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How to teach very weak year 8s

Discussion in 'English' started by dylan83, Feb 1, 2011.

  1. I'm an NQT and I'm teaching an *extremely* weak year 8 class who are mostly level 3 / low level 4. I'm tearing my hair out with them and would really appreciate some advice.
    I cannot teach from the department's schemes of work because the work is just too hard for them and I've been told to do whatever I think. We read some of a novel which they enjoyed to start with but then got bored of, other than a few really weak ones who never followed along and didn't even turn the page in time. I'm trying to plan lessons which help work on their literacy, but it's really hard, especially since I feel duty-bound to cover the curriculum at the same time.
    The trouble is, I just don't feel equipped or trained to teach children of this sort of ability. My passion and expertise is in literature: give me a good GCSE class and I'm in my element; but here, I'm just at a loss. I've managed to secure a computer room for one lesson a fortnight and I'm using that lesson this week to get them playing spelling games, which hardly feels productive. I've gotten 2s and 1s on my observations with other classes, but here I don't know if I'd even scrape a 3 - particularly because they're extremely badly behaved.
    *sigh*. I genuinely feel like they'll end the year having made absolutely no progress, nor learned anything. does anyone have any advice? Anywhere I can get some good resources or guidance for teaching what is essentially a remedial class?
  2. Joannanna

    Joannanna New commenter

    I can recognise your pain! I'm only in my 2nd year of teaching and on my PGCE placement I had 2 very weak year 8 classes, and in my NQT year I had a very weak year 9 class who drove me demented.

    To me, the thing that you need to work on first is behaviour. They won't learn anything if they're mucking about and being generally irritating. I know how I'd have a go at this but it would depend on how supportive your department is. We have a system where if a class is becoming horrendous they do something incredibly boring like copying from a text book or doing repetitive comprehension questions (perhaps beyond your lot?) and if they so much as mutter a complaint, they go out the room and sit in someone else's upper school lesson (our sixth formers are out of this world for giving lower school children disgusted looks).

    Routines also help. When I was on placement, their usual teacher said that the first few weeks of lessons that year had consisted of objectives such as 'to sit in a chair' and whether they wrote anything or not was irrelevant - their target, and her aim for the lesson, was for them to remain seated in a chair unless otherwise told. By the time I had them, they knew they came in, sat down and wrote the date, title and objective.

    Reward charts? Stickers? The likelihood is if they're misbehaving weak year 8s they're also quite weak and will quite like this sort of tangible reward. A colleague is dealing with a bottom set year 9 (weak and naughty) by giving them stickers for particular things and when they get to 10, she'll buy them a chocolate bar of their choice. As yet, from September, none have reached 10, but they do try hard!
  3. Joannanna

    Joannanna New commenter

    'The likelihood is if they're misbehaving weak year 8s they're also quite weak'...

    I meant 'also quite immature'!
  4. Hi dylan83

    I teach all of the bottom year 7, 8 and 9 at my school (lucky me!). I find with the lower classes that building up a relationship with them is paramount - I know as a PGCE you are on a short time scale, but positive reinforcement works so well I find (that is not to say don't punish them should they deserve it). Try and figure out a good seating plan - gop to a teacher who seems to have some success with this group and ask for a copy of theirs.

    I am not sure exactly what your lesson structure is like, but I find that the ten minute (15 minute for a longer activity) segments work best. I also have to work on literacy in my lessons (school action plan) and getting a whole paragraph is an achievement for some of mine - but if they are completely sure of what they are doing and understand totally what is being asked of them (model a good answer for what you expect from them and explain how you are doing it) and how long they have to do it, then they give it a good go. Don't forget to keep them busy at all times - so extensions for those who finish first.

    Not saying it will work straight away or all the time - but it is one of those extremely satisfying moments when it does work.
  5. gruoch

    gruoch Established commenter

    My KS3 classes range from a bare level 1 to 3s. And I mean all my KS3 classes. They are all very badly behaved -
    - when they don't understand the work.
    You'll never get to grips with the behaviour if they can't access the curriculum. We have been doing computerised, mouse-click reading tests this week and I've had a year 7 and a year 8 in tears because they can't read the words, let alone answer the questions. They feel stupid because they are being made to feel stupid.
    I find that many low ability pupils behave badly because it's their way of coping. It makes them look 'big' and detracts from their lack of ability.
    They need to feel that they can succeed.
    They often, too have poor fine motor skills, so their work always looks awful, so they think it's awful. And writing hurts thier hands and makes them tiured and grumpy, so they'd rather avoid it. I'm doing a lot of work on handwriting and allow as many as possible to word process. It doesn't half improve their self esteem.
    I have instituted folders which monitor progress and set achievable targets. They can see how they are progressing. The folders are hard backed and in lovely colours. They are proud of them and of the work in them. A target is a sticker, in child speak, so that they don't have to write it down. It may be as simple as 'I will always use capital letters for names' - baby steps.
    It isn't a miracle cure. I had a **** day yesterday where every class, despite my best efforts, flatly refused to co-operate.


  6. This observation makes me feel so sad...

    Reading. PLEASE get to grips with basic synthetic phonics and help them with their word reading skills.
  7. wordclass

    wordclass New commenter

    So - they can't read because they have not been taught phonics yet?

  8. <font size="2">
    </font><font size="2">In that case u are extremely lucky and can concentrate mainly on improving their literacy skills.</font><font size="2">But before u begin, u probably need to understand why they are so weak.</font><font size="2">The irregularities of English spelling make learning to read and write extremely difficult - especially for children who are not very bright and get little help at home, both of which probably apply to most of your students. I have explained this in many blogs, but u might like to look at </font><font size="2" color="#f37255">http://englishspellingproblems.blogspot.com/2010/01/english-spelling-is-worst-for-weakest.html</font> and <font size="2" color="#f37255">http://englishspellingproblems.blogspot.com/2010/01/english-spelling-is-worst-for-weakest.html</font><font size="2">So don't worry about teaching them the curriculum. Get them onside by explaining that their difficulties are due to the stupidities of Englihs spelling. Read texts to them and do various kinds of work with it, including a great deal of word level work.</font>Get them to find words like that in the texts u read to them and either get them to make word searches with them, or make them for them, along with any other word games. Concentrate on quite a lot of word work to begin with. Some discussion would be good too and gradually get them to read and write more, as their word level skills improve. (Some may even need some basic phonics work with words from the Learning to Read page on my website.)
    I did not always do it like that when I was teaching, but with what I have learned over the past 15 years, that's how I would do it now. - Improving the literacy skills of those kids is the best thing u can do for them. If u can do that, they will learn everything else better too.
    It's unlikely that their basic phonics skills are weak, but spelling inconsistencies like 'here/there', 'on/only', 'man/many' stop many children grasping the basic rules.
    One other point: don't worry about the 'correctness' of their spelling, if u manage to get them to write and u can read what they write.
  9. It's not that they won't have been taught any phonics at all, it is that their phonic knowledge is most likely very incomplete, in that they will be able to read words with simple one letter = one sound correspondences, plus 'ch', 'th' & 'sh', but they won't know much more than that. Without knowing the whole phonic 'code' they will be completely at a loss to work out what many words 'say'.
    Added to that, they will have been taught to 'guess' words from their initial letters, context, shape or the pictures accompanying the text. Most of them will have learned that lesson very well indeed. It is plainly ridiculous to believe that one reads by 'guessing' one's way through text, but many teachers, both primary & secondary, hold that belief and we are seeing the damage this does every day in secondary schools.
    The significance of synthetic phonics is that it is needed to help struggling readers of any age. Unless they are taught how to 'decode' the letters of a word (i.e map the letters to the sounds they represent) and to blend the resultant 'sounds' together to produce the word they will never progress with their reading.
    I know this to be true because I work with KS3 strugglers all day and every day, teaching them to read. Filling in the gaps in phonic knowledge and teaching them to consistently decode and blend for reading is the only way you will ever get a real improvement in reading ability and confidence.


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