John Lamb (AHT) and I walked around the school today, looking for ways in which our teachers maintained a calm and purposeful classroom environment in their lessons. It was great to see how skilled our teachers are at doing this, in a very subtle but effective way.
The following five things jumped out at us.
1. Start of lesson
The start of the lesson really sets the tone for the rest of the lesson. It is the point where the teacher assumes control and sets out what and how the students will be learning that lesson. We saw three great examples of this being done well:
- The teacher was stood in the middle of the classroom, moving up and down the aisle, talking about and questioning students confidently about the lesson. It was clear that the lesson had started and that she was in control!
- Starting the lesson with a recap of the hard learning from the previous lesson and giving students the opportunity to be successful with this. This boosted student confidence and made them feel ‘safe’ with the challenges ahead of them that lesson.
- When the teacher wanted the students to come around the front for a demo, using lots of positive cueing to encourage them to move to the right spot e.g. ‘Yes that’s great, if you sit there….if you could just sit there, brilliant…..great to see you all moving so sensibly’ Any ‘reluctant movers’ were just swept along with this positive acceptance that everyone else was going to move.
Thanks to Steph Temple and Eleanor Humphries in science.
2. Seating Plans
Given the choice, most students would rather talk to their friends, than work…especially our most challenging students. With this in mind, the seating plan is an essential tool in the teacher toolbox, to maintain a calm and purposeful classroom environment.
We saw this being used in a number of different ways:
- The most challenging students or those students most likely to drift off, sat at the front of the room, directly in front of the teacher desk. As a result, they were working brilliantly.
- A lazy boy who often does the minimum amount of work, actually working really well, because he was sat next to a really hard working, high achieving girl. He had no one to disturb and a very positive role model.
- Challenging students ‘widely distributed’ across the room! Putting a great deal of space between them, gave them less opportunities to disrupt each other.
- Three challenging students were sat on their own at a desk, in a single row beside the window – immediately reducing the number of people they could potentially disturb by 50%!
A subtle one for the classroom environment – but important. By ‘allowing a pause’ either after asking a question and seeking an answer, or between one question and another, you are encouraging a culture of reflection and deeper thinking. Furthermore, all students had to be prepared to answer a question, because the students were picked by the teacher to answer (irrespective of whether they had their hands up) and the questions was phrased with the student name at the end – ‘What do you think of that…(pause)…John?‘
This is developed further by asking follow on questions when students respond to an initial question e.g.
- Why is that?
- Who can develop that?
- What do we call that?
- What made you think of that answer?
Thanks to Andy Tharby & Morwenna Treleven for this.
4. Spotting and Redirection
Such an important classroom skill. In a Y10 class, a student who is known to have anxiety issues and so can ‘blow up’ very quickly, was beginning to get stressed because she had lost track of what question the class were discussing. The teacher spotted the early signs of this and nipped it in the bud beautifully. In a very calm voice she simply said ‘Do you know where we are (student name)? That’s absolutely fine – can somebody help her? (another student responded by telling her the question number) That’s great – thank you – all OK now?’
The student calmed down and got back on with the work. A potentially volatile situation was defused brilliantly and with no impact on the flow of the lesson.
Thanks to Julie House for this.
5. High expectations for all
In all of the lessons we popped into, all students were expected to behave and work impeccably – irrespective of their context. The teachers facilitated this, using some of the strategies that were discussed above, but also other things such as:
- All students doing a test in silence.
- All students using the mini whiteboards sensibly.
- All students listening to the responses of their peers during class discussions respectfully and quietly.
There was no diluting of expectations, but a great deal of subtle work being done by our staff to ensure that all students were given the best possible opportunity to meet our expectations.