Have you been watching BBC 2’s School Season recently?
I have to admit that I haven’t watched it all. But one that’s been on for the last couple of nights is one that I’ve found quite interesting.
The Classroom Experiment is a 2-part series where Professor Dylan William takes over a Year 8 class at Hertswood School in Hertfordshire, in order to test some ideas which will improve the standard of education.
The school is one of many comprehensive schools in the country, and the majority of classes are therefore mixed ability.
If, like me, you have attended (or maybe still do) a comprehensive school, you’ll know that every class is the same: every class has a group of people who always knows the answer, and a group of people who, like me, don’t like putting their hands up to answer questions.
There were a number of techniques Dylan used during the term. The first one was to ban hands up to answer a question. Instead, teachers had to write each name down on a stick and pick them from a pot at random to find out who will answer the next question.
Picking students at random isn’t something that was very common when I was at school, but its not completely new. There were some times when a teacher decided that for one lesson, they would pick who answers at random. Sometimes, they decided that everyone in the class must answer at least one question before the end of the lesson. But most of the time, people were expected to put hands up to answer a question.
Another technique which was introduced, was that the whole class had to turn up at 8:30 every morning in order to do 10 minutes of exercise before the start of the main school day. I don’t like PE and I hate sport. I think something like this would have actually put me off.
Another technique which was introduced was the use of mini whiteboards… when the teacher asks a question, each student writes the answer on their board and then holds it up for the teacher to see. I had some teachers use this quite frequently, not every day but at least a couple of times each half-term. Even at college, my German teacher got them out for a vocab test a couple of weeks ago!
The thing with whiteboards is, that when students hold them up for the teacher to see, the teacher can immediately see who does/who doesn’t understand something which has been taught to them. That’s quite useful. But also if a student doesn’t understand what’s being taught, they can also look round the room and see if what everyone else has written could help them.
Another technique was the removing of grades from homework; I can see the reasoning behind this – it means students actually read the comments rather than looking at the grades. On the other hand, when you do exams at GCSE and beyond, its the grades which get looked at when you’re applying for college/uni/jobs etc. Its the grades that matter here, and unless the exam system is changed they will continue to be important.
The other technique – which I quite liked – was the Secret Student, where one person from the class is selected at random each day. The teachers know who that student is, and depending on their behavior will give them either a tick or a cross for each lesson. If they get a certain number of ticks each day, the whole class wins a point and if the class has enough points at the end of the term they get a treat. But because the students don’t know who is the secret student, they all have to behave well.
Its not something teachers ever did when I was at school, but I do remember in Year 7 the head of year gave each tutor group a ‘monitoring folder’ and all the teachers for that day wrote comments on the behavior in the class; noting down any students who were particularly not well-behaved and any students who behaved particularly well. It didn’t continue into Year 8 and onwards, but I guess it has a similar effect on behavior as Dylan’s Secret Student technique.
Both programmes are still on the BBC iPlayer if you didn’t see them. And don’t forget to let me know your thoughts – I’ve written from the perspective of someone who has attended a comprehensive school and knows how the system works. But maybe you’d have different views if you went to a different type of school?