I hear you and I feel your pain
LEARNING TO LISTEN, LISTENING TO LEARN: using language to enhance learning and behaviour in the inclusive classroom. By Noel Janis-Norton. Barrington Stoke pound;12.99
As a newly qualified teacher in the early 1970s, I remember asking the head how to deal with a small group of students (male) who persistently disrupted my lessons. Instead of offering the help I thought I deserved, the head asked: "What have you done about it?" Ever since that blunt response, I have asked myself when I face similar problems, "What can I do to get a different result?" Whether you are newly qualified or have been teaching for 30 years, you need to review constantly your practice in the classroom. The author of these two stimulating books offers sound advice when she states, "every day we need to restart every lesson as we mean to go on".
The recent Ofsted publication, Managing Challenging Behaviour (March 2005, see www.ofsted.gov.ukpublications) states that, "the majority of young people enjoy learning, work hard and behave well" but adds that, "the behaviour of some pupils, usually boys, remains a serious concern for many schools".
Noel Janis-Norton, director of the New Learning Centre in north London, is targeting teachers, prospective teachers, learning support assistants, Sencos and learning mentors, whom she seeks to guide towards "creating a positive, firm and consistent culture" for these students.
In Step With Your Class aims to support everyone who works with young people for whom difficulties with learning lead to inappropriate behaviour in and out of the classroom. It is written in an easily accessible format and is full of practical ideas. Noel Janis-Norton is aware that many of her ideas are not new, but if we want to create classrooms where every child is able to learn in a calm and happy environment, then consistent methods have to be adopted. Students need to "learn how to learn", and it is never too late to do this. She suggests that teachers who adopt her techniques will see positive changes within two to four weeks.
So what do these disaffected and challenging young people need? The key to successful inclusion is, "a positive, firm and consistent culture in every classroom". This begins at the door, with a smiling teacher welcoming each student. Setting clear objectives at the start of each lesson is also recommended.
In Chapter 4 the emphasis is on "descriptive praise", noticing and mentioning every small step ("You did what I told you to do straight away.
I appreciate that"), as opposed to evaluative praise ("Well done!"). The author provides a number of examples of descriptive praise that adults working in the mainstream classroom can use. These include smiling more, criticising less and using descriptive praise frequently. She also advocates teacher modelling ("Demonstrate to pupils exactly how you want work to be done. For example, give the pupil a visual model for the layout and presentation of every piece of work").
Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn explains how the language teachers use affects the "behaviour, attention, learning and social skills of our most worrying pupils". Many pupils with learning difficulties also have auditory processing deficits. They are at a huge disadvantage in lessons, but the strategies in this book will help these pupils to use their "auditory processing channel" more effectively. The author encourages us to speak more slowly and make eye contact. The section on "Reflective listening" is particularly interesting: we can support the pupil by trying to understand what he or she is feeling and then "reflect back to him in words what we imagine he is feeling". We are given an example of how to deal with the angry student who refuses to undertake a task by slamming the door, swearing and answering back. The following "reflective listening" sentence may reduce the anxiety the student is feeling: "It's hard to settle down to work when you're worried that you might make a mistake."
As head of learning and curriculum support in a large comprehensive school, I am always looking for strategies to support colleagues in overcoming the barriers to achievement that young people face. It is obvious from the constructive advice found in both these books that the author is very much a hands-on practitioner. The books work because they deal with the real issues facing teachers in the mainstream classroom: students with poor social skills who are demotivated, easily distracted, and reluctant to follow school rules. As part of our induction programme, I will strongly recommend that all new staff find time to read these books.
These straightforward ideas are worth trying to make our classrooms calmer, easier and happier places where teaching and learning is a positive experience for everyone.
Rosanne Bartlett is assistant headteacher and head of learning and curriculum support at the Earls high school, Halesowen, West Midlands.