Today was a reminder of quite how lucky I am to work as a teacher.

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This is a mini booklet of our ‘seminar rules’ made by one of my learners.

So I’ve been introducing my learners to a seminar style of learning; the kind they might expect at University. They have each been allocated a small number of pages of our novel (Property by Valerie Martin) and their task is to prepare some questions and lead a seminar with the rest of the class.

They have all read the novel already and so the seminars are where we can pull all our thoughts together. Feelings towards the novel were extremely mixed at our first lesson but the level to which they’re engaging now indicates their feelings have changed somewhat…

I take a complete backseat during all student-led seminars: only writing feedback for the facilitator and keeping a tally of quality responses made by participants. I then encourage reflection and feedback at the end of each seminar slot.

Today, we were about to finish one student-led seminar and start the next when the next facilitator leaned over to whisper what I thought would be some last minutes nerves and fears.

She whispered, ‘I’m going to do something a bit different, is that ok?’

It absolutely was!

A shudder of excitement swept the room as some of her neighbours had heard.

She got the whole class to put their books down on the floor (we were sat in a seminar circle as usual). She asked us to take a deep breath in and then out again to ‘clear our heads’. She then announced that she’d bought Airwaves chewing gum for all of the class. She ordered no-one to eat it until she said so.

She then said ‘you can chew.’

They did.

Some asked ‘why?’ She said all would be revealed soon.

She then asked a few people what sensations they were feeling. Once she’d elicited some feelings, she then shared why she’d asked them to do it.

She said she’d made a connection between chewing Airwaves gum and the novel. Some laughter ensued but they stuck with it. She stated that in Property, the feelings at the start of the novel for the reader were all unknown and you think, ‘well, this is interesting,’ and then you reach the pivotal point of the novel/gum where the full force of the gum’s taste hits you and the death of the husband takes place. It’s a shock-your-nostrils-open moment with both the novel and the gum. You then have events drawing to a close, the narrator’s feelings settling and the taste of the gum fades away.

The class practically applauded her. This was a hook to the start of the lesson like no other I’ve ever witnessed. If this learner does not go into teaching then it will be a total travesty!

Her seminar proceeded with full engagement from the class and her questioning techniques were wonderful.

She posed challenging questions and when others responded, she came back with even more questions for them to stretch them further. She acknowledged responses and gave lots of praise to encourage everyone.

Her novel was covered with sticky notes and annotations: this girl was prepared!

She then incorporated a wonderfully entertaining and engaging story of speaking to her mum about her seminar.

It went a lot along the lines of:
I was like…
She was like…
I was like…
She was like…
I was like…
She was like…
And so on…
So I was like, ‘Mum, you’re really good at this!’

She had been planning her seminar with her mum and the story really lead to the learners engaging with her and her mum’s interpretations of the novel- subsequently offering their own views.

I am always ready to be surprised by learners but the last couple of weeks of student-led seminars has seriously been some of the most memorable teaching experiences of my life: because the learners are doing it, they’re growing into young adults and they’re all completely awesome:

Those who have stepped up to facilitate without really wanting to.
Those who have stormed facilitation despite not making many contributions during the seminars so far as participants.
Those who have written incredibly challenging questions for their peers.
Those who have used praise to encourage their peers.
Those who have changed the pace of the seminar by putting learners in groups/pairs or by asking questions in a different way..

Things have really improved with my ‘Learning and Development Manager’ role this term so far: I have more confidence, I’m more on top of my workload on the whole and there have been some really important breakthroughs.

I love my job but it will never beat a high like today and that’s why I will always class ‘teaching’ as my job.

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