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Comparative description and detailed critical evaluation of three linked sessions

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Introduction

I have chosen to compare three lessons carried out over three weeks, teaching Level 2 GCSE Catering to a group of year 9 students. I chose these particular lessons because they demonstrate both my strengths and my weaknesses, clearly showing up areas identified in my Individual Learning Plan that need development, as well as showing how I have tried to learn and improve in these areas.

These lessons were particularly challenging for me because they took me out of my comfort zone in a number of ways.

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Firstly, I am a Sport and Health Science Teacher, so teaching Catering was a new experience to me. Secondly, I have usually taught older students, post-16, whereas this group had a 13-14 age range. Thirdly, this group, as part of a new initiative, would be sitting their GCSE exam a year early. This is a part of a pilot scheme at John Cabot Academy for low achieving students with special educational needs Taking Level 2 GCSE exams one year early enables the subject to be taught much more intensively, and children with behavioural difficulties often benefit from the structure and goals that exams provide (Richardson 2010). This is part of a ‘vertical learning’ strategy in which classes are taught in the stages of emotional intelligence and maturity instead of a set age group. (Richardson 2010) The academy has already achieved success in delivering vertical learning in health and pastoral care.

This exam-focussed learning was also new to me because I have more experience of BTEC, where there are no exams and the majority of the course work is a working portfolio. It is therefore easier for the teacher to regularly assess and diagnose the needs of individual learners, something that would be more challenging for me in the context of GCSE Catering. Therefore, these lessons challenged and stretched me.

Preparation

The lessons that I taught covered the topic of health, safety and hygiene within the catering environment. This section of the unit specification represents 40% of the total mark of the GCSE Catering exam, so it was important to make sure that the students grasped the importance of the topic. I carried out the lessons in November 2011 and a GCSE mock exam was planned for the first week of term in January 2012.

I undertook extensive preparation for these three linked lessons in order to update my subject knowledge for GCSE catering. First, I have also attended Food Safety and Fire Safety courses in order to deepen my knowledge of the topic. Second, I have familiarised myself with the Catering exam board’s (WJEC) specification and made sure that my lessons were planned in accordance with JEC format. Also online resources from classroom management specialist, Sue Cowley gave me additional ideas on how to prepare my lessons. Furthermore, I researched the roles of food safety professionals such as Environmental Health Officers, Public Health Scientists and Pest Control Officers, and sourced case study exercises and activities from regulators of these professions. I have also observed two colleagues with different teaching styles. I decided to follow one of my colleagues who engaged his learners by demonstrating practical skills, as such style seemed to be more appealing to learners. Finally, I have gather a list of my students and learn their names before the lessons started in order to avoid any indications of gender discrimination.

Evaluation of Lessons

Lesson One

The first lesson was based in a food technology room and consisted of an introduction to food safety and hygiene. The students seemed to be disappointed by the theoretical character of this lesson. Not only did I assure them that first lesson will be followed by practical work in a lab for next two weeks but I also I also explained to them that this topic would represent 40% of the final mark in the coming exam, as it is crucial to students’ motivation and self-esteem to involve them in their assessment process (Assessment Reform Group 2002).

The aim of this introductory lesson was to check the level of student’s knowledge of the topic, in particular on three major food poisoning bacteria (e-coli, salmonella and campylobacter). I tried to incorporate the interactive learning components by asking them question and engaging in a discussion on the topic and by using a crossword at the end of the class.

Generally the lesson can be regarded as a success. While the large proportion of the session was heavily teacher led I have tried to change my voice when talking about a new idea or emphasizing important issues. I also gave the learners 3 minute breaks when I saw that they were getting bored or unfocused. I think that these two methods helped me to maintain the full attention of the class. The discussion was also a good idea as the students participated actively and were willing to ask questions. I think that the awareness of the crossword at the end of the class helped them to remain focused.

Perhaps the only weakness of this lesson was ‘spoon feeding’ the missing information which I decided to apply, as the students had problems with identifying the symptoms of each type of bacteria or what type of food they could be found on. This was necessary so that the students would be well prepared for the practical session the following week. However, if I had anticipated this difficulty I would have planned a different way of delivering the information because while ‘spoon feeding’ is a quick and direct way of transferring information, it discourages inventiveness, creativity, and independent thinking (Claxton 2002).

Lesson Two

The second lesson was held in the science lab and was observed by my PGCE Tutor. I went to considerable lengths when planning this session and provided resources such as PowerPoint and swabbing equipment because I wanted to concentrate on helping students to become creative and independent learners. The swabbing activity was designed not only to increase students’ knowledge about bacteria, but also to involve a ‘real life’ activity, helping them to connect their learning goals to potential careers. The accompanying lesson plan sets out four clear and measurable objectives.

The opening activity was called “Name the Bacteria”, and was designed to recap on the learning from the previous lesson. The activity had mixed results. While students got actively involved, they were raising their voices as everybody tried to give a correct answer. I also had to raise my voice to be heard over students’ talking and intervened frequently in their activities. Hence, this exercise became chaotic and I had to stop it in order to make sure that the lesson’s objectives were met. This exercise helped me to understand that I shall clearly explain to the students the rules of such activities in the first place in order to avoid chaos.

More successful was the mini-plenary I incorporated at the end of the activity to assess progression. This activity not only allowed me to measure whether learning objectives had been met, it also rounded off the class and made sure that all the students were engaged with the topic and understood the purpose of the class.

At the end of the class I have asked students for feedback. Mostly they agreed that they were not happy with my sudden decision of stopping the first activity. They also thought that I did not speak loud enough during the first activity and then unexpectedly raised my voice to stop the exercise. This feedback helped me to realise that I have failed to control student’s behaviour because of the inadequate level of my voice. I was unable to manage the class during the exercise and I decided on sudden intervention, regarded as a negative step by my students.

Lesson Three

Responding to feedback from lesson two, I was keen to ensure that in my next lesson I acted as a facilitator. This would allow me to more clearly evaluate the degree to which my learners are meeting the set objectives. The lesson took the form of analysing the swabs taken in lesson two, which had been incubated over the intervening week.

This lesson seemed to be highly effective. I limited my verbalising and the students worked individually on their worksheets. I was able to quantify the progression of the students. I only raised my voice insignificantly when I felt that the students started to diffuse and talk. This time I was able to control the class and to avoid unnecessary chaos. At the end of the lesson the students were given a quiz that allowed peer assessment. This is another method of involving learners in their own assessment, which is so important for motivation (Assessment Reform Group 2002).

Conclusion

I found that teaching these lessons outside my comfort zone taught me a lot about my own areas for development and also enabled me to put educational theory into practice. For example, it enabled me to understand Black and Wiliam’s (1998) theory about the importance of assessment being used to enhance teaching and raise standards. At first I was failed to have a full control over the class and the loud intervention seemed to be the best method of having back class’ attention. Over the course of the lessons I have learnt that I am able to control the class by using a correct level of the voice. Incorporating these lessons about volume level and assessment (both mini-plenaries and student feedback) into my ILP should ensure that I continue to improve in these areas.

I have also learnt that the students prefer practical classes rather than teacher’s lecture. I have a habit of too have controlling lessons. However, I have learnt that even teacher-led lesson might attract student’s attention by engaging them in discussion or organizing activities that check gained information at the end of the class.

Word Count: 1,500

References

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Assessment Reform Group, (2002) Ten Principles: Research-based principles to guide classroom practice [online] Available from: Assessment Reform Group

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Richardson, H. (2010). “Why are pupils taking GCSEs early?” [online] Available from: BBC News (Accessed 28/05/2012).

Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment [online] Available from: Assessment Reform Group (Accessed 28/05/2012).

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