Mr. McDonald the English teacher?

‘A music teacher, an English teacher and a maths teacher walk into a staffroom.’ No this isn’t some corny joke – we did and we sat down and planned an English lesson. The lesson was going to be delivered by the maths teacher – me! We are seeking to understand the effectiveness of coaching within a classroom environment and what happens to pupils’ learning if led by a non-specialist. Later on in the term, Sarah Donarski, the English teacher aforementioned, will teach Music and Sean Farrell will lead a cricket session. The three of us outside of our comfort zone and relying on the expertise of the children to drive the lesson in the right direction.

I walked into the English classroom this morning very excited by the prospect but also incredibly nervous. The aim of the lesson was to discuss “how to write a perfect 40-mark response to the 2-part English literature question” in particular to do with Macbeth. After some planning as a triple, the other two teachers sat back and observed how well the coaching methodology was working in progressing the students’ learning.

First up, we broke into groups and the students analysed someone else’s response to a similar question. This was the first chance I had to walk around and talk to the students, who by now realised this wasn’t a joke and a maths guy was trying to teach English. It was remarkable to have a handful of conversations with students and never correct them once. I hope the students felt empowered by the process and it will be interesting to hear their feedback. I offered nearly no advice and I learnt a lot myself about how the students think and what they get from such exercises.

After this activity, we came back together as a whole group (my basic premise was to break into small groups and come back as a whole cohort – akin to my sports coaching) to discuss the essays. Together, we came up with a criteria for a perfect essay before we would go away and have a go at planning. This whole group discussion took 10 minutes and my goal was to always try and bottom-line exactly what students were saying. I was not going to write anything up until I had been told explicitly what they meant by “write good sentences” or “use clever words”. This was an important exercise from a teaching point of view and I think it will affect how I go about teaching my own subject. Far too often, we do the bottom-lining ourselves, I feel. It is a very important part of a conversation and a coachee must be able to succinctly say what they have learnt or what they will do from now on.

This was used to then go and have a go at writing/planning a response before coming back as a group and having a similar conversation. While they were doing this activity, I walked around and asked more questions and had more conversations with students. As an aside, it was fantastic to talk to children about Shakespeare and what they think of the play. Well done, Miss Donarski on instilling a genuine enthusiasm towards the story and Shakespeare’s writing!

The highlight, from my point of view, of what coaching can offer happened when a student said “I don’t anything about the play”. This is the absolute nightmare for a teacher who actually doesn’t know anything about the play! What can I offer? I can’t lead him to think about the question asked because I have no idea, myself. The solution was to just talk about the story (which I know a little) and the student proceeded, with help from his pals, to tell me the abridged version of the story. From this, he convinced himself he did know a little more than he thought and he now had an idea of where to start his work…absolutely the end goal we were looking for. The student found a roadblock and just from talking to someone, found a solution and “taught himself”.

Coaching is something I have spoken about in the past and I cannot thank Graydin and Iain Henderson enough for the training we have received here at Wellington College. This whole experience showed what a powerful tool it can be and for the first time, I really saw how it can be implemented in the classroom. I hope the pupils enjoyed themselves and I hope the English teachers observing me don’t think I desecrated the subject or Shakespeare too much! I had a lot of fun throughout and I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of this term pans out!


Mr. McDonald the English teacher?

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