Teaching and classrooms, thieving and courtrooms: Giving your lessons narrative

James Massey

As an excitable teacher, global educational speaker, change instigator and hopeless optimist, James has a Master’s degree in Educational Studies, and a passion for research based, modern-day learning that works. Having worked in a range of teaching establishments in the UK, as well as trying his hand in France to see if you can actually teach successfully with no language skills, James has always approached classroom practice from a number of angles.

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What is the main ingredient that makes a great lesson? I’m not talking in the realms of inspectorate rhetoric. We all know as professionals that we need our pupils to make progress in each lesson, and we are not oblivious to this fact. I mean those lessons that you regale other teachers with because you have a real sense of pride in what occurred. The ones where all the pupils were switched on, and the learning flowed as smooth as Frank Sinatra-branded honey!

"I was having as much fun as the class."

For me, my best lessons all have one thing in common: I was having as much fun as the class. I was totally invested and my excitement was infectious. I guess, like with anything in life, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you will probably pay it lip service more often than not.

I noticed that as my career progressed, this shared enjoyment tailed off somewhat due to different factors. Don’t get me wrong, 100% effort was given to everything I did (maybe 98% Monday mornings…), but I was rarely popping-and-fizzing with the thought of upcoming lessons.

I do remember that, as an NQT, everything was fresh and new and I was itching to try out my ideas. Yes, it was sometimes risky in the respect of mixing things up a little, and so my comfort zone was generally in another time zone.

Of course, we can’t always plan these kind of experiences due to lack of time, chart tracking, box ticking and other tedious tasks. However, I want to share one of my personal experiences, so here goes:

Y4 Literacy Unit – News report writing (Plenty of other areas were covered though!)

The background…

I brought a large, worthless marble egg into my Year 4 classroom one morning and had everyone gather around. I told them that my friend was a paleontologist at the National History Museum and, because we are old friends, he let me take this very rare fossilised dinosaur egg to school.

We talked about the job of a paleontologist, looked on a map at where he had found dinosaur remains and discussed those countries, took a virtual tour of the National History Museum online and then talked about the egg and what could have been inside. They were absorbed by the whole scenario and everyone had a question or comment to make.

The heist…

The next problem was that I had to store it overnight in the classroom - so how could we keep it secure? We agreed on putting it in my desk drawer, sticking a CCTV camera in the corner of the room to capture all entrances and exits (they never saw this being installed, as it never was!). Finally a clever spark suggested a sign saying ‘DANGER KEEP OUT!’. We agreed this would perhaps get people more curious than anything else, so we instead decided collectively upon ‘WET PAINT’ because no one likes to watch that dry, from what I’m told.

That evening, I dressed up in the appropriate striped jumper / mask combo and asked our lovely cleaner to hold my camera phone up in the corner of the room, so as to look like surveillance footage, naturally.

I proceeded to act all shifty, and kept my back turned to the lens, found the egg and scampered off! Not Oscar award-winning, but it did the trick.

The fallout…

"I suddenly had thirty detectives working for me."

The next morning, I welcomed my class in while looking decidedly panicked. I explained what had happened and showed them the footage. I suddenly had thirty detectives working for me, unpicking the clues (footprints and torn clothing). Aside from all the learning that had already taken place, this is where the newspaper writing began!

I invited a local journalist in to come and talk about his role and what tips he could give us to write something for the school paper. I don’t think many will disagree that there needs to be a purpose and real outcome for writing. As we were working within the crime scene itself, their ideas flowed and they produced some newsworthy work. They even created posters from stills of the CCTV footage.

The confession…

They soon figured me out as I can only keep my face straight for so long. Finally, (Scooby Doo style, of course), I admitted that it was me. My motive being that I had lost the egg and staged the whole thing to cover my tracks! This then lead to a courtroom debate where they would decide on a verdict. I reminded them that parents evening was around the corner, however, which reduced my sentence somewhat.

It was a joy to orchestrate, not just because of what the pupils got from the experience, but also that it reminded me of why I became a teacher in the first place. The technology helped to bring it to life in a meaningful way as well.

What fun tactics do you employ for pupil engagement? Share your stories below.

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