The little 'uns that I've grown quite attached to since day 1 in year 7 are now 13 and 14, and, today, we had "The Chat." Although, however, "The Chat" wasn't just about Birds n Bees- I had been reliably informed by one of my class that 'that ship sailed a long time ago sir.'
I had mixed feelings about today when I drove up the school drive, but I feel really proud of myself and my class- we had a lot of open and frank discussions about some really important issues. I myself learned a few new things- who knew there was a difference between an implant and an injected LARC (Long Acting Reversible Contraceptive)?!
Yes, in places, it was grim (one particular scar on the brain was the gonorrhoea Google Search we performed, as well as the class examination of water based lubricant and the Intrauterine Devices, which look appalling incidentally. But it was real, and it had a point. More than anything, it gave us a launchpad to produce emotionally driven and quality responses to real life issues.
It was awesome- the kids that had seemingly limped through a number of other pastoral sessions came to life when the subject and material was something they felt was relevant to them.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the day was the work the class produced to express their feelings about "healthy living." I saw letters being written, advice sheets being put together for real life audiences, as well as blogs being created to answer personal problems posed by others online. I noticed the same pupils that so often forget capitals and full stops were writing and displaying superb literacy skills. So much of the boring stuff goes out the window and "just happens the right way" when we care. The truth is, I think, that when the emotional buy in was there, in order to create a successful response in words, it needed these technical aspects before it could even be considered a success. It was amazing to see this being done so painlessly!
What was the key? I'm sure it was that the students had an emotional buy in; the transformation on the work and discussion was incredible. The level of challenge they provided one another, as well as the support they gave one another was inspiring, and I do think this has real implications for my teaching, not least in terms of the emotional forms of literacy that we need to develop with our students, in terms of passion and the value they feel they are receiving in their lessons.
I think we need to get real in education, and adapt to the kids in front of us. The curriculum needs to understand the kids it's trying to serve. I honestly believe that we are so much more likely to get anywhere with the "core skills" if a passion is instilled in the students along the way- maybe we as teachers might even learn something too. This is still something which is fermenting in my head, for sure, but I do seriously believe that if we want to get the best out of students, that they should want to get the best out of themselves, and the only real way of guaranteeing that as much as possible is to give them something to care about.
I know that such energy and momentum can't necessarily be maintained all of the time. Please also take into account that we shouldn't fill the curriculum with sex ed, but what I'd like to make a case for is a number of things that I want to now spin into my lessons-
1. Re-assessing the "what's in it for me" thing: how can we really incorporate this into the curriculum to enhance emotional buy ins? This is a much deeper issue, and I think prescriptivism is something we ought to look at- how can we get the right mix of academic rigour and emotional engagement into the curriculum?
2. Challenge: how can we incorporate a sense of challenge into our lessons, and do this in a meaningful way? The students were genuinely interested today, they genuinely wanted to know about a topic that really impacted upon them. How can I use this interest and somehow harness it, especially at KS3, to really turn the English classroom into a fun, challenging and successful place? What's interesting for me from today is that the challenge could only take place when the students actually cared.
My (tentative) answers:
I'm looking at how to apply this when I go in on Monday already. I'm doing The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Othello amongst other things. Already, I'm looking at controversial questions I can plan into my lessons, and adding a more personal, emotive touch to the resources to encourage responses from students. So much of English is about "personal response," well, I guess this is a later than usual New Year's Resolution (my weight watching is going just fine, thank you for asking...). In a sense, I need to find ways of winding my students up and get them to come with me on whatever journey I need to take them on, and recognise that this doesn't have to detract from, but rather support, real learning outcomes. I'll share more next week :)
There's loads of possibilities around real life issues with such texts I want to look at. Today has given me a bit of a kick up the backside in one sense- I've loved being reminded of the real people in front of me with real lives that need engaging, and motivating, just like adults, and I really hope that moving forward, we can continue to recognise that we can get so much more from them when they actually care!
I was driven into teaching by one particular teacher that always "wound me up" to the extent that I had to engage with what he was doing in his class, and whether I wanted to or not, in the end, I always went with him and learned something. I hope I can be at least 100th of the teacher that he still is!