Changes in class size come at a cost to individual attention and it is interesting to reflect on how much individual attention a teacher can provide, and which students actually gain attention. He has run away and staff time is taken up. This return to the concern for the individuals dominates teaching. It seems almost impossible for Jeff to feel anything but responsible for all of his students.
How difficult it must be to continually balance the needs of the individual with the collective needs of the class. In Chapter 2 we introduce the students of 7D so that the reader might begin to better understand these major participants in this experience. Chapter 2 Introducing the Students Overview The students and their responses to their formal education are essential to this book.
In this chapter Jeff introduces the students through a description of a lesson. The particular lesson did not occur exactly as described but is constructed in a form that allows each of the students to be introduced in ways that represent their personalities and roles within the class.
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Friday: Eight Weeks into the Year The classroom period before lunch on Friday has its own challenges. It follows a science class so we have to move rooms and line up outside the mathematics room. The science class has followed a drama session and a woodwork class so the students have been actively involved in two areas they seem to enjoy.
The mathematics room is opposite the school canteen and therefore there is an opportunity for students to be first in line before the lunchtime rush—if everything goes well in the mathematics lesson. I am frequently reminded by the students that prompt dismissal is a desirable outcome of this class and my response is always to say that I will play my part, if they will cooperate. Today the science class has gone well and we have packed up before the bell so that I am able to remind them that they will begin the problemsolving task in mathematics in the next lesson.
The problem-solving tasks are a break in the normal routine and in the last mathematics lesson I had shown them the plastic boxes in which there is a mathematics problem and the associated material they would need to actively solve the problem. There is a sense of excitement about the next class as the bell rings and they move out of the room in an unusually orderly way. I leave the class to go to the mathematics preparation room where I have selected and set out thirty boxes for the activity.
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The previous class is slow to leave the mathematics room so I have to wait a few minutes before moving the boxes into the room and then turning my attention to the class. They are now milling around outside the room and engaged in various ways with each other and with other students moving past to other rooms. Our eyes meet and he bends to pick up the book and claims it was an accident. We do not need textbooks for this period, but you will need your notebooks.
Now go in quietly. The entry is not good with some noise, banging of books and scrambling for desired seats. Patsy is last to enter and searches for a seat on her own while the others stand behind the tables. The class remains standing. Julie and Claire roll their eyes in frustration, Liz looks at me and shakes her head. Another wait before going on to introduce the activity. Now remember, we all like to leave right on the bell on Fridays, so I will be asking everyone to stop and pack up 5 minutes before the end.
Any questions? How many do we have to do?
I then motion for other hands to go down and to begin the activity. Now come and select one task per group and begin working quietly. Gary asserts, This is impossible. James and Robert have taken a box from the most difficult pile, largely avoided by the rest of the class and within minutes are writing in their books. Liz has taken a difficult box and moved to the front of the room on her own. She is deep in concentration, shutting out the noise of the rest of the class. Georgia and Janet have taken a box to their seat in the front of the class.
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Janet is frowning. She doubts that she will be successful but after 5 minutes their confidence rises and as I walk by they tell me how easy the first task was.
She has told me she has no friends in this class. She will cause no problems and work conscientiously but will not admit any enjoyment. School is to be endured at the moment. Rhonda is on her own today. They will need to be monitored during the lesson but they are capable although rarely extend themselves. Liz and Jan are anxious about whether they have written down their notes correctly.
Julie, Rene and Kathy have taken an easy box and have solved the problem but want to know what else they have to do. What else do we have to do? They have two boxes with John managing the process and James acting as a consultant from time to time. Tim has his own box near this group and seems to have the ability to complete his task while participating in the mixture of work and social interaction going on.
The lesson proceeds well. One incident halts proceedings as a box and its contents crash to the floor.
Sit down in your seat and I will see you in a moment. As she leaves I express my wish that she not be noticed again during the lesson. Rhonda is reluctant to make much effort and spends time attempting to link with other groups, but with little success. My hints and assistance are not followed up in a sustained way and she does not enjoy the lesson. For both Julie and Kathy, success has not altered their view of themselves in this subject. I ask everyone to stop, check that their box contains all the materials marked on the sticker on the lid, and then return the boxes to the front desk.
There is a partial response and I increase the level of urgency by reminding them that the bell will go and that they may not be able to take up their positions at the front of the queue at the canteen. Some further activity continues then I mention the names of those who I think should hurry up. The announcements begin to break into the classroom as the loudspeaker and the bell cause a last minute flurry of movement to return the boxes. We are always late.
Silence is quickly achieved but I note three plastic boxes on desks around the room and several on the desk without lids and with their contents on the desk and the floor. I fold my arms and wait—we can hear the queue forming at the canteen. Ten seconds go by and there are suggestions about whose boxes have and have not been returned.
The class is depressed, the canteen will now take time, the gloss has been taken from the successes of the lesson.
If any gains have been made in the lesson, they have now been eroded. Patsy and Michelle ask me if I will be at the lunchtime basketball game against 7A. I had forgotten and was planning to catch up on some marking but it is nice to be asked. Trish shows me her book quickly, hoping that I will not spend any time with it.
I take hold of the book and look carefully to see two problems have been noted. I ask them to help me carry the boxes to the storeroom while I reassure them that what they are doing is fine and is long enough.
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I say again that their way of doing the problem is fine because there is no right way. They do not seem to be reassured. My hopes for the problem-solving tasks have not been completely realized but it will be nice to interact with them in the different setting of the basketball game. The students are uncomfortable with the learning demands associated with his pedagogical intent and this leads him to question whether there is a sufficient level of trust within the class.
He also wonders about the need for successful learning experiences to reassure the students about their ability. Searching for a Breakthrough With ten weeks of teaching 7D behind him, the break between the first and second terms was an opportunity to reflect on his experiences and to prepare himself for the next period of teaching. Not surprisingly, Jeff returned to the classroom still hoping to develop more responsible learners, but interestingly, looking to make a breakthrough rather than waiting for one to occur.