Students today are bombarded with “stuff” that involve all their senses, and something I read today (which for the life of me I can’t find now!) has got me thinking about a conversation with some of my students this week. The blog (that much I can remember!) was about students’ “need” to be entertained every lesson and questioned when teachers began to change how they taught to take this into account. The “buying in” of the theory that the current X (box) Generation need to be constantly entertained is something I’ve questioned, and in my experience this is dependent on maths ability. The higher groups seem to like learning for the sake of learning, and rarely ask “but miss when will I need this?” whilst lower down the scale I find that the activities I plan are shorter and the lessons have to be much more “pacier” with a very obvious focus on real life scenarios.

So let me tell you about the conversation .. let me set the scene …

Location: My classroom.

Preamble: In the preceding lessons the group had their marked end of year assessments returned to them, filled in their RAG sheets, read my teacher feedback to them whereby I’d set them each a personalised question to have another go at and marked those (closing that all important feedback loop!) so I could finally start teaching them again. The topic is laws of indices … moving onto including negative indices if we could.

Lesson: I did a couple of examples on the board after the students had got the date and title in their books, they copied the examples down. I dished out some “boring” worksheets with loads of similar questions (but getting increasingly more difficult) on and told them that I wanted “heads down” work, and this involved them focussing solely on the work in front of them and working in silence. No group work, no pair work, no “show me” … nothing. Just simple practice. As soon as the first student finished (about 10 minutes) we marked the work and I asked them to work out their percentage of correct answers (from the questions they’d attempted) and each student told me their own percentage.  I then did another example, told them which section to now attempt and another 10 minutes or so of “heads down” work took place … and guess what? We repeated this 3 more times.

During one of the transitions (about halfway through the lesson to break it up a bit) we had a discussion about this style of working where it was just lots of deliberate practice. No bells, no whistles, no problem solving, none of my usual ploys of hiding the amount of work I wanted them to plough through by using “whodunnits” or connect 4 worksheets. Nothing. Nada! I was fascinated when they told me that they rarely ever work in complete silence (to be honest I’m not convinced it was true!) and that sometimes they want a bit of “peace and quiet” to just think but its not cool to admit that!. I know some of you will be saying “that’s called teaching” but you need to understand that I mean complete silence and also take into account the fact that I did my PGCE only six years ago and I would have been subjected to pedagogical theories that were (are still?) the flavour of the month.

In relation to the objectives of the lesson, they managed to “get” what I wanted them to, and I was even able to do a “Miss is pushing her luck” example (and  got them to put that as a subheading) where we got onto negative indices.  What I find fascinating is that it wasn’t my most studious kids that said at the end of the lesson “good lesson today Miss, I enjoyed that!!” it was the “bubblers” in the class, the ones that others bounce off and who need constant reminding to “remain on task”.

Well .. I’ll be jiggered! I’m not saying my classroom is loud, and I’d never really thought about it, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I rarely have them working in dead silence as they will usually be discussing their answers and the work with their seating partners (I am quite laid back as long as the talking  is all about the work). By making it explicit that this was a “heads down” task at the outset I’d made it clear what I wanted them to do and was in total control (well! as “in control” you can be as a teacher!) and the “lads” knew not to push the boundaries.

I’m not advocating dead silence every lesson, and certainly not for an entire lesson, every lesson! but it was the first time that I’d got the impression from this group (4 of 5) that the students actually wanted me to take control away from them and more importantly that they wanted to be “taught” for the pure and simple goal of learning “stuff”. This feeling was almost tangible … I could almost touch and feel it … or maybe that was just the fact that they’d had PE earlier and they were shattered!