“Why didn’t you take some proper time off these summer holidays?” I hear you all shouting.
Well, by the end of this gruelling school year – and in summer’s only real heatwave so far – I was crawling. After an academic year like no other, the thought of six weeks off from juggling live and online teaching, planning, marking and the myriad of other tasks that we do as teachers was very enticing. All I wanted to do was lie on a beach or in my (outrageously overgrown) garden - and close my eyes to the world.
National Tutoring Programme
I teach four days a week, so I had had some time to become involved with the NTP during term time on a one-day-a-week basis. I had enjoyed the contrast of teaching small groups against my thirty-plus sized classes, but because of the demands of my main teaching job, my NTP work had taken second place, meaning I did what I could do in my precious available time. But it was struggle to do it all.
Despite the huge pressures of last term though, in a moment of forgotten madness, I must have made myself available for NTP summer schools, because a week into the holidays, when I was wandering about at home in a post-school daze, I received an email requesting me to teach three Year 10 students three mornings a week for five weeks. So, with no holiday plans, bar a couple of weekends away, I agreed.
At first, I was flustered and wondered how I would switch my brain back to teaching mode. But when I met the students, I found myself getting into the swing of things: 30-45 minutes planning, lesson at 11am, brief follow-up report, and then making the most of the rest of the day. Admittedly, living in a beautiful area along the South coast with stunning vistas and golden beaches 20 minutes’ drive away, it was still easy to have a ‘mini’ holiday.
I began to find myself looking forward to my thrice-weekly morning sessions – even the lesson planning. As we moved through the sessions, I tweaked and built on the resources supplied by Pearson to suit the individual learning needs of my students, including support and extra challenge. For example, for each lesson, I designed a Do Now quiz to check how secure students’ prior learning was.
Despite being an English Language module, I wove literature-based aspects into language retrieval questions, such as: Who is Macbeth’s antagonist? I used this Do Now question in a lesson after we had examined the elements of narrative structure and where I really wanted the students to think about stories where the problem or antagonist is an imaginary fear or themselves. Lo and behold, to my great satisfaction, one student said that Macbeth’s real antagonist was himself.
Normally, in term time when I have numerous lessons to plan and tasks to do in a short period, I worry when I spend too long planning a single lesson. However, teaching on the NTP during the summer has been a luxury: I have had the time to think deeply and reflectively about my planning and delivery.
Enhanced Subject Knowledge
Alongside the core subjects of Maths and Science, the NTP focuses currently on English Language, so you may not think that I would necessarily be enhancing my subject knowledge, because I don’t need to read around different strategies on how to deliver say poetry or Shakespeare texts.
However, my knowledge of the best ways for students to approach elements of the Language Papers has been deepened. For instance, I have had the time to explore in depth how to clearly structure paragraphs in the viewpoint writing question, along with the most effective ways to teach students to approach structuring their ideas and subsequent paragraphs.
Who has not posed a planned thought-provoking question to their class to be interrupted by a visitor who stops the class to make an announcement, or for a student to answer your question with a “Miss, I think there’s a smell of burning?” In contrast, on the NTP, I have had the time and space to be able to refine elements of my questioning techniques in a way that is sometimes difficult to do so in a busy classroom when you have often several different things going on at once. And when I have, there haven’t been any annoying interruptions. What’s more, students have had more time to consider their responses to elaborative questions, without the distractions and peer pressures that sometimes hinder their confidence and concentration.
In an NTP lesson, everything is slowed down. So, when modelling how to structure a transactional writing paragraph, I had the time to help the students slowly and carefully develop the necessary skills in a way that I cannot always unfortunately do with every student in every one of my classes. What’s more, in my NTP sessions, I had the time to annotate every student’s response, thus being able to give them all invaluable ‘live’ feedback.
I have been able to feel a huge sense of satisfaction in seeing all my NTP students make significant progress, which I have been able to measure in pre- and post-tests, during their sessions. Of course, nothing beats the dynamic of teaching face-to-face in a classroom environment and the rich dialogue that can unexpectedly result. But the NTP has given me the chance to stop and really reflect on my pedagogy. Most importantly, it has given many of our students the opportunity to practice and hone necessary skills, along with the time to reflect on their learning as they go into Year 11.
Next summer though, pandemic and travel restrictions permitting, I will be going away on at least a two-week break!