3. Managing behaviour through lesson planning
If behaviour for learning is to become embedded in trainee English teachers’ practice then they need to understand how much it has to do with what goes on before lessons even begin, rather than simply what happens during lessons. Instead of looking only to sessions explicitly focused on ‘behaviour management’, then, student teachers need to see the ways in which managing pupils’ behaviour is an integral part of what they’re learning about how to plan and teach English lessons.
Faced with the prospect of teaching their first lesson, student teachers at the beginning of the course often think of lesson-planning in terms of coming up with a sequence of activities that will occupy pupils for an hour or so. Confident, ambitious student teachers will want to show off their creativity by devising some innovative resources or activities. Less confident ones will simply want to survive unscathed. For most student teachers, the focus is very much on what they will be doing as teachers; few focus at this stage on what pupils will actually be learning.
Encouraging student teachers to put pupils’ learning at the heart of their planning is a crucial part of behaviour for learning. If pupils feel that lessons are purposeful, if they understand what they are learning and how it is helping them to make progress, and indeed if they can see the progress that they are making, then they are much more likely to behave well in lessons.
A good lesson plan proforma provided by schools or training institutions can be very helpful in encouraging student teachers to think about learning objectives in their planning. A useful proforma should:
- make learning objectives clear, concrete and easily understandable
- distinguish between what higher achieving and lower achieving pupils will learn or be able to do by the end of the lesson
- make links between learning objectives and the National Curriculum/GCSE/A level specifications
- distinguish between what the teacher is doing and what the pupils are doing at each point in the lesson
- encourage student teachers to think about the overall shape of the lesson
- encourage student teachers to think about progression from the previous lesson and into the following lesson
- aid the thinking process for student teachers when planning their lessons, rather than just being something they have to fill in
Lesson plan exemplar 1
Lesson plan exemplar 2
Towards the beginning of the course, some student teachers see a lesson plan proforma simply as something that has to be completed as a formality. Some student teachers also experience confusion when presented with two very different proformas by their training institution and placement school. It’s helpful, then, to provide student teachers with an opportunity to analyse different lesson plan proformas.
Analysis of lesson plan proformas
Student teachers bring to the session examples of lesson plan proformas from their placement schools. They then work in small groups with a selection of different proformas, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of each one and coming up with a rank order. Each group then selects the best lesson plan proforma and explains why they like it best.
This activity should enable student teachers to generate a list of criteria for a good lesson plan proforma much like the one included above. The aim is that this should help them to develop a much better understanding of the process of lesson planning, seeing the lesson plan proforma as an aid to their thinking rather than a paper exercise.
Q14, Q15, Q10, Q22, Q24, Q25, Q29
Sessions in training institutions spent on collaborative short and medium-term planning provide valuable opportunities for student teachers to develop their thinking about planning through discussion.
On the Secondary English PGCE course at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education the student teachers spent two sessions in the autumn term working in groups of three or four on medium-term and short-term planning for teaching Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman.
Having read the novel beforehand, student teachers were provided with a medium-term plan proforma (Medium term plan exemplar) which required them first of all to establish clear overall aims for the scheme of work. Imagining they were teaching a mixed ability Year 9 class, they were asked to come up with:
- an aim for developing all pupils as readers in this mixed ability class
- an aim for developing all pupils as writers
- an aim for developing pupils’ speaking and listening
- an aim related to the content/theme of the novel
They were also provided with a list of the National Curriculum assessment focuses and encouraged to cross-check their ideas with this document. Many student teachers found the task of establishing clear aims challenging at first. Some were so excited by the creative ideas they had for activities based around the text that they found it frustrating to put these to one side and focus on learning objectives. Others simply found it difficult to articulate in words what it was that they wanted pupils to learn through their study of the novel. Interestingly, though, even student teachers who had not enjoyed the novel found by the end of the session that they were able to think very clearly about what pupils might learn by studying it.
One group, for example, came up with the following overall aims:
- Pupils will be able to read the text in depth to deduce implied meaning, identifying subtext and developing an awareness of the author’s purpose
- Pupils will be able to identify key features of dual narrative and employ these within their own writing
- Pupils will be able to work in role to present points of view which may be alternative to their own in a speaking and listening context
- Pupils will begin to develop an understanding of themes of race and prejudice within the novel and how these relate to our own society
Once these overall aims had been typed at the top of the medium-term planning sheet, the student teachers then worked together in their groups to plan a full seven-week scheme of work on Noughts and Crosses. However, they were encouraged to keep referring back to the learning objectives they had set at the beginning in order ensure that the activities they were planning would enable pupils to meet them.
Q1, Q14, Q15, Q10, Q19, Q22, Q24, Q25, Q29
Despite sessions on lesson planning, some student teachers still struggle with the idea of learning objectives. They may become distracted from a focus on learning by what they see as the more pressing demands of dealing with pupils’ poor behaviour, or they may have learning objectives that are so abstract they never actually translate into anything tangible for the pupils in their classes. Simply asking student teachers to phrase learning objectives in terms of these two questions can be a very helpful step along the way towards behaviour for learning:
- What do I want higher achieving pupils to understand or be able to do by the time they leave the classroom?
- What do I want lower achieving pupils to understand or be able to do by the time they lave the classroom?
Some teacher educators encourage student teachers to think of learning objectives very simply in these terms:
- All pupils will…
- Most pupils will…
- Some pupils will…
Q1, Q10, Q19, Q25
After observed lessons in which student teachers have spent much of the time dealing with challenging behaviour and have left the classroom feeling bruised and battered, it can actually be a relief when their mentors identify planning as the biggest area for development. During a lesson like this, student teachers will have been so occupied with their interactions with pupils that they may not have been able to step back and identify what it was about the structure of the lesson or the nature of the tasks set that created opportunities for pupils to become disengaged. Identifying planning as an area for development here helps student teachers to see that it might be possible for them to create a positive learning environment with this class, rather than feeling as if they will never be able to manage these pupils’ behaviour. The mentor’s role in observing the lesson and noting down exactly where things started to go wrong, and why, is really valuable. Talking this through with student teachers and making suggestions for future planning is very helpful.
I mentored a student teacher recently who was working with a large and very challenging Year 7 class. For one observation I divided my page of notes into two columns. On the left hand side I noted down everything the student teacher did that got the class’s attention, engaged them in the work, or had a calming, settling effect. On the right hand side I noted down everything the student teacher did that caused the pupils to lose concentration or resulted in off-task or disruptive behaviour. At the end of the lesson the most striking thing to see was that the left hand column contained far more notes than the right hand one. This was immediately reassuring for the student teacher, who had a tendency only to notice what she felt hadn’t worked in her lessons. We could then go through the lists on each side of the paper, analysing what strategies seemed to work best with this class and what were the most high-risk moments in the lesson. She was able to take these things into account in her planning for subsequent lessons with this class.
Some other mentoring strategies that can be useful include:
- The student teacher teaches a lesson planned by the mentor
This works best if the mentor and student teacher spend time talking through the plan carefully before the lesson so that the student teacher fully understands the purpose of each part of the lesson, and how the transitions from one activity to the next should work. It’s a good strategy to use when a student teacher’s confidence has been shaken by a lesson in which he or she has struggled to manage pupils’ poor behaviour.
- The mentor teaches a lesson planned by the student teacher
This is a good strategy for focusing student teachers on their own planning because in this case they don’t have to think about anything else. The student teacher can then observe the lesson carefully, evaluating his or her own planning with a clearer sense of judgement than can be obtained when he or she is teaching at the same time.
Q6, Q7, Q8, Q9
In thinking about the different sorts of activities that might take place in a lesson, MacLennan (1987 p. 194) makes a useful distinction between the ‘stir factor’ and the ‘involvement (or settle) factor’. She writes that ‘Some elements of a lesson will stir a class up, in the sense of either stimulating them or unsettling them. Other events will settle the participants, either positively in the sense of calming them or negatively by boring them into some kind of unresponsive stupor.’ Helping student teachers to think about the effects that different types of activity might have on the ‘mood’ of the class will help them to focus on behaviour for learning.
In an English session, for example, student teachers might be invited to think about how to teach sentence punctuation to a mixed ability Year 7 class. They might be taught two different approaches:
- Walking punctuation
The desks are cleared and pupils are invited to start walking slowly around the room in a circle. When the teacher shouts, ‘Full stop,’ the pupils have to come to an abrupt halt, stamping their feet as they do so. Other punctuation marks are then introduced: the comma, which means that pupils take one step back and then continue walking forward, without stopping; the exclamation mark – pupils jump in the air, land and stand still; and the question mark – pupils stop and lean forward, bending their arms over their heads. Each pupil is then given an unpunctuated sentence on a piece of card. They have to work out how to punctuate their sentences and then ‘perform’ them in front of the class, acting out the appropriate punctuation. More able pupils can be encouraged to make up their own punctuation actions for semi colons, colons, speech marks and so on.
- Punctuation sorting
Pupils are organised into pairs and given an envelope containing lots of pieces of card. Each one is printed with a word or a piece of punctuation. Pupils have to rearrange the pieces of card into correctly punctuated sentences. More sophisticated punctuation, such as colons and semi colons, can then be introduced, and pupils are invited to rearrange their sentences, incorporating the new pieces of punctuation.
After trying both activities themselves, student teachers can then be invited to discuss how it felt to learn in each of these different ways. It’s usual for many student teachers to be excited by activities such as ‘Walking punctuation’ so it’s important to discuss the practical implications of this kind of activity. Encouraging them to think about what they might do next in the lesson if this were the starter helps them to focus on the practical implications of ‘stirring’ pupils at the beginning of the lesson. Equally, student teachers can also be encouraged to reflect on the practical implications of ‘settling’ pupils at the start of the lesson, particularly if they are then intending for pupils to be very active later on. Once again, it’s not a question of student teachers having to choose between these approaches, as if one is ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’. Rather, it’s about equipping student teachers with the skills and confidence to create their own ‘settling’ and ‘stirring’ activities and to make wise judgements about when and how it’s appropriate to use them in English lessons.
When English mentors also think in terms of ‘stirring’ and ‘settling’ in their observation of student teachers’ lessons it can be enormously beneficial. Pointing out, for example, that a particular activity had too much of a ‘stirring’ effect at the beginning of an afternoon lesson in which pupils often arrived very boisterously can be very helpful for a student teacher, especially when combined with a discussion of practical ‘settling’ activities that could be attempted in subsequent afternoon lessons.
Q8, Q9, Q10, Q25
As well as thinking about the effects of different sorts of activity on the ‘mood’ of the class, it’s worth encouraging student teachers to consider the distinction made by Heafford (1990) between ‘high value’ and ‘low value’ activities in the classroom. Once again, it’s not a question of getting student teachers simply to make a choice between the two. In exploring this distinction Haydn (2007 p. 26) writes: ‘A key skill in planning is the skilful interplay of high and low value activities so that pupil motivation and enthusiasm is maintained, while still ensuring that a large proportion of the lesson is focused on genuine gains in learning. Experienced teachers are often able to use low value activities adroitly, in a way that quickly leads into high value activity.’
In terms of English lessons, ‘low-value’ activities might include word games, simple cloze exercises, and copying punctuation exercises from the board. Creative writing, focused small group discussion and textual annotation are examples of potentially ‘high-value’ learning activities. ‘High-value’ activities are those which yield the greatest gains in pupils’ learning, but very few teachers use them all the time. A diet of pure ‘high-value’ activities would make huge demands on pupils’ concentration, as well as demanding huge amounts of preparation from teachers. As Haydn (2007 p. 58) suggests: ‘Hopefully, teachers will move towards using a higher proportion of ‘high value’ activities as their teaching skills and assurance with classes develops, but progress is partly about developing a wide range of both high- and low-value ideas and activities for pupil learning.’
Often, in practice, it’s about getting student teachers to think about the overall shape of a lesson and how they are going to move pupils forward in their learning. With their most challenging classes the temptation for student teachers is to go for ‘low value’ activities that will simply occupy pupils for the whole lesson. But pupils are quick to sense when there is no purpose to the work they have been given to do. Not only does a diet of ‘low-value’ activities fail to help pupils make progress, but it is also unlikely to help student teachers to manage pupils’ behaviour.
Sometimes, in English, an activity might be either high- or low-value depending on the way in which it is set up. A student teacher might produce a resource for a low-ability class which requires pupils to underline descriptive words in a short passage from the novel they are reading. In itself, this would probably be defined as a ‘low-value’ activity. But if, after pupils have underlined these words, they then have to explain exactly why each word is effective then the ‘value’ of the activity quickly increases. Often it’s all about helping student teachers to think about the overall shape of a lesson, and the movement from activities which are accessible towards those which are more demanding, scaffolding pupils’ work at all times so that they can do it.
Moving from low-value to high-value activity
Student teachers at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education were exploring ways of encouraging pupils to engage with Shakespeare’s language, using The Tempest as their focus. One group worked on Ariel’s description in Act 1 Scene 2 of how he created the storm on Prospero’s behalf. They devised a starter activity which involved the teacher reading Ariel’s description while pupils shouted ‘earth’, ‘air’, ‘fire’ or ‘water’ each time Ariel used a word which could be associated with one of the four elements.
This ‘low-value’ starter activity then developed into a task in which pupils were asked to bring in images associated with each of the four elements in order to make collages for display on the classroom wall. This in turn led pupils towards a written task in which they were to explore Shakespeare’s use of imagery in Act 1 Scene 2, with a particular focus on a comparison between Ariel and Caliban.
Q8, Q9, Q10, Q25