Some years ago, personal relaxation time was provided through plating in a performance folk dance group band, from which, occasionally, we morphed into a barn dance ensemble for special occasions. In addition to playing the Irish drum, the bodhran, which I'd played in France in front of an audience of 3000, I also stepped out from the band to sing folk songs appropriate to the occasion.
This was fine, until the day that I literally froze mid-song. I’d sung this particular version of “As I walked out, one bright May morning” many times, but for some reason, the beginning of the next verse eluded me. In front of an audience of 100 people, I was stuck. Fortunately, the band discretely started to clap, as if the song had finished and I slunk back behind my drum. The experience was so stark and devastating, my confidence so dented, that it has stuck with me ever since.
We’re into observation season for ITT trainees. They are, during an observation, on show, demonstrating their current abilities. It’s very public, with an audience of children adding to the adults in the room; the TAs are as much part of the audience as the class teacher and, occasionally, an external tutor.
This has also heightened to me the ways in which we ask children to perform, every minute of every day, changing their focus from one lesson to another, often with just a few minutes’ hiatus. Some lessons are highly performance based; PE, dance, drama, music and art come to mind, but reading aloud could be seen as performance, as can being put on the spot to answer a question. It’s the immediacy that can cause a tension in an insecure child required to respond, perform and achieve. Where there is the potential for responses to be right or wrong, the insecure child may take time to respond.
Desert Island Discs interviewee on 10.3.17 was Jimmy Carr. Most people will know of the seemingly brash, confident comedian, prepared to say the unsayable. It was with great interest that I listened to him talking of his childhood that was marked by late diagnosed dyslexia that left him unconfident in class reading lessons. That he went on to exam success and to Cambridge was down to teachers later in his career who believed in his abilities and focused him in the right way.
Wait time; helpful or not?
I watched a class lesson, based on bible reading, with the teacher reading aloud from the bible, while every child had their own copy and had to “read along with the teacher”. For me, there were a number potentially issues built into this activity from the start; the readability level of the text and the reading ability of the class as a whole. While the additional adults were deployed with the readers with greatest need, there was no guarantee that the children were reading with any accuracy, or with understanding. Wait time is a useful technique, allowing a child a bit of thinking time before responding. Well used, it can be the difference between offering an answer and becoming tongue tied and unable, or unwilling to answer. When one of the struggling readers was asked a question, the pressure to answer was great and became more so as the wait time progressed. Fortunately, the teacher offered an opportunity to think longer by going to another child. An alternative would have been for the child to talk with her supporting adult, who could act as advocate for ideas.
When I was a class teacher, the prevailing orthodoxy in reading was to hear individuals. Where this was planned, it was possible to think ahead and “line-up” readers, who would be called, by offering them time to come out of the activity that they were doing and allow some time to go back over a few pages of already read material, so that they were prepared to move onto the next few pages to be read aloud. This preparation, or rehearsal, was very valuable for vulnerable readers, for whom reading aloud can be sufficiently great to diminish their performance, meaning that they might receive less than flattering feedback.
Where any form of reading aloud is envisaged, I would always advocate a period of time where the children could do some personal practice ahead of the reading, especially if they have moved from one subject to another. Where an additional adult is available, some children could do this out loud, while others, if iPads are available, could record themselves reading aloud and listen back.
Watching for the nuanced responses of children is a key element of responsive teaching. Spotting and responding to evident need in timely fashion is an example of quality teaching. It is very easy to miss tell-tale signs, especially if the teacher is in training or in their early career. As I wrote in an earlier blog, inexperienced, developing teachers move from structural considerations to more holistic, child-evidenced decisions.
Not everyone is a naturally outgoing personality.
We hope in schools, that we offer a safe environment where it is possible to make an error, in any aspect of life, without it being blown out of proportion. Should it become so, it can have a long term detrimental effect on future effort and outcomes.
Insecurity in any form can become debilitating. It is the teacher role to minimise the potential for learning opportunities to add to present insecurity. Children know if they struggle with learning; they don’t need it exaggerated. We need them all to be active participants, but not necessarily in a starring role.
In this regard, I do have some concerns about some 1:1 teaching; are these children potentially under too much scrutiny?
Images are of "Octan" playing and rehearsing for the Truffe de Perigeux; Chris Chivers, Paul Fane and Nick Manley.