On PGCE block A and “kick the dog” days

At the invitation of my PGCE tutor @EllieMMU, I attended MMU today to visit the next PGCE cohort. I made a presentation for the event, using Prezi which is a lovely non-linear presentation platform, free for basic use at My Prezi is here (a free account requires all your Prezis are public, so avoid using personal data or pics).

I invited the class to write post-its with their current issues, as they are in only week 5 of teaching practice, I tried to think back to a year ago and how I solved those issues. Of course, as always in first placement, the two biggest issues they are facing are are planning and behaviour. Without going into too much detail (sorry Ellie for overrunning!) Some behaviour tips I shared are:

  1. Exude an air of authority to gain authority. Some ways you can do this include: be standing smartly outside the classroom as they arrive, and correcting uniform errors. Give out merits or raffle tickets* to any students lining up correctly, in silence. Don’t accept rowdy behaviour outside or inside your classroom and send back out any children who come in pushing and shoving. These all send signals that you are in charge. Have something to do on entering the class, a “Do Now” or “Connect” activity on the board, instruct them to do it, and reward the first to start.
  2. Students who are just not working can be tricky, they are not disrupting the class, what to do? Speak to the student and tell them politely they are making the wrong choices, that they must work or there will be consequences. Give a quick ultimatum such as “When I come back in 1 minute I will see the title and date and one sentence and then we’ll discuss what happens next, thank you.” – Note the choice of language, as if the student has already complied. This is important. Now walk away and return in a minute, and reward if they have complied. “Now we’re working together, super, have a raffle ticket and see how much you we can achieve today! Looks like I won’t have to speak to your form tutor after all.” – I’m using “we” to send the message this is teamwork. I’m again suggesting with my language that the poor choices have ended. And I’ve suggested that a wider conversation might happen if the student chooses not to work. It takes a very belligerent student to go against this kind of language.

* I have a raffle ticket system, so if the students answer a question or work hard they get a ticket, for small prizes like rubbers and single Starburst sweets 🙂

On planning, one who shall remain nameless admitted he had spent 8 hours planning 1 lesson, and I remember being much the same a year back. It gets easier, this week I planned the week (19 lessons) in 4 hours, so that’s 12 minutes each give or take a few. My tips were

  1. Once you have a Learning Objective and some preferred Outcomes, beg, steal or borrow resources. Your mentor will have plenty, ask for them. Use “The Starter Generator” and “The Plenary Producer“. Use CAS, and… with permission from the owner Mr O’Donohoe… use his JellyMarmite resources. Don’t make everything from scratch, it will kill you. Don’t edit that slide for an hour to make it perfect, if it will be on the board for 2 minutes. If you know your stuff, you can talk about it.
  2. Minimise Teacher Talk. Doing is better than listening for behaviour. Keep talking segments to under 4 minutes. Use videos (bingo cards are amazing for improving engagement with video segments), make a quick Voki avatar segment so a robot or Barack Obama tells the students what they are doing next… Anything but “chalk and talk”.networks
  3. And don’t be afraid of giving discovery tasks without prior learning. As Piaget told us, the best learning is constructed in the mind of the learner from their own experiences. For example, a network topology card sort (see right)… give them the cards… let them have a go… they will be very proud of themselves if they get it, and totally unashamed if not. You then demonstrate the correct answer after the exercise, and everyone wins.


But most importantly, today reminded me just how far I have come, and how much is possible in a year. Be very proud you are entering the most noble profession. It’s worth it. I talked about my “kick the dog days” today, and it occurs to me that PGCE is hard because it is an endless cycle of making “mistakes” and correcting them. You’ll probably make hundreds of tiny errors this year, learn from them, and not make them again.  That’s hard. But worth it.


By mraharrisoncs

Freelance consultant, teacher and author, professional development lead for the NCCE, CAS Master Teacher, Computer Science lecturer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s