Placement day today and again it was a really fab day for lots of different reasons. I got to observe a special needs class. I’ve kind of been torn between teaching what I know/have experienced in terms of my specialist subject and teaching special needs (an altogether different take on what I know and have experienced) since I set out on this path a few years ago.

I won’t dwell on the format of the lessons for long  as I’m going to be talking a bit about this in my poster presentation but I got to see the way the modular design of many FE courses really works well because of its adaptability to suit the needs of the learners at the time, how it can be flexed with little fuss or effort and no need for authorisation, largely at the discretion of the teacher. I like that, it allows for some individuality in a seemingly rigid system after all.

I found the class refreshing in that the students were very attentive, polite and enthusiastic. They contributed with little prompting and when working independently on assignments those who had finished ahead of their peers were keen to help those who were struggling. I like this as it shows that learning has taken place if someone is able to teach what they have just learned for themselves besides obvious peer support which is fantastic. I loved the overall feel of the group, that everyone was supporting and helping each other without the suspicion that often arises in classes I’ve experienced.

Another thing I noticed that felt very different was the way the students encouraged each other to take pride in their achievements, one even broke into applause when it was announced that everyone had achieved their targets ahead of schedule. It was heart warming to see him stand up and say “We should all be very proud of ourselves” and start the applause which rippled through the class.  I wondered when I last saw that kind of spontaneous camaraderie in a regular classroom and I couldn’t remember.

The class was very much focused on daily living skills, albeit packaged as something else and I wonder if the absolute relevance of the lesson to the students assisted hugely in their engagement and enthusiasm.

After this session I did another observation in a computing class, the students were designing an app and were working on the planning elements of that design, writing up imagined minutes of a meeting with a client to discuss app requirements. I was shocked by the behaviour in this class, most of which went unchecked. It was  a very male heavy class and at one point a young girl was clearly being made to feel uncomfortable by the two boys either side of her whose humour verged on misogyny at first and then became graphically crude. Eventually the situation was dealt with but I felt it should have been nipped in the bud much earlier.

I had wondered at the onset of the lesson why everyone seemed to talk to the group with a very stern tone (the course leader came in to announce exam times and mirrored the tone taken by the regular teacher and another teacher did the same when she came in to inform some of the students of 1:1 tutorial times). I guess they were all used to having to speak in that manner to a group who have clearly been challenging.

The environment was awful and I wondered to what extent that affected behaviour, half of the class couldn’t see the whiteboard when the Powerpoint was being delivered and when they were set a task to do most had no idea what they were doing as a result, not knowing what they were doing lead to them doing nothing and that lead to them getting up to no good.  I wondered if in a parallel universe the same class had been taking place at the same time, with the same students and the same teacher but in a more suitable room things would have been different.

Finally, after a lunch break and a chat with colleagues, I went to work in my usual class. It was great to see  another one of the students I’d helped with an application and interview preparation smiling and holding out a letter of acceptance for me to look at. I was quite touched that she’d brought it in especially to show me and it meant a lot to have been involved in her development. I didn’t need the acknowledgment but I won’t lie, it felt good.

We had an interesting creative session preparing for open evening, the students had prepared some games to identify different types of customer and also another one to guess the brand name. They had to transfer the customer ‘snap cards’ into computerised versions for printing and laminating ready to exhibit as a product at the open event. 

This meant that the classroom became a hive of activity, students moved around to work in different groups to those they usually work in (some deal with this much better than others). I love to see the obvious leaders emerge, the ones who get things done and can pick out who these are now. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know this group, I see how important it is to understand individual traits and learning styles. There’s one boy who needs constant pushing, he needs to be cajoled into every step of a process and monitored really closely, something that isn’t always possible but through things such as direct questioning it would be possible to engage him more. Then there is another who is a very slow starter, this can be misinterpreted as laziness or a lack of enthusiasm for the task but this is not the case, he just needs time to digest what it is he is supposed to be doing and to think it through before committing anything to paper, he often looks around to see what other people are doing and more often than not comes up with something completely different, I’m not sure if he purposefully wants to be different or not but that’s what happens and once he starts to work he produces some really high quality stuff. Another is particularly meticulous in approach and so when working in a group is worried about things not being as perfect as he would like and so gets slightly tetchy and anxious if everyone isn’t paying as much attention to the detail as he does.

We were allowed to have classroom music on, a bit of Jazz FM and this created an informal atmosphere which in turn appeared to create a peaceful group. The learners were chatting softly to one another so as not to overwhelm the music, they were humming or singing along at times to familiar tunes and all the time learning was taking place. No presentations, no didactic teaching, just a brief and get on with it. Not only were they learning and reinforcing characteristics of customers and discussing how to deal with them they were sharing their own views, they were utilising IT skills particularly basic document design and image manipulation and they were demonstrating and developing communication and group working skills by the bucket load.

A great day and I got all of my observations booked in too which was a bonus.



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