The Great Revelation
Last week, my NQT mentor observed me teaching a percentage maths lesson. Our coaching session was a great opportunity to discuss strengths and areas for development. In particular, he pointed out something that I’d never even thought about – although it was actually quite painfully obvious upon further consideration. The children who lacked confidence in certain areas of the curriculum would place themselves on the outskirts of the class when I was giving classroom input on the carpet typically related to that subject. I also had the (yet again, rather unsurprising) revelation that the children who participated the most during this input time would position themselves right in front of me. I realised that I had noticed these facts throughout my time teaching; however, I had never considered the impact this may have had on each pupil’s ability to focus, contribute and make progress.
Getting More Output During Input
My NQT mentor suggested two simple yet very effective ideas. Firstly, he put forward the notion of carpet spaces. It was intended that, by providing specific carpet spaces, children could not naturally relegate themselves to the periphery of my vision in order to avoid participating. (I have decided to alter these carpet spaces either weekly or fortnightly, depending on how successful I find them to begin with. Although…I also began doing this with table seats but the novelty of creating a new seating plan each week soon wore off!) To counteract this perhaps intimidating notion of being front and centre in a lesson for some of my pupils, we also agreed to set up specific learning partners that would also change regularly. This was to ensure that children who lacked confidence were partnered with someone who they could share quality dialogue with. I had reflected that, sometimes my pupils didn’t make the best decisions of who to sit with on the carpet. These decisions very occasionally limited learning due to either a behavior management matter or a mutual lack of understanding and/or confidence relating to the concept.
To The Inspiration Station! (AKA I Wanted A Subheading That Rhymed)
Feeling inspired, I created a laminated chart and attached named pegs to it. (Due to my love of laminating, I’ve come to the wholly plausible conclusion that I was a laminator in a past life. Anyway, I digress.) Pairs of pegs indicate pairs of learning partners. The children were intrigued and excited by the chart when they arrived the first morning it was introduced. I explained the idea and the response was fairly positive. Naturally, I caught a couple of pupils who were aghast at the thought of working with someone who wasn’t their friend. I quickly quashed this attitude though by telling them they’d have to learn to work with all sorts of people in the future. After all, arch enemies Professor Xavier and Magneto had to team up to face a greater threat in X-Men 2. (Though I’m not sure this scenario quite translates to the classroom and I’m certain the analogy would be lost on 99% of the class.)
Expectation vs Reality
Later that morning, I called the children down to the carpet. My expectation was that the children would sit with their partners and have some high quality discussion during my English input in neat, clean rows. The reality was akin to teaching my dear nanny to navigate Facebook for the first time: messy and painful to behold. They made a questionable effort to sit next to their learning partner and if I were to have looked at them from a bird’s eye view, they would have resembled a pack of skittles carelessly scattered across the classroom floor. There were no defined lines, children were sitting at diagonals to the board and they raced to write their answers on whiteboards before even attempting to discuss with one another – even though I’d stressed the latter was my expectation.
I have now resolved to offer out house points to any pairs that I overhear using high quality discussion during talk time and will continue to ask them to demonstrate these conversations in order to model to others. In addition, I have decided to utilise the peg chart further to establish clear rows for carpet input. I now clump my pegs into three defined sections to indicate three rows I would like on the carpet directly in front of me to prevent the hodgepodge of bodies looking up at me from all angles. I will take good care to consider which pupils are in which row dependent on lessons but I am certainly more optimistic that, now children can no longer adopt the role of “periphery pupil”, they will at least become more attuned to my expectations of participation during carpet input. (Yes, I just googled ‘periphery pupil’ to check if it was already a term. It’s not so I’m gonna take credit for that!)
I Promise I’m Almost Finished!
Perhaps my approach is a bit too regimented for a year 5/6 class. Please let me know what you think. I’m also aware that not all teachers are fortunate enough to have a carpet space. If you are such a teacher, how do you ensure optimum participation during input? I will consider slowly removing some of my rules if I believe I have miraculously instilled a meta-cognitive urge for my pupils to actively participate in all lessons. Whether this is a pipe dream or not, who knows? I’ve still got a long time (hopefully) in this career to work it out!
But Wait…There’s More!
I’m aware that I’ll also need to address and resolve these engagement issues via discussions and other strategies. I have purely focused on engagement strategies whilst on the carpet as it was direct inspiration from my recent coaching session.