I have two amazing year 8 classes. There is an ethos among pupils in these classes to work hard and show engagement and enthusiasm, and they seem to see clearly the links between their reports and progress checks, their overall school careers and their longer-term futures.
However, I have another, lower-ability, year 8 class in which I find it spectacularly difficult to manage behaviour.
Recently, when this year 8 class was given a “colour and label” type of activity, they were very engaged. However, I think that their confidence with this activity was purely because it was accessible. When given independent learning tasks and the expectation that they need to apply their own understanding, demonstrate knowledge and evaluation, their behaviour becomes much more erratic.
There are many reasons why pupils in lower ability sets can seem less driven and engaged. Research I have come across suggests that this is due to a combination of reasons: ability to engage and understand content, attitude towards school and the success they expect themselves to achieve, and the perceived “usefulness” of learning certain topics. Likewise, there are also outside influences, such as families and traditions.
In my novice’s opinion, I think that year 8 pupils at this point in the year are feeling confident in their position and place in secondary school and feel more settled after the anxiety of year 7 and the difficult primary to secondary transition.
Yet for many pupils, they have not developed the maturity to match this confidence in school or the ability to articulate their thoughts, especially when it comes to some of the philosophical questions that I am posing (such as what happens when we die, what are the benefits of a multi-faith society, and so on).
As I mentioned back in September, peer pressure and influence can also pose a problem in the classroom. I am, however, endeavouring to “turn it around” with this year 8 class before the year is out.
Initially, I had a request for a team teacher or second adult in the classroom to aid behaviour rejected, but now that the year 11 and sixth-formers have left the hours are available and it has been agreed. This is superb news.
I have also addressed the seating plan issue once again in order to try and improve things and will be specifically targeting activities and pupils for my new colleague to facilitate.
I did speak with the department leader too. I was keen to put several on department report for their persistent poor behaviour and attitude in an effort to encourage pupil-to-teacher dialogue as well as raise awareness of these issues with parents.
However, it was recommended that I should continue to use the positive sanctions and enthusiasm that I usually use in class to try to promote good behaviour.
I am keen to see how this final push or “rescue effort” will play out in the final weeks of the summer term. It will come alongside the excitement of many school trips, activities and sports events, but I am making an effort to retain high expectations. I am hopeful this will prove fruitful and that I can encourage the pupils to apply themselves to the handful of lessons we have left before we break up in July.
I am keen for the students to raise their awareness of their personal preferences for how they learn – and I also want to maintain the interest and momentum of key stage 3, as very quickly year 9 will be upon us, when expectations of good attitude and application begin to develop further.
I will endeavour to keep you posted on progress to see if this late on in the year effective behavioural changes can be made.
SecEd’s NQT diarist this year is a teacher of sociology and philosophy from a school in the South of England.