Well I Never: Another Reflection

When I first took the new class yesterday and was asked to teach them about internal and external factors affecting retail, specifically the Sunday Trading Act and the Town and Country Planning Act I thought “Oh dear what thrilling exciting stuff to engage a new class with”.  I’d tried my best when planning the lesson some time ago, to make it as interesting as possible but even so I doubted its ability to really impress upon learners the kind of teacher I am. Something I feel is important with a new group.

So… I decided to shelve the planned lesson and do something much more fun instead, something related to the topic but less heavy than the original spec. I decided that I’d have time to claw back the ground I should have covered and felt my mentor wouldn’t mind me showing a bit of initiative and working not only on delivery of the unit but on relationship building which I’ve come to realise is perhaps one of the most important elements of teaching.

I decided against formal ice-breakers, I just thought I’d welcome the class, have chats as the group grew from the early arrivals through to its full capacity. Once everyone had arrived I introduced myself very briefly and explained the situation; why I was standing in front of them and what the plan was for the future. So far so good.

Then we did a very quick overview of the unit, when they had something to say I let them say it and we had a few interesting discussions about the retail industry and it gave me a chance to do a kind of micro initial assessment all of my own. I had a really comprehensive group profile which my mentor had given me and I started to connect people with the very accurate character descriptions. I also got a chance to see who was forthcoming, who was a little more reserved, who was lapping up information and who seemed not to give a hoot. The class is pretty much on an even keel as far as diversification goes with one or two exceptions. This should make for easier lesson planning.

We took a look at some advertising (a task taken from another unit that I happened to have on a Prezi) and we talked about market segmentation and how retailers group their customers so they can direct promotions at them. We looked at adverts and talked about what we felt the target market was and if the ad would appeal to that market. Then we looked at some banned ads which had been deemed offensive and shared our thoughts on them. We ended with a shout out and a quick You Tube search for adverts which students felt had definitely influenced their buying decisions. It was fun and engaging and everyone joined in. It was a good call.

I had opportunity to make my classroom expectations known and set them in line with agreed standards, I wasn’t overly critical of chatter but was aware that it was something I would need to address more at the next session.

When I arrived in the class this morning there were several students who expressed that they were pleased to be having me teach them again which is never going to be anything other than good to hear.

I decided that now the hard ice had been cracked in a less contrived way that we should go for some more nitty gritty getting to know you activity.  As the class had been together for a while now, since September I asked them to introduce each other to me by each choosing a fellow student to introduce, telling me their name and where they thought they would be this time next year.

We were in a class room with computers arranged in two back to back channels of desks which is definitely not ideal for a number of reasons but we managed OK in the circumstances.

It went well, most seemed to get each other right choosing the safe option of them being on the second year of the course, something most didn’t disagree with which bodes well for retention. There were a good few laughs and I managed to start absorbing some names into the memory bank. Something I worried about as an older teacher, but if you’re thinking of taking a career change, don’t let this put you off, it’s amazing how fast you get to know them all.

After that I got everyone to log into Socrative and they did a quiz based on retail with all of the questions relevant to what we discussed in the unit overview the day before. I was pleased to see that everyone got all or all bar one of the questions correct so something had sunk in.

They enjoyed the task as well and again as we surveyed the results on the board it was something of a talking point. I love that Socrative tells you how many students are in the virtual room so you can tally that up against the number in the actual room and know instantly if anyone is slacking and not participating.

After that we began the lesson proper, it was mostly didactic at first but I used Prezi to add a little dynamism and I noticed that the use of illustrations really appealed to the class.

Illustrations I find offer more of a talking point and are a good way of weaving questions into lessons. Instead of just asking a question and everyone looking awkward and blank, using a picture on the whiteboard, an advert, a graph even or a short video clip and then asking what was happening, what did they think is much more productive. They’re also great for visual learners of course.

After the Sunday Trading Laws teaching was done I posed a statement and split the group into two debating teams who self selected a spokesman, one was pro Sunday trading the other was against it. They came up with some fabulous ideas and thoughts and engaged in a lot of critical thought and analysis, definitely up there in terms of Bloom’s taxonomy.

I had to challenge a couple of swear words being used but apologies came very quickly and they responded well to requests to quieten down and listen to their peers. At the beginning of the class I told them that I’d noticed they liked to talk a lot so we’d have a debate later to let them all exercise their vocal chords. I pointed out that any comment relevant to the lesson was always welcome but other chats could wait for outside of the classroom and I just pointed out that it wasn’t nice for students who wanted to listen to have a background noise constantly humming. Sometimes it pays to just point these things out because I believe some people genuinely don’t realise how annoying their constant mumblings can be.

Some of the boys while researching for the debate were more interested in football and so I got them talking about how football clubs use retail to build a club’s wealth and how that subsequently allows them to buy more players, better grounds etc. Rather than fight their off track line of thought I chose to bring it back and make it as relevant as possible to the discussion. Also made a mental note to include retail in football grounds and stadiums, on line football club merchandising and such into a lesson to spark some interest.

We had a look at referencing for assignments. A couple of the students don’t just want to but really need to achieve merits and distinctions so they can fast track to university having accrued UCAS points from previous study and so I felt it appropriate to include a short ‘assignment tips’ section at the end of each class. I just gave them some tips on boosting their grades with some quality, well sourced and well referenced quotes. I kind of took my inspiration for this from a desire to see them do well of course, but also from an article I read while researching my poster presentation which indicated that BTEC students are not as well prepared in terms of academic writing for HE courses as their A’level counterparts. I took it upon myself, as I should, to make sure that wasn’t the case with any student who crossed paths with me.

They thanked me as they left the class and that’s something of an indication that I’d not done too badly.

I’m reminded once again that mixed methods work and feel I had further confirmation that this group is going to be one that needs lots of opportunity for discussions and debates and more vocal response elicited by more visual stimuli although they did respond well to a didactic style too. I think the mix was about right.

Questioning worked well, I used a range of pause and pounce, open, direct and responses indicated learning from understanding to evaluative had taken place.

This is what I’ve been waiting for and I’m just glad that finally I’m doing the job I wanted to do. I’m also really enjoying being a part of the team and helping out in the office regardless of what that involves, from manning the phones to dealing with bunches of unruly students out in the corridor. It’s all an education… for me.

Writing this blog and these reflections on my experiences is really helping me to make sense of it all and to take all of the positives and run with them while being acutely aware of the fact that this is a learning experience and identification of areas for improvement is of paramount importance to this whole course. Things go wrong and that’s good because it is from things going wrong that we learn the most. Just today though, everything feels like it’s going right.




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