Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jamie's Dream School: Episode 1

Now that the education blogs are calming down a bit over "Jamie's Dream School" I'm going to write a review of each episode to see what we can learn about teaching from it.

Jamie's Dream School: Episode 1

Jamie sets up the premise well - he is taking twenty students "who hate rules and regulations" and is "ripping up the rulebook" by using "brilliant minds" and "inspirational experts" to enthuse them. The students have "flunked their GCSEs" and hate education, as they feel it has let them down,

* John "Dabbs" D'Abbro

This week:
* Simon Callow, English Teacher
* David Starkey, History Teacher
* Rolf Harris, Art Teacher
* Ellen MacArthur, Unspecified
* Robert Winston, Science Teacher

Jamie Oliver starts off very well telling them they are normal and brilliant, and is able to persuade them to wear uniforms in spite of their objections.

Simon Callow, English Teacher

The choice of Simon Callow as the English teacher is a very interesting one, as well as being a respected actor Callow is also a writer and biographer. Obviously being a teacher and being an actor are two different professions, but nonetheless they definitely require some of the same skills in terms of creating a performance, using your voice to command attention, getting the audience emotionally involved. Simon Callow also loves literature; Shakespeare, Wilde, Dickens, etc., so his enthusiasm is a real plus.

He says his objective is to "turn them onto Shakespeare", an excellent ambition, and one that he is uniquely equipped to achieve, but clearly that is not the whole of the English syllabus.

His classroom manner is friendly and kind, when students speak out of turn his reproaches are mild: "focus a bit, please", "O.K., guys, shush, shush", "quiet, please, OK, please, listen" and seems to manage the class well.

His exercise to get them to think about "anyone you would like to be like" proves to be effective in terms of getting them to identify role models and look at ways they can achieve their dreams, although at times the lesson does become more like a n Introductory Acting class as opposed to English. He then matches their role models to Shakespearean characters.

He does a very good job, but comments afterward that he feels the students are "unruly, not disciplined".

What worked:
Getting them to identify role models, treating them like equals, being very positive and enthusiastic

What didn't work:
Classroom discipline

David Starkey, History Teacher

David Starkey is a poor choice as History teacher, he was a university lecturer for 26 years and as such he would imagine he knew something about teaching, but the reality is that he would have no way to relate to students who hadn't chosen history as their specialism. Also he is famous for his abrasiveness and rudeness, his behaviour on this show should be no surprise to anyone who ever listened to his BBC Radio 4 show, The Moral Maze. He is famously provocative, in 2009 he suggested that female historians had "feminised" history by focusing on female historical subjects -- let's face it, he's a git.

It is interesting to note that before his class begins he wonders if the students have low self-esteem and that's why they are having difficulties.

The class begins well with Starkey bringing in historical artifacts to outline the history of Britain. Jamie Oliver comments that Starkey is teaching them the "origins of bling". Starkey also moves the class up to the front rows since he wants them to be able to see the artifacts.

All is going well until the students start speaking out of turn and then Starkey (who previously commented on their possible low self-esteem) says "quiet everyone, you are all here, I'm told, because you failed ... you didn't get the magic five GCSEs ... and one of the reasons it seems to me you failed is you were too busy talking and not listening enough". If this is an effort to build up their esteem it's a strange one!

Further to his self-esteem building measures, he picks out one student and says "Come on, you're so fat you couldn't really move" and "with Jamie's food there will be lots of dieting opportunities". This doesn't surprise me at all, I had a number of teachers in Secondary School who did exactly the same thing - pick on one student, and make all the other students co-conspirators in the harassment of the one student by getting everyone to laugh at the teacher's cruel comments. The problem in this show is that the students are sufficiently independently-minded to reject his bullying approach, and worse still the student he picked on has the temerity to give back as good as he got. Starkey is clearly in way over his head.

Starkey feels that since they will not listen to him "they are destroying what they could be" and "cutting off their noses to spite their faces", but sees nothing wrong with his own interactions with the class.

In the next history class Starkey stays at home and lets a jousting expert teach them the basics of jousting. Starkey is hurt by his experiences and feels that the school is leaderless and it needs rules and sanctions, and that these students have had "too much of the milk of human kindness".

Jamie feels that he and Dabbs can "help" Starkey become a better teacher.

What worked:
The use of props, telling history as a story

What didn't work:
Insulting students, getting into a fight, trying to be cool

Jamie and Dabbs

As the students are very unsettled after their History class Jamie and Dabbs undertake an intervention. They get the students to tell each other their stories and ask them about their ambitions. This is a brilliant social-psychological intervention that is very effective. As Alexander Astin points out: "The student’s peer group is the single most potent source of influence on the growth and development".

Jamie asks that students to respect each other and the teachers.

What worked:
Social-psychological intervention

What didn't work:

Rolf Harris, Art Teacher

Rolf Harris is a great choice as Art teacher, he is not a teacher by profession but is a performer with decades of experience as a singer and presenting television shows. In the same way that Simon Callow is a good choice so is Rolf Harris, he knows how to engage an audience. He is also teaching what he knows about.

The class starts with Harris asking them if they know what impressionism is (his mentor was impressionist painter Hayward Veal) so he starts off with asking the question "Have you heard of a fella called Monet?" and proceeds to explain impressionism in a simple and clear way.

He gets them painting which they all enjoy, but still there are some students who don't pay attention and are texting, Rolf says "you're not phoning someone there, are you?" He does a good job teaching the class.

After the class is over Rolf is very upset, he feels that if he had half the number of students in his class he could have given everyone more attention, he says "Henry and Jake, they just gave up". Every teacher in the world can sympathize with Rolf, we all have too many students in the classroom.

One student, Henry enjoys creating graffiti, so Rolf gives him some canvases to paint on, but Henry is unhappy with his own work and smashes his canvases and throws his can across the room and leaves in frustration.

What worked:
Friendly manner, simple explanations, positive feedback

What didn't work:
Focusing on the interested students

Ellen MacArthur, Unspecified

Yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur takes four students yachting and teaches them how to sail. Jamie doesn't pretend this is part of the curriculum or that a regular school could afford to do this, what he says is that "getting out together can really broaden your horizons" (shades of Robert Baden-Powell).

What worked:
Team work, sharing a meal

What didn't work:
No specific learning objectives

Robert Winston, Science Teacher

Robert Winston is a great choice as the Science teacher, as well as being a scientist, medical doctor, television presenter, and a politician, he also teaches and lectures in secondary schools and universities championing the importance of science. Being a television presenter means that he is well able to engage audiences, and being a politician means that he is able to "give as good as he gets".

Winston decides to deliver a "hand's on" course, focusing on practical work without a lot of theory, and focusing on having fun. This is a good approach, obviously it is not an option for teachers since the students are going to be examined on theory as well as practice, but it is a great way to engage students.

Winston is a surgeon so he decides to get the students to dissect a rat, and smiles his way through the noise of the students chattering. Jamie notes that most schools don't do dissection any more for financial and Health-and-Safety reasons. Winston gets some of the students engaged in this process, but others less so.

Next he creates a bit of tension by wheeling in a trolley with a sheet covering it, the students are intrigued and are concerned that the trolley has a cadaver underneath it, this is a great way to build up a bit of excitement. Eventually he removes the sheet and reveals a pig corpse. He begins to do an autopsy which causes about ten students to leave the classroom in disgust. His class was generally successful.

What worked:
Practical work to inspire curiosity, building up a bit of excitement

What didn't work:
Grossing out the students with entrails, focusing on the interested students

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