Talk for Teaching

What did I get out of talk for teaching ? 

I did promise to write this blog entry a few days ago but in my usual way I got over excited with a different notion. Last year (obviously I talk in academic years, not those gregorian ones favoured by non teaching types), I was introduced to this phenomenon of Talk for Teaching by one @paulgarvey4 So people are going to ‘observe ‘ me but not judge my lesson and I’m going to do the same , no clipboards allowed… Hmmmmmm ( sorry Paul ) I was, to say the least, sceptical, in previous schools any form of visitor in my lessons always felt like there was no such thing as a non judgemental visit. . Observing / drop ins / learning walks felt like exactly that. They always felt like they were all observations.

As a lead teacher, I signed up nonetheless, over the following two weeks I would be in 3 lessons and have visitors in 3 of my lessons.  

Off I toddled on day one. I was going into a mixed ability drama lesson, about as far away from my comfort zone and any area of academic enjoyment as I could possibly get. It was brilliant! students in a completely alien environment, ( alien to me, not them ) talking, ad-libbing, creating visual spectaculars. Students had task cards which were brilliant and they needed very little teacher guidance. 

I watched children engaged completely in their direction. I watch shy students use their imagination, intellect, empathy and with amazing confidence. They could communicate and share their ideas, responses and feelings. I was lucky, I experienced what the arts council, writes so eloquently:

According to the Arts a council,

“Through engagement in drama, pupils apply their imaginations and draw upon their own personal experiences. Their increasing knowledge and understanding of how the elements of drama work enables them to effectively shape, express and share their ideas, feelings and responses, making use of language, space, symbol, allegory and metaphor. Good drama teaching will result in pupils learning about dramatic form and the content it explores.”

I saw students express themselves so freely and confidently, in a way that I genuinely think I would struggle to replicate.

Drama makes an important contribution to the development of thinking skills identified in the National Curriculum. These are: 

•information-processing skills, eg sequencing and comparing

•reasoning skills, eg drawing inferences and making deductions

•enquiry skills, eg asking relevant questions and testing conclusions

•creative thinking skills, eg generating and extending ideas, applying imagination and looking for alternative endings

•evaluation skills, eg judging the value of their own and others’ work

In addition, in many drama lessons pupils are encouraged to reflect on their own thinking…. ‘metacognition’.”

Students were happily reflecting as they went along. I saw students use literacy, communication and lots of numeracy with timings and direction. I saw complete inclusion where students who are less academic were confidently able to express their opinions and not be ignored by their peers.

It was now my turn to entertain my visitors. A DT teacher and a humanities teacher. Not knowing what to expect I treated it like an observation, seating plan, lesson plan etc. blooms, student profiles , you know the drill.  

Anyway after 25 minutes we left the room, and we talked, alas in the beginning, I was still quite little and I was new in school so I didn’t lead them to a room with a kettle, P.G pyramids and Yorkshire tea bags! We talked about the learning environment and how students with reputations around school were engaged and were behaving. I didn’t think this was anything remarkable. As I was a new teacher the students might have taken liberties but they didn’t. Students were happy. We talked about how I justified the learning and how students reacted positively because they could understand why they were learning and what use it would be. The talk for teaching really was about learning from each other, it really wasn’t a judgement.

Next, I visited science, a top set year 11 triple science class. I’m a maths geek . I was in my world! I was amazed by how much O level chemistry I remembered. It was brilliant. Now these lessons have chemicals and other poisonous things in their midst, so organised, I was engaged and loved it. Students were watching, timing, describing, again literacy and numeracy in abundance. The atmosphere was fabulous, very different to the drama lesson but the same engagement and interest. I wonder :

Are my lessons this interesting ?  

I think in this lesson it was the organisation and the way the lesson flowed keeping students moving forward , students wanting to achieve student wanting to solve the problems!

I know that subconsciously I am changing my ideas. I’m changing and adapting, questioning my own practice. Tiny little things. Are my instructions this clear? Do I repeat my instructions too many times? Are my lessons too prescriptive and too directed? Is my questioning this good ? Let me try and step back a little. Let me stop my direction. Let me let students find mistakes and celebrate mistakes more than I already do. During ‘ feedback’ I was able to ask advice about how colleagues achieved certain things. I could ask advice about how I could improve how I could make my teaching better.  

My final observation this time turned out to be my favourite lesson to observe. DT, a bottom set DT lesson. So much numeracy in DT. I was astonished. Wonderfully creative lessons once again. Students flourished with creativity. By now, I have learned that I get more from the lessons by just being a part of each lesson, talking to students asking them why!?

Noticing the tiny things that you could possibly try and that you could adapt. We can all learn from each other and we can all watch colleagues deliver lessons without worrying, we are like the students. We are just there to learn.  

Ever since this first experience of talk for teaching , I have tried to observe as many different subjects as possible. I still love DT lessons. These teachers have remarkable classroom management skills and they don’t realise it. I always learn something new in English lessons. The things students learn in R.E has improved since I was at school.  

Thankfully , I can definitely say that I think school is a wonderful environment and most students enjoy learning, not always, but this opportunity to be a student and learn with students whitest picking up tips from colleagues is wonderful . Do it as often as you can , no judgement needed , just learning, growing , developing. You may notice that I have concentrated on what I gained by observing other teachers, obviously, being the critical individuals that we teachers are , I can report that my colleagues are brilliant. I hope they learn as much from me as I learn from them.

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