As a relatively new member of staff at Chosen Hill, and the least experienced school teacher in the G2O group, I started the program with mixed feelings. I could see the impact the course was having on learning in my own lessons, and on my own professional development and understanding. However, what support could I, having only just completed my NQT year, possibly offer to such an experienced and successful team of education professionals? “Who is she?” I hear you ask.
Prior to teaching, I worked for many years as a research scientist. My studies involved investigating the genetics of the immune system, and I have worked in various government and academic institutes in the UK and Canada. As well as the day to day lab work, I was responsible for funding applications and presenting the results in journals and at international conferences. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job was the mentoring of undergraduate and postgraduate students on lab placements, and it was this experience that made me decide to change careers. I was concerned that students were not capable of asking good scientific questions; but more worryingly, even these most able of students seemed unable to grasp the impact that scientific development has in shaping our societies. One student told me they couldn’t think of a project because we knew everything about science already and there was nothing left to find out. It was this that pushed me to sign up on the PGCE course to try fixing this misconception and get kids excited in science.
I have enjoyed my time teaching so far immensely. Yes, it’s hard work; but it is actually incredibly rewarding to work with young people and see them progress in all sorts of ways. For me, I believe encouraging independent learners is one of the most crucial aspects of teaching (and therefore learning). To be independent learners, students need some motivation, some intrinsic desire to progress. With this is mind, I found the sessions on Challenge the most interesting part of the OTP program and it is this topic that I will be focusing on in the team.
So what can I offer? Well, a genuine interest in understanding how we can challenge our students to achieve the best that they can, and a willingness to seek out and try new approaches in my own lessons. I am happy to share my successes and failures, and you can follow these on the blog. I will post resources that I think may be useful, feel free to adapt as you wish. Most importantly, if you would like some support in trying out new ideas I can talk through lesson plans or activities, or even come into lessons. These would not be “observed” lessons with a judgement, just a chance for informal discussion with someone who was in the lesson.
My focus is now on exploring how we can appropriately challenge students in the classroom, with the goal of students making maximum progress and becoming more independent. As a starting point, I wanted a working definition of challenge. Looking at various dictionaries, it struck me that all the definitions included an element of reward or enjoyment in the task. I will go with this definition for now : “A test of ones abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking”, which will probably change over the year! The main areas I will be looking at are as follows:
- Making challenging tasks inherently rewarding and not just “difficult”
- Supporting students so they feel confident in tackling the challenge
- Encouraging students that if they are not successful in the challenging task this can still be a useful experience upon reflection.
- Making students aware of when they are being challenged.
- Defining “pace” as number of learning events per lesson rather than number of activities per lesson – this can mean less activities but encouraging a deeper level of understanding.
- Differentiating tasks so individual students are appropriately challenged – challenge is very personal.