We recently took year 9 on a field trip to study clone town status and retail environments in Bournemouth and Southampton. Or as our pupils called it, ‘going shopping’. The first lesson I had with a year 9 group after the trip went really well. I explained the task, talked through the criteria, explained the level descriptors, handed out a writing frame and set them off. I told them they had the one lesson and a homework to complete the work. The class uniformly started the work promptly and eagerly. It was one of those lessons where I had only to answer perceptive questions and occasionally nudge a pupil to work not chat about x factor. Teaching appeared wonderful. With about ten minutes to go I had a great idea: “because you have worked so well on this I will allow you next lesson as well to complete the work. I have booked the computer room so you can do some extra research or produce some annotated maps and diagrams.” The class left the room and the warm buzz of a lesson well run and happily completed hung in the air.
S, full of my previous success and in the manner of a good reflective practitioner, I adjusted my plan for the next year 9 group I had on the following day. They were my favourite group; hard working yet fun, well behaved but not boring nor passively accepting of what was placed in front of them. Once more I explained the task, talked through the criteria, explained the level descriptors, handed out a writing frame and set them off. Only this time I told them they had two lessons and the homework. The second was to be in the computer room. They mooched around, idled a bit underlined the title and slowly swapped some data. There was no hum of industry, no sense of purpose and no perceptive questioning. What had gone wrong?
Of course I had told them they had twice as long as I had given the first group. The deadline was far enough in the future as to be unimaginable (it was next week) to a teenager. They had no need to push on and get the task completed. The lesson was more fluffy than focused.
I have re-learnt my lesson. Don’t give a y9 group a task that takes more than hour. Break it down into chunks. With the second group I should have said ” you have 30 minutes to write the introduction and method” or something similar. I certainly will with the next class. Or in fact I might just lie to them. Tell them have one lesson and then ‘change my mind’ with 10 minutes to go and give em an extra hour as a reward for their good work. If they work well that is, because you can never tell.