Reflection on CELTA lesson plans

Although they are a while ago now, I want to reflect on the lesson plans (and lessons, as far as I can remember them!) that I produced on my CELTA course, from October to December 2011.

In particular, I think there are some real strengths of the CELTA course, that will help me in my maths teaching career. For example, the communicative language approach of the CELTA, whereby we emphasise teaching language that allows students to communicate in the real world, has a strong parallel with the functional maths agenda.

Also, CELTA has a really strong emphasis on AfL (although it’s not called this) and so reflecting on how I incorporated different elements of formative assessment into my CELTA lesson plans will, I hope, be valuable.

I’ve picked out two of my favourite CELTA lessons, along with one that didn’t go so well (the rest are included below for reference).

My favourite lesson, by quite a long way, used a well-known local surfboard maker and a fictitious shark to explain a particularly thorny point of grammar: the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous. It was probably my favourite lesson ever, and still is I think.

 

In terms of the communicative language approach, the key thing here is that grammar, and particularly grammar such as this, is a bit like algebra. It’s really important, but not particularly interesting in and of itself.

However, by incorporating a grammar point into a funny story, and showing how it can be used to communicate, this really sparked the students’ interest. Or, at least, it engaged and amused them sufficiently that they paid attention for the rest of the class. In a similar way, incorporating algebra into a real-life problem will invariably make it more interesting and, if I can make the functional maths element amusing and personal as well, so much the better.

In terms of AfL, like in all CELTA lessons there was a really strong emphasis on pupils demonstrating the learning of the lesson objective. Also, by incorporating mixed-ability pairs work I was able to differentiate the activities and encourage peer teaching. The main AfL approaches that I used were directed questioning, monitoring and feedback activities to ensure learning.

Perhaps the most interesting model to consider for the maths class, though, is the guided discovery. This was a really easy way to assess existing knowledge amongst the class before teaching the grammar point. Had the students really struggled at this point, I could have spent more time going over the grammar point itself. However, when most were able to cover the guided discovery with few problems, I knew I could move on more quickly. Careful monitoring of pupils’ answers to the guided discovery allowed me to do some directed feedback and adapt my lesson as a result e.g. I could have asked more able pupils to explain the concept to less able pupils.

The other good lesson I’ve picked out was the first one for which I received an ‘above standard’ grade, a reading and listening skills lesson.

 

The best thing about this lesson for me was my planning. Looking back now, fitting in what I did into 40 minutes was a real challenge, but will be useful in trying to cover a packed curriculum for maths. Meticulous planning meant that the transitions were really good, and the lesson flowed very well, enhancing learning.

In terms of the communicate language approach, I think the key thing here was to put the skills work into a context that was interesting and relevant i.e. discussions about films. In CELTA they drilled into us that the context was always vital – too often I feel maths lacks such a context, and it needn’t really – there is always a context and a real-life application for things.

In terms of AfL, this was an interesting lesson, because it was my first lesson with a new group. It required a really quick initial assessment of individuals’ abilities, in order to pair those of similar ability. I achieved this through lots of peer checking of answers, with careful monitoring, to avoid the danger of showing pupils up or embarrassing them in open class.

The lesson that didn’t go so well is one of my earlier ones, teaching about the weather.

It wasn’t a terrible lesson, but I made a number of errors that limited the learning that was going on, most notably having visuals that were too small so that they were hard to see, and in instructions that weren’t clear enough.

In terms of a communicative language approach, it was a funny one because I was teaching about all different types of weather whilst on the coast of Ecuador, which only ever really sees two types of weather, hot and sunny, or warm and cloudy. Thus whilst the language had a real-life application, it wasn’t really relevant to the students. In terms of functional maths this is a useful learning point – not all real-life applications are equally relevant, so I need to think carefully about what will engage pupils most.

In terms of AfL, it actually wasn’t too bad – I remember I used a test-teach-test approach, without really knowing what it was. This approach is classic AfL – test what students know, teach what they don’t know, then test them again to check they’ve learnt it. All great, but I think the problem in this lesson was that I didn’t have the experience to vary my actual teaching to take account of the outcomes of the initial test i.e. it was formative assessment, without actually impacting on my teaching or students’ learning. A learning point from this, therefore, is to ensure I think about what I’m going to do with any information I gain from formative assessment, either in the lesson itself or in future lessons.

CELTA lesson 2

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Reflection on Karie’s classroom observation

This was a classroom observation by my supervisor in UTSAM, on March 8th 2012.

From it, I can see that my classroom management skills were very good – something that I hope will benefit me in KS3 maths.

One significant development point for me, in relation to language teaching, was more use of questions to check the instructions I’ve given. I always found this a challenge with this particular class, as their language level was extremely basic, and so asking questions in English to check they have understood a command was as likely to confuse them as to clarify things.

However, Karie’s point is a really useful one for a future maths class, where the language barrier won’t be a problem except for a small number of EAL students. Asking questions of pupils to check they have been listening to the instructions will help to ensure that pupils do listen and pay attention. Definitely a habit to develop in the classroom.

Another point that Karie makes is in relation to my teacher talk time. This was never a major problem on my CELTA course, because I worked hard to ensure I had clear instructions, and didn’t talk more than was necessary. However, it started to slip as I started to plan more quickly at UTSAM. Therefore it’s something I should prompt myself to consider early on in my maths planning – I think if I can get into good habits here it will really help me. So I’ll add it onto my lesson plan master.

Reflection on planning and monitoring learning at UTSAM

When I applied for Teach First and completed my subject knowledge audit, one self-assessed area of development was my experience in planning and monitoring learning. I had some good opportunities to develop this experience whilst teaching at UTSAM, and reflect on these in this entry.

Planning

At UTSAM we really benefitted from our curriculum manager Karie’s efforts to implement effective planning frameworks. For every class we had to produce the equivalent of a scheme of work for the semester, as well as lesson plans following an agreed format.

The schemes of work made a huge difference to my ability to plan for effective learning, and specifically progression. Thinking carefully through not only the plan for the term, but also the objectives, knowledge, skills and values, distribution of time and methodology ensured that I was covering the syllabus, and more importantly caused me to consider what was most important for my students and therefore which areas were worth emphasising (e.g. grammar for my level 5 semi class) and why.

By contrast, when I lacked a coherent scheme of work in UTPL, it was much harder to ensure that I was planning for appropriate progress, and thus I felt the learning stalled for all students towards the end of the semester.

In terms of the lesson plan itself, the experience of UTSAM really taught me that if there is something you want to prioritise in the classroom, include it on the lesson plan. For example, Karie was keen that we accommodate varying learning styles, so the lesson plan included a column for the type of learning (kinaesthetic, visual, audio, tactile). This has prompted me to develop a list of prompts for my own lesson plan, which I will use to adapt a standard format lesson plan that my school provides for me.

Other than that, having to go through the discipline of planning every lesson really helped develop my experience in this area, such that I no longer feel as though this is a development point for me at this stage – I’m confident that I can structure a lesson reasonably well using starters, main activities, and plenaries.

A particular strength for me in planning, I felt, was being able to plan efficient and effective transitions such that we could get a lot done in the class, and also being ruthless about ensuring every task contributed to the lesson objectives in one way or another.

Something to work on is the amount of variety I put into the planning. In particular I found it hard to include enough kinaesthetic and tactile activities. In response to this I am collecting good ideas for kinaesthetic and tactile activities in a folder at the moment, so that it will be easier for me to include that variety once I start teaching.

As a last point, for the first class we put together a set of classroom rules and a plan. I never felt this worked (especially as it was in English) but I think I could incorporate some of this into a letter for the pupils on the first day, including how to do well in the class.

Monitoring learning

My CELTA course placed a huge emphasis on effective monitoring, and so by the time I got to UTSAM I felt as though this was something of an area of strength for me. In my classes I felt as though I had a good grasp on how well each student was doing as an individual, and I felt as though I could monitor both to check students were on task, and also to check for misconceptions, errors and learning.

One strength for me is in prompting students when they are stuck or have made an error. I rarely gave them the answer, and more often asked them scaffolding questions to help them to discover the answer for themselves, something that I think will stand me in good stead in the maths classroom.

One thing I’d really like to work on more, though, is asking the students how they feel their learning is going, and what they would like from me as a teacher. In a sense this is a different way to monitor learning, by checking with the students when they are on top of their learning, and when they are struggling. I often hold back from asking about that, because I’m nervous about what answer I’ll get. But I must get over this, and embrace feedback more effectively.

Constructive marking

I really like this idea for constructive marking from hammie on the TES forums (http://community.tes.co.uk/forums/t/566668.aspx?PageIndex=2):

a very simple bit of advice from inset some years ago.

When marking papers always give pupils a “to next grade” mark. e.g. 2 marks to a C grade. then get the pupoils to look for the silly mistakes, missed units, missed working marks.

Once they realise that the missing marks have made the difference to the next grade they will actually start to look for them. Plus it is a real motivator when they realise that although they missed the grade that they wanted, they CAN actually achieve it.

And of course, don’t just tell them to check their paper at the end, teach them what to look for. if you have time, look at each pupil’s paper for their most common individual way of losing easy marks.

I Always type their scores into Excel and use conditional formatting to colour code each qyuestion (ridiculously easy to do on the newest version of EXCEL), you can set up the spreadsheet and get them to type in their own question, by question score. so weak questions show red, good questions show green or gold, useful individually and even more so if you do the whole calss on one sheet and total the scores on each question and by number/algebra/shape/data etc.

When they arrive from primary they are usually used to “green penning” or highlighting their work to find improvements. It is a very useful skill that we should make time for in secondary.

Donkey of decisiveness?

Phil Beadle’s Dancing about architecture makes a big play on the value of the unexpected in the classroom. This fits quite well with my own love of the slightly ridiculous, and made me think of adapting Mr Collins’ idea of dice of decisiveness, to have a ‘something’ of decisiveness that was distinctly odd. My first thought is a papier-mache donkey of decisiveness, but I’m sure my ideas can only get better from there!