Getting the Buggers to do More

boy-with-booksIt is very tempting, especially with a difficult class, to try to control everything that goes on in the classroom so that students stay firmly in their seats and do not wander around. After all, if they do not move, they cannot flick pieces of paper or rubber bands at the heads of other students they pass by on the way to the book cupboard (with the accuracy an Olympic archer would be proud of) or give a student a ‘friendly’ dead leg, steal his rubber, his book, his pen and so on and so on (the list really is endless).

And so the poor teacher runs around like a whirling dervish: writing key words on the board, putting points on the class chart, operating the powerpoint and giving out handouts; stopping occasionally to help a student with his or her work.  The result is that the poor teacher of a certain age (53 in my case) is so tired at the end of the lesson that, and with five more to go, they are in grave danger of falling asleep in the staff meeting at the end of the day in front of senior leaders.  The next thing they know they are having a conversation about redundancies and/or early retirement. Far better I thought, would be to do none of those things, not once, not in a single lesson for the whole of the week to see what the consequences would be.

In sixth form lessons this is relatively easy.  Take today’s lesson on eyewitness testimony for example.  I wanted to get students to write some evaluation as a PEEL point and, so that they all worked hard and remained focused on the task in hand, I told them that I would choose five people at random: one to write their point on the whiteboard, and the others to come and underline the P,E,E or L of the first student’s efforts.  I gave a piece of paper to the nearest student and said, please could you draw me a random sample? They had just had a question on random sampling in their mock exam so I told him I would watch carefully to see if he remembered how to do that. He did, and happily wrote all the names in the class on the paper, tore them up, folded them and put them into a pencil case; bravo!

This worked just as well in lower school science lessons, in fact, the result was even better than expected as, amazingly, students do rise to the expectations that you set for them so long as you spend time setting out what they are before the roles are allocated.  In a year 8 bottom set science lesson I had students doing everything from reading information out of a text book, reading tasks from the hand out, writing on the board and working the computer.  I told them that working the computer was a very special and privileged job that only the students with the very best behaviour from the previous lesson could do.  The boy I picked to do the job said halfway through the lesson, ‘Miss, Johnny, Felicity and Sam’s names are not on the class chart’. This is because the aforementioned students are new in the class and for some reason (most likely due to my incredibly poor IT skills) I have not been able to add their names to the list despite consulting google and making three attempts to do so! He went on to say, ‘would you like me to make you a new class chart for this group?’ well, what had I to lose? The old one no longer represented the class and I figured that he could do no harm.  To my utter astonishment the child set up a classroom, put in all the names in no time at all and even consulted the ID cards of the students whose names he was unsure how to spell!  No child bothers to look up spellings! They write any old thing in their books and, if they do care, they simply ask me how to spell a word so that I will write it on the whiteboard.  But this was a revelation, this was utterly amazing. He was in charge so he went and found the information. While he was in control of his task, I could get on with mine, going around the class and helping students to complete the tasks they had been given.

In lesson after lesson, this went on. This has been the first week that a glum, harassed looking admin person has not appeared at my classroom door asking me to complete the class register. Why? Because the person in control at the front has already done it! Twelve year old children, it turns out, are the world’s most adept multi-taskers. One of the stipulations of the job at the top; ‘the class controller’, is that they do the job but also must complete all of the work set for the lesson.  One boy in the top job today, who never ever writes more than two lines all lesson, completed two sides of A4 as well as seamlessly delivering the powerpoint, doing the register and adding behaviour points to the chart. In another lesson a girl really took the job to heart, yelling at the class, ‘shut up you lot, miss is talking’.

Behaviour in the class was so much better this week too. Students know that to get this prestigious job, they have to have exemplary behaviour and have completed all the work set.  They are happy to hand out books (without throwing them), go to the prep room to get equipment, give out pens and glue and count them back in beautifully so that they can prove themselves worthy of the top seat next lesson.  As for me, I have spent much more time in the middle or back of the classroom this week whilst my lovely assistants have done all the nitty gritty work for me.  I have helped many more children achieve their work goals by being able to give them more one to one time.  One word of warning though; close down your email window before you hand over your laptop to a twelve year old. Having them announce loudly to the class that your ‘haemorrhoid cream has been dispatched’, or ‘your loved one is going to be late home for dinner’ is a tad embarrassing and unprofessional!

So: set high expectaions for the top job, trust that those you put in charge will meet them and Have a good week.

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