Saturday, 27 June 2009

A lesson in three parts

Yesterday, my yr 10s began their oral work based on the speeches they'd been watching. This was quite a hairy exercise as it turned out that this lesson was to be observed - officially. I'd already set up the lesson, so remembering too late that this would be a performance managed lesson (observed to see if I know what I'm doing!). I just hoped that my yr 10s would do the business.
I've been told by 'people in the know' that I should be doing three-part lessons, involving some 'starter' exercise to get the kids interested, a development and then a plenary, summing up what I'd done.
Well, I begin every lesson with conversation. I talk to my classes. I show interest in what they do. I let them know that they matter. The result of this is students that know their teacher doesn't just see them as receptacles for knowledge, that the teacher sees them as people. The effect of this is students who are in the mood to be cooperative. Who are in the mood to learn. This, is my 'starter'. And it works.
So this is what I did at the beginning of yesterday's lesson. I know that they don't particularly enjoy standing up and speaking formally, so it was my place to make them feel comfortable, so they could do the best that they could. I cracked a few very bad jokes (the groan-worthy ones are always the best!) then told them about assessment. I'd decided that they would peer assess the speeches and have to justify the grade using the GCSE criteria which I gave to them. I also told them that they should always look for the positive in their peers, to focus on that and not on what might not have worked so well. This comment (a bit sneakily I suppose) was also intented for the assessor sitting in the back of the class.
They then began their speeches. They were quite wonderful. They were articulate, clever and persuasive. They used the Alan Shore techniques (see previous blog) to perfection. I was so proud of them. The colleague observing my lesson may have been there to watch me, but I wanted her to see them. To see how good they have become. They are bright students who work well. They work well because they enjoy their lessons. And they learn. Surely this is what matters and not whether or not my lessons have these arbitary 3 parts.

Monday, 22 June 2009

My yr 10s are shaping up nicely. This week we are preparing for a speaking and listening exercise. They're pretty good, but their style is pretty unsophisticated (not surprising - they ARE only yr 10!) but for the A* grade, they need to be more structured in their talks.
I, like most of the world am mesmerized when Barack Obama speaks, so I decided to look at good speech writing and delivery. At some future date, I intend to get the class to analyse the techniques used in Obama's speeches (for anyone interested, the famous speech at his election is analysed in detail on but for now I found something simpler.
I found transcripts of the closing defence speech from 'A Time to Kill' (incredibly powerful speech) and one of the inimitable Alan Shore (wonderfully played by James Spader) closings from 'Boston Legal' - the one I chose to start with is a speech about condoms (yes, really!) It's a powerful speech that uses loads of persuasive techniques and is so well formulated that it makes a really good model for the kids to follow. Then this week, I used another one from a later episode that's a swingeing attack on the PATRIOT Act. It's witty and clever, and like the earlier condom speech, is great for teaching persuasive techniques.
I quite often use film or TV series to supplement my teaching and following the fallow period since Buffy left (although she still makes guest appearances every year in my Gothic lessons, or my lessons on the use and development of language...) Alan Shore has brought a lot of useful material into my classroom. So between him and Denny Crane, (the other major character in the series) Speaking andListening lessons will never be the same again!
I'm looking forward to hearing my Yr 10 speeches!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Out of the mouths of babes...

A few weeks ago, I began teaching Romeo and Juliet to my Yr10s. One of my girls, L, revealed a total passion for the play, not that she really knew it, she just knew approximately what it was about. She also said how much she hated Baz Luhrman's film version with Leonardo Di Caprio, claiming it was a travesty...
Anyway, we got into the play and when we got to the bit when Romeo dumps Rosaline for Juliet, she was disgusted and expressed her dismay at her idol's feet of clay in no uncertain terms. I suggested that perhaps he was just being a 'bloke' (which needless to say deeply offended the boys in the class -but that's half the fun!) to which L said, "He's actually being a complete dick, Miss."
I suggested that her choice of language might be a bit unfortunate and that she probably shouldn't describe Romeo using quite that word...but I agreed that perhaps she had a point...
We got to half term, so for homework I asked the class to finish reading the play (they're a fast paced group so this wasn't as onerous as it might seem). Today, the first day back, L greeted me with, "What on earth was Shakespeare thinking about when he wrote that ending?"
"What?" I asked, "the way everyone dies you mean?"
"No, not that," she said, "the bit that happens afterwards, all those people standing about talking! Talk about an anti-climax! Even Baz Luhrman didn't do that!"
I had to smile. I intend to explain the ending soon (the Greek tragedy format etc) but I was delighted that she had formulated an opinion based on actually reading the play. She was actually thinking. But the thing that made me really smile was her final comment as the class filed out to their next lesson.
I asked her as she packed her stuff, "So, what do you think of Romeo now? Still a plonker?"
There was a thoughtful silence then she said, "No. Not a plonker. He's just a boy isn't he? A kid. Look at the way he behaved when he was with Friar Lawrence. Throws himself on the floor and has a hissy fit. That's the behaviour of a boy, not a man. Shakespeare's writing about children...not adults. That's why they behave the way they do. It's not a play about grown ups. It's a play about teenagers...and we all know how they behave!"
And tossing her 15year old head, she smiled at me and walked out. Leaving me grinning like a Cheshire cat.
It was a wonderful feeling, seeing these students beginning to think for themselves and I hope that my lessons encourage freedom of thought. I might not agree with everything my students say, but that's not the point. They're supposed to argue with me: it shows they're not afraid to go their own way. And that's just what they should be doing.