Developing teaching skills – Secondary science

During my school placement I was involved in teaching my specialist subject to two different classes of Year 9 pupils and I will focus my evaluation on the more able of these two. The school has a policy of setting the pupils for maths and science and this particular class were second from top set and therefore of good and matched ability. The class was made up of 10 girls and 15 boys. Three of the pupils were listed in the school SEN register, one for emotional behavioural difficulties and two with physical disabilities, although the school had graded all three as not requiring any special provision.

The timing of my placement gave me the opportunity to introduce and continue to teach a new module to the class for the weeks between half term and Christmas and was Key Stage 3 Unit 9B: Fit and Healthy.

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Rationale

I consulted departmental and National Curriculum schemes of work in order to establish which topics and educational objectives were to be covered, and to decide in what order I should teach them, and how long I should spend on each topic. Details of these schemes of work as well as the scheme I generated are included in Appendix I. I also took into consideration the school resources available to me. For instance, the video recorder was awaiting repair so this precluded me from using any of the video resources that had been previously employed in teaching this module. There were also very few records of how this module had been taught last year, and in fact I could find copies of only two lesson plans (one of which used the now defunct video recorder!) After consultation with my mentor, I decided my best strategy for planning my teaching was to ‘start from scratch’ and produce brand new lesson plans, worksheets and practicals for the topics I was going to cover.

I approached my planning through the following stages, constructing an overall picture of what the task required:

* Deciding what to teach and what therefore the pupils need to learn, taking into account their previous learning (educational objectives)

* Deciding on the type of activities I was going to use, their timings, what order I was going to use them (selection and scripting)

* Deciding what props and materials I needed and ordering or generating them accordingly

* How I was going to link the lessons

* How I was going to monitor and assess the learning and therefore pupils’ progress and attainment during and after the lessons

Even working within the framework of the National Curriculum still leaves a great deal of choice to teachers (Kyriacou, 1998) and I therefore decided to use a concept map to help me decide which topics I was going to teach within the framework specified by the departmental scheme of work. This exercise also helped me decide on how to link the lessons so that progression from one lesson to the next would make sense to the pupils. A copy of the concept map I used is in Appendix II.

I decided to base each lesson around a factor affecting fitness and health. My plan was to brainstorm the class at the beginning of the first lesson to elicit the factors and then use each lesson to concentrate on a factor, referring back to the general theme to help the pupils ‘see the bigger picture’ and therefore link the topics for themselves and construct their own meaning. “Progression happens inside a pupil’s head, but continuity is something organised by the teacher” (Driver et al., 1998). Therefore continuity and ‘progression’ my lesson plans should structure ideas and experiences for the pupils in such a way that they could move their conceptual scientific understanding forward.

I was going to teach four sessions and so the sequence I decided upon was as follows:

* Lesson 1 Importance of a balanced diet

* Lesson 2 Importance of exercise

* Lesson 3 Effects of smoking on health

* Lesson 4 Effects of drugs and alcohol on health

I also planned a Lesson 5, which would allow the pupils the opportunity to play ‘health detectives’ and apply the knowledge gained from the previous lessons to assess case studies. The reason I planned this lesson (which would be given after my placement had ended) was because I felt that it was important that more time was given for the pupils to apply their knowledge in some higher order thinking. This would serve as an assessment exercise for both teacher and pupil and help identify any areas which needed further revision or clarification.

Once I had decided on the sequence of lessons, I made a checklist so I could focus on the content of each lesson (Baumann et al., 1997).

* What do they already know?

* What do I want them to know?

* How long do I have?

* How will I structure the lesson and manage the transitions?

* How will I present the lesson?

* What equipment do I need? (overheads, worksheets, props, etc) and which of these will need preparing

* What will the pupils do? (listen to me, complete worksheets, copy from the board etc)

* How will I evaluate the lesson?

I consulted the school syllabus to establish what the class had already been taught, and what they should learn. Each lesson was 90 minutes, which provided me with plenty of time to structure the lessons so that there could be a mixture of activities. I had observed this class in other lessons as part of the preparation for my teaching experience and had noted that the class responded best to lessons where there was a ‘fun’ element, new approach and a ‘WOW’ factor.

I decided to structure the lessons around clear phases or transitions. This not only helped me plan, but also enabled me to maintain consistency from one lesson to the next so that by the third lesson in the sequence, the pupils knew what to expect and what was expected of them. I divided each of my lessons into five phases (according to Hargreaves et al., 1984) as follows:

* Entry phase (how they enter the room)

* Settling phase (give them something to do whilst I am taking the register)

* Lesson proper (mixture of teacher- and pupil-led activities)

* Clearing up (tidying, homework set and put in diaries)

* Exit (how I am going to let them leave the room)

This helped me focus on how I was going to manage the class at each phase and how to move from one phase to the next.

During my observations of other lessons and also from my background reading I had noted that the most likely time for any disruptive behaviour and classroom management issues to occur was during the transition from one phase to the next, so having the phases clearly marked in my lesson plan, together with some strategies on how to deal with any potential behaviour issues meant I was ‘prepared’. Some of these strategies had been acquired from observing this particular class before I was due to teach them so I could start putting names to faces, knew where they sat, which were the quiet reserved characters, and which were the characters more likely to distract the class through their behaviour.

I spent some time deciding on how I was going to present the lessons and myself. I decided that I would best engage the class by using a creative approach (WOW factor) and adopting a lesson style which was ‘hard work’ but ‘fun’. Pupils who were engaged and enjoying the lesson would be far less likely to misbehave. I also wanted to earn a reputation for giving original and positive lessons. Word of mouth takes place in the playground as well as in the staffroom and I felt that it was important that the pupils found the lesson a positive experience and consequently told their peers (I was teaching another set the same series of lessons each week and the tactic worked – the second class came into the lessons with positive expectations and this greatly helped with classroom management).

To maintain consistency, I used the same format for the entry, settling, clearing and exit phases for each lesson. This was to establish a positive and purposeful classroom climate (Kyriacou, 1998). The lesson proper phase was where I varied the activities according to the learning objectives, resources available, and evaluation of the previous lesson if appropriate. Each lesson proper phase began with teacher exposition or Q ; A and would involve a mixture of teacher-led and pupil-led tasks. The teacher-led tasks would be where I would either revise a concept covered in a previous lesson or introduce a new concept to be learned.

The pupil-led tasks that followed allowed time for the class to engage in ‘active learning’. I had made an impact with my ‘WOW’ factor, elicited their ideas through Q ; A and discussion, and taught them new material through presentation. It was their turn to be ‘active’ in their learning. They needed time to make sense of the new information they had seen and heard (Ross et al., 2000). Using a mixture of these activities kept the pupils engaged, the lesson ‘fresh’ and interesting, and avoided too much ‘chalk and talk’.

Assessment of learning took place during and after each lesson through teacher-led Q ; A sessions, quizzes, worksheets and homework. The homework after each lesson built on the ideas covered during the lesson and required the pupils to apply their knowledge and understanding. This would enable me to identify any prevailing misconceptions or individuals who were struggling. These could then be tackled during teacher and pupil led activities in the following lesson.

Finally, I ensured that appropriate risk assessments and any other useful notes were included in every lesson plan. I wrote each lesson plan and accompanying script where necessary according to guidelines outlined in the National Strategy for Key Stage 3 (DfES, 2002) with a view that another teacher could pick up the plan and present the lesson. This helped me focus on what I should consider and include. I also included details of how the lessons linked with other aspects of the curriculum (literacy, numeracy, citizenship). Details of the lesson plans, accompanying scripts and examples of worksheets can be found in Appendix III. Although differentiation was not a particular requirement for the class, I also made sure I had some extra tasks or questions to hand for the more able within the group.

To maintain reflective practice, each lesson plan in the scheme of work was amended as necessary following evaluation and debriefs of the previous lesson. Copies of these evaluations and debriefs can also be found in Appendix IV.

Effectiveness of planning

My conclusions on the overall effectiveness of my planning are as follows.

Strengths

* Planning my lessons around the five different phases of a lesson, using starter and plenary activities.

This has enabled me to focus on the different stages of a lesson and therefore how best to achieve the learning objectives as well as concentrating on what either myself as teacher, or the class or individuals should be engaged in at any point during the lesson. However, flexibility is also a key factor in delivering effective lessons and I was able to adapt the lesson plan (for example by omitting certain overheads or allowing more time for discussion of a topic) to accommodate the learning.

* Being creative

This a useful skill in planning and meant that I was able to present what is for most Year 9 pupils a familiar topic in a new and interesting way, therefore engaging more higher order thinking and facilitating learning (and minimising disruptive behaviour) at the same time.

* Being able to plan around what resources are available.

This to a certain extent is also a creative skill although it must be taken into account when planning a series of lessons. I created all my resources (overheads, worksheets) and samples are included in the Appendices.

* Linking lessons with each other and with the pupils experiences

I found using everyday examples, images that the pupils can relate to, and referring back to the concept map of the whole picture at every lesson enabled the pupils to put their learning (and the objectives for each lesson) in context. If the pupils can relate to what your are teaching them, you are more likely to succeed in your learning objectives.

Weaknesses

* Overestimating what can be achieved in a lesson

Certainly to begin with, I underestimated how long it would take to complete a worksheet or copy something from the board. In addition, I had not taken into account during my first lesson plan, the time that would be spent on dealing with minor off-task behaviour which can lead to you running five minutes late by the end of the lesson and therefore running out of time for the clearing and exit phases, which for example can mean you run out of time to explain the homework task properly.

* Spending too much time on one phase

A typical example of this is the ‘Brainbox’ game I had introduced at the end of each lesson (a revision exercise which introduced an element of competition). The pupils enjoyed this so much that they would ‘plead’ for another round and on more than one occasion I complied, meaning that although the pupils had a ‘great’ time, I ran out of time to handle the clearing and exit phases as well as I should and the lessons ended a bit ‘rushed’. I think I did this as a ‘new’ teacher who was anxious to ensure that the pupils viewed my lessons as a ‘positive’ experience. With hindsight, I should have confidence in the fact that they have enjoyed the lesson and stick to my plan – there is always the next lesson for more quizzes etc!