One minute you’re in the deserted wilderness of northern Sweden, something of an ultimate of peace and quiet, the next you’re back amongst the heaving masses of pupils pouring into school for the first day of term.
Maybe the switch isn’t literally quite that quick, but still it is a fairly swift step from one to another and it does come as something of a shock to the system. I move from the calm enjoyment of camping in a small tent in largely undisturbed nature to the rapid startup of a new school year. A moment for a deep intake of breath, head down and begin.
I’ve got a few new colleagues to get to know, but a whole lot more new pupils and class groups to familiarize myself with. New relationships have to be built and importantly groups have to be activated and switched on to my lessons, my subject and my style of teaching. My third year groups (aged 14-15) normally require a little shaking to wake them up at the start of a new year. I like to make that first lesson a little more memorable. A year ago I wrote about the educational reworking of a Robert Rauschenberg work that was aimed at doing this in the following post:
It’s nice if you get the feeling that your art lesson has succeeded in being interesting and quirky enough to be talked about at the dinner table later that evening. In this case, first impressions are important and worth making that extra effort to grab the attention.
A series of lessons about Surrealism that I teach has offered a variety of contexts to do exactly this lately. I want my class, from the start, to start to understand something of what Surrealism is all about, an unexpected world where things can be rather different to how we might expect. I also want their full attention and I want discussion and engagement from the very start.
One way of doing this goes like this.
As the class are entering the room and sitting down I am busy putting a chair on a table. Without saying anything I climb up and sit down on the chair. The class at this point have often hardly registered that their teacher is sitting on a chair on a table and continue to talk. I reach into my bag and pull out my lunch box, open it and take out a sandwich. I inspect the sandwich carefully. The room starts to get quieter, pupils are nudging one another and starting to look my way. I reach back into my bag and take out a needle and reel of cotton. I carefully thread the needle without saying a word. The room gets quieter still. I then start to sew the two pieces of bread that make up my sandwich together. I continue as long as it takes for the first questions or statements come that I can use to pitch into my Surrealism theme.
The class have had a memorable and engaging start to the lesson, one that they will hopefully remember, but more importantly they are already starting to engage with the idea of what might be considered surreal, we are talking about it and the class are traveling with me into my lesson.
I’ll be posting again in the coming weeks about what Hywel Roberts in his book Oops! Helping children learn accidentally calls ‘the lure’, the approach of beginning a lesson with an element that draws your class in, turns them on and engages their attention.