Teaching for Teach First

Jenny Hoffman's Year 10 English class

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!

(thanks to Teach First photographer Nick Reynolds here are some nice pics of the day – 1 2 3 4)

16 comments for “Teaching for Teach First

  1. Gareth Howell
    14/03/2012 at 6:02 pm

    I also decided I would use technology in the lesson too.
    I’m told that technology is the most controversial issue in schooling.

    Evaluation has always seemed to me to be a very useful tool in learning. The approval of the customers has to be essential to the success of a lesson/ class. It applies best in adult education where they know what they are paying for.

  2. Tim
    14/03/2012 at 11:04 pm

    This may qualify as an inappropriate smart-alec comment, but surely what you meant to say in the comment to the first tweet was “Vital is misspelled”. “virtual things like food”?

    • lordknight
      14/03/2012 at 11:35 pm

      Thank you – well spotted! Another reason why I shouldn’t be a teacher – rubbish at checking my own work!

  3. maude elwes
    15/03/2012 at 1:44 pm

    What a wonderful and good looking bunch of kids they look. Great pictures as well. Their parents are fotunate indeed.

    What age are they? And how many years education have they had?

    Gove needs to get his finger out and return this country to its once fine standard.

    The discussion is always centered on deprived backgrounds, and how only those with money are accepted by the higher education system. When the real problem is poor teaching, low aspirations, as well as low moral objectives.

    If you take a kid from the lowest level deprived background, who at the age of eight still is unable to read, write, tell the time of day, know the days of the week or how to spell his name, instead of pretending, as is all too often practiced, that he doesn’t have the mental capacity to learn. Put him in one of those, despised, private or independant schools. Along with a once a week remedial tutor and you will find by the time he is nine, he will have a reading age of thirteen, a math age of eleven, and turns out to own an IQ of 139 instead of 94. And along with the other boys, learns Latin and French, can play cricket like Botham, swims like a fish, and manages the cello with distinction as well as read music.

    Then see how quick he is picked up by those top grade colleges, who are said to be biased against those from a poorer background. And all without having to dumb down their work load one iota.

    And please don’t return with this, can’t do because of, lunacy. Can do and does work, seen it, been there and now the person I cite is a Porsche driving property man of distinction.

    Use these independent schools and their methods as the example of what can be done. Ideology is unimportant. These kids, their families and their futures are.

    But, of course, you already know that.

    • lordknight
      15/03/2012 at 6:19 pm

      They are in year 10 – ie about 15 and I guess have had 10 years of state school education. Independent schools can be great, I went to one myself, but they aren’t for everyone and may not be scalable for reasons of affordability and the down sides of selection.

    • Gar Howell
      17/03/2012 at 8:19 am

      Maude comments about intelligence quotients,
      and transforming the quotient in 8 year olds.

      I sometimes wonder, especially since the advent of the OU, whether the IQ can not be changed at any time during somebody’s life, up to the age limit of the OU(there is none)! Jenny Lea.

      The perception of the meaning of “Intelligence” is an interesting thing too, (bearing in mind also that I am living in a fairly backward part of the country.
      One not entirely infrequently, comes acorss Down’s syndrome children who have been taught to say

      “I am very intelligent”!

      and taken across the whole range of less intelligent people their claims to intelligence tends to be in inverse proportion to their real ability!

      If you’re thinking about whether you’ve got it, you’re probably not using it either!

      How is IQ tested today? by an Eysenck style test?

      Artificial intelligence is for me the most interesting discipline today, especially since I have kept a few bee colonies in my time!

      • maude elwes
        18/03/2012 at 6:26 pm

        @Gar Howell:

        What I wrote happened a long time ago. The then boy in question, at the time, was obviously very bright to those who knew him. His vocabulary and demeanor was of a high standard. Without going into the matter any more deeply, the State, in a court of law, put up a defence of his inability to learn as his IQ was said to be 94, when in fact it was considered to be 139 on the Wechsler scale and this was needed to counter the erroneous defence put forward by a grossly failing inner city school. Which is not something that is uncommon when confronted.

        The psychologist who performed the test was proven correct when this same child was taken and given a regular fee paying independent school education, with once a week help in the first year.

        And that is all I am prepared to reveal here. Thhis child was a ward of court.

        I really do not understand what it is you want to refute.

        I will say, that he went on to a university education, not OU, and is a whizz now. He never lost the brilliance he showed he had at any time since that period in his life. So, it was not a fake test with a fake result.

  4. MilesJSD
    16/03/2012 at 3:26 am

    Your ‘teach first’ sortie was actually into “schooling-&-drilling”, for the 25%-timeframe Workplace
    and in this instance ‘how-to-be-a-parliamentary-public-puppet’
    (still snobbishly bandied about as ‘career-ladders’ and ‘decent-jobs’*).

    It is the 75% Lifeplace that needs the education, and before it can qualify to be termed “sustainworthy”, a good deal of training too, in how to budget and live healthily, citizenlike and environmentally-supportively, upon just one-human-living-per-week from the Common Purse and the Environment.

    Remember the warning from Academia and the Shop-Floor in the last century
    “You can become the best lawyer and the best doctor in the World,
    without any education whatsoever”

    (pause while team-members calm down reactionaries wanting to call in a psychiatrist to “Section that madman”)

    “But you can’t become the best in the world at anything
    without firstly the best training
    and secondly the right job-placements;
    but you don’t need any education”.

    • MilesJSD
      16/03/2012 at 6:17 pm

      * = since the only way to a ‘decent job’ is through a university degree,
      something like 80% of British Jobs are (therefore) ‘indecent’.

      And the so-called ‘Youth Parliament’ in the Commons green seats made the same gross error in mind-and-spirit functioning,

      and no one called it to ‘order’, certainly nor the Speaker John Bercow who consistently went along kidding that House-full (of mostly teenagers) that they were doing very well.

  5. Gar Howell
    17/03/2012 at 6:33 pm

    since the only way to a ‘decent job’ is through a university degree,
    something like 80% of British Jobs are (therefore) ‘indecent’

    Equally I can see little point in showing these children how to go about things.

    Of the tens of thousands of A level successes in the subject there can be very few who actually use the subject at any time.
    That probably also applies to the 1000s of university graduates in Politics and government, which must be just about the most useless subject ever offered for public examination.

    One of the noble Lord Norton’s former students, known to me, languishes quite frequently in the nut house, but has a brilliant rote learnéd knowledge of everything to do with parliament and politics. Sad.

    The notion of humanities students that they are acquiring knowledge (I did too) is so totally ridiculous, that it beggars belief, in subjects such as Sociology too.

    If it were marketable knowledge it would be more worthwhile but they still have to go and get professional qualifications before they can practise at anything which pays a good wage.

    They say now that if you don’t take A level Law you stand little chance of being accepted for the necessary law degree and even then of being acepted for graduate articles.

    The IN-flexibility, is all thanks to the exclusive professional monopolies, which people such as the Hon Member Austen Mitchell do their best to break, with legislation.

    • MilesJSD
      23/03/2012 at 6:43 am

      Just a quick note to Gareth’s above:

      “Psychology” was defined as the behaviour of the individual (whole-person, or -animal);
      “Sociology” as collective behaviour.

      At the beginning of this millennium, Sociology still had a major branch called “Social Psychology” – (oxymoron, contradictory, conflated, confuddling)

      and Psychology had formed three branches
      Micro- (as when a Pavlovian dog is made to salivate, or a rabbit to blink its eye when it is given a sudden puff of air)
      Molecular- (behaviour and conduct of just the one ‘naked’ person, of course allowed clothes and a chair to sit on, and so forth)
      Macro- (as when the individual ‘reacts’ to concentricly-surrounding external environment items and ‘scenarios’).

      The point is again, that you can “become the best (doctor) in the world without any education whatsoever”.

      Furthermore, I recall how it took only two days (at one hour per day) to turn my platoon of infantrymen from being nicely behaved sober young English high-school athletes, into screaming bayonet thrusting mass-murderers
      (during World War 2 of course, but it can be done in less time, and can make people even more ‘bestial’, in Peacetime).

  6. MilesJSD
    19/03/2012 at 11:14 am

    Bigger Questions remain unanswered, bigger Issues unresolved;
    and much of that is being Contextuality-wise studiously avoided:

    The job-skill you must have is not of your primary choosing
    it has already been chosen and set-in-concrete by an Individual-Capitalist-Employer and the Government s/he controls,
    to whom you “hire-out” or “sell” one human body able to perform such a dictated skill.

    So for God’s sake stop puffing up schooling and drilling for Jobs as “Education”.

    That is only permanently smokescreening the Human Life Spirit,
    and resulting in insanities
    such as the psychiatrist believing s/he is a large-number-of-human-beings “entitled” to draw multiple-human livings from the Common Purse; where the fact of the Lifeplace is that s/he actually ‘Needs’ only one-human-living (NB excluding workplace-costs of course, which must be paid by the Business);

    and in such as the Establishment, Politico-Economists and Private-Individual-Capitalist-Profiteers “demanding” and “grossly tearing” two (2) Earthsworth of Resources from this only-one-living-Earth;
    just to keep us 7 billion people marking time where we were approximately in 2009.

    • Twm O'r Nant
      19/03/2012 at 6:20 pm

      Individual-Capitalist-Profiteers “demanding” and “grossly tearing” two (2) Earthsworth of Resources from this only-one-living-Earth

      This is of course true in a capitalist and fiercely competitive society, one in which dog eats dog.

      I often think of the commandment “Love thy neighbour” and how difficult it is to achieve in a non hunter gatherer /or nomadic society!

      Where absolutely everything is fenced from the North pole to the south, and from east to west, it is surely much more valuable to be a co-operator than a competitor, somebody who likes to “work together with” rather than to “fight constantly against”.

      New Labour got drastically derailed by the MOD with their huge 2001 Lab Majority at which anything could have happened to Labour policies , internally in the UK ,during the succeeding five years.

      There must be a whole host of Military sayings/maxims such as

      “Internal threat/create external presence!

      It certainly hammered the Labour party in to a shape that they were not expecting until that time, and poor lord Knight is still to make excuses for his responsibility as a junior minister of defence during that time, by making out as a caring/sharing cooperator at schools round the country, which was after his tour of duty, another of his responsibilities.

      The Labour govt was defeated by its own success at the polls in 2001. It would otherwise have had a 30 year mandate.

      The tragedy of current labour leadership, well ….. an impediment to speech is no recommendation for somebody to pursue a career as a speech making politician, Zinist or no zionist.

  7. Twm O'r Nant
    19/03/2012 at 3:20 pm

    Human Life Spirit,
    and resulting in insanities
    such as the psychiatrist believing s/he is a large-number-of-human-beings “entitled” to draw multiple-human livings from the Common Purse;

    To clarify what Miles is saying:
    That so many children, who are brought up with state schooling, are also given clear instructions on how to claim state benefits.
    Form time to time the govt makes regulations to provide benefits for these very children themselves, although more recently the DWP has been doing Job seekers’ allowances and “Work experience”. In some areas Work experience just goes on and on, provided the “experiencers” claim that they can not read and write, until they are 25 or 30. They want their benefits so they can’t read as a matter of pride!

    Of the 10% of Privately schooled people, some of whom leave school with no useable skills at all,have a problem all of their very own.

    They are entirely unaware of the “Caring state”,(and it CAN be one)as instructed by state schools, and they experience exactly those medical symptoms described by the learnéd gentleman from Plymouth, roughly quoted above.

    I know of one man in the West country who has suffered every day of his life from not having had any such instruction at a minor private(ie Public)school and has claimed benefits nearly all of his life, which he has richly deserved. His brain most certainly does not work sufficiently well ever to have earned a living, by manual work or by pen.

    • MilesJSD
      20/03/2012 at 12:32 am

      I mean, “smokescreening” the human-life-spirit, even in the womb before they become ‘children’, Maude, and so very often wall-to-walled-blanked-out even unto long after the child has ‘lived’ and ‘passed on’,
      is really quite an evil governance-disease, regardless of how guilty-of-negligence other sectors are, such as Education, Training, Religion, and ‘Community’.

      How many of us, both adults and children, ‘realise’ that when Government, ‘fed’ by Academia, the Establishment, and Alas! The People, puts around thoughts such as
      “get sick, get unemployed, get disabled, get somehow disadvantaged, and you will BENEFIT”?

      Similarly with a “Caring State” that should be in more pointed truth a “Lifesupportive State” and holisticly genuinely so;
      but the State is not yet a truly ‘Caring’ i.e.Individual-Human-Sustainworthy-Development State.

      Such definitive and conduct-controlling wordings have outcomes both material and mind-spiritual.
      Essentially they need to be honest and clear:
      the first should be called “Lifesupport Allowances”
      and the second “The Sustainworthily Lifesupportive State” (implying that both the State and the Supported-Individual are committed to being Sustainworthy).

      Thank you.
      (There is a bit more, which I’ll try posting for the ‘plenum’ now).

  8. MilesJSD
    20/03/2012 at 12:48 am

    Just to round-off the above thread about the prevalent “smokescreening-out” of both Sustainworthy Governance and Sustainworthy Individual Human Development, please:

    It is way past Time to make both training-for-jobs, and education-for-lifestyling, longest-term sustainworthy
    upon a Conservation and Preservation base measured in eras of (say) 10,000 years (or however long it may take for Humanity to Emigrate to a better Earth elsewhere in Space)

    and that requires some radical “First-Purpose” drafting and constituting,
    and a top-to-bottom, across the whole face of all current human civilisations,
    “fitness-for-purpose” Declaration and Globally Enforceable Legislation, Training thereto;
    and hopefully a good few ‘sabbaticals’ of ‘voluntary’ education too.

    It is neither “these kids, their families and their futures”,
    nor the Establishments, Governance Centres, Captains-of-Industry, and Schoolteachers, that are so vitally and inescapably important.

    It is the Earth and its Lifesupports that really are absolutely, and irreversibly, indispensable.

    “Save Earth’s Lifesupports” and you have a chance of saving “Our Human Race”.
    (Now, how would you first teach us (all),
    how to “tweet” all-of-that
    in a mere handful of ‘characters’?)

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