My best worst lesson

28th November 2008 at 00:00

BEST - I had this lesson in my mind as I organised a visit by a local councillor to a Year 8 group. I structured it myself, spending the lessons beforehand preparing pupils. Rather than beginning from the logistics of local government and service provision, pupils researched an issue of concern and interest to them. They had to identify something in their local community that they thought needed changing and create a presentation for the councillor.

On the day of the visit, pupils gave excellent presentations, many with evidence such as photographs of a vandalised playground or testimonies from local people about a dangerous stretch of road. The councillor provided clear and helpful feedback: she told pupils about the history of the issue, what was being done, what might happen next and how they could help.

One group gave a presentation on the relatively new skateboard park in the village. The pupils explained that it was a couple of metres too short, making it no good for some of the tricks they wanted to do. The councillor said that this kind of feedback, from users of the facilities, was useful. She told them about a meeting of local councillors that evening, and invited them to make their presentation to it.

Two boys went along and came into school the next day with a promise from the local councillors that the skateboard park would be extended - and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for citizenship.

WORST - As a newly trained citizenship teacher, I was full of ideas about how to make lessons participatory and relevant. My enthusiasm was not always matched though by an ability to handle large teaching groups that I saw for only one lesson in a fortnightly rotation. Pupils also thought that citizenship was an opportunity to relax and catch up.

Undeterred, I invited a range of guests into lessons to speak about their role in the community. Year 8 was working on a unit called Young People and the Law and a local police officer agreed to run a lesson on legal ages.

Being on a learning curve myself, I might have reflected that not everyone is a natural communicator in the face of a class of 13-year-olds. When it came, the lesson was not pitched to pupils' abilities, or knowledge, and I spent the period fire-fighting as concentrations wandered.

We might have got through unscathed, having learnt a lesson about managing outside speakers and a bit about the justice system. But then two boys decided that it was a good time to start experimenting with names they had heard police being called. They were relatively inoffensive terms in themselves and the boys were completely unprepared for the response. The till-then quiet guest speaker transformed to on-the-beat police officer, with an abrupt reminder of the penalties for insulting someone of his standing. I was as mortified as the boys.

Kate Brown teaches at the International School of Geneva and was formerly in charge of citizenship at Bottisham Village College in Cambridgeshire.

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