I wrote recently of the year 9 class that I was boring senseless with my favourite play Blood Brothers and of how a change of perspective from my point of view of what is exciting and fun, can create a more engaging learning environment. Today I am at it again.
The culture in many schools today is to enter students early for examinations. Like many other Year 11 pupils in the country, my class already have their final grade for GCSE English Language. We are now working towards their English Literature exam.
To put the reflection which is about to follow into context, this class are not A* students; with blood, sweat and tears, we have achieved grade Cs and they cannot see the point in having an English Literature qualification. Common questions lately include: “How will poems help me in the construction industry?” “When will I ever use this knowledge again?” “My apprenticeship only asks for a C in English Language; why should I learn about Literature too?” I endeavoured to show them.
I wanted pupils to recognise the link between skills learned in class and skills which may be required of them in the work place. Analysing poetry is not just about spotting alliteration and explaining what it has been used for. Pupils are learning to look beyond the obvious, to appraise, to explore and come to their own conclusions; we are often working in teams in order to achieve this and so I wanted to create a simulation of a work place experience that could demonstrate how useful these skills may be.
I set the room up like a board room and had the sign “Poetry Inc” displayed upon the whiteboard; playing alongside this, I used the music from The Apprentice to create an exciting atmosphere for the pupils to walk into. The situation being that we were a team of researchers working for the exam board AQA. We were employed to find appropriate poems for the English Literature exam. We were preparing to present our findings to the boss of AQA; this meeting was to take place in one hour and we must be confident in our ability to pitch our chosen poems (poems that we have already studied in class). We would need to demonstrate that they contained all of the necessary elements that pupils can use to explore (interesting language features/ structural devices/ obvious set theme etc…).
The pupils were treated like adults and I attempted to give them adult choices by providing them with refreshments such as still and sparkling water and a few nibbles. The ‘code of conduct’ was explained to them as a polite reminder but they were told to feel free to help themselves to snacks as we worked. I wanted them to feel grown up, to feel that they were making an informed choice for their actions which was not just down to following the usual school rules. I also wanted them to have a glimpse of what life could be like when they are out there in the real world.
As pupils entered the room, they were asked to sign in under my name as chair person. I included my achievements after my name in the form of letters: BA Hons, QTS and AST. I explained that my position as chair person was important as I had worked hard to get where I am. I have qualifications which I am proud of and that can have influence over me gaining a high paid position. I asked them to look at their names and aspire to be the best that they could be rather than settling for the employee position they were in currently.
The lesson itself was merely a revision session. I set out all of the tasks that we were going to cover as an agenda. The tasks lead pupils in making informed decisions about which poems they would happily put forward to the boss and which poems they felt we needed to discuss further before he arrived. A letter from the boss was used to explain the expectations and was later used to review. Pupils worked in pairs before presenting their findings and then we worked as one big team to discuss the issues and the resolutions.
This class are not angels! I expected a degree of immaturity and I was ready for it. I prepared warning notices and a disciplinary office so as to emulate what could happen if they were to break the rules in a work place. I only had to serve two notices for a momentary lapse of maturity and nobody entered the office. On the whole, the pupils engaged with the task and appreciated the change of environment.
At the end of the agenda I had added AOB and used this as an opportunity to reward hard working pupils. There are a handful of pupils who never complain, who turn up day in and day out putting in110% and they deserved a mention. I wanted to show pupils that with hard work comes reward and so this handful of pupils were my employees of the month. I presented them with a little prize (some mini eggs) and a huge round of applause.
With this lesson, I wanted to engage and inspire pupils to work hard towards their Literature qualification. Regardless of whether they were going to be a brick layer or a lawyer, they should always aspire to be the best that they can possibly be.