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Joseph Woodard - Primary with Maths Trainee

Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane

April 2023Joseph woodard2"What tips would you give regarding lesson planning?"

Lesson planning can be daunting and perhaps with good reason, there is much to think about. There’s the lesson content, the vocabulary, the assessment, the questioning, the plenary, and behaviour to think about. And you need to fit this all in to 50 odd minutes. However, I have found a few tips and tricks useful.  

Script your questioning 

I’ll start with some honesty; I’m stealing this tip from a member of last year’s trainee cohort. He said he found it useful to write your lesson plans almost in the form of a script and it’s something that I have used to a degree of success. Why would you write some vague instruction to question the students on their understanding when you could consider the exact question you want to ask? I’m hoping in time I’ll be able to consistently think of good questions or comments on the spot, but until then I’ll continue to script them in. And always write more than you think you need. It’s not to say you can’t try a little improvisation every now and then but having some clear and explicit instructions for yourself is the kind of scaffold you would be proud to give your students.  

It's no good on your laptop 

You’ve written a great plan, you’ve scripted your questioning, you’ve considered all the vocabulary the students are going to need so why wouldn’t you bring this into the classroom with you? Print it off, highlight your key points, your targets or what you keep forgetting to do and have it in front of you. I’m not suggesting you read off it like a nervous groom at his wedding, but you wouldn’t expect your students to work for an entire lesson without some kind of prompt. Do yourself the same courtesy. 

A point in the right direction 

You will almost definitely have a screen in your classroom and its likely to be used for a PowerPoint of some description. It’s tempting to fill these slides with all the information that your students could possibly need because slide upon slide of text will keep the students engaged and alert, no?  There is already something in the room with that knowledge, you. Perhaps reams of text work for some, but I have found that in this case, less is more. Keep the text as a cue for you to explain or better yet, another reminder of those questions you thought about whilst writing your lesson plan. We’ve all been to lectures where the speaker has just read paragraph after paragraph off the slides, don’t do it to your students. As for images and other media, one picture that makes your point effectively is stronger than something that resembles a GCSE collage.  

Times up 

If your experience is anything like mine, you will spend longer than you would like, stopping your lesson to deal with behaviour. It improves as the year goes on, but schools are unpredictable and just when you’re in a good flow the fire alarm will go off. With all of that in mind, don’t hamstring yourself by trying to cram too much in. Assume the steps of your lesson will take longer than you think. Best case scenario? You realise you’re ahead and can give a key point some more depth. Worst case scenario? You’ve got a little time in your pocket to cover the essentials.  

January 2023"What have your students taught you?"

Before beginning my career in education, I had assumed that students followed instructions because the instructions were given by adults. That’s what I had done at school. However, upon starting my training we were consistently told that the path to good behaviour in the classroom was to build relationships. My initial thoughts were that I agreed but that it only applied to building rapport in order to enjoy teaching when your students were behaving well and never as a way of limiting ‘bad behaviour’. Essentially, relationships were something you built so that you could have fun with your students and tell jokes, but they weren’t a way to stop them speaking over you in the middle of History.  

When I started the year, there were a great deal of students which this idea was applicable to. They followed instructions because that’s what they were meant to. That was great. They did their work, and I could get through my lessons. Until I couldn’t. Until the behaviour of those students that didn’t just follow instructions because they were meant to became unmanageable. After some time of trying to will my way through lessons it became apparent that something needed to change. 

My mentor and I changed our approach entirely. The discipline was still there, actions had consequences, certain behaviours were not tolerated. But if the students behaved well, we had a one-minute dance party. If they behaved well for a series of lessons, the reward was greater. We focussed on making sure the students knew and felt what it was like to be successful. After a period, we didn’t need the dance parties or the rewards. Around this time, I found myself feeling more comfortable with the students and my teaching style became more laid back. More importantly, being laid back, making the odd joke and including the students’ interests in my teaching was managing the behaviour without me needing to.  

This is really the essence of what the students have taught me: the heart of teaching is relationships. They are not something that is an added extra. You don’t get the students to behave in the way you want and then build relationships. If you build the correct relationships, if students feel valued and they know the feeling of succeeding in your classroom, they will behave in the way you want them to.  

We still have the dance parties, my mentor and I have started introducing our students to some UK garage (showing our age), but it’s no longer used as a motivator. The students want to succeed, and to show us their success. That is the motivator and that is what the students have taught me.  

October 2022"How did you prepare for your first week?"

When it comes to the first few weeks of training, if there is anything more important than being prepared, I sure would have liked to have known! As clichéd as it might sound, schools are places where no day is the same and the day you had pictured in your head the night before often ends up being something completely different. Having previously worked as a teaching assistant I knew there was only one way to combat this potential upheaval, be prepared and be organised!

Over the summer, our cohort was invited to a summer school to prepare us for the year ahead. It helped me to learn about curriculum and how to manage behaviour in those first few weeks and going back through the notes from that week was incredibly useful. I did this alongside some recommended summer reading. Whilst I’m more of a believer in learning hands on rather than just theory, until I was able to get that experience, there was nothing to do but read. It felt like a little extra preparation with no downside.

Armed with experience as a teaching assistant, summer school and some reading I felt reasonably prepared for the initial day to day work. I had a timetable, a time I was going to try and leave at every day, and a list of things that I needed to do. Mostly, that was enough but, as I mentioned, life in schools isn’t always what I thought it would be. On the days when things didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked, or when I was called to go on a trip at short notice, I had at the very least some experience, both practical and theoretical.

Most people have a list of things that they need to feel comfortable about and hopefully succeed at. Whilst mine isn’t particularly revolutionary I did find everything useful. I’ve collected things since that I couldn’t do without, but in those first weeks this was it: Water bottle, comfortable shoes, coffee thermos and of course stationary! It’s all straightforward but a dehydrated, achy, tired teacher with a pen that won’t work is not a happy teacher!

Finally, a piece of advice for anyone reading. The weekend before your first day, do something for you. Get a haircut, a massage, go to your favourite restaurant or go to the theatre. And then get a good night’s sleep!