Our first-year lecturer faces his first inspection, learns not to spoon-feed his students and gets impressed by the post-lockdown enthusiasm of learners fresh back in class before Easter.
I’m in a positive mood. Things seem to have finally settled down as we go into the final term. My level 4 and 5 students are feeling altogether better as they have finished quite a few assignments and are moving towards the end of their courses.
I’ve had no big issues to confront this spring term but I did have a problem with an inspector. One day he came into my classroom completely unannounced and unaccompanied by college staff. He wanted to talk to the class on their own and asked me to wait outside in the corridor. He quizzed them about how the lesson was organised and what they were learning.
After a very short time with the students, he produced a checklist and asked me in private if I had done certain things. Had I got the lesson onto the school system? Was my lesson matching my lesson plan? I said no, because we’d done well and got ahead of the syllabus schedule; it just happened I was doing something extra that day.
I said it was unfair to judge my lesson as I had had absolutely no notice - as a former secondary school teacher I was used to getting plenty of warning about Ofsted inspections. My head of school later told me it was how inspectors work here - they come round randomly and the college is not allowed to tell the staff.
I was not happy but guess I just have to follow procedures. I feel this type of inspection doesn’t support all types of lessons - especially in my subject, music. Some pedagogies used in music should be respected more.
I’m not aware of any lightbulb moments among my students, but they have all been resilient under lockdown conditions and have completed all their allocated tasks. Now back on campus since early March, they have produced a lot of practical work in a relatively short period.
They had been worried about the practical side, but once they knew they were coming back to college, the idea of getting into a studio again to record and do practical sessions has become a massive motivational factor.
During the lockdown, full-blown practical music sessions - including playing online - were not feasible. What you hear through headphones online is not the same as live in class. I did, however, play some instruments online to demonstrate musical effects. I’d use a guitar to illustrate music theory on screen.
Lockdowns have produced both pros and cons. It’s been tricky monitoring student projects virtually and their general progress online; it’s difficult to chase students for work if they don’t respond. We have to keep records of our communications in case they later complain that we didn’t try to contact them.
In certain situations, students are sometimes still opting to work from home, which is fine if they say they have no other way around it; I simply adjust my lessons for them.
Online, of course, students could be doing anything behind the screen - even though I always asked them to present their work to see what they were doing. I found it helped them respond positively to my requests by telling them I was creating a checklist for unresponsive students. If, say, they later told me they were falling behind on a project without bothering to tell me early enough, they should not expect extra support. It’s been a negative but effective type of reinforcement!
On the other hand, worry about your students’ grades too much and you can end up giving them too much guidance - they then start avoiding doing their own research and become over-reliant on you. Some students kept asking me for exact information; they were kind of expecting to get a good grade if they replicated everything I said. I felt they were not doing essential tasks such as reading academic articles I was giving them, so I went to my head of school as I was unsure about this.
We sat the students down and said personal research was an integral part of higher education and that it freed them up to define their own answers rather than regurgitate material they wanted me to spoon-feed them. Setting boundaries allowed me to create a bit of distance between me and my students. It took a term to take effect but things are working much better now.
All in all, feedback from both students and my college’s quality team has been good. My students said they have learnt a lot and really appreciated my lessons. Nothing really beats teaching live in class where you can actually see students’ reactions and tweak your teaching accordingly. But online teaching has its advantages - I was able to read out articles to my students, generate discussions online, share materials instantly, and record all my online lessons, thus saving myself valuable preparation time by being able to repeat them in the future.