Therefore after each delivery of the ‘Sounds of English’ course (four in total), we went to watch each teacher giving a lesson. It allows us to check if the course teaches what it seeks to teach, modify the course for the next batch of teachers when it hasn’t been clear enough, correct simple mistakes the teachers make, praise good work and show that we haven’t just abandoned the teachers after a week of glitzy (well, sort of) training and Tesco’s fruit pastilles. It also gave us the chance to visit some more rural areas, see the schools we try to affect change in – their resources, location, equipment, staff motivation etc.
Our first visit was back where we’d given the training and my first assignment was watching the class star (of indecipherable speeches) teach a cover lesson. He arrived, donning his white coat dramatically and armed with a set of flashcards and his ‘Sounds of English’ notes. I settled down with our feedback sheet to enjoy a five minute lesson and whatever else he had in store…
An hour and a quarter later I staggered out into the corridor having heard every sound of English, and a few more besides, uttered by every student it the class, probably twice. He’d managed to multiply the five minute lesson by fifteen, and then some. Aside from completely missing the point of the central message for their classroom teaching, it wasn’t actually that bad… All very teacher-centric, but at least his sounds were alright. I gave what feedback I could, and wandered off to see if Sue had had any more luck.
She’d had a mixed bag, and over the weeks she and I have seen our share of missing letters from the alphabet (no x or e was a nice effort, p and q have also been reported missing), classes chanting the alphabet 8 times, flashcards held at angles and pointing in directions I barely knew existed, (then usually dropped all over the floor), 16 repeats of an incorrect ‘a’, teachers asking us to teach and most other things in between.
But we’ve seen some great stuff too, and have adapted the course as we’ve gone to cut out the mistakes and misunderstandings. We’ve seen perfect short lessons leading into the national curriculum, great correction and encouragement, lessons plans, material carefully prepared in advance, new activities designed, and most pleasingly, activities that get the pupils to think for themselves rather than the national blight of being lectured at.
The worry is that the teachers we observe end up teaching to us, not their pupils. That they know what we want to see and can put it on for us, but do they abandon activities or a short recap of blending as soon as we’ve left in preference for something they know better?
It’s difficult to protect against this. It means that the most important part of our teaching has been convincing the teachers and schools that we’re not imposing some unwanted external programme onto them, but that our interests are aligned. That the ‘Sounds of English’ course and the larger role of the ‘Library and Literacy’ project, will help them improve the education and reading of their pupils. To date the teachers and librarians have seemed enthused. It appears we’re pulling them willingly towards a common goal, rather than pushing them reluctantly to a goal they neither understand or wish for.
We’re likely to find out in June. In the meantime I’ll just hope not to hear too many more alphabets.