The dark side of the whiteboard - Size matters, but safety goggles help

2nd April 2010 at 01:00

Does size matter? Apparently it does. According to my ex - and several educational experts - big is best. But since my attack dog of a therapist has banned me from massaging my husband's tumescent ego, this is about the length of our lessons, not the size of our lovers.

Excuse me if it seems like bragging, but ours aren't just big, they're HUGE. While you may be frittering away your pupils' learning opportunities in a bog-standard timetable of five 60-minute slots, we are offering our students three bulging 100-minute lessons per day.

"But surely," I hear you demur, "it's not the size that matters, but what you do with it."

Precisely. In an extended lesson, pupils have more opportunity to access higher-order thinking skills, learning becomes more personalised and, in practical subjects, pupils are able to complete complex tasks and reflect on their own learning. Allegedly.

In rugby practice we now have time for a full hour of rucking, mauling and failing to use the back line, plus the warm-up, cool-down and post-match analysis. In food technology, those extra minutes allow our pupils enough cooking time to paralyse some of the E.coli swimming in their ragouts of beef, while Year 7's meringue nests are beginning to conform to the physical properties of solids, not liquids. If you are a teacher in a pinny, it's a win-win situation. You don't just have your cake, you have time to eat it, too.

Even our science teachers are feeling the benefits. With our extended lessons, you can spill concentrated sulphuric acid over a pupil's hand, complete a 50-minute round trip to AE and still have time to set a wordsearch on the inert gases in the periodic table.

These supersize sessions have attracted a great deal of vocal support - but mainly from teachers who sport some form of protective clothing in the classroom. It seems that if you are fortunate enough to view the world from behind a pair of rose-coloured safety goggles, then 100-minute lessons are for you.

In practical subjects, these extended sessions are an unequivocal success. But if, like me, you're doomed to teach in Next casuals, in front of a class of kids who would rather be soldering circuit boards, it can be a different story. Just imagine how many times a fake-tanned, skirt-rolled, eye-rolling Year 9 girl can hit you with the twin barrels of "God, I hate English" and "How much longer is there left?" in a lesson that outruns three episodes of Coronation Street? Then there's the preparation. No longer can I waltz into a classroom with a bit of an idea, a bag of Haribo Tangfastics and a Nietzschean will to power. If I'm not armed with a 12-part lesson plan, three animated PowerPoints and an origami starter, I'm dead in the water.

There are positives, of course. It's just that, in English, they are harder to find. I'm pretty certain that last term some of my Year 11s drifted out of their usual semi-conscious state into an invigorating REM sleep. And marking is a nightmare. Think about how many neatly paragraphed pages of Skellig reviews your top set Year 7s could produce on a drizzling Monday afternoon.

Maybe I shouldn't gripe. Longer lessons ultimately will bring less planning, greater student autonomy and more flexible learning pathways. But ask my current key stage 4 pupils whether size matters and their sighs suggest that it might.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary English teacher in the North of England.

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