What do you accept from students in your classroom?
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately and have come to the conclusion that, collectively, if we are not reflecting regularly on our own classroom status quo, and occasionally shift it, then students’ aspirations may slowly diminish, and their attainment will suffer.
You might think this is just a post about high expectations, but it’s not; it’s more than that. What we accept covers not only our expectations of students, but our entire pedagogical approach to lesson planning, delivery, questioning, feedback, the lot.
Tom Sherrington’s brilliant abseiling anecdote about the instructor who accepts the learners’ thumbs up, and then lets them jump over the cliff without checking they have successfully secured their harnesses is slightly hyperbolic for the classroom, but has resonated for me in terms of the profound consequences of what we accept on a daily basis.
Here are a few examples –
- You’ve asked a question to your most apathetic group. Finally, a partial answer from a student comes in. How often do you accept it, breathe a sigh of relief and move on, conscious of time, full of gratitude? Could you probe that student’s answer next time via further questioning until it mentally hurts, or bounce the response around the room until a wider understanding is elicited?
- Using Hands up questioning. The message you are giving to the majority is 7 or 8 students will do most of the work each lesson, and the rest barely have to bother to think. Aspirations subsequently fall. It’s so much easier to accept that sometimes that’s the way to roll the lesson along – with the positive reinforcement of the keen few. Could you try a week with a No Hands Up rule?
- The classic ‘Are we all ok with this? Is this making sense?’ when our tone is virtually rhetorical/please don’t ask me as I need to move on with this. How often do we accept that their silence or a few nods is a signal to proceed, or worse, that bless him, little Jimmy in the corner he’s just not going to get it in a month of Sundays… Could you take time to make them explain what you’ve been going on about to each other, then down on paper, then back to you. Check for proof regularly even if it yields desperately uncomfortable truths, even if it screws with your lesson / medium term plan.
- The kid who’s always in on time, nervous, quiet, always tries hard, but never impresses enough in his work to get rewards. Do you take his/her engagement for granted, accepting their attitude as the norm for kids in your well managed classes, and reassure yourself that you gave 200 rewards out last term, albeit to the high flyers? Or could you take 5 minutes this week to phone home to praise that nervous student to their parents, to the two people who instilled in him/her that smile / politeness, and a responsible work ethic over hundreds of evenings?
- The formative target written on ten assessments- ‘Use more ambitious vocabulary‘. We accept that they need to reach further into their brains for better words, and ultimately it’s not our fault if they don’t read extensively. Could you take time to show them/the class 5 new words for the next 5 lessons and insist they are weaved into the improvement work that they are going to do for homework?
- The vague self-assessment activity – I understand / I partially understand / I don’t understand – or (sorry -I’m not a fan), the traffic light or thumbs up/down/ exit plenary. You’ve accepted from the 20 thumbs up/greens that the lesson has been a success and that they’ve learned what you intended, when in reality, they just wanted to get to break to see their mate waving at them through the classroom door, and feared a thumbs down would lead to Miss being upset, friends thinking they were thick, or even worse – an extra explanation, holding up break time. Could you make them show you at the start of next lesson what they can recall or make them do a task that explicitly demonstrates their understanding to you of your last lesson’s success or otherwise?
- You accept that your Head of Faculty expects you to get to the end of the module before half term, and there simply isn’t the opportunity for students to spend any more than 10 minutes responding with yes/no to your carefully considered feedback questions. Could you secretly knock a couple of less important lessons out of the scheme of learning, and make the students spend two whole lessons improving, refining and improving further based on the feedback, before reflecting and labelling up all the process steps taken for homework. Imagine a ratio of 1:16 where a teacher’s 10 minutes of feedback is engaged with for 2 lessons of 60 mins and 40 minutes homework. Why not? The Head of Faculty will never know!
- The high achievers in Year 9 who could sit an A-level exam tomorrow, you accept are challenged by the lesson’s diary entry/poster mash up activity, and that it’ll be ok, as they’ll do it in a subversive way, and originality is one of the top criteria for a Level 9. Could you next week set 2 starter tasks that are so challenging that half the class will flounder, but some of those high attainers will remember the incredible rush of solving an intensely difficult problem?
- The student who often forgets his/her pen, but you’ve already given them a sanction for the previous lesson, and don’t want to now ruin the good relationship you’ve built up with them, plus it’s more admin work after the lesson to write it up… You accept they’re just a disorganised sort, and comfort yourself you’re a kind, caring teacher as you throw them a pen and they give you a nod – you’re cool. Could you spare 2 mins at the end of the lesson next time to challenge them strongly about the importance of good organisation habits for life -otherwise the learning for him/her is that it’s ok to continue?
- The homework handed in from a mid attaining student who always gives you 5/10 effort. You accept ‘that’ll do for them’ and again, can’t be bothered with the aggro that will come if you challenge them over it, plus their parents are hard work, and the Head of House is on their case, so it’ll be alright in the end. Could you take the stance of handing the homework back to them and say quietly that you expect a marked improvement in the effort levels next time or their break times will be taken to achieve just that?
All of these steps in bold are time consuming, all of them make us step out of our comfort zone, but vitally, force the students to as well. That one step may just be the one that gets that student to aim that little bit higher. If we all do one of these, imagine what that kid might achieve.
Thanks for reading.