The Excel Academy

Teaching & Learning Blog #2: ‘Teacher in role’ cooks up a storm in feisty Lady Macbeth lesson

Rodgers and Hammerstein got it right when they said, ‘let’s start at the very beginning.’ It is always important to reflect, refresh ideas and re-group whenever making decisions or contemplating something new. This mantra not only resonates with life but also is essential to developing pedagogy and lesson planning.

And so, like a modern day Marty McFly, I stripped the lesson back to basics.

I went back to the start.

My desire for my year nine lesson was that the students would be engaged, enthusiastic and most importantly, challenged. In teaching high ability students, stretch and challenge becomes a constant unconscious thought, a reminder when driving home each day which pops into your head even when you’re putting the bins out on a Thursday.

Are all students stretched and challenged every day in lessons? And, are they even enjoying it?

In going back to the drawing board and considering what I really wanted students to achieve, I decided to embrace ‘teacher in role.’ This is a strategy I had used before, but I wanted to develop this further. Thus, in the age of smart phones, smart watches and social media, I decided to really commit; my inner thespian chirped up that a video in role for the students was the best idea.

The premise was that I would adopt the persona of Lady Macbeth; students would be exploring different interpretations of the character using evidence from the text. The students would become the detectives. Even Penny, the Cavapoo, featured, as King Duncan’s son Malcolm, clearly suspicious of the main protagonist and his wife.

Furthermore, the main factor to consider, when trialling teacher in role is, you can’t do it by halves. It’s all or nothing. Therefore, in channelling my inner Julie Walters’ Oscar performance and quest to make a low budget Blair Witch project sequel, I tootled across to the park to create my medieval, Scottish backdrop.  

With a tad of editing and some Black Sabbath to create the atmosphere, the video was complete. Getting my lesson and the video to create the classroom buzz would now be my next mission.

It worked! I even got a,’ miss, I’m going to tell everyone about this’- which I chose to take as a compliment.

Starting the lesson with morse code, followed by some ‘no hands up’ whiteboard questioning, the video acted as the perfect hook into the main analysis activity. The class ethos being much more School of Rock than St Trinian’s; the video went down a treat! They found it amusing and engaging, but then were able to use it in their work. To foster this excitement for learning the ‘Game of Thrones’ soundtrack played as the groups began to work. A teacher’s got to get her film references in when she can!

The most significant aspect of this was it did what I wanted. I created the magical buzz. The magical buzz of students chatting enthusiastically about the topic, the spell like quality of debating and, like an enchanted chess game, it helped them to communicate and challenge each other’s ideas.

As a result, all students were engaged. Some of the students who normally lack confidence, were focused and collaboratively produced some excellent work. I think that this comes down to the fact that by being able to not take yourself seriously and by putting a video out there for the students to see, broke down any barriers and allowed the students to see me as a real person who wants to help their learning, as opposed to just a teacher.

Balwin refers to drama being significant at primary level, in particular, because we all start learning through play, such as through pretend cooking, tea parties and teddy bear’s picnics. Therefore, video in role takes students back to that original way of learning. It also enables students to travel without moving and understand plays, such as Macbeth, without being bogged down by the somewhat complex language of Shakespeare.

Hence, in a technical world full of constant change and development, ‘changing it up’ is essential. It is only when we step into the unknown that we truly start living and in the struggle zone is where the students need to be. For high ability students especially, thinking outside of the box is crucial.

As educators, we must stay hungry and stay foolish.

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