A question of progress

The title of this blogpost may be slightly misleading. The ‘p’ word. That Ofsted-sought holy grail of classroom practice in 2013. I’m afraid I won’t necessarily be addressing that issue explicitly here.

I haven’t blogged for a while. I’m never convinced that I have anything that interesting to say, particularly in the company (on Twitter) of such prolific and talented teacher bloggers. However, this week’s been a tough one for lots of reasons but in the midst of the rough stuff came a moment of sheer ‘grinnability’ which has sustained me and remained with me into the weekend.

My Year 8 class is amazing. I love my lessons with them. (Actually, I’m really enjoying all of my teaching at the moment so I probably shouldn’t just single them out. However, it’s their moment I want to write about so I’ll just do that, rather than digressing unnecessarily.) At the moment, they are engaged in an independent reading project, completing a range of tasks based on a book of their choice (from our school’s prescribed lists) and they’re brilliant at getting on at their own pace, aware of upcoming deadlines. I’ve been running these lessons for about a week now: I list the tasks on the board and let each of them choose which to tackle. They know I am there if they have questions they can’t answer but they also know that they can ask each other, collect dictionaries, use the internet or simply work entirely independently, not needing to interact if they feel happy with what they’re doing.

Because there’s a deadline when they will all have to stand up in front of the class and present their findings, I’m confident that they’re all on track. I have taught them for almost two years now and trust them to do what is necessary. They have been given the assessment criteria; they know how their work will be ‘judged’; they know I have great confidence in them.

I’ve long been aware of research which suggests that playing classical music can aid concentration and I know that I often listen to Radio 3 when I’m working. In my 10+ years of teaching though, I’ve never got around to trying that in my classroom. I don’t really know why; I just haven’t. So, last week, I settled down with my own book while they got on with their work and I clicked ‘play’ on a YouTube playlist of classical music. The students were slightly sceptical at first: ‘What’s this?’, ‘What if it distracts me from my reading?’, ‘Why are you playing this?’ I explained my thinking and asked them to give it a go. If it really did distract them, I would turn it off. For the rest of the lesson no one mentioned the music.

The next lesson I did the same and this time there was very little comment. I did hear a quiet, ‘I really like this music; I find it helps me to focus,’ but decided just to log that, rather than open discussion.

In our next lesson, the school’s internet connection was down and I couldn’t access the playlists. I had no alternative plan, so we began the lesson in silence and the students settled down to work. ‘Please would you put on the classical music?’ asked a boy from the back of the room, and the nods and pleas of agreement came at me from all sides. I explained why I couldn’t and there was no protest, just a smatter of disappointment.

For me, that represents progress. Perhaps not in terms of literacy or analytical ability or understanding of context…but it is educational progress as far as I’m concerned and it made me smile. Perhaps I’ll try it with Year 10 next.

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