Monday, June 20, 2011

Behind the scenes

As part of a maths assessment for a unit on fractions, my students were required to plan, resource, teach and evaluate a lesson focussing on one of the topics we'd addressed in class. Today they shared their lessons and taught a small group of their peers.

The students had the choice of what topic they would teach - they could combine topics if they were related. They could also decide at which grade level their lesson would be directed towards. Four students surveyed some Grade Three students to find out what they knew about their topic before they planned their lesson.

They were welcome to use any of the available tools in the classroom in order to deliver their lesson. Quite a few students saw the effectiveness of using the SMARTBoard and prepared resources to use on that. This was great as we've only had the boards for this year and it showed me that they felt very comfortable with it. Others enjoyed applying their knowledge through games and created their own versions of maths games that would suit their lesson. Another group created process and word problems with extra challenges at the end. A whole range of learning styles at work! The process needs some improving before I try it again but all of the students did a fabulous job and were very enthusiastic about their lessons. The fact that they had invested their own time into the development of their lesson helped them to form a stronger connection and I was able to see how well they understood their topic as they presented it.

One of the things that a lot of the students found difficult was the ability to have everything as prepared as possible so that the lesson would flow freely. Some students were unable to engage in much teaching as they spent too long setting up and their 'students' were lost. Some planned lessons that were too easy or difficult, or didn't research their topic enough so were caught out when asked tricky questions by their peers. Some were simply missing important resources so their lesson didn't run well. Obviously I wasn't gauging them on their teaching skills. I did look for appropriate planning and preparation, but teaching techniques and delivery methods weren't the focus of this activity. I wanted to see how well they knew their topic and whether or not they could be creative in the way that they applied it.

I was recently a mentor teacher for a student on his first teaching practicum. He'd been in the class 3 months earlier as he was changing careers and, as a parent of the school, he was considering taking up teaching as a profession and wanted to get 'a feel' for it. The observation period was a lot of fun for him as I was the one preparing all the learning experiences and he had the freedom to sit in with small groups or observe the class as a whole. The shock for him came when it was his turn to handle lessons on his own. He was blown away by how many balls he had to juggle at the same time as a teacher. It was a valuable lesson for him and something that he took for granted in the observation phase. He's already a very good teacher and these realisations will only help to make him even better.

The amount of planning for each lesson we teach requires an enormous amount of preparation and sometimes I think this work is invisible to third parties. It's all well and good for people to agree that keeping our students at the centre of learning is best practice, but to actually do it effectively is a whole different ball game. Great teachers are well prepared, knowledgable and enthusiastic about each lesson they teach. On the outside it may look like some lessons can be thrown together on a whim, but in most examples this is certainly not the case.

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