Secondary Secondary English

Secondary English – Any Questions?

I sometimes wonder what my students really think about my lessons. No, let me correct that. I sometimes wonder what my students really understand in my lessons. Unfortunately I think that too often there is a gap between my assumptions of what they ‘get’ and what they don’t. So, last week I, rather bravely, decided to get inside my Year 11 students’ heads.

It was a simple exercise. At the beginning of our lesson, on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, I asked them to write down three sentences on a piece of paper. These could be: an observation about the scene we were studying; a question to test another student’s understanding; a question that they would like to ask me. During the lesson, every student had to contribute one point from their sheet and when any observations were made or questions answered satisfactorily they crossed them off. At the end of the lesson, the students handed in their sheets so that I could look at any questions left unanswered. In the following lesson, I was then able to address these questions and go through any points of confusion in the scene.

This was a fascinating activity.  There were an overwhelming number of questions that focussed on ‘What does X word mean?’ that seemed to trouble even the most able students. As much as I think that I have explained the important words or bleat on about getting the ‘gist’ of certain passages, I found that my students wanted to understand it all- they wanted to join the missing links so they could solve the puzzle of Shakespeare’s language. I had not always predicted which words would tie up which students in knots and until we completed this exercise, many of them seemed to view the text as incomprehensible, even if it turned out there were only two words out of twenty that they did not really understand. I found that by unravelling these knots, it enabled many students to then start to unpack the layers of meaning in the language choices in a more meaningful way than before.

This exercise has real possibilities and I am excited about trying it out in other areas. We will be preparing for their Mocks next and I think it could be illuminating to find out what my students really understand about the non-fiction exam. Who knows, now that I have found out that what is inside my students’ heads is not so frightening, I might even dare to ask what they actually think about my lessons!

Naomi Hursthouse
Advance Skills Teacher 
Steyning Grammar School

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