Review Point 2 (End of First Term)

 Subject Knowledge 

The lessons I have taught are as follows: 

Religion and philosophy: 

Homophobia

Transgender 

Gender 

General Election 

Islam-the fundamentals 

Hinduism, Christianity and their take on the meaning of life 

A Level: 

The problem of evil- an introduction on the inconsistent triad, natural evil, moral evil and hypothetical and evidential problems relating to the inconsistent triad. 

Spiritual experiences-The god helmet and an introduction to William James 

Augustan’s Theodicy 

As can be quite clearly seen the knowledge I am expected to impart often goes further than that of my official schooling. The RP lessons cover points of societal contention such as transgender and homophobic issues; neither of which I have covered extensively in my own time. These lessons aim to encourage the students to engage in a lively debate, resulting in honing opinions that will make the students better citizens. That said, there is no guarantee the students will come to this conclusion. When watching a video on transgender bodybuilders one of the protagonists said ‘they were hitting me on the head to drive the demons out’. I latched onto this and presented it to the class, asking what the bodybuilder was talking about. One of the students said that, at their Pentecostal church, a ritual that he called charisma was carried out. He described the ritual as beginning with a circle, made around the member perceived to be afflicted by demons causing homosexual thoughts. The congregation would then take it in turns to hit the devotee on the head. 

This gap in my subject knowledge left me in a situation that I was unable to appropriately deal with and resulted in a thought-provoking critical incident. Whilst sharing is good I wouldn’t want any students to feel uncomfortable or have a triggered experience. 

 As for the A-Level content, most of it I know but I have had to go over some specific facts. I do have a tendency to do off on tangents during my small talks, though I think it is good to give a wider background knowledge when possible. Presenting wider knowledge than what’s on the specifications is useful in helping the students contextualise and mentally place what they are supposed to learn, however, there is a fixed amount of time available for teaching and the students are only marked on the specifications. Teachers seem mostly forced to restrain themselves to the specifications and related learning objectives.

When teaching my subject knowledge, I have found that I tend to give too much information on my slides, or that I go through the information at a pace that is too fast. Although this can be more engaging for able students it does alienate others. Overall, information appears to be better learnt in small chunks. Whenever I teach something new in the A-Level classes it seems best to have an activity to consolidate the knowledge, rather than assuming lower level conceptions will be understood immediately.

Teaching and Learning

For this term, I focused on three different aspects on which to improve, discussion techniques, pacing and assessment. For discussion techniques, I tried using statements to bring about a conversation, think, pair and share and Geoff Petty’s jigsaw technique. 

The statements worked well for generating discussion points and brought out pre-existing notions that the students unwittingly held about Hinduism. I wrote eight different statements on a sheet and got the students to make two lines facing each other. When the first pair asked their questions they would go to the back of the line, meaning all students asked each other all the questions in a self-sustaining fashion. As the statements were not questions they encouraged a different kind of response, the gaps in the students knowledge-producing lively debate as they tried to figure out why they agreed or disagreed. The statements were often more accessible than questions, as students could produce a response without having to know the answer. 

The think, pair and share technique I found to be very useful. I have used this a few times now for different topics, I find that as there are two stages before sharing the quality of feedback that students have to offer greatly improves. The first share from a pair also modifies the response and quality of feedback from the pairs that have not yet shared. In this way, the students are better prepared to self sustain a group conversation, reducing teacher talking time and lesson engagement. Lastly, Geoff Petty’s jigsaw worked incredibly well and is the best technique I have learnt so far. I used this for the disability lesson, in which four initial groups are made to study separate material, then four groups are made from the existing groups so each member has a topic to teach the other students. As teaching, a topic greatly improves understanding of that topic the learning potential of this task is high. Though class feedback works well to initiate a group discussion after this, I think a think, pair and share task on what has been produced from the jigsaw would work well in the future. 

For pacing, I found I needed to focus more on the length of my tasks and sticking to the exact time, as most of the classes I have taught so far focus on discussion, thus sticking to exact times was discouraged to extend conversations, often which were situational. I’ve been remaking the RP lesson plans and being careful to stick to the exact times of the tasks I have planned. What I wonder is if it is possible to stick to the exact times of any plan, as it seems to me that until a task begins there is no way of telling how successful it will be. It is, of course, possible to stick to a plan, but to get on the dot precision it seems you would have to possess omniscience. 

For assessment, I found I had been relying on observed discussion and worksheets, so I have been trying to add more types of assessment that I can better dissect. One technique for leaving comments that I’ve found quite successful is what went well, even better if and do now. The linguistics of these terms frames the feedback positively, encouraging a growth mindset by focusing on ways to improve rather than things the student did wrong. A way of changing this into peer assessment is adding the category ‘my response is’, making the student directly engage with feedback, feedback being known as one of the most crucial elements of students improving. It also enables the student to have a two-way dialogue, in which they have a chance to explain why they did what they did, providing an opportunity for a deeper comprehension of the mistake.  

Academic Writing

A recurring problem in my academic writing seems to be joining two main clauses with a comma. I hadn’t realised that I was doing this, I think it is habitual and will take some time to weed out. The other problem I have is with hyphenations. I tend to stay away from hyphenating words and thought it was more of an American tendency, but this is an aspect of my knowledge of academic writing that needs reviewing. I did attend an academic writing session last term on reflective writing, which introduced me to Brookfield’s four lenses. I should try and go to some workshops at the beginning of the new year before writing my assessment. 

Another issue that has been raised is that I seem to tend to write in a philosophical voice, if such a voice exists, which needs to be viewed and adapted before I start my assessment. That said, as the case study is 5000 words, I think I’ll be forced not to get particularly philosophical and to stay directly on the question at hand. I would like to approach the case study interestingly, though I’m not sure I’ll get the option as I haven’t got to teach a lot of A-Level lessons yet, and when I do the time they have in a year to learn the content is so brief that interesting experiments have to keep out of the limelight. If things work out with teaching a philosophy lesson in prison I may try to use that. Finally, I need to pay proper attention to my references!

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Published by Coffee & Alex

Alexander Clarke is a sole trader who writes and teaches. He’s published articles, blog posts, short stories and poems. He’s taught philosophy, theology, ESOL and PSHE.

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