A nice bit of bread and butter

I was asked recently to teach a lesson for the German students who were here on exchange.  The lesson itself was about cholera, specifically the spread of the disease in the 1800s in the new urban areas of England.  I was adapting a really good lesson that I’d recently used with my own year 8 class, which had been prepared by a colleague.  It went really well with my year 8’s and I thought that the German students would enjoy it.

We started with a stick man which on which we drew and labelled a diagram of the symptoms of Cholera, we then read through a sheet about cholera in Sunderland, read a role play about the living conditions that prevailed and then filled in a table.  Finally we annotated the Court for King Cholera cartoon (thanks to the Passmore History Dept).  We focused on three questions – what was it like to have cholera, why did it spread so quickly, and why didn’t the precautions work?  Along the way we also dallied with what the precautions told us about how people in Sunderland felt about people from outside their area.

Nothing approaching a blog in sight, no bells, no whistles. This was really a ‘bread and butter’ lesson, but I really enjoyed teaching it, and I think the students enjoyed and learned much during the hour. I enjoyed it so much in fact that I feel compelled to explain why.

I realised, whilst thinking about the lesson on the way home, that I enjoyed it so much because I felt like a PGCE student again.  I felt able to invest quite a lot of time on planning and preparing for the lesson, because I was representing the school.  As a result I thought deeply about the aims of the lesson, the language I was going to use (especially important given the context of this lesson), the resources that I was to give to the students, and the activities that would be appropriate.  I relished the opportunity to see how these things went in the classroom, and whether my calculations about interest, language, activities and transitions were correct.

I was probably doing nothing more than bringing into my conscious thought a set of processes that I often complete in ‘auto-pilot’, in that much of the time I’m considering the lesson from the point of view of the learners, and constantly up-dating my plans ‘on the fly’.  Interestingly I don’t think I would have been able to alter my plans with the same degree of fluidity whilst I was teaching the exchange students.  This was possibly because I had thought very carefully beforehand about the new context that I was working in, and worked my activities into this constructed context.  As a consequence of my knowledge of the context being less immediate than that of the other classes I teach regularly, I would not have been as confidence to make such alterations.

I really did enjoy teaching a group of delightful children, who worked hard at the end of a day in which they’d been bombarded with information in a foreign tongue.  I’m glad of of the opportunity, and of the insight I’ve had into my teaching.

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