Tales from new teachers

in one ear and out the other

The problem

I was no different from any other new teacher: keen to make my lessons as interesting as possible and to meet all my students' needs with a variety of approaches. I incorporated games and activities into lessons to help students get the most out of learning. They seemed to be engaged and responded well. As the term progressed, however, I noticed that they were struggling to remember concepts I had introduced previously.

The options

My colleagues in the music department were my first port of call, along with the modern languages teacher assigned to support me. This was helpful as I discovered that I wasn't alone in my concerns and my colleagues shared ideas on helping students to retain information.

Afterwards, I decided to focus on experimenting with plenary activities as a way of improving pupils' long-term understanding of concepts.

One tactic was to get them tweeting about their learning. I had them do this on paper and displayed their observations in the classroom, but they could put them on Twitter too if they wanted.

Another idea was a team version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? that got students competing against each other.

We also enjoyed a whole-class exercise that involved setting up music stands around the room, each with an instrument or concept written on it. I'd play a piece of music - usually classical, but with a mix of genres, including some chart songs - and pupils moved to the appropriate stand, depending on what they heard.

The result

Plenary activities helped students to put into practice what they had learned immediately and they started to leave my classroom with a firmer grasp of key concepts.

They were also remembering them for longer and growing more confident when it came to unit assessments and using challenging terms. I now use a mix of plenary and starter activities, so that my students are reminded of the previous lesson and begin to build on what they covered before.

I realise I haven't reinvented the wheel. What I did was speak to colleagues who shared their good practice with me and I adapted it to suit my lessons.

From this experience, and many others like it throughout my probation year, I learned how valuable the experience of others can be. You should never be shy about asking for help and advice.

Paul Grant is a music teacher at Firrhill High School in Edinburgh. In 2013-14, he spent his probation year at Dunbar Grammar School in East Lothian

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