Friday, April 22, 2011

Jamie's Dream School: Episode 2

Jamie's Dream School: Episode 2

* John "Dabbs" D'Abbro

This week:
* Alastair Campbell, Politics Teacher
* Jazzie B, Music Teacher
* Simon Callow, English Teacher
* Rankin, Photography Teacher
* David Starkey, History Teacher

Jamie and Dabbs

Jamie feels that the teachers have to adjust and learn from the students, and he wonders how can the teachers can break the disruptive behaviour of the students.

Jamie and Dabbs continue with their Social-psychological intervention, getting students to explain why they are in Jamie's dream School. what was wrong with their old schools, and what are their hopes for the future.

Jamie also asks the students to stop texting and chatting in their classes.

What worked:
Social-psychological intervention

What didn't work:

Alastair Campbell, Politics Teacher

Continuing on the trend from last week of having subjects that are not on the GCSE curriculum, but are more engaging and exciting, Jamie gets Alastair Campbell to teach a politics course. This seems to me to be a real cheat, if you can add any subjects in you want it's really easy, but not at all realistic.

Alastair Campbell started his career as a journalist rising to become Political Editor of the Daily Mirror. He was an advisor to Neil Kinnock, and became close friends with Tony Blair who appointed his Director of Communications. As such Campbell is a fantastic "spin doctor" and teaches his class in a manner that plays to his strengths - debating and arguing.

Campbell says he wants to focus on "Politics, Media and Campaigns", and he wants to show them that "they are probably a lot more political than they think". He suggests that his classes will be a lot less structured than other classes.

First Lesson

Campbell opens with the statement that there is only one rule in his class "one of us speaks at a time" but unfortunately doesn't manage to ensure that the students stick to this rule. He then asks each of them the question "What does politics say to you?" which gets them thinking about the themes of his class, and could be seen as an attempt at the Socratic method.

The key focus of the class will be to put together a campaign on a topic of the students choosing (topics that they suggest include abolish taxes, more social housing, and legalise pitbulls), this approach seems a lot like a Project-Based Learning approach.

At the end of the first class Campbell is happy how things went and says to Jamie "they're not bad kids on any level".

Second Lesson

In the next lesson Campbell wants to teach them how to argue so he starts off showing a video of his favorite person, himself, on a Sky News interview arguing with Adam Boulton. The video goes down very well with the class and then he asks them "Is it better to be passionate or laid back?" to which everyone agrees it is better to be passionate.

Next he gets them to role-play an interview where one of the students is arguing for gay-only youth groups. Unfortunately there is too much talking while the interview is going on, and most of the other students are unclear as to the exact nature of the topic. One of the students says she knows of know youth groups that explicitly forbid gays, which starts an argument between her and the interviewee, that continues on after class and lead to aggression in the playground. Dabbs bring them in to see him and says he's going to sleep on their punishment and take some advice.

What worked:
Playing to his strengths as a teacher (debating and arguing), allowing the students to choose their own topics to discuss, asking the students questions instead of telling them things, showing a video

What didn't work:
Not enforcing his "one of us speaks at a time" rule, not explaining that an argument is something that should not lead to an aggressive fight.

Jazzie B, Music Teacher

Jazzie B (Trevor Beresford Romeo) is a really excellent choice as Music teacher, he is a well-known performer, having founded "Soul II Soul" who had a number one hit with "Back to Life", he has produced and remixed records for many others, as well as founding an advocacy group - the Featured Artists Coalition. He also presents a radio show "Back 2 Life". He has a good mixture of technical skills and presenting skills.

Jamie describes Jazzie's teaching style as "tough bur fair". Jazzie is teaching them music using computers, getting them to do something practical immediately. Jazzie starts the class establishing the ground rules, before anyone is allowed to touch the computers he gets them to answer two questions: "Does anyone want to go to the bathroom?", and "Are your phones off?". This is a wonderful way of taking away any excuses for being disruptive.

He then says he wants it to be so quiet in the room that he can hear a pin drop, but the students are still chattering, so he says "I can't hear this pin drop", and when there is still chattering he says "Look guys, we're killing the lesson, we gotta have this little bit of discipline". This is a superb approach to show the class that he identifies with them while at the same time giving out to them, because it is "we" who are killing the lesson it includes all of us (very Ron Clark).

He then gets them to stand up, raise their hands in the air, and sing "Do Re Mi", this gets them energised, focused and ready for work. He then gets on with the teaching.

What worked:
Remove any excuses for distraction (mobile phones, bathroom breaks), identify with the students verbally ("we"), get the students standing up and doing exercise.

What didn't work:

Simon Callow, English Teacher

This is the second week for Simon Callow, as their homework from last week the students had to look at Romeo and Juliet on DVD. Callow asks one of the students, Connor, to summarise the play for him, which the student does successfully and he is praised for it.

Last week Callow said his objective was to "turn them onto Shakespeare", this week he says he hopes to show them that "Shakespeare might be of some value to them in their lives" and to show them that "drama is a very engaging form of art".

The lesson starts off well but the students get more restless over time, Callow's comments start off mild and he gradually becomes more and more frustrated. He start off with gentle comments, "please listen", after getting a little more annoyed he says "Excuse me", but eventually he completely loses his temper and shouts: "SHUT UP ... ENOUGH ... Can you imagine what it is like for me to be here with this unending hubbub and buzz". Callow started off too nice so had to eventually set some boundaries. After the event he says he thinks it was a good thing he gave out to them, to show that he is "not a pussy cat" and they might pay more attention.

To help further their interest in Shakespeare he takes them to see his one-man play "Shakespeare: The Man from Stratford", some of the students don't recognise their teacher, and their behaviour is appaling throughout the performance, constantly chatting to each other and generally distracting the rest of the audience. After the performance many of their fellow patrons express their dismay at the students behaviour, which the students completely reject any responsibility for.

I will restate what I said previously that this is must more a Drama class than an English class.

What worked:
Asking the students to summarise the homework, finally setting boundaries, bringing the students out into the real world

What didn't work:
Losing his temper, allowing his students to interact with the public

Jamie Olver, Home Economics Teacher

Jamie Oliver is the Home Ecomonics teacher, but he is really only teaching Cooking, so the other parts of Home Economics syllabus are left out, e.g. interior design, sewing, child development, and managing money, which is another big cheat. Jamie seems like the type of teacher we would have all liked, he seems to speak the same language as the students and is friendly. The fact that he is dyslexic means that he knows how to struggle and overcome, excellent qualities in a teacher.

Jamie outlines his developing educational philosophy, he says "you want to love them and be their chum, but what I'm starting to learn is to have strictness". This is a key insight, if you don't set up the rules and boundaries, how will the know they are misbehaving? Jamie was a difficult student himself so can sympathise with them but he is trying to find a balance of love and discipline.

It is reported to him that some of the students were drinking alcohol that morning, so when Jamie starts class he asks the students if anyone was drinking this morning, no one admits it for a while, but he keeps asking the question until the two students in question admit to their behaviour. Jamie says that they can't use knifes today. He then passes around a mixing bowl and insists that all the students put their phones in the bowl to stop interruptions, setting down some ground rules.

Jamie explains the three important types of knife (a chef's knife, a pairing knife, and a bread knife) and their uses, then he gets then chopping, Jamie thinks doing stuff is good for the students.

What worked:
Sympathising with the students but setting boundaries, practical work, getting their mobile phones, not giving knives to drunken students.

What didn't work:

Rankin, Photography Teacher

Rankin (John Rankin Waddell) is the Photography teacher, at this stage I'm getting sick of saying it, but this is yet another class that is not actually featured on the GCSEs, and therefore although it is a fun class to do, it has no direct correspondence to what would happen in a real school. Rankin is a highly successful photographer. It is interesting to note that he was studying accounting in college before he gave it up and transferred to photography, so he knows well about the frustrations of the academic life, and is therefore a very sympathetic teacher.

In the voiceover Jamie wonders if schools are neglecting the creativity of children to justify this additional course. My own view is that schools are definitely not neglecting creativity in their students, teachers do an unbelievable amount of voluntary after-school activities to foster creativity in students, so this is just a bogus excuse for a new subject.

First Lesson

Rankin says he will teach them about photography and lighting, and will get them to take pictures one at a time. He tells them their homework will be to take a picture of themselves and to add something to the picture: draw on it, tear them up, or change it somehow. His students loudly object, and start shouting they can't do it, but he shows them examples of previous images that celebrities have altered and they calm down. One of the students, Jenny, refuses to take a photo of herself, so Rankin gets her to take pictures of him instead.

Second Lesson

The students are thrilled with this exercise, so much so that before class on the day that they are meant to hand up their assignments, one of the students, Connor, wants to show Rankin his work. Rankin gives wonderfully positive feedback to this student and to all of the students, he is very kind, engaging, and positive about everyone's work, for example, "this is really good mate".

Another wonderful touch Rankin adds is to create an exhibition of their photographs, he puts them on display in a large classroom and gets all the teachers to come and view their work, and mix with the students, this is a powerfully positive experience for many students. Rankin is a super teacher.

What worked:
Creative assignment with a personal dimension, examples of previous assignments, really positive feedback, the exhibition

What didn't work:

David Starkey, History Teacher

Last time we saw David Starkely he was refusing to take any more classes after a disaster of an initial class. An interesting coda to that class was to see the students reenacting the event, and they said the following: (playing Starkey) "You're fat", (playing Connor) "You're short", (playing Starkey) "...and you are all failures". It is amazing to note that the key message they got from Starkey's speech was that they are all failures in his eyes.

Before the lesson

Starkey met up with Jamie and Dabbs and insisted that the students are the problem, and Jamie has to make sure that the rules are understood and obeyed. He says when he looked at Connor he saw an "arrogant, self-satisfied, porcine boy". He also said that he did nothing that "every teacher in my school would have done". He feels that no one "has given them any structure". Jamie and Dabbs appeal to him and ask him to please come back and give it another try, that mistakes were made on both sides and the important thing is to learn from the event.

Starkey takes this advice to heart and arranges a meeting with Connor, the student he had the argument with, where they settle their differences, and Starkey even asks Connor: "Will you help me [to teach in a more suitable way]?" This is a major change in Starkey's attitude and it keeps on coming.

Starkey meets up with Jazzie B to ask for some teaching advice. Starkey opens up emotionally, telling Jazzie B that his parents made him take piano lessons as a child and he absolutely hated it, he felt trapped, and didn't enjoy it at all. Jazzie suggests he turn that around, and consider that maybe this is the way the students feel about their schooling experiences. Jazzie also tells Starkey that he shouldn't talk down to the students and to use his humour and laugh with them.

The lesson

When Starkey's class starts he opens by getting the students to put away their laptops and turning off their mobile phones. He then shows them a video of themselves taking part in the previous history class that he missed where they are being taught jousting. The students really enjoy this.

Starkey makes a big effort to relate what he is teaching to the student's lives, he says "Henry the VIII was the same age as you when he took the throne". He asks them to guess Henry's height and when a student guesses a height, Starkey says "it's a very good guess". He asks them how we know Henry VIII's height if we have never measured him, someone shouts "his suit of armour" to which Starkey says "GREAT!" very positively.

He is lighthearted and positive - a major improvement. Starkey comments on the class "we're sort of getting to know each other" and "there's a human and humane reaction going on", but he still feels there is a hardcore that is still disenchanted.

The students feel he did a good job and that he explained things in ways that suited them.

What worked:
Making peace with the students, looking for help from other teachers, using humour, being positive, explaining topics in a way that is relevant to the students, asking questions instead of just talking, showing a video, setting the rules on laptops and mobile phones.

What didn't work:
Focusing on the few students who aren't interested, there will always be a few who don't want to engage no matter how hard you try, that's their choice - you can lead a horse to water...

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