Lessons from relief teaching

In NZ, Term one has now finished and during that time, I couldn’t help but do some relief teaching at my normal school (I am on leave for a year, basically to be a house husband and get on top of repairing our earthquake damaged house). Doing relief teaching I have discovered two things. Firstly, how much I enjoy teaching and secondly how simple it could be for everyone to engage in using a SOLO framework for learning.

On the latter, what I have found is that often teachers when writing relief must be too busy or sick or rushed to write thoughtful learning intentions for relief lessons. Rather, often a list of instructions is what is provided. As a relief teacher coming in cold, I now know what it must be like for students when the purpose of the lesson is not clear. It makes the learning unclear and unvalued – the first thought is – What’s the point? I guess it must be “busy work” so I won’t engage. That was one insight that came to me. Another is just how easy it is to value the learning using SOLO. While specific learning intentions using SOLO verbs are of course better, doing it on the fly, I have been simplifying them after a quick scan of the lesson instructions and then linking back to them during the lesson. I guess it is like naming the essence of the lesson. Is it about bringing in information (multistructural), making links (relational) or using the information in a new way (Extended Abstract). Watching and DVD or Documentary is now “bringing in information from a DVD” – much more engaging for a class than “hey students, I am just going to press play”

I have had some fun with lessons that were “note taking”. I have reframed these as “bringing in new information using note taking” and then while the instructions didn’t say it, usually a class is over that after about 30min. Then you switch to some relational thinking by asking students to “make links (relational thinking) by annotating the three most significant pieces of information they have found and how they help inform you about the topic (or something like that). E.g. this is significant because…   Then if you have some high flyers, they can easily be extend to think with the information in a new way. What if statements, Overall,,,because…because….. conclusions and things like that (extended abstract).

I have a new vision from these experiences and that is: next year when I have my own classes again, I want to be able to ask them at any moment during a lesson, what the purpose of what they are doing is. If I have done my job well, they will be able to say, bringing information, making links or using information in a new way. This will then help students be more metacognitive about their learning and identify effective learning strategies coded against SOLO. This will then help thm for future learning – ah, life long learning.

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