Bestworst lesson

26th October 2007 at 01:00
Best: Being a slow learner, I only realised it had been my best lesson when a pupil told me months later. I had to ask my all Year 11 boys to recall a lesson which had particularly stretched them. This was my homework for a training course I was attending on gifted and talented pupils.

Michael, a highly intelligent but disruptive and under-achieving 15-year-old, reminded me of the French lesson about Mardi Gras. We had listened to a quick presentation from the coursebook cassette on French festivals, after which pupils went into friendship groups. They had 30 minutes to write about any UK festival by adapting the language they had just heard. Pieces could be funny but not offensive, and had to include past, present and future tenses.

Pupils wrote the finished piece on to an overhead transparency which they read to the class. Michael's group chose to describe, in French, Manchester's recent Mardi Gras festival in the gay village. They explained that some aspects of the festival could appear "bizarres pour les personnes straight". This included graphic detail about a naked man's dancing, and a suggestion as to what "Big Tone" - me - would be wearing at next year's festival. Which is how I learned the French for "leotard".

So why was this lesson remembered? "It was fun but made us think," said Michael. "We had to look things up in dictionaries and adapt verbs. Everyone contributed. And no offence, Sir, but we didn't have to listen to you droning on at the front."

Worst: My hard-working and enthusiastic Year 10 girls were about to do their first French GCSE speaking assessment. They asked for last-minute revision, which I agreed to, providing there were no interruptions.

Then, just as the test was about to begin, Angela's hand shot up: "Sir, I'm really sorry to interrupt, but I've just seen this guy climb into someone's garden." Our classroom overlooked a housing estate, and the whole group dashed to the windows. "Look at that one," cried Leanne. "He's got a knife!"

I thought I'd better have a look. Sure enough, a youth was repeatedly throwing a knife into the grass. His accomplice, meanwhile, had disappeared into the house. I sent a note to the office to call the police (this was in the days before mobiles).

The girls, excited and scared, found it impossible to obey my instruction to "please move away from the window" lest they missed anything. Within minutes, a police helicopter was circling overhead, while officers and a dog raced across the field to apprehend the knife-thrower.

The pupils watched intently as this unfolded. Eventually my head of department brought a police detective into the classroom. Twenty voices immediately piped up with as many versions of events.

Things were not as they appeared. The "burglar" was, in fact, breaking into his own house having locked himself out. His friend was merely playing with a penknife. So no further action was taken. And my class would now have a lot more time to revise, as the oral assessment was postponed

Tony Elston is a teacher in Sale, Cheshire.

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