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Sell yourself

Interview lessons are the latest hurdle you have to jump to win promotion. Janet Murray talks to those who know what it takes to be successful.

You sat up until the early hours planning a top-notch lesson. You feel sure the students will love it. But as you walk into the classroom, clutching your resources, you are faced with a sea of unfamiliar faces, flanked by a row of official-looking people with clipboards, scribbling furiously. No, this is not a recurring Ofsted nightmare; you've just walked into an interview lesson - terrifying, even for the most experienced.

Sasha Kaye, an English specialist from Kent, recently attended a round of interviews to gain her first post as head of department. "I've been teaching for seven years now, so you'd think I'd be used to being observed," she says, "but I found teaching interview lessons a nightmare! When you don't know the students and their likes and dislikes, it's really hard to know what kind of activities to plan. If they're not used to your teaching style, something your own students can love can completely bomb."

Thorough preparation is the key, says James Williams, PGCE convenor at the University of Sussex. "Find out as much as you can about the school and its curriculum. Most will be happy to give you information about the syllabus and any textbooks. This should give you an idea of the kind of school they are and the style of lesson they favour."

"If you've been asked to teach a lesson that's part of a current scheme of work, ask the school what lessons included before yours - and what they'll include afterwards," adds Roy Watson-Davies, an advanced skills history teacher at Blackfen school for girls in Sidcup, Kent.

"And get as much information about the students as you can. What is the in-class discipline policy? Is the class mixed-ability or are students set? Ask for information on gifted and talented and special needs students - this should help you plan your lesson to meet students' needs."

Interviewees are commonly asked to teach half or a complete lesson. Mr Williams advises using three phases - starter, main activity and plenary - that will be effective for almost any time frame and should help you maintain a good pace. The learning objective should be outlined at the beginning - preferably written on the board - followed by an engaging starter activity. Games and quizzes that get students involved - even moving around, if you're brave enough - are a great way to capture their interest.

"Those observing you will be looking for you to be confident, bright, but not overly enthusiastic, as this can come across as false," says Mr Williams. "They'll want you to be secure in your subject knowledge,with respect and high expectations of your students."

Sue Cowley, author of The Guerrilla Guide To Teaching*, reminds interviewees not to forget to show that they like and enjoy working with children. "Smile, make eye contact and learn a few names," she says. "Even though you're only with the students briefly, it's still worth making your expectations of work and behaviour clear."

"Try not to stay rooted standing at the front of the class," adds Mr Watson-Davies. "Move around and talk to as many students as you can."

A good trick is to have a supply of sticky labels: ask students to write their name and stick them to their chests, so you can see who they are. Try not to confine your questions to those who put up their hands. Spread questions around, identify some of the more able students and ask them more complex questions, which will provide evidence of your ability to differentiate.

Resources and activities should demonstrate your understanding of of teaching and learning styles. Pictures, video clips, visual props and images or words displayed on an overhead projector are just some of the ways you can appeal to visual learners. Kinaesthetic learners prefer to "learn by doing", so drama, role-play or tasks that involve making something or sorting objects or cards should work well. Aural learners may respond well to music, listening activities or plain old discussion. If time is short, it may be wise to plan your lesson to include activities based around just one or two learning styles.

Keep a close eye on the clock and be prepared to be flexible. Remember to have one or two extra activities up your sleeve in case the class gets through the activities more quickly than you anticipated. Plan things so that you can add or take bits away. A well-delivered lesson can come to a messy end if you leave yourself short of time.

"The best tip I can give is to ensure that students know something or can do something at the end that they didn't know before," says Mr Williams.

"The plenary is your opportunity to draw things together and demonstrate to observers what the children have learned."

According to Mr Watson-Davies time to think is vital. "Make sure you build in time for students to reflect on what they have learned, to feed back the main learning points from the lesson and perhaps jot down one or two points in their books."

It is also important to be reflective on your own practice. After the lesson, talk honestly about how you think it went. Start with the positive, but don't be afraid to highlight anything you felt didn't work and state how you might do things differently if you had to teach it again.

Interviewers aren't looking for perfection, but they will be keen to see you able to think about improvements.

The jury remains out on whether you should risk an ambitious lesson at interview. Mr Williams errs on the side of caution, saying. "Risky lessons can come off, but they are more likely to fail."

But Geoff Wybar, head of Gravesend grammar school in Kent, disagrees. He says: "I observed a lesson for a languages post where the teacher was prepared to leave the room and put on some dressing up clothes, so he could teach the students vocabulary on clothing. It took guts, but it paid off.

He certainly got the job!

"When I watch an interview lesson, I'm looking for pace, variety, challenge and an awareness of different learning styles, but I like to see teachers who are willing to innovate, which can mean taking risks."

* Continuum International Publishing Group, pound;14.99

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