Posted by: markhowell101 | August 19, 2010

Teaching your first lesson – PGCEtips

Without doubt teaching your first lesson is one of the biggest landmarks in your PGCE year and indeed one of the biggest in your career. You will have built up to it for some time and have probably spent more time planning it than you will ever spend planning another lesson. It is very likely that you will know the class you are teaching as you should have had the chance to observe them with their regular class teacher. You should therefore know a few of the characters and they should know you, you should have a vague understanding of the class dynamic and be aware of the lesson formats they are used to. It seems to me to be a certainty that the regular class teacher would be there meaning that behaviour standards are likely to be similar to what you saw on your observation (after all, any problems and at this stage your mentor or class teaching observing you will be dealing with them). You may even have taught a starter or plenary or even team taught a lesson with that class. Therefore, with expectations already known to students, familiarity with you and decent behaviour standards you should be in a position to just get teaching right from the start.

I decided to look back at my early feedback reports from my PGCE year in order to write this and reflect on some of the successes and failures of my early lessons. This should provide a very rough do’s and don’ts for your first lesson.

Students will come to the lesson and expect things to be as normal. I recommend you try not to disrupt this normal pattern as they will already be a little off guard by having a new teaching. To start changing routine as well may not be the most productive use of yours and their time. So if they normally line up outside let them do this and if they come in as and when let them do this. I would also stick to any seating plan that already exists. You will most likely have a copy of this and be beginning to learn who sits where. Having a new teacher will prompt a few of them to ask to move. Make sure you don’t budge on this and keep them all sat exactly where they normally do. The same may not be said for the register. I always found with new classes that formally taking a register at the start brings a nice early focus to the lesson and gets them quietly listening to you. Once the register is complete you can immediately start the lesson as they are already focussed on you. It of course has the added benefit of helping to learn a few more names. Some teachers prefer to do a covert register part way through the lesson so they may not be expecting it at the start. Once you think most of them are in and sat down calmly ask for them to be quiet and remain quiet whilst you go through the register.

Although, as stated above, you should be in a position to hit the ground running straight away, I would always start with a quick 5 minute brief on who you are and what you expect. This is something I have done since my first ever lesson and continue to do now. Tell them who you are and leave your name written on the board on display as they will forget. It is then important to set out a brief expectation of them even if your mentor has already done so. At this stage you will most likely not know the specifics of what you will and will not allow in class so you need to tell them that you expect them to have the same levels of behaviour and same work ethics as they have with their normal class teacher. Now, at this stage it is unlikely that you will be able to enforce such standards but it is important to let them know that you intend for them to work and to behave. You and your mentor will work over the coming weeks and months on how to establish those standards for yourself. Following this I always took 2 minutes out to explain a bit about my background. In school I frequently used to question why I should listen to my teachers and what authority they had on the topics being learned about. I usually show students a few slides of me on Mont Blanc and tell them about my degree and how it has enabled me to travel a bit and do research. I find this often gets them excited about geography, if only for a few minutes but more importantly lets them know that I know what I am talking about and you quickly develop a air of authority at least in terms of subject knowledge if not class management.

At this point you will probably kick off what will be a very well prepared starter. Of course this should be a task which can easily be explained and lasts only a few minutes. Try to make this task either recap on previous learning or lead into what will be done today. In early lessons I had success with paired activities getting students to do either cards sorts or taboo cards or something similar which allows them to do some discussion. These activities also allow you to circulate and encourage any pairs or groups who may be off task. In early lessons I would avoid whole class starters whilst you get to know names and whilst you improve your management skills. Once you have completed the starter be sure to reflect briefly on it, how does it relate to previous learning or how does it relate to what we will do today.

You are then ready to move onto the main part of your lesson. Even the most unruly classes will normally give new teachers a chance to talk in the early lessons especially with their usual class teacher in the room. My second PGCE placement school was notoriously challenging and I was surprised how each new class I taught gave me the opportunity, at least in my first lesson, to address them without any challenging behaviour. Try to be firm and do address any students who fall out of line but at the same time I found that students will respond well to you being relaxed and enthusiastic. Many teachers will tell you not to smile to Christmas and I am sure this is very successful for some people. I personally feel that students listen to me because they are interested in what I have to say and not because they are scared of the consequences of not listening to me. This has only come about by having a class atmosphere which encourages engagement and enjoyment of the subject.

I found that early on powerpoints were a great safety blanket for introducing the lesson. You can make them visually exciting and enable you to almost script what you want to say to students. Be careful not to include too much text on the powerpoint and do not them last too long. One thing which I found is easy to do early on is to continue talking even if some students are not listening. This is a problem which will grow unless nipped in the bud so right from the start do not say anything unless you have silence. You will develop your own methods of dealing with those not listening but try a few things early on (the stare will normally suffice)

Then you will of course have planned a task for them to do whether it be a worksheet, group task or text book work make sure you model the task effectively. Clearly explain what you want them to do and leave it written up or up on powerpoint throughout the task. At the end be sure to ask if anybody is not sure what they need to be doing. If 1 student is confused it is likely that more are. They should then get on with what you have asked them to do and will likely be at their usual levels of focus. If that is not the case you may have to stop them working and remind them of your expectations before allowing them to continue. Make sure you have an extension planned as some students will finish and it is a painful feeling in your early lessons to have all the bright students sat there with nothing to do for 10 minutes, it is an even worse feeling to have a class sat there with nothing to do for 10 minutes. Sometimes tasks just don’t take as long as you plan so make sure you have something as a backup.

Be sure to allow time to review the task and answers to any questions set. As you will have circulated during the task you will have seen some good work and it is always good to share this by getting some students to share their answers. You should have allowed time for a plenary at the end which should review the leaning of the day. Make sure you finish with 2 or 3 minutes to spare in order to allow students to pack away, tidy the room and stand quietly waiting for the bell. Many new teachers struggle with rushed ends to their lessons early on so do allow enough time for all the tidying to take place and you can then formally dismiss students.

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