On Targets

Today I had my first NQT observation of the year. This was with my head of department and head of faculty. It’s not a graded obs, and is simply about providing constructive feedback. There are 3 of these interspersed with observations with the overall NQT Tutor/Mentor person, so 6 obs in all. Those 3 go towards assessment points so track how I’m doing.

I won’t go into much detail about the lesson itself. It was ok; some good, some could be improved. The summary of feedback and targets for me to aim for in my next observation and in all my teaching going forward are:

Firstly, to remove the ‘knowledgey’ side of my lessons, for want of a better phrase. The critique goes that I spent more time than is required getting them to do activities on ‘lower-order’ skills, recall and knowledge, that are worth relatively little in exam papers and this time could be more efficiently spent. An activity, to use todays example, that gives a series of sources about Mormons in the American West and asks students to a) identify Mormon beliefs and b) explain why they were so hated, could be redesigned by just *giving them* the Mormon beliefs (the lower-order knowledge) and getting them to focus on inferring and explaining why they were hated from the sources. This can then be extended into an evaluative task (Blooms) in which they rank, say, what they think the 3 most important reasons were for such hatred of the Mormons (a task I did, but after the observers had left).

This is an encouragement that has come a few times – to give the knowledge across, don’t make them work to identify/describe/recall or even explain (‘middling’), and try to move towards higher-order skills as quickly as possible, and the fact they will be working with the knowledge means it should go in anyway.

Secondly, to make better use of ‘whole class AfL’ rather than just sampling individual students when going over an activity or task. Furthermore, the AfL needs to be higher-order, evaluative or judgement based (ranking, continuum lines, prioritising etc) rather than explanation or factual understanding.

Finally, to institute a no-hands policy so I can broaden my questioning beyond the safety net of keen, enthusiastic students that I regularly go to when answering questions. This is something I want to do and have always been anxious/scared to do, for a couple of reasons. The safety net is safe for a reason, and I worry about forgetting student names. Neither excuses are good enough.

So it’s broadly clear to see where my department and faculty heads think where I can improve. They see clear evidence of engagement, my marking is good, I have a great rapport with my class, and my planning for the lesson was good with activities that built upon each other and made sense, following a logical structure, and so on. I am, however, stuck in a ‘knowledgey’ pit and need to grow a bit more.

I also need to follow a bit of internal target-setting. My own reflections about lessons I’ve had lately, especially today (not my observation lesson) have seen a couple of flaws crop up. On the one hand, I expect a certain degree of independence from students and the ability to get on with work given. On the other, I need to be more aware of where modelling or scaffolding is required and give the students the tools to complete the work given, rather than hack away ‘independently’ and give up because it’s hard to access. This is especially true with my setted year 9 classes.

Finally, I need to trust my own instinct more about when group-work is appropriate. My school and colleagues are enthusiastic about it but without clear, well defined parameters, it becomes a complete waste of time as one person does all the work and the rest chat. This then leads to my frustration and warning the class about needing to sort their ideas out and whatnot, when in fact, I’ve set them up this way – by not structuring it clearly enough, or not thinking of a more appropriate task.

I can’t give them only half the tools to succeed, or the wrong environment to succeed in, and not be surprised when many fail to clear the bar.

Half-term is at the end of this week and it gives me a chance to recharge and refocus.

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