Voices in the Park: Starting a year of LTE teaching and reflection
Lesson One: Voices in the Park
NB: There are online versions of the story for those who are unfamiliar with the text. However, in the first LTE lesson the pupils are presented with the text only (in four separate voices and not the accompanying images)
Laurie and I have always felt we should teach all the lessons we’ve designed and be willing to model them. In fact, it is an offer we make to all new schools to model a lesson with their pupils for review. We taught all the lessons in their early drafts and have taught some of the lessons many, many times.
However, I haven’t been in a position to teach the lessons to a class on a fortnightly basis and see how the pupils’ cognition develops over time. Therefore, I volunteered to teach a Year 6 class at Pakeman Primary School, in Islington on a fortnightly basis for the 2017/18 academic year. I’ve worked with Pakeman staff previously to share the pedagogy and principles of LTE but they’ve only sampled occasional lessons. We agreed to film the LTE lessons so we could analyse individual lessons but also look to track the impact of LTE over time.
The first question I faced was where to start? As you may know, we don’t have a recommended sequence of lessons for LTE (although in primary they are split into 2 Year groups e.g. Year 5/6) preferring to entrust schools and departments to decide what works best for them. I was tempted to start with What has happened to Lulu a lesson I often model on visits to schools, but instead opted for Voices in the Park as it is the first lesson listed on our Year 5/6 and therefore many teachers may start with this. The “Voices” lesson is different to the majority of the others as it is a two-part lesson and scheduled to take place over a minimum of 2 hours.
The first Voices lesson is focused on the LTE reasoning pattern: “Frames of Reference” with pupils exploring the relationship between the four voices. Groups are initially provided with one voice only and try to establish what they can deduce about the narrator. Subsequently pupils are provided with all four voices and consider how this develops their understanding of the character. Once their understanding of the characters is established, another re-reading of the text is triggered through the cognitive conflict task: “Rank the characters in terms of who you thought was happiest and explain why”. Metacognition opportunities should be recognised and explored throughout the lesson.
Before starting the lesson, we altered the layout of the room. The class was grouped in sixes (my preferred group size for LTE) but they sat spread across 3 tables with two pairs facing each other and another pair facing inwards at the end. We have found in LTE lessons that the pair that sits facing in and distanced by a sideways table can often struggle to maintain their participation in group work while the four directly facing each other tend to work better. I placed the groups of 6 around one table only so they were close together, would be able to hear each other and also were enclosed. We also agreed the TA would film a group (on a IPad for now, the school is awaiting IRIS), and the class teacher and other Year 6 teacher would observe and feedback after the lesson.
So, some thoughts from the first lesson:
- Voices is a challenging lesson in terms of assimilating four texts at once. In KS3 and KS4 lessons it is unusual for students to work through four texts at once. Usually the focus is on one or two texts. All the LTE lessons are designed to be challenging with the cognitive conflict pitched to be initially outside the grasp of the majority of the class so it forces them to struggle and think anew. It left me wondering if there should be a designated first lesson for each Year Group in the same way most KS3 classes start with The Bridge. Would the pupils have benefitted from an easier introduction to LTE?
- Learning in LTE lessons can be erratic and not immediately visible. The pupils in their groups, were able to deduce and infer key features of the single voice they were presented with. Pupils had heard the other voices’ accounts being read and their peers analysis of them, but when at first they were presented with all four and asked to assimilate them, it appeared overwhelming. During their group work, socially constructing the relationship between the four characters and in their initial feedback, I feared they might not be able to identify the relationship. I had to restrain my impulse to start questioning too early as they struggled with misconceptions and misunderstanding. Yet, slowly they began to pull together the relationship as they critiqued one another’s responses. Towards the end of their whole class feedback, under their guidance, I sought to sketch on the board the relationships they had identified which looked like this:
Victoria (dog) Albert (dog)
If I’d questioned them earlier, would they have placed the 2 dogs at the top of this relationship? Of course, they were recognising that the dogs were symbolic and reflective of their owners and the children; Albert the rough friendly dog that sniffs bums (never fails to raise a laugh) and Victoria the pedigree Labrador. If the aim of the lesson was simply to understand the plot then we could have reached such conclusions very quickly but we were working on Frames of Reference and their ability to assimilate information together. Time spent struggling now, will help them in the future.
- However the greatest challenge for most of the pupils was not assimilating the texts but being able to represent their groups’ point of view at any moment or critique another pupils’ ideas. When asking for feedback on group discussions, some pupils were unable to respond, while others in the group automatically started to respond for them. In LTE we believe any pupil should be able to report back from their group and summarise, as well as they can, the thoughts that were shared. Unsurprisingly, pupils were taken by surprise, that they were expected to comment upon a peer’s ideas and evaluate them. Typically, in classrooms, pupils expect the teacher to provide feedback and it takes time for them to adjust to providing feedback for one another. We’ll start the next lesson with an explicit focus on this and how we might improve it.
- Finally, practitioners explain LTE demands more of them than typical English lessons. In LTE, teachers must listen attentively, trying to understand not just what pupils are saying but what they are trying to say, while forming responsive questions and considering the best order of feedback. The lesson reminded me of the demands it places on pupils too. Thinking for an hour is demanding and the pupils need time to develop stamina too. LTE is a programme teachers and pupils alike grow into. We can’t expect all pupils starting the programme to recognise or evaluate its benefits in the way pupils like the one below from ICS Zurich was able to do after a year of the programme:
“I think that L.T.E. is the lesson that stretched my thinking the most because the teacher asks everybody from every table to share their ideas. If you answer a question, then the teacher would want you to think more deeply and say something like “Where’s your evidence? Why do you think that”?. Another thing that I like is that one person in a group can’t answer every single question, every single person in the table has to have an idea. So overall I love L.T.E!!!
My favourite lesson was Voices in the Park because we reviewed it many times so each time we saw it again we would look at the story from different perspectives. We had a lot of thinking which gave us many ideas to figure out how the characters feel.”
ICS Zurich, Year 6 pupil
After the lesson, I sat with the class teacher and her colleague and they provided feedback on how different pupils responded and discussed tweaks we might make to the groupings. I sat and reflected on the video footage as the charming Year 6 class walked past on their way to lunch, warmly greeting me 15 minutes after I left the room, as if they had known me for years and hadn’t seen me in ages. I’m looking forward to Part 2 and seeing how the pupils’ thinking develops and reflecting upon how I can best support them.