How to be a better teacher?

This week has been a particularly tough week with my S2 class. There are 28 pupils in the class and there is a group of 8 pupils who dominate the class with low level poor behaviour and general disruption.

Normally I feel like I can handle this but on Monday it all came to a head. The group of pupils would not settle and it was impossible to start the lesson. Two pupils were sent out of class but the rest were so disruptive. At the end of the lesson I felt exhausted. Reflecting on the lesson my biggest regret was that the other 20 pupils in the class, who are so well behaved, were let down by me. I wasn’t giving them the lesson, the time and attention they deserved.

What to do about this?

Firstly, I contacted home about most of the 8 pupils. Hoping to get parental support to help. I wrote a new seating plan to see if I could find a better arrangement for the class.

The rest of the lessons that week were much better. I went for zero tolerance on poor behaviour and set my expectations to the class very clearly. The structure of the lessons were very traditional – chalk and talk – and the pupils were expected to work on their questions individually.

Were these lessons successful? On some levels YES. I was able to spend lots of time helping and encouraging all my pupils. There was a lot of progress made with their algebra skills and there was a much calmer atmosphere in the class.

Here’s my problem – the lessons were boring and not overly engaging. I don’t like teaching classes this way. I want pupils to have discussions, work together, investigate and enjoy their lessons. But do the pupils learn more when working independently in peace and quiet?

Here’s where I need help – how can I teach the type of lessons I know my pupils need without letting the minority take over? If I can’t figure it out I worry that these pupils, who behave and want to learn, will get discouraged and not enjoy learning maths.

I would appreciate any suggestions or thoughts.

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8 thoughts on “How to be a better teacher?

  1. I know exactly what you mean. For the well-behaved students, who really do need to start discussing topics so their common sense gets engaged in addition to the practice, chalk and talk is a big missed opportunity. One suggestion from Mathematics Teacher (NCTM) was to write worksheets that build the concept out of simple examples.
    For example: here are 3 triangles each with 2 given interior angles and you find the remote exterior angle. Notice a pattern? Let’s try the pattern out. Why’s it true?
    That, of course, takes time.

    I can’t find the article–IIRC, the author noted that having the leading questions on a worksheet helped class when some students were disruptive.

    Click my name for a link to a similar calculus sheet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If they made lots of progress and you were able to give lots of help, who’s to say it wasn’t engaging? They don’t have to be discussing things to be engaged. That might work well for other topics but there’s no need to assume they were bored.

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  3. Hi,

    Firstly, don’t feel bad or guilty about delivering “chalk and talk” lessons; ultimately these are the best kind of lessons for several reasons:

    – pupils actually learn;
    – pupils are challenged;
    – pupils develop important “soft skills” such as listening, thinking and absorbing;
    – pupils actually do enjoy them.

    On the final point, I have actually conducted surveys with my pupils along these lines and *most* of them have felt that they benefit more from these sorts of lessons. I do a lot of pupil voice stuff – end of term and end of year to get a better feel for what has worked. Occasionally kids will say obvious things like “more activities”, but then they also say things like “more videos” (only they often put an apostrophe in video’s and i think they do this just to wind me up).

    Kids generally don’t like too many discussions and aren’t actually too keen on lots of group work because they (a) don’t feel that they are learning, and (b) feel a sense of unfairness because there’s always those kids who won’t do any work and get carried by the others.

    I actually *do* do a lot of discussion, but it’s as a whole class driven by Q&A. I also do paired discussions and group discussions, but have observed over and over that these need to be fast paced and short – no more than 5 minutes really.

    I also think that such discussions often need to come later on in the year, once you have established an atmosphere conducive to learning.

    There are many myths in teaching, and “engagement” is one of them. But I imagine that, in maths, there must be many maths “games” that you could use.

    I teach English, and have found that having 5-10 minutes of silent reading at the start of lessons is very beneficial in terms of creating the right kind of atmosphere. It also enables discussions about what the kids are reading. Perhaps you could have some maths puzzle books for them to spend 5 minutes on?

    Out of curiosity, how long have you been teaching?

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  4. Here’s my problem – the lessons were boring and not overly engaging. I don’t like teaching classes this way. I want pupils to have discussions, work together, investigate and enjoy their lessons.

    It makes very little difference what you want.

    The good kids will want a nice quiet classroom where they can get on with their work. So give them that. They’ll enjoy it more than a supposedly “engaging” activity where they learn little because of disruptions.

    The disruptive kids need to learn to allow others to do their thing, without them taking over.

    My experience, anyway, is that you can make a chalk and talk lesson fun. Use interesting examples (not “relevant” ones, but interesting, or even ridiculous, ones). Have a bit of a competition. That they are working independently doesn’t mean all discussion needs to die away. It just has to be under your control.

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