“The most successful lessons have a purpose – even if it’s a silly purpose”

Most teachers hope to offer students both academic success and personal development.  Many struggle, however, to identify ways to incorporate broader aims alongside the curriculum’s content and skills.  How, for example, can reading Jack and the Beanstalk engender ethical reasoning?  How can complicated concepts be introduced to young children?

Lizzy Price (’13 Ambassador) has come up with an effective approach to develop her pupils’ ethical understanding alongside their literacy.  In the lesson we saw, she sought to introduce Year 1 to one of the school’s values: respect.  She explained that respect “Is a really tricky concept.  So, I try and hold that in my head; I think about the skill that I want to teach them and then I try and think of a situation that is linked to our topic.”  She was teaching Jack and the Beanstalk: “I knew I needed to get respect in there and it seemed like an easy jump from respect to how to make a difficult decision to respect somebody else’s property.”
Lizzy also wants her dilemma to be both comprehensible and exciting.  “I thought that if we had something, a real dilemma, to get them really riled up, almost pantomime style, then they’d respond better, wanting to do the writing afterwards.  I try and do this for every lesson.  I come up with something that will rile them up, get them really passionate so that they’re shouting at the screen and telling them what to do, and then the rest of the learning will just follow because it’s just what they’ve got to do to succeed in the task they’ve been set.  I find the most successful lessons I’ve done are the ones where they have a purpose, even if it’s a silly purpose.”  Setting up the dilemma, Lizzy began by recalling that Jack had just entered the Giant’s castle.  She then showed pupils an animation she had made, inviting them to consider what to do next.  This video shows her approach, and the results:
Her pupils’ responses make their excitement clear; later in the day, when offered the chance to go out to break or continue writing, over half the class chose the latter.  Lizzy appeared to have truly engaged students in the dilemma Jack was facing – helping them to consider what respect really means.
So, Lizzy’s three-step approach is:
1)  Identify the concept she wishes to explore.
2)  Turn the content of the lesson over in her mind, seeking a link to the concept.
3)  Build the question or issue into a meaningful dilemma.
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