So, the risk paid off and I got the job. I am now Director for English and Literacy at Clevedon School, which has a pleasingly grand ring to it.
You’ll remember the brief of the interview lesson was to teach a 40 minute Shakespeare master class to a group of 30 mixed ability Year 8 students which introduced a pedagogical thinking tool. Easy.
My SOLO introduction to Shakespeare (or Shakespeare introduction to SOLO depending on your point of view) went well but wasn’t as perfect as I’d hoped. Fortunately, I got time to arrange the room priory to the students’ arrival; I spent a very sweaty 5 minutes setting out all the resources at the different stations and moving tables about. This was something I’d really worried about and might have lead to the whole thing imploding had I not had the time to do this. Clearly, if you’re trying this in your own classroom the risks are not nearly so great.
The problem was that I’d planned the lesson with my students in mind. The kids I teach (taught?) tend to be a little over enthusiastic and a lot of what I do in the classroom is about calming them down and getting them to be more reflective. They love doing but are less keen on thinking. As this was a pretty active lesson, I envisaged a fair amount of bounce.
What I got was a class of very well-behaved students who clearly wanted to be right. They wanted to be right so much that they were unwilling to take chances. Getting them to move on from one SOLO station to the next proved much trickier than expected. One boy, who’d spent a lot of time at the multistructural station said, “I just don’t think I know enough to move on yet.” This meant that students didn’t make as much progress as I expected as few visited more than 2 stations and only three got to the Extended Abstract station. Also, the prestructural station had too much going on and students wanted to do everything before moving on. Instead of asking them to slow down I needed strategies for getting them to recognise when they’d done ‘enough’ to move on. Hey ho.
What went really well was the introduction to SOLO itself. I used a simple card sort and gave students 3 minutes to read through and decide which statements applied to which levels of thinking. These also doubled up as handy models for the type of answers they needed to provide later on. I was really pleased – and impressed – with how quickly they picked up the vocabulary. This bit always felt like a risk because we needed to move on to the learning as quickly as possible. This is definitely the fastest pace at which I’ve ever tried to get a class (even a class of teachers) to understand the SOLO levels, but it worked.
Also, the lesson worked wonderfully in terms of differentiation. Students were really good at choosing the SOLO station which best fitted their current level of understanding. One or two went back a stage, but most chose wisely. An awful lot of students started at prestructural, which I hadn’t really anticipated and many of them had to team up to share resources, but all in all, this went very smoothly.
By the end of the lesson everyone had made some progress and while many made ‘good’ and a few made ‘outstanding’ progress, I can’t honestly claim they all did. So. not an outstanding lesson. All of the class had a multistructual understanding of Shakespeare’s influence on modern writers but not many were able to express there learning in a relational way.
I later observed another candidate’s lesson and one of the activities he used would have provided the perfect plenary for my lesson. He gave the students a list of statements and asked them to decide (and be ready to explain) they one they most agreed with. The statements were:
- Shakespeare’s plots are timeless and are worth repeating
- Modern writers are basically lazy and find it easier to use someone else’s ideas
- Modern writers haven’t really copied Shakespeare they just used some of the same ideas.
- Shakespeare took most of his ideas from earlier writers so they’re not really his ideas.
- A little of each of the above is probably true
This would have really helped the students to see that they were able to connect what they’d learned and think about it in new contexts. You live and learn.
When I read though the post-its that students had written reflecting on their learning the comments were really positive: they’d enjoyed the lesson and had definitely learned something even if it wasn’t (as is so often the case) quite what I’d hoped or expected.
So, what I have I learnt?
- Risks are worth taking
- Don’t make assumptions about how kids will behave – they are mysterious and unpredictable
- Any class can get their heads round SOLO very quickly
- The next time I teach this lesson (and there will be a next time!) it will be perfect!