Following a good response from people regarding the way I teach guided reading in my classroom (See here for details) I thought I would blog about a strategy I use in lessons called 'The Masterclass'.
I'll quickly explain why I came to change the way I taught lessons. Our school follows the starter/main/plenary format. Even though it's not called the numeracy hour, it has effectively deviated little from those days. Every lesson requires a starter. The rationale behind it is to get the pupils warmed up, brains engaged and ready to go on the main learning objective. I found this rigid, boring and lacking in purpose. If you've read any of my other blogs you might have picked up that I think flexibility and freedom to be crucial to my own ability to teach well. I wanted to come up with a way to get the pupils warmed up and engaged but move away from often detached starter activities; I wanted to make the start of my lessons child-initiated.
I came up with 'The Masterclass'. I'll use an example of a maths lesson involving measuring. Pupils will begin the lesson looking at the learning objective. Pupils will then state the skills they think the class will need in order to access the learning. They might choose: conversions, using a ruler, addition, subtraction. Five or Six children will then choose one of the skills generated, that they feel comfortable teaching, and go to their own table. The rest of the children will decide the skill they need to recap, learn again or just practice and go to the table.
What it looks like is one child taking a lesson with around 5/6 children around them. The child will take the role of the teacher and give a 5/10 minute demonstration and practise session for their group. During these 5/10 minutes, the class teacher will circulate, provide feedback, questioning and modelling - where required.
I'll use the example of a pupil in my class deciding to run a Masterclass for using a ruler. They announced they felt confident enough to teach to their peers. They got 5/6 rulers from the resource drawer and some whiteboards and pens and went to a spare table. Six pupils then decided they need to practise using a ruler (the rest of the pupils went to other skills) and they gathered around the Masterclass teacher. The Masterclass teacher then gave them all a ruler. The Masterclass teacher then spent a minute or so explaining the ruler, where to begin from and how to use the lines to measure. They then drew some lines on the whiteboards and got the pupils to measure the line and write down the length of it. After a few minutes of this, the Masterclass teacher then took some of the whiteboards and checked to make sure they were right, using questions to ask the others if they agreed. After 10 minutes, I bought all of the Masterclass sessions to an end and we all came back and engaged in the next part.
I don't use this strategy in every single lesson as some lessons don't lend themselves well to it. Therefore flexibility is the key to this working properly. I probably use it for 3 in every 5 sessions. The way this is introduced in the beginning is by the class teacher modelling picking out the skills needed from the learning objective (This is very commonplace in schools now anyway, children have become quite adapt at doing this) The teacher will model running a 'Masterclass'. They will model how to teach the skill in a few minutes, provide the children with adequate time for practise and then ask questions on how they managed. This format of teaching is also very common and it is incredible how good children are at this as they've been used to it during their primary education. This Masterclass doesn't even have to be at the beginning. You can stop the class and say, "I think we need to improve on X skill, can I have 6 people to run Masterclasses?" Do that for 10 minutes and get back to the lesson. It has to be flexible and most importantly, it has to work for the lesson.
Benefits of using this strategy
· Children identify skills needed for their own learning
· Children assess their own ability to be able to teach something to their peers
· Children have to opportunity to teach a skill and in thinking about the different ways to explain it and help their class mates, they embed the skill themselves
· Children are empowered when teaching and gain in confidence
· Lessons move away from a 'one size fits' all starter and breaks into different skills
· Children decide the skill they need to practise themselves. They make conscious decisions about where they are in their own learning and how they can help themselves to achieve today's learning objective.
· Children get the opportunity to listen to their peers more often
· Children get the opportunity to work with children they might not otherwise work with
· The starter becomes about the journey of the learning objective and not a standalone starter.
· It can be adapted to any learning
Problems of using this strategy
· Some children become disempowered when they are unable to teach skills
This requires some thought from the teacher. The way I get around this is by using the Masterclass in different areas of the curriculum - especially in areas I know different children are good in.
· Making sure children make a choice about what they need to practise as opposed to the group with their friends in.
I've made it an important part of this strategy to focus on how this will improve their learning and for the children to use this as an opportunity to progress. I've had to model how to make the right decision of group and how not to choose the group with your friends in it or teaching it.
· Making sure the groups are on-task
This is one of the most important ones and it requires similar practice to my guided reading sessions. Once the pupils become familiar with the system and once they have themselves taught a session, they all have an appreciation for leading. I use feedback sessions to highlight what being a good Masterclass pupil is like. Some pupils might not be happy with another pupil leading and become disinterested, if this happened, I would deal with it like it was during my own teaching. The pupils quickly understand the benefits of this strategy compared to starters and generally behave and engage well.
· Pupils not having any skills they need to improve or practice
In the planning stage, I make sure there is enough challenge in the learning objective so that this rarely happens. On the occasions I've got the pitch wrong I get those children to run a Masterclass on how they could extend the learning objective. For the example of the measures lesson. A child decided to run one on working out volume and how to measure volume of interesting spaces, for example: the volume of the classroom. I have found that once the children start thinking about the skills and learning needed for your lesson objective, they can come out with some interesting and brilliant things to teach. Giving them the flexibility and freedom to do so is important and once they recognise this they will be more motivated to push the Masterclass boundaries.
· Children not knowing which Masterclass sessions to go to
This was common at the start. After a few weeks of doing this, most children were able to identify what they could work on. If there are any children who don't know, I take them myself. I don't run a Masterclass session, I help the children think about their own learning. What do they need to practice? What skills does the learning objective require you to use? For some of these children, just reflecting on what they already know or don't know is a big step. A few children took 3 months to be able to engage in this strategy properly, once they did, they benefited from learning the skill of reflection.
· The noise
The classroom management side of this strategy made me worried to begin with. I use the same policy for my guided reading. In any group, there can only be one person talking at once. This might work out to be 6 people in the whole class talking at any one time, this can still make it quite noisy. I used a miming technique. If a group is being too noisy, their Masterclass teacher has to mime the teaching for a minute or so. This way they appreciate the volume of their own voices.
· What if the skills require resources
Normally, these resources would be things you'd have for the lesson anyway so it shouldn't require a considerable amount of gathering. You could take some time to think about the skills they might decide and arrange some things they could use, but I find this adds to your workload and takes away from the pupils running it. It's much better if they come up with ways to teach it themselves.
I've done this for the past two years now and it has worked well for me. I prefer to move away from the unnecessary structure of a starter at the beginning of every lesson. I prefer to use strategies that are child-led and purposeful. It has good scope as well, once children can take groups, they can take parts of lessons and so on and so forth. This is a great way to turn your class from a room full of learners, into a room full of teachers.