It’s not good to share. At least, it’s not good to share when all ‘sharing’ really means is pinching a PowerPoint from a colleague at break-time and droning through it with year 9 later on that day. Because, no matter how ‘exciting’ the PowerPoint-humorous Shakespeare memes or not- if you haven’t put just a bit of heart and soul into it, droning is exactly how you’ll sound, whether you’re aware of it or not. Kids aren’t stupid. In my opinion, this type of sharing breeds laziness.
So what led me, two weeks ago, to use a PowerPoint I’d got from someone else? And how did this experience lead to one of the most rewarding lessons of my year so far?
It was year 7, last lesson on a Thursday. I’d had a busy week: a stressful meeting with a difficult parent; a school trip, and a faculty ‘health check’ in which I was being observed one day, and observing on two others. Time was at a premium and unfortunately, through what I’m somewhat ashamed to admit was a quite rational though process, I decided that it was my Year 7s that would get the worst of me. So I didn’t plan their lesson on alliteration. Instead, someone else had planned a lesson on alliteration, ‘shared’ it with me ten minutes before I was due to teach and I delivered it.
So the plenary question was thrilling: What is Alliteration? The kids that hadn’t a clue were a bit stumped as to what to do at this point, but, on the whole, the majority of the darlings were keen to impress.
“It’s where every word in a sentence has the same letter at the start!”
This perturbed me: “Well, actually, that’s not strictly true…” The class was genuinely amazed when I explained that, actually, with alliterative sentences, words didn’t have to be next to each other. And what’s more, not every word in the sentence has to have the same letter.
“So we’ve had it wrong all these years?”
Back to the PowerPoint. Another question on another slide asked students to explain why writers use alliteration. Of course, everyone in the class, even those who five minutes previously hadn’t known what alliteration was, told me it was used because it was ‘catchy’ for the reader. As I shook my head disappointingly, I noticed that the next slide on the PowerPoint confirmed the students’ limited assessment of alliteration’s usage. And this is where the lesson became a lesson.
Put yourself in the scuffed shoes of those students in my classroom: For the first fifteen minutes of this lesson there’s not been any indicators that the man charged with educating you is human at all; he’s just been frowning as he reads the words on the PowerPoint. He’s been stumbling over the words on the screen; it’s almost as if he has no idea of what information is going to be on the next slide, or if there’s even going to be another slide. And yet, in spite of what must surely be troubling him, the monotony of his delivery suggests he feels nothing. And then, all of a sudden, something happens. A few of you have just eagerly told him that alliteration makes things catchy and his frown becomes a raised eyebrow. And then, under that raised eyebrow something becomes clearly visible. A spark! No, a glint! A wicked glint. Then it happens. This man utters the immortal words that send shivers through your pre-pubescent spine:
“As a teacher, I’m not really supposed to say this, but…”
You hear a pin pen drop. It’s yours. You hear 29 other pens drop and maybe a few jaws too. Is he human after all? What’s he going to say? What could it possibly be?
“As a teacher, I’m not really supposed to say this, but…but…you’re all WRONG!”
The class erupts into laughter at the Basil Falwty-esque delivery of what is surely a wicked thing to tell us. We’re wrong? But the PowerPoint says..How can this be? Why? How? How are we wrong?
Okay, so the class wasn’t, strictly speaking, wrong in telling me that alliteration makes things catchy. It does. But there’s more to it than that. Before I fully committed myself to telling this bunch of eleven year olds about alliteration used for emphasis, I took a quick glance behind me at the next PowerPoint slide:
COMPLETE THE FOLLOWING USING ALLITERATION:
THREE THISTY THUNDERSTORMS
FOUR FEARSOME FIRES
FIVE FOOLISH FOXES
Sod that. I turned the PowerPoint off and told them. I told them all about how alliteration is used to emphasise certain words or ideas. Free from the shackles of the crap PowerPoint, I reached for a GCSE text to give them a clearer idea of what I was bangin’ on about. After giving them a plot overview (without spoilers) of To Kill a Mockingbird, I wrote up my favourite piece of alliteration from any book ever:
…a black dog suffered on a summer’s day…
I told the students all about the fictional town of Maycomb and they were fascinated. They could all tell me that the words Harper Lee wanted to put emphasis on were ‘suffered’ and ‘summer’s’. Jake (end of KS2 Level 4c) told me that you don’t expect summer to be associated with negative feelings such as suffering so maybe the writer was trying to pique the reader’s interest. Somebody else explained that maybe things aren’t as they seem in the town and this might be significant later on in the book. Marcus (end of KS2 Level 5c) was able to tell me that the words ‘dog’ and ‘day’ were also alliterative. On telling him I’d never noticed that before, Carlene replied by putting her hand up and asking me, “Isn’t there a phrase, ‘dog-days’, that means the hottest days of Summer?” Blimey. And it went on and on from there. I ended the lesson by getting them to use ‘grown-up’ alliteration that puts emphasis on certain words for a reason. And they did. Since then, one or two of them has told me they’ve asked for To Kill a Mockingbird for Christmas. I did that. Off my own back, and without a PowerPoint that lacked challenge and interesting material. I thought and I delivered and they impressed. But more than any of that, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it at this stage, what pleases me most is this: In every lesson I’ve had with those kids since, they can’t wait to be told they’re wrong.