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Time is of the essence

Are lessons easier in the mornings or the afternoons? And how do you cope with the class that's just come from PE? Samantha Robinson decided to conduct her own experiments

During my PGCE, I was taught all the tools to become a good teacher, but no one told me that the time of day would have a massive impact on my lessons - and my sanity.

I became frustrated during the main teaching practice with one particular mixed ability Year 7 class that I took for last lesson on a Monday. I searched the internet for suggestions, but found little to assist me, although I knew that the effect of the time of day was different from other behavioural issues.

When I taught the class, I found the children could retain information, but lessons were often disrupted by a failure to concentrate for long periods, even with a four-part lesson. So I decided to use the data from the pupil removal system (the disciplinary procedure used at school) for my own research. This lead to a completely different result from other research I had found.

The research I was contradicting was that of Val Dowson in 1999. He carried out six experiments with Years 2 to 6 in independent schools across Newcastle. Over a year he showed that children learned better when taught and tested in the afternoon rather than in the morning. I disagreed completely.

The class was taught in a six-lesson day, lesson six on a Monday, Tuesday lesson two, Wednesday lesson two and Thursday lesson six. My research was undertaken over a seven-week period using the pupil remove system. This stipulated that once all warnings for behaviour had been issued a teacher could remove a pupil for the remainder of the lesson.

I looked at the results from two different perspectives: total number of removes per day, and total per lesson for the school as a whole. Monday and Wednesday were the highest with 10, but the totals per lesson were more relevant: lesson 1 had 5, lesson 2 had 3, lesson 3 had 8, lesson 4 had 3, lesson 5 had 4 and lesson 6 had 4. For the 24 removes that occurred during my research, only eight pupils were in my class.

Because last lesson on a Thursday was in the library reading, the pupils didn't view this as a "lesson", meaning there were few problems. I found that I needed to change the style of other lessons to meet the pupils'

needs - not their learning styles, but actual personal needs.

Effects of time of day on learning, by V Dowson (1999), at

How I coped

Every class is different, but it is helpful to work out your own difficult lessons in advance.

What I did was

* Have work on the desk as soon as pupils arrived.

* Use quizzes or word searches as starters (relating to scheme of work).

* Delay the register until after the starter.

* Have pupils working on focused tasks in pairs rather than bigger groups.

* Modify schemes to allow some lessons to take longer than anticipated.

* Put the activity on the board to avoid pupils asking what that lesson would be about.

As an NQT I still do these, but I also

* Organise the classroom into groups of tables rather than rows - this is great for pair or group work.

* Put dictionaries on the desks so that the pupils can use them for the starter (and other work).

* Use the commendationmerit system for those who work quietly.

* Have teaching tasks on the board, not just objectives, so they could be ticked off.

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