Yesterday morning I turned up at Westfield Community Technology College in Watford to teach Year 10 English. The school is a non-selective secondary school, in the partially selective environment of South Hertfordshire. First impression was that the school building investment programme that is now running six months late is still desperately needed in areas like Watford.
I had volunteered to teach a lesson as part of Teach First week. Teach First is now ten years old and I was pleased to support it in my time as schools minister. When they asked me to do this I felt that it was time to put my money where my mouth is and try my hand at teaching. Given that I speak at countless conferences and in the Lords on the importance of technology in learning, I also decided I would use technology in the lesson too.
I taught Jenny Hoffman’s class. Jenny is a classic Teach First recruit – bright dynamic, and a lot younger than me! A daunting act to follow. She came up to the Lords during half term and she explained how to plan a lesson, told me about the class and what I might do to fit with their GCSE course.
I opted to do a lesson on non-fiction writing stimulated by the Lords debate on excluding child benefit from the Government’s proposed benefits cap. I started with a quick Q&A on the Lords and Parliament to get them warmed up and then showed them the opening section from the Bishop of Ripon’s speech from Parliament TV (go to 2 hours 38 mins in). I then showed the report on the Government’s defeat from the Mail and the Mirror followed by the Channel 4 News report. After another quick set of questions to make sure they understood the arguments, I shocked them by asking them to get out their mobiles and put them on the desk.
The school normally doesn’t allow mobiles but they were fundamental to my lesson. They had to work in fours and script a news report on the issue, and then record it on their mobiles. I then asked them to synthesise the argument into a 140 character tweet – here is what they said. Finally, I asked them, as I was supposed to get feedback on the lesson, to text me what they thought of the lesson.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I think the pupils did. I also think we both learned something. Teaching takes a lot of preparation and it also took my a while to “mark” their tweets. I couldn’t have done it without Jenny’s advice and I dread to think how long it would have taken me to prepare a week of lessons. I was also delighted that using mobiles in the class for learning works!