The teacher who is now an expert teacher at Aorere College and vastly competent and highly respected and admired by both the student & staff communities, started out as a very green yet highly enthusiastic and passionate provisionally registered teacher (PRT) at our awesome school around 5-6 years ago. In order to tell this tale but at the same time be respectful of anonymity and confidentiality, let us call this person John and he.
From the moment John joined our teaching community, I was impressed by the level of his questioning of pre-existing and proposed learning over teaching pedagogy. He constantly sought other staff to be in his classroom in order to gain objective reflections on the effectiveness or otherwise of his classroom and his students' academic undertakings. After a period of two terms settling in, I visited John to complete an appraisal lesson observation. In advance of the scheduled visit, John ensured that I was fully briefed on the current state of unit progress for the class concerned, and on the morning of my visit, I was presented with a comprehensive lesson plan with lesson content and activities planned to the absolute minute.
I arrived at the observation lesson just before the bell and was politely acknowledged by this PRT. This was despite a number of students encircling John with questions about the just-completed lesson; an occurrence highly complimenting of any teacher and in reality, much desired. When these students headed off, John followed the school-mandated instruction of the time lining the students up outside the classroom (something by the by, I have never done and never will do, we're in education, not the army!). The first issue then arose through some students coming from the other side of the school being delayed by their teacher. Eventually the classroom was filled with energetic and interested juniors. The lesson started off with a recap of the previous lesson's work. Rather than ask for a show of hands pandering to the most confident and often vocal, the teacher randomly choose a handful of students to reflect back on previous learning, and in doing elicited highly complex and reflective student responses. In return, the students received clear, targeted and affirmative feedback. The student cohort then settled down to the main lesson activity. The students instantly saw the connection to their personal circumstances and the previous lesson's work and therefore set to work with much gusto and attention. John had a wonderful classroom set-up with no front of class clearly discernible and him consistently roving and giving 1:1 feedback and feed-forward; as much as time and space would allow him.
I should point out at this stage that our school was rather fixated on Blackboard Configuration (BBC, something else I have big problems with) at this time with what I saw and still do as an almost obsessive adherence to structure, lesson roll-out and adherence to time-checks through-out the lessons and the need for a formal lesson close/plenary. Thankfully we have now all moved forward for the most part from such unnecessary rigidity to what I now term #flowlearning, (more on this in an upcoming article).
With 10 minutes to go in the lesson, the students were way more immersed than I or even John had believed they would be, and according to the lesson outline were now 15 minutes out of scheduled action, activity. Two factors I believe influenced such positive student scheduling disruption, 1) each student had significant input into activity mode and thus the qualitative outcome and 2) a number of side-learning experiences occurred due to the main activity stimulus and John's perpetual and supportive communication and the promotion of "learn, think, do" in various orders. It was with so little time to go that I assumed John would as they say in sport "run the clock down". Instead I noticed John becoming somewhat worried, almost to the point of distress. He then made the fateful decision to close down the main activity with only about 5 minutes to go, much to collective student surprise and disappointment. By the time, John had settled and explained to the students that it was time for the formal plenary, there was barely any time left and to be honest, barely any student enthusiasm left either. To be polite, the plenary was a disaster with students very reticent to provide feedback, feedback that had been so forthcoming at the beginning of the same lesson. Those that did provide, only sought clarification about when they would return to the much-enjoyed lesson activity. Upon the bell ringing, the students exited for break, ironically appearing somewhat broken.
Having given John time to tidy and collect the resources, we then had a brief catch-up. Ever the optimist I acknowledged the quality of the lesson I had observed and John was grateful for the positive and immediate feedback. I then queried John about the emerging concerned look on his face in the latter stages of the lesson. He confided in me that he had been taught to ensure that any lesson had clear progressions and clear lesson book-ends in the form of robust introductions and conclusions. Then it hit me, John for the most of the lesson let the students guide the learning and associated speed of learning and understanding. It was only at the very end of the lesson that John remembered the book-end decree and wanted to complete the pre-planned lesson structure and timeline. It was only at this stage that teaching and not learning became the focus and in reality the lesson became more about the teacher and less about the students.
Now many years later in 2016, John and I often reminisce about this most unique of lessons. Since this original observation, I have been in John's learning spaces numerous times and have observed many times, John's decision to often forgo formal lesson closings in favour of #flowlearning. Often, not always but when done so with a wink of the eye and within my earshot, John mentions to the engrossed students that they can do a formal recap at the beginning of the next lesson, noting "this lesson is a chapter and not the whole book." What a great way to sum up the natural flow of lessons within a unit and in the wider scheme of teaching and learning and engagement.
Now this sounds like the perfect lesson!