group was based on ability as their final and relational task involved relating the ideas they had to the text. One set of groups had a picture of Crooks cowering in the corner and had to relate this to their information about racism. The second set of groups had quotations from Chapter 4 and the final group a larger extract requiring them to identify key points. As shown on the image below.

They then had to share and evaluate their progress. Many said they had only made one level of progress whereas actually many had made a bit more. Trying to prove this in the time was difficult though.

When I taught this lesson again to a slightly higher ability and very effervescent group they were engaged in seconds. One pupil jumped up at the end of the lesson and shouted ‘Miss I’ve had an epiphany! Crooks cowers because he is scared of Curley’s wife as it was a reality – just like in the Jesse Washington case – is that why Steinbeck wrote it?’ I could have cried. I couldn’t even get rid of them at the end of the lesson; which was the end of the day! They wanted to stay and learn more. When on earth does that ever happen? This made me much happier but perhaps what happened was I planned for a group I wanted my first class to be. The truth is they aren’t the second class. Despite their apparent grade similarities they are totally different classes. I have rarely planned the same lessons for them. Always trying to do something different for each. Today proved I was correct to do that and also that I was wrong to think you can make them be something their not. I must find a way to engage them whilst they can still be themselves. When I find out what that is I will write about it – not so that you know. Just so that I remember for my next observation and don’t only remember the rabbits.

All the resources for this lesson – which can and did once today work beautifully (honest!) are going to be on TES here: http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Of-Mice-and-Men-Racism-SOLO-Lesson-6296098/

SOLO stations are explained brilliantly by Tait Coles on his blog and by David Didau. On the unistructural tables I stuck instructions for the iPads and the iPads with a link to the Youtube page they needed to watch. The unistructural video was title The Great Depression and Segregation in 1930s. At multistructural they watched Nina Simone’s Strange fruit and a video courtesy of @Sbshmrwilson South Bromsgrove’s history department http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8dr_Biv4Z0&list=UUNFUcgNqWWZIqsJzfQuLi9Q&index=37&feature=plpp_video

As usual thanks to @lisajaneashes for her help, the video from @sbshmrwilson and @siancarter1 help in my decision making on Monday and for sitting on my classroom floor this afternoon. Despite my frustrations this lesson did seem to embed some knowledge into some pupils today. I guess that’s better than nothing!

4 Replies to ““I remember about the rabbits George…””

  1. Hello, this is a really interesting blog post. Your reflections on your first class really remind me of my NQT GCSE English class – I used to feel like I was banging my head against a wall trying to interest and engage them! I think you have definitely hit on a golden nugget of truth in your final paragraph though, and something which took me time to realise: they are not your second class. They require a different approach to a higher ability, engaged group.

    Ultimately, a very structured group work approach; making everything we studied ‘contextually relevant’ for them; admitting when certain topics are boring but necessary; focusing on skills, not content and regular assessment with specific, personal targets slowly engaged my difficult class, as it built their confidence. That and starting my Masters in Teaching at the Institute of Education – which helped theorise all my worries and traumas with them!

    Your blog reveals that you are already a ‘reflective practitioner’ and you have high expectations of yourself and your students – which means that you will read this again in 6 months and be amazed at how far your class have progressed. Keep it up 🙂

    1. Thank you. Very jealous of your masters at IOE. Something I’d be interested to do! Very nearly did my PGCE there but chose a GTP instead. Thanks for the advice. You are definitely right about the approach and nice to see it written so clearly.

  2. I think you are suceeding on many levels. I am 60 and returned to teaching 4 years ago after working with young people in other areas for 20 years. I love the concepts embedded in SOLO planning and have been avidly following blogs and try to incorporate the ideas into my own teaching (in a school where we are lucky to be in a room that has a computer, let alone a range of ipads!). I will be trying your lesson with a group of lower-ability-but-interested Year 10’s!!
    I think you are a teacher that the children remember for all the right reasons. What more can we hope for (apart from hoping that they get good grades)?!

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