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Year 8s have always been my favourite year to teach. I realise that they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea: they don’t have the fear of Year 7s; they lack the maturity of Year 11s (possibly); they aren’t as moody as Year 9s but are often twice as silly. I, however, think there’s a great opportunity here. They have a bit of spark, a zip of energy, which I’ve always tried hard to channel, mainly by making them work hard.

This year I’m sharing three Y8 classes with two other teachers for one lesson out of three. Today I saw the last of the three for the first time. Here’s what I did.

Once they found their seats we practised the basics: lining up and entering in silence; returning my hello and or good afternoon; readying themselves for learning by retrieving their planners and pencil cases from the dark, damp corners of their bags; standing behind their desk until they are asked to sit; ensuring uniform is exemplary; cracking on with the task on the board without any but the most vital, life-saving questions. This took fifteen minutes which was far too long. They’ve been challenged three minutes for this lesson in two weeks’ time.

Nothing special, right? Not for a reasonably experienced teacher (seventh year now – where did that go?).

I then, after having reprimanded a rather chatty and sarcastic young man a few times, told them this:

  • They were going to work incredibly hard.
  • I would make them write. A lot.
  • As I love teaching Year 8 I’d give them as much as I could in the only hour we had together.
  • That they would have to remember a lot of facts and that I’d expect them to be achieving 100% on recall tests.
  • That as we didn’t have much time I’d be talking to them for most of our lessons.
  • That history is a bloody great subject and if they listened and asked questions and answered questions and challenged each other they’d love it.

After coming up with a question which they all wanted the answer to/me pointing them towards a question I then talked for the next forty-odd minutes about strip-farming, mediaeval diets, the manorial system, blight, Britain’s population across time and the effects of enclosure acts.

At the end there were two stand out comments. Firstly there was the always delightful Is the lesson over? That went well quick! from a chap with a rather questionable behaviour record. The second was from the boy who I’d had to reprimand at the start: I thought I was going to hate this but that was actually a well good lesson. Ah, knowledge.

I don’t write this because I want a pat on the back or because I’m really pleased with how well I did and how much the children liked it. I write this because the value of knowledge, despite recent attempts from all sorts of commentators, still seems to be in question. Why?

Children love knowing things!