Co-constructing lessons, student voice and student choice – Level 2 Geography, 2017

Throughout 2017 I had my level 2 geography class last period on a Friday. Attendance of this class was generally pretty bad….only a few students would turn up. At the start of the year it was hot and hard to motivate students to work. I decided to embrace this and accept that students (much like teachers) were generally exhausted at the end of the week. This class was usually pretty hard working the rest of the week and so I often would give the class a bit of a choice about work.

I would check in with them at the beginning of the lesson and ask them what they wanted to do. Sometimes they wanted to watch documentaries and others they were keen to just get on with assessments or finish up work from the day before. I found that providing this choice actually improved my p6 on Friday attendance (more students started to come). Additionally, this strengthened my relationship with a number of students who seemed to really appreciate this choice.

While this may seem like lost learning time – I would usually relate the task to geography more broadly. E.g. documentaries where they were asked to apply key geographical concepts. We also watch Philadelphia  as part of our HIV/AIDS unit. Sometimes I would give them mapping tasks that involved colouring in which they always found fun but improved their geographical knowledge as well.

This approach is something I have continued with my Level 1 (jump start) class – level 1 who I will see in period 6 2018. We usually watch a documentary on Fridays that are related to geographical issues. However, this approach also seems to encourage students to make their own choices about their work. An example of this was last Friday I gave the class some choices about the documentary they watched (Dawn Raids, A tale of 2 cities or Inside Child Poverty). The class choose to watch the child poverty documentary because they knew this was their first assessment in 2018.

Knowing your learner and adapting to a situation – Level 3 geography at Tamaki College

Several students in my level 3 geography class had some issues this year with attendance. They would rarely come to class however, I saw them around school everyday. After further investigation I found out these students were going to the library rather than class. For me as a first year teacher this was incredibly frustrating. I could not understand why they would come to school but not class and seemed to think being in the library rather than class was a totally exceptable excuse.

Early on, I accepted this as I could see they were at least getting their work done and were on task. However, I tried to assert that they came to see me at the beginning of the lesson to get the work. This request was a constant battle. Furthermore, as the year progressed these students would no longer tell me they were there nor were they completing their work. I would have probably let this go and mark the students as truant however, the weekend before assessments were due I would get frantic emails from these students asking for help. On the one hand I was pleased at least they were getting their work done. However, I couldn’t help but be annoyed they only really needed help because they had missed weeks of class discussion and extra support. Regardless, I would always answer their questions and try and support them as much as I could online.

As the weeks went by my frustration grew, these girls were not completing work but they were at school everyday! I felt responsible for their learning and was growing increasingly concerned about their lack of credits. I began to question these girls more and more when they had missed class, sent letters home and spoke to my HOD and their Dean.  None of this seemed to help in fact in only seemed to make matters worst – this had now started to effect my relationship with these students and they DEFIANTLY didn’t want to come to class.

By the end of term 2 I had, had enough, my approach wasn’t working and all the effort trying to get these girls to class was exhausting. I made a decision – I would focus on the students who wanted to come to class. I tried to have a restorative conversation with the girls. I explained my frustration but informed them it was now up to them. If they wanted to come to class they could, if not they didn’t have to. I also explained my frustration at checking work at 10pm on a Sunday night and asked if they could come see me in class with their questions. I decided to embrace the situation and told them they could come check in and were not expected to stay in class – they could head back to the library. Although this was difficult for me as a first year teacher as I felt like I was giving the girls permission to truant my class I was at a bit of a loss and figured it was worth a shot if it got them completing work.

While this didn’t work for all 3 students – one student responded particularly well. I began to see her in class more often (still not every day) and our relationship had improved she would talk to me about work and was generally pretty focused and on task when she was there. This shift in attitude (from both of us) meant this student ended up catching up on all of her missed assessments and completing all 4 of her internals.

In conclusion, I learnt from this experience as a teacher it is important to adapt your teaching practice to suit your learner and focusing on repairing relationships through restorative chats can be incredible useful. In the future, I will focus on the students who turn up to class and try to maintain a positive relationship with the more casual attenders so if they choose to make a turnaround they feel the door is always open 🙂

Providing opportunities to learn -eliminating distractions and building relationships

During Term 3, 2017 I noticed one of the relationships with one of my students (student A) in my Year 12 class had shifted. Earlier in the year this student seemed to lack focus, struggled to complete work on time or to the standard he was hoping for and was reluctant to ask for help or support from me with his work. I started to think back on why this shift had happened and I realised his attitude towards me and his work had changed around the time I intervened on a class mate who was a constant distraction (student B).

For most of the year I had thought that student A was the student who was doing the distraction. He was often up and out of his seat walking around the classroom. Giving me the impression he was distracting student B. However, after a conversation with a maths teacher who had taught both of these students before I learnt the opposite was true. Student A liked to walk around or stand up in class for some reason but that was a habit rather than a reluctant attitude towards work. In addition to this new knowledge I realised that Student B rarely completed any work (other than the first assessment). I was also concerned because Student A had been identified as a Priority Leaner because of his lack of credits at level 2 despite his reputation as a good student in previous years.

I realised it was up to me to manage this behavior in my classroom better if I wanted both these students to succeed. The next lesson the off task behavior started and I told these students I had, had enough. If it happened again I would remove one of them….it did and so I took Student A to the deans explaining he was not in trouble I just wanted a quiet place for him to work. I also explained that next time it would be his friend being removed and this would continue to rotate until we could get our work done all together.

The next day I noticed both boys were on their best behavior especially student A choosing to sit elsewhere and Student B did not seem to want to be sent out so they were both able to get on with the learning.

After this not only was student A much more focused in class but he began showing me work and asking for support. This taught me that it is important to provide a learning environment where all students have the opportunity to learn even if is their mates distracting them. I will defiantly intervene much earlier in future situations that are similar – as this not only improved my relationship with the students but also allowed this student to focus on his learning.