Having just come to the end of my first year placement, I would like to share some of my reflections from the last 4 weeks. In the first week I was quite overwhelmed by the workload faced by every teacher. This was on top of being solely responsible for and managing a class of 29 pupils with varying abilities, needs and language barriers. It was a steep learning curve for me as I had never experienced anything like it, particularly as I had never had the experience of planning lessons during my previous experiences in a classroom setting.
One of my first challenges was keeping the class focused on a task when the class teacher was not in the room. This meant that I had to show my authority as a teacher but found that I would have to gain the respect of the class. I had to stop at regular intervals to tell the class that the noise level was unacceptable and became quite agitated and stressed. After reflecting on the lesson and discussing with the class teacher, she suggested adopting her approach of counting down from 5, getting quieter on every number, as the class knew that this means it is time to give you their attention. I started to use this strategy and it made a positive difference.
Although this strategy worked to begin with, the class started to ignore me when I used this strategy and so it did not work as well for me as it did for the class teacher. After discussing this issue with the class teacher she suggested I used my own behaviour management strategy. This is something that I developed over the third and fourth weeks of the placement. Pollard (2008, p.304) states that tone of voice and customary routines can be used as children arrive to achieve quiet. The strategy I used involved me saying “hands on heads, shoulders, ears… (etc.) fingers on lips.” The order of body parts I said changed each time to keep the class focused but I always started with “hands on heads” and finished with “fingers on lips.” This let the class know that they should have everything out of their hands and be ready to listen to instructions. At first, some children were resistant to join in and so the class teacher encouraged me to praise those who were participating and to give the class something to work towards, such as house points or fuzz balls. After giving out 5 house points to one child, I immediately saw other children trying harder with the strategy.
Something else that I needed to work on was being more relaxed while teaching. I found that when taking a small group I was able to be more relaxed and consequently their behaviour was much better. I was also more relaxed when I knew my lesson plans well and as a result didn’t have to focus as much on the content of what I was teaching. This gave me more head space to think about behaviour management strategies, body posture, tone of voice etc. Through feedback from the class teacher and from my formative assessment, I learned that the children needed me to be very structured and consistent in my learning style as they were more likely to trust someone who is confident about what they are teaching. Medwell and Simpson (2008, p.107) say that the most important thing is to appear confident.
This confidence is something that I had to build throughout the 4 weeks. By the end of the four weeks I was able to see that the children responded much better to lessons that I showed confidence in teaching. If I was at all unsure about an aspect of the lesson the children became confused and this was reflected in the results of the activities. Rogers (2011, p.193) says that pupils very quickly get an idea of whether or not a teacher is in control, and that they feel more secure in their knowledge if the teaching style is confident, authoritative and positive. When the children were at all unsure or thought I was not in control of the lesson, they became restless and didn’t follow my instructions.
One of the main aspects of my practice that I had to work on was the pace of my lessons. During the first week I had the children sitting on the carpet for too long, on a couple of occasions, which caused them to become bored and restless. Hayes (2006, p.45) says that “decisions have to be made about the time spent reviewing and revising existing knowledge”. This is something I needed to take on board as it was an area that I was picked up on after my formative assessment, as it slowed down the pace of the lesson. I made improvements to the pace of my lessons by using resources, such as online timers, and by selecting a few children to answer questions rather than listening to every child’s answer.
At the end of the second week I realised that I needed to manage my time better. Planning in advance allowed me to have meaningful discussions with the class teacher about my lessons and allowed for changes to be made if need be. I also needed to think about making my lessons more challenging and exciting. This required me to look at the second level experiences and outcomes and to come up with activities that were engaging and would motivate the class. “Effective teachers try hard to make learning fun and effective; they take into account different pupil needs, yet maintain discipline and help pupils to achieve high standards of work” (Hayes, 2006, p.20). In the last couple of weeks of my placement, I worked hard to come up with more exciting activities that I could differentiate to meet the needs of every pupil.
Over the course of the placement, I learnt a lot about teaching a class that includes children with additional support needs, particularly those on the autistic spectrum. I learnt that some of these children have triggers that can make them upset or angry. This can be something as small as a word or phrase that has been used by the teacher, which they have particular associations with, or can be caused by the behaviour of others in the class. Change is also something that children with autism can find particularly challenging. Attfield and Morgan (2007, p.32) say that a prime reason for behaviour difficulties for a child with autism is anxiety, which is often caused by uncertainty, change and unfamiliarity of people and places. This anxiety can lead to anger and frustration, which may come across as aggression but the child is actually just feeling overwhelmed. This is something that I witnessed , as a child with autism was annoyed by a peer and became aggressive. This made me realise the importance of building relationships with these children and knowing how to make them feel calmer in these situations. Plimely (2006, p.17) talks about the vital importance of keeping in touch with parents/carers of children with additional support needs so that all adults involved in the care of these children are able to help them through the events that have happened. Developing these good home/school links is of vital importance when considering what is best for these children.
Overall, the main aspects that I will take away from this placement is that I need to have more confidence and be more relaxed when teaching, in order for some of my personality to come through. I need to make sure activities are planned in enough time that changes can be made if necessary and also so that they are as engaging and motivating as possible. It is important not to make assumptions about the stage of any child and to use results of activities to know what the next steps are for the children.
Attfield, E. and Morgan S. (2007) Living with Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Guidance for Parents, Carers and Siblings. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Hayes, D. (2006) Inspiring Primary Teaching: Insights into excellent primary practice. Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.
Medwell, J. and Simpson, F. (2008) Successful Teaching Placement in Scotland. Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.
Plimely, L. (2006) Supporting Pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for School Support Staff. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Pollard, A. (2008) Reflective Teaching (3rd ed.) London: Continuum.
Rogers, B. (2011) You Know the Fair Rule.