Tag Archives: Newly qualified teacher

Motivating Boys in English (by guest Blogger Ian Knightley)

english blog pic

Students come in all shapes and sizes: high flyers, hard-workers and some are just plain crazy! It’s this variety that can make teaching such an enriching and infuriating career path to follow. In my five years as an English teacher at a large comprehensive, the challenge of trying to motivate disaffected boys has undoubtedly been one of the biggest I have faced.

In my experience, when this issue is raised, suggestions for success and explanations for disengagement tend to follow along predictable lines:

a) Give them texts they’ll enjoy – ones about cars, computers and football
b) get them out of their seat; boys need to be active
c) boys don’t like learning – school’s not cool.

While I would not suggest that these comments are entirely lacking in substance, as somebody who sat in English lessons and was enthralled by poetry, prose and drama, I can’t help but find such rhetoric misguided, hard to swallow and to a degree, patronising.

Perhaps first I should clarify – I was by no means a model pupil; although I was reasonably bright, I did not enjoy many lessons and whiled away hours staring outside of windows. I can also clearly remember that awful feeling when I just couldn’t “get” something; exertion was rapidly usurped by frustration and frustration by resignation, a feeling I still experience when someone throws a simultaneous equation within a double decker’s length of me! So, the question remains: how do we motivate boys? How did my teacher motivate me? At the risk of adding my own sweeping statement to those listed above, he recognised one of the fundamental characteristics of many boys:

  • they like to be seen to succeed, especially if they can do so without looking like they’re trying to.

success

My teacher was a particularly crafty bugger. Time and time again, he would water our egos, snatching a book from a desk and reading aloud a ‘FANTASTIC’ (ordinary) short story or an ‘INSIGHTFUL’ (average) attempt at analysis. He would wave away our pretend protestations, allowing us to feel like we were doing well and more importantly look like we were doing well without appearing to be trying.

**Nothing is more motivational than recognition and success. **

Of course, this alone is not enough – some teaching must take place, some progress must be made.

  • But corrections would be made under the guise of suggestions and mistakes would be pointed out with subtlety and tact, not in bright, red scrawl.

Red Pen

The notion that sticking “laddish” texts in front of boys, sitting back and waiting for their enthusiasm to erupt is, in my view, one of the worse so-called solutions. For one, this is entirely impractical; the curriculum requires an understanding of a range of texts – like it or not, you’re going to have to learn Shakespeare along with a smattering of soppy poems. I tend to favour a very honest approach to this: it’s worth X% of your GCSE and if you don’t try, you can’t do well; although remember, you must first earn the right to be “honest”.

  • Where possible, frame units that you know won’t go down well with those that will – it can’t all be fun but it has to be sometimes – surround the thorn with roses – consideration of this should occur more frequently when planning specifications (why must all classes follow the same specifications?).

Secondly, pigeonholing boys within the narrow parameters of cars, computers and football, at every available opportunity, only serves to heighten their disinterest in/dislike of many texts that they have to study; you are effectively reinforcing a stereotype and conditioning them to believe that there are some texts they are supposed to like and some that they aren’t. What could be less motivating than someone making you read a text full of a plot, characters and themes that you believe you shouldn’t be interested in, in front of a room full of your peers who KNOW you shouldn’t be interested?

  • The establishment of an environment within which it’s OK to be interested is as important as creating the motivation to learn itself.

The problem is, it’s equally as difficult to achieve. I have found that presenting my own love of literature unapologetically has, on occasions, led to success. I want all my classes, whether boys, girls or both, to realise how much I love my subject and how much I want them to love it too. Even the most apathetic group of boys have found my love of Wilfred Owen a source of amusement, if not contagious and that’s a start, eh?

The busy start of term..

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, the last weekend in August marks the start or end of your freedom but those first few days offer a hectic similarity to us all as we readjust to the early mornings and return to the loss of our evenings and weekends to planning, preparation and marking. The countdown to half term begins the moment you step across the threshold and pick up your timetable for the weeks and months ahead. Still, the process of educating and entertaining our charges keeps us going and quickly the arrival of over 300 new personalities serves to reawaken the passion and move on from a relaxing 6 weeks.

The transition period for some young people is a tricky one. Routine is absolutely essential as they try to get used to approximately 15 slight variations of the school rules and have to get to grips with how they will transport the hoard of new books and PE kit in their newly purchased undersized ruck sacks.

The early days do serve as stressful times for the newbies and as teachers it’s important that as we start to set and establish classroom routines and discipline rules in our way, we remember that a collection of nervous faces look at you judging how ‘safe’ they will feel in your class. Hopefully some are not weighing up what they can get away with but a confident approach in the first lesson combined with a nice mix of  assertive humour you will have the kids eating out of your hands.

As you start to see the production of work try and look out for the following traits you may wish to raise with your Head of Department/SENCo as potential areas that may need attention.

  1. The grip the student uses with the pen/pencil. You are looking for a classic tripod grip between thumb and first two fingers. The child doesn’t need to stop and shake their hand from fatigue associated with a tight grip.
  2. The speed at which the student writes. This could be due to poor processing speeds, poor spelling or because of attention issues (which could be temporary and dealt with via a swift prompt and refocus)
  3. Do all students complete tests in the time you have allowed. If not, it could be because of a couple of reasons. Potentially there are processing difficulties which could be alleviated with the application of 25% extra time.  Alternatively a student with an average processing ability may not have yet developed the skills to plan and organise their writing efficiently and some strategic coaching may be all that is needed.
  4. Watch out for spelling errors.

Any of the above observations should be raised with the SENCo who is likely to look into transition data as potential additional evidence to build a picture of need.

Lots to think about but the new term wouldn’t be the new term  without a reminder of the job we trained to do and the reward it offers on a daily basis.

Watch out for next week where my first guest blog post will be uploaded. Keep a close eye.

Enjoy your first half term everyone.