Classroom Practice · NQT

Preaching for the Pre-teaching

I was presented with an owl badge and a wonderful card from one of my pupils this week. I was tickled by the accidental error in the spelling of my surname. I was proud of the inclusion of the superlative ‘best’. (The pupil used to include ‘most’ before all superlatives). I was glad to see their fondness for cartoon-art being utilised. The thing that struck me the most, however, was the P.S – prefix and suffix annotation they had included.

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This pupil speaks Lithuanian, Russian and English. Due to English not being their first language, they often ask for further clarification of terms throughout the school day. They are not the least bit shy of telling me they do not know what word means – I think that is absolutely fantastic. I wish all students were as ready to admit when they are unsure about their learning.

I found that there was one lesson in particular, however, that this pupil would seem to switch off and wouldn’t attempt to ask for definitions of words they were unclear of. The vast variety of unfamiliar words in the SPAG curriculum seemed to have appeared too overwhelming to comprehend and so they attempted to pass the lesson by without really participating.

Having noticed this, I spent five minutes of assembly time talking this student through our SPAG concept for the following week: root words, prefixes and suffixes. At first, they were timid with working in a 1:1 SPAG situation, as there was no way to avoid the terminology, but soon they warmed up to the idea as they spotted patterns, rules and ideas in the words we were discussing.

The next week, whilst one of the headteachers delivered the SPAG lesson, I was thrilled to see the pupil eagerly contributing to the lesson by thrusting their hand into the air. The headteacher asked a question, selected this pupil and the pupil responded. The response was not accurate as there was a simple misconception of confusing the suffix and prefix. Regardless, they had participated in a SPAG lesson and I was thrilled.

Almost a term later, and a few additional encounters of root words, prefixes and suffixes throughout our curriculum, our class entered the Life Education Centre bus. During a discussion of illegal and legal drugs, the pupil raised their hand and, when selected, proudly stated that ‘il’ was a prefix. The leader of the session nodded politely, but certainly looked slightly confused as to where that nugget of wisdom had come from. The pupil grinned at me and I air high-fived her. We were both so pleased.

After reflecting upon the opportunities pre-teaching can open up to children, I chose to employ it a few more times this week. A student who occasionally comes in ten minutes early to settle and try some maths work practised dividing fractions by whole numbers with me. Later, she managed to teach her friend during the maths lesson. I whooped like a madman and she was incredibly proud of herself. This motivated her to persevere through the other fraction questions, even when she found them difficult.

Pre-teaching doesn’t even have to be just a 1:1 context. As one of my afternoons was looking fairly packed for a number of reasons (although, isn’t that always the way!?), I decided to pre-teach the main concept of the science lesson before lunch. I put the word ‘adapt’ up on the board and we annotated everything we knew and noticed about it. One of my headteachers refers to this as ‘exploding’ the word. When it came to our lesson, the children were far more confident utilising the word ‘adapt’ and exploring it within the context of animals. Additionally, it reinforced the notion to the children that learning is not limited to isolated subjects and that concepts can be drawn upon across all areas of the curriculum.

It’s notoriously tricky to squeeze pre-teaching elements into the school timetable. My strategies so far have included stealing them away in assembly and speaking to them during the morning registration – although this time in particularly seems to disappear in an instant. Also, much like the ‘adapt’ situation, I try my hardest to drip in little elements of pre-teaching in prior lessons. Strategies I have yet to try include asking my TA to introduce children to a particular concept. My TA is with me on a Wednesday afternoon and I feel this would be a great time to take some children aside for just two minutes to introduce them to an idea that will be followed up the following week.

I believe short bursts of pre-teaching are effective in boosting confidence, participation and attainment within lessons and I look forward to provide more memorable learning experiences in this way.

If you have any other ways of pre-teaching, or any idea of times in which pre-teaching can occur, please let me know!

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