Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in comments
Search in excerpt
Search in posts
Search in pages
Search in groups
Search in users
Search in forums
Filter by Categories
Admin
Assessment
Book
Creativity
Curricular Areas
Curriculum
English
Expressive Arts
gtcspl
History
ICT
Ideas
Implementation
Inclusion
Involving Pupils
Leadership
Literacy
mag
Maths
Modern Languages
Numeracy
PE
Pedagoo
Pedagoo@PL
PedagooFriday
PedagooGlasgow
PedagooLocal
PedagooLondon
PedagooReflect
PedagooResolutions
PedagooSunshine
Plenary
Primary
Professional Learning
Qualification
Research
Resource
Resource
Science
Scottish Learning Fringe
SLFringe
Social Studies
SOLO
TeachMeets
Technologies
tmlovelibraries
Uncategorized
xmasparty
A Deeper Approach to Planning Learning Experiences
pillars

Engineering effective learning experiences: Motivated by a recent chat with the ever stimulating Carl Gombrich (@carlgomb) I wanted to take an earlier article where I discussed a form of Curriculum which synthesises Challenge Based and Collaborative Group Learning a little further.

In this article I wish to outline and extend an approach I and a number of colleagues apply when designing long term (curriculum) and short term sequences of learning experiences. The approach, presented here as steps and in diagrammatic form, acts as a learning driven planning framework which provides a foundation for a range of pedagogies, especially those aligned with a Group, Cooperative or Collaborative Group Learning Process, to be applied.

Step 1, the opening move: Before any other step the concept/theme/topic to be explored should be chosen, an aligned Driving Question designed and the time available (in and out of ‘class’) for the learning experience established.

The concept being explored is Justice. This concept will be explored through the Driving Question: How could you make your world more Just? 6 weeks are available for this concept to be explored.

Step 2, establish the Core: Decide what subject/domain specific Knowledge, Understanding and Skills you wish learners to develop. Due to longer term planning such decisions about KUS should be shaped by where the learning is coming from and where it is going to; what has been learnt, what needs to be developed. The chosen K & U act as a Case Study to be investigated and to be used to model later Collaborative and/or Individual activity. It should be these three aspects which will be assessed and progress within them recorded and measured thus providing the learning experience with an academic core.

In this sequence of learning experiences (a unit of work) learners will have an opportunity to develop knowledge about The Holocaust. They will have an opportunity to develop an understanding of The Holocaust in particular the Political Social Economic factors that contributed to The Holocaust and the role People Ideas and Events played within its development. Through this Case Study Learners will be provided with opportunities to develop the skill of Historical Interpretation through Collaborative Enquiry and teacher led Master Classes and enhance the skill of Research & Record through application supported by targeted Master Classes. The development of knowledge will be assessed through a factual test (at the start and end of the sequence to measure K development), understanding assessed through a piece of extended writing about the causes of The Holocaust using agreed criteria (I can statements) and the skill of Research & Record will be assessed through the accurate application of the R&R criteria during preparation for the final artefact; a collaboratively written 5 minute speech.

Step 3, once the subject Core of KUS has been chosen: Decide what Personalised Learning Choices students can make to shape their own learning experiences. The nature of these choices should be informed, but not limited, by the Core. The semi permeable PLC’s can also offer opportunities to connect subject areas. Learners may be given opportunities to find, establish, explore connections between subject areas in terms of KUS relevant to the guiding topic/concept/theme or the Core. Master Classes may be planned to provide personalised support for KUS development.

Learners will have the opportunity to choose an injustice present in their world which they find interesting, they have a passion for, applying R&R to explore the causes of, the nature of and possible solutions to this injustice. Opportunities to explore the injustice along the lines of differing perspectives, for example connecting to Theology, Law, Philosophy, Sociology, Media, Politics, Biology to explore more deeply their chosen injustice. Master Classes will be provided in class and online to support learners to enhance their R&R skills and to attend to emerging deficits in knowledge related to their chosen injustice.

Step 4, rest it all on 6 pillars: These pillars have been chosen as they represent what I believe to be fundamental facets of an affective-effective learning process. Others may feel this selection does not align with their own philosophical, theoretical or ideological beliefs. Many hardcore Constructivists would switch out most of these pillars while Behaviourists would choose a wholly different complement of pillars (perhaps bells and electric shocks).

  • Pillar 1: Metacognition. What opportunities will be provided for learners to reflect upon and act upon their own and others approaches to learning?
  • Pillar 2: Feedback. What opportunities will be provided for self, peer and expert feedback and feedforward? How will feedback be acted upon?
  • Pillar 3: Collaboration. What opportunities will learners have to apply and develop the skills of and processes of collaborative group learning?
  • Pillar 4: Enquiry: What opportunities will be provided to investigate and explore challenges and problems? What opportunities will be provided for learners to construct their own questions and investigations?
  • Pillar 5: Authentic Challenge: What opportunities will be provided for personalisation, in terms of choice and support? How will the learning experience be made authentic? Can the assessment of learning be made authentic?
  • Pillar 6: Pragmatic Rehearsal: What opportunities will be provided for learners to practice exam specific skills?

Pillar 1: Regular opportunities will be provided within learning sessions for students to reflect upon there own learning (WWW & EBI approach). At least two opportunities will be given for the Learning Set to reflect upon their group learning processes. This will in part be stimulated by peer and teacher feedback.

Pillar 2: Peer and teacher feedback will be provided with Warm and Cold forms. Follow Up Time will be built into Learning Sessions enabling learners to act upon the feedback, planning the next steps in their own or the Learning Sets learning. Feedback will be verbal and written, provided for in and out of class learning and following on from each assessment. The assessment of understanding will be followed by feedback and a planned opportunity for learners to respond to feedback. Feedback will also guide which Master Classes should be attended during the injustice investigation.

Pillar 3: The Learning Set will provide for ongoing collaboration, in particular through discussion. Collaborative processes will be activated during The Holocaust interpretations activity following on from The Holocaust Master Class. In particular collaboration will be undertaken through the planning of and undertaking of the injustice investigation (planning for and sharing research) and through the co-authoring of the final 5 minute script for the presentation script.

Pillar 4: The collaborative investigation will require question construction, both driving and research in nature. R&R will facilitate collaborative and individual enquiry into the chosen injustice.

Pillar 5: Authenticity through Learning Set choice of investigation. They will own this investigation, its topic and the questions designed to enact the enquiry. Learners will be encouraged to choose a topic they are passionate about or directly effects them. The final assessed speech will be delivered to a real audience made up of experts, staff, peers and parents.

Pillar 6: GCSE criteria will be applied to the extended paragraph on the causes of The Holocaust giving students a flavour of GCSE expectations.

An additional step could be implemented at this stage to add further sophistication to this planning process. A promotion of Learner Attributes or, as seems very popular with the establishment right now, Character through learning experiences may lead to planning for how each attribute is covertly-overtly developed. Similar to the pillar approach above one may consider how each and every or selected attributes are developed. For example how will I provide opportunities for learners to develop the attribute internationalism through this sequence of learning experiences? How will I recognise it when that attribute is developed? How can I measure the development of that attribute? (My next article ‘Facilitating and Measuring the development of Learner Attributes’ will address each of these questions).

In summary, within much ‘lesson planning’ the process seems to stop at Step 2. Such shallow planning for teaching rather than learning, if I may be so bold, is a hallmark of many classroom. The approach outlined here takes planning, informed by learning, deeper, creating a truer framework for learning and a guide for curriculum as well as ‘lesson’ planning.

I have provided the table below as a structure to guide the planning of sequences, a table which perhaps could replace the somewhat pointless lesson planning proforma many teachers endure while knowing it serves little purpose.

learning experience planning framework

An iPad is ‘just’ another tool for learning
tablet-338297_640

There has always been plenty of attention given to the Apple iPad, especially when it is mentioned in the same breath as education. But what we must always remember is it is just another tool for learning, like a dictionary, or a calculator.  We must always remember that if we can achieve better outcomes using something else, then use it!

We must not lose site of the end product, force ourselves to use the technology because you feel that you must; when actually the technology is slowing the process and is detrimental to the outcome.  Technology is great for engaging children, but if they don’t see a point in using it, the outcome will usually suffer.

We introduced 1:1 iPads in my classroom just after February half term with the idea being that we wanted them to be unnoticeable in the classroom. The children could choose when and how they used them to enhance their learning and outcomes. After the initial set up period and ensuring the workflow was understood by the children we set off on our journey. So what have we done so far?

Cricket:  Finding my own next steps

During our cricket sessions we use our iPads to review our performances. I allow the children to film a modelled example of a shot I perform and then use it to compare to their own performances.

If they need to check a certain part of the shot, the children can then watch it back to see were they need to improve.  They also filmed each other and reviewed their shots during the lesson, each time referring back to the example I’d given them.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 10.35.50

Here you can see one of the children have used Pic Collage to make a note of their next steps at the end of the week.  A great starting point for the next lesson – pick up from where they left off completely independently.  I really have seen the benefits of having 1:1 iPads for this as they have a record of their own performance.   I plan to use it for assessment purposes to track progress throughout PE sessions. The children have also uploaded them to Edmodo to share with parents. 

Blogging using Edmodo on the iPads

I’ve tried blogging before with children for years and now it finally makes sense when they have their own device. The freedom to write when they want to has enabled the children to write their blogs on the go, whenever they have a spare minute.

I chose to use Edmodo as a start to blogging with my current class. It gives them an instant audience, something we all crave as bloggers – someone to actually read what you’ve written!  The children have started to write comments and feedback for each other and improve their blogs. I’ve asked them to write at least one a week to keep the interest up.

One interesting thing is watching the children typing on the iPads.  Most use their thumbs or single finger in portrait mode. Very few actually type like you traditionally would on a keyboard using the iPads landscape view.  Something to watch and think about? Touch typing lessons on the iPads? It’s not as if they’re slow at typing, far from it, but is it something to develop?

Children Creating Maths Calculation Video Guides

We’ve been using video as part of our flipped classroom but I’ve always produced the videos for the children. I’ll certainly keep doing this as I’ve found it incredibly useful as it allows children to find their next steps and to know which challenge they are attempting each day.

The children have been using Edmodo recently to save and collect work and information and then store it in their online ‘backpack,’ Edmodo’s version of the cloud.

They have found this incredibly useful as they are not losing documents and can post work simply from their backpack without searching for it.  It also allows you to link your Google Drive account, which I have found incredibly useful. Easily share work from my library/backpack with the children.

So why ask the children to start creating their own videos and how did we do it? 

I asked the children if they could prove to me that they could use the four written methods of calculation for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  Their response was – it’s in our books. True, but I wonder if they can verbalise their calculations and show a real understanding, using the correct mathematical language?  

Through discussion we also decided that it could be useful to create a video when we got stuck. Basically, “this is the bit where I got stuck, help me!”  I liked that idea and set the children to work.

I use Vittle FREE A LOT when creating my short maths video guides. I find limiting my explanations to a minute enables me to get to the point. Its simplicity also stops me from spending ages ‘beautifying’ the presentation.

I simply speak alongside my screen drawings and then upload them to Edmodo to share with the children.  There is plenty of information on my past posts about how we use videos to help us learn.

How do you create the video in one go? You make it look so easy! 

This was a common comment during the sessions – they’re right, I have mastered the skill.  

This got me thinking during the session – this could be a great assessment tool as well! Can the children subtract competently using a written method? Their explanation would tell me – I’ve only watched a handful so far, but from what I’ve seen has been priceless.  I am watching 30 children calculating in real time, I’m not waiting to mark an end product and then trying to work out where they’ve gone wrong.  I can actually see and hear them!

In the future I can see children beginning to use this to build up a portfolio of evidence to support assessment without levels. Pictures of writing with annotations analysing what was good using explain everything; mathematical videos modelling understanding of a skill and a collection of videos and pictures created by me and other children in the class or school.

Boarding Pass – @FernwoodDT
Used as a starter (Boarding Card) and plenary (Departure Pass)Used as a starter (Boarding Card) and plenary (Departure Pass)

I saw this idea on Twitter originally and like most of our resources it was amended to our students. The concept is simple the ‘Boarding Pass’ is given to students as they enter the classroom and are instructed to fill in their name and ‘One fact from last lesson’ the teacher then goes through some of the answers with students writing them on the board. G&T students and students that finish early are encouraged to write down a ‘key word’ from last lesson too. Again these are reviewed and shared on the board. This is a great way to link previous learning.

Lesson objectives/todays outcomes are then presented to the class by the teacher. Students are asked to digest this information and fill in an individual ‘target for todays lesson’ and ‘what level I aim to achieve’ these are kept by the student throughout the lesson.

At the end of the lesson students are asked to fill in the ‘Departure Card’ (which is eventually torn off via a perforate edge). Students write ‘One thing they have learnt’ and ‘What level did you achieve’ based on the learning in todays lesson. Students then love tearing off the Departure Card with the perforated edge and handing it to the teacher as they leave the lesson. The ‘Departure Card’ can then be used at the beginning of the next lesson again linking prior learning/showing progression and/or stuck in a work book. Questions can be changed to suit the lesson/subject I imagine it could be used in all subject areas it has worked particularly well in our schools MFL lessons too. This shows fantastic knowledge and understanding of a topic in an engaging yet simple method!

Here is a link to a presentation that shows how the boarding pass is used/presented to the students – Boarding Pass – PowerPoint

Here is a link to the guillotine we use – http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/A4-Paper-Trimmer-4-in-1-Card-Crease-Wavy-Cut-Straight-Cut-Perforation-/281181932948?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_3&hash=item4177bfcd94

See @FernwoodDT and @Me77ors on Twitter https://twitter.com/FernwoodDT for more ideas and resources

Any questions/feedback please email m.mellors@fernwoodschool.org.uk :)

Arts learning resources from The Fruitmarket Gallery
Installation view Possibilities of the Object at The Fruitmarket GalleryInstallation view Possibilities of the Object at The Fruitmarket Gallery

The Fruitmarket Gallery is an art gallery funded by the taxpayer displaying exhibitions of work that are not for sale. The Gallery brings the work of some of the world’s most important contemporary artists to Scotland. We recognise that art can change lives and we offer an intimate encounter with art for free. The Gallery welcomes all audiences and makes it easy for everyone to engage with art. Gallery facilities include a bookshop and café. The Gallery is physically accessible and family-friendly.

As part of our learning programme, we produce free resources to help teachers, families and community groups to get the most out of each exhibition. Links to our resources are below.

The Learning Through Exhibitions series helps schools and community groups to explore exhibitions before, during and after a visit to The Fruitmarket Gallery. They can also be used for arts activities at any time alongside our other resources documenting the exhibition. Developed with artists and teachers, the series suggests ways to think with and through art and be inspired to make it. Creative Challenges are open-ended and adaptable to any age group. Covering artists including Louise Bourgeois, Gabriel Orozco, Jim Lambie and our current group exhibition of modern and contemporary Brazilian art Possibilities of the Object, resources cover curriculum areas including Expressive Arts, Literacy, Social Studies, Religious and Moral Education, Health and Wellbeing and Languages. Activities include dance, storytelling, poetry, drawing, sculpture, installation, music, film and photography.

Little Artists are activity sheets for families and primary school groups to explore and respond to the exhibition together. Activities include colour poems, storyboards and designing a display of sculpture.

Possibilities of the Object:

Stan Douglas:

Jim Lambie:

Tania Kovats

 Louise Bourgeois

 Gabriel Orozco

“I am very impressed by the learning resources available which accompany the exhibitions. They are comprehensive and motivating as well as being relevant to the curriculum.” Kathryn Malcolm, Teacher of Art and Design, Inverkeithing High School

A New Approach for those in Danger of Failure?
image

As a teacher, how does this grab you as a challenge? You are to be part of a team working with 30 pupils from the south side of Glasgow? They are identified as being at risk of disengagement, but with the potential to become successful apprentices and good citizens. You must remain true to the principles of Curriculum for Excellence. What might be different for you is that your organisation is ready to wipe the slate with your experience in the classroom. You are going to look at the pedagogies of what works and use them in your practice every day – with only three other colleagues.

“Three?” I hear you ask. Correct. The curriculum will be delivered by four teachers – Science, IT, Maths and English, but also by partner organisations, made up of the private businesses who are not only investing in the venture, but who are guaranteeing apprenticeships to those young people who complete the course and FE colleges which are guaranteeing places for the NJC leavers.

This is the plan for Newlands Junior College, the brainchild of Jim McColl, Scottish entrepreneur. His vision is to take young people who are heading for failure and give them a real prospect of success.

Scotland’s schools are very good. I don’t think that’s in question here. But there is – and always has been – a group of young people who just don’t get a good deal. They are not academically driven, have perhaps a challenging background or a family whose experience of education is entirely negative, but who nonetheless have some kind of talent or ability. They are not heading for university, but exist in a system which is designed to make them feel that the only achievement that really counts is getting in to university. Yet business is crying out for people with good practical skills and the right attitude to work.

These are exactly the people that McColl’s Newlands Junior College appears to be designed to cater for. If only they could be prevented from disengaging, as they often do.

The college has started to engage staff.  They will be working in a very special environment, with the best technology and with unrivalled opportunities to develop their pedagogical skills.

Iain White, Principal of the College and former Head Teacher of Govan High, which serves one of the most deprived areas of Scotland, makes no secret of the formula “This will be an organisation built on relationships – there will be no room for messing around, but we intend to be like a family, where – like every family – we will have our moments, but we are all here for the same reason. We will all be motivated towards what we want to achieve together. That togetherness will be based on mutual respect and a mutual understanding of what we are here for.”

And for the young people who, through the selection process, get a place, that achievement will be quite something. With resources available to equip every pupil with a handheld computer, cutting edge IT provision and links with future employers who will not only provide curriculum input, but mentoring relationships and guidance, the prospects for these otherwise potentially-failing pupils are suddenly looking dramatically brighter.

Of course schools try very hard to prevent young people dropping out. But Newlands will have some crucial advantages. It will be able to guarantee the outcomes (apprenticeships and college places for every successful leaver) . Also, it is not school. Whatever Hollywood tells us about inspirational teachers and innovative and ground-breaking approaches to learning, sometimes the problem is simply that school is the wrong place for disenchanted teenagers. Newlands Junior College, based in real place of work, with its top quality adult environment is clearly not a school. So many things are different from the quality of design to the close involvement of students in everything including the preparation of meals. At Newlands, they not only know what works, but (more importantly) for these students they know what doesn’t.

An education for the 21st century has to very different from the classroom of the past. It has to be suited to each individual in a way that is unique and inspiring. It has to connect to adult life and the real world in ways that every student can understand. Every day, every student has to feel valued and believe in the possibility of success.

I look forward to schools and indeed, colleges, of all descriptions providing a wide and varied menu of education, utilising top technology, demanding top professionals and producing top quality graduates upon whom employers can rely, as they have had an input to their education and training. The destinations are guaranteed – not as some kind of social responsibility policy – but as a real engagement between young people, their parents, teachers, employers and trainers. I look forward to more initiatives like this and not only that, but I look forward to them being supported as complementary to the current school system.

Newlands Junior College is still looking for a Science teacher and a Maths teacher, so if you think you might enjoy this kind of opportunity, check out the website and application form here.

High Impact
Image by flickr.com/photos/spettacolopuroImage by flickr.com/photos/spettacolopuro

‘Impact’ is a word which has become increasingly popular in pedagogy. Teachers and leaders in education – increasingly skeptical of an implied focus on school data which comes with the word ‘progress’ – have seized on ‘impact’ as a term which more directly encompasses the concept of practice informed by and for pupils. Reflecting on this, I’ve started to look at what makes the most impact within my classroom. In this reflection I found myself constantly returning to the now almost cliched phrase: high expectations. The increasing use of these words in school promotional material and on blogs – my own included – makes it easy to consider this as pure rhetoric or as something which should simply be part of any classroom. Yet, I think it means more than this and requires deliberate development and focus, both on how you teach and what you are teaching.

The HOW

My observations both highlighted to me techniques that I had worked on over time, which had begun to create a culture of high expectations within the classroom. Two fairly simple techniques which centre around a key aspect of teaching: questioning. A number of bloggers have posted on the important impact of questioning within the classroom. I believe it is central to the practice of teaching and has made the most impact on my pupils. In my early years of teaching, I therefore made it my personal aim to get it right – I thought about questioning all the time whether observing others teach, reading educational material or perusing blogs. As I developed as a teacher, I drew a more narrow focus on the types of questions which forced pupils to really think; to move beyond expected or simplified responses. Over time I had built up the teacher instinct which allowed me to actually recognise when the cogs were turning in my pupils’ minds – an instinct, which is actually only instinctive after several months of close observation and thought about those you teach. This is key and allows you to identify the all important difference between the “I don’t know” which signals disaffection and that which highlights panic; when a pupil is not trying and when they are genuinely struggling. It was this deliberate development of this area of my teaching that made a huge impact on the level of discussion and thought within my classroom; the fact that this was verified by an observer was reassuring. The class was a wonderful bunch of Year 11s who I had built a good relationship with and who were mostly willing to engage with the work but for both the observer and myself, the questioning/interrogation was the time I saw them pushing themselves to really think. In a time where it is all too easy to panic spoon feed them (I think I was probably guilty of that when it came to the English Language exam nightmare) this has an impact including but also beyond the realms of the examination hall.

This observation made me realise that in fact much of the impact lies in the space between the first answer and the second/third/fourth. An oral version of Austin’s butterfly, if you will. This was made even clearer to me in the second observation, a few months down the line in a different school, this time with a Year 7 group. In this case I had asked a pupil a question to which he didn’t know the answer (this was during the first activity, which was a consolidation of the previous lesson). I could see both that he clearly wasn’t sure of the answer and that he should have known the answer; he hadn’t learnt it in the last lesson, which meant that there was a failing somewhere along the line, which could have been me/him/a combination of both. I needed him to know that answer, I also needed him to know that it wasn’t ok that he didn’t know that answer – not in a cruel or negative way but in a way that said come on you, this is important, you’ve got to show a little more faith in yourself by making sure you remember it.  I asked someone else in the class to answer, then I went back to the first pupil and asked him to repeat the answer. “Uh, I don’t know”. Ok so this time I knew that focus was evidently a problem, he also still hadn’t grasped that he couldn’t just be let off knowing this once he wasn’t in the spotlight. NB: At this point I was starting to feel a bit nervous – here I was in an observed lesson and my pupil was clearly not getting it. I considered leaving it and moving swiftly on to a pupil who I could be relied upon to get it right, but I decided instead to pursue it, to make sure this time he got the answer.

“Alright” I said to him “Well this is important and you need to know it. So, I’m going to get the answer to this again and I’m coming back to you. Ok?” I had to spell this one out. Process repeated. This time he got it. I asked him to repeat it. Then again. Then again. It sounds potentially evil but I promise it was done with gentleness, encouragement and a warm smile (from both me and the pupil ‘in question’). Throughout the lesson I came back to him with the question – a reminder that this wasn’t an ‘in the moment’ piece of information, this had to be stored. I went from nervousness to pride as I saw him become more confident each time he answered. He knew that answer. He hadn’t known it at the beginning. I could have hid this or let it slide so it wasn’t obvious to the observer that my last lesson hadn’t hit the mark with every pupil. But by not doing that, by putting it out there in the open space of the classroom I felt more confident than ever before that I was not only showing the observer a decent stab at progress but more importantly I was actually making some.

As an observer in a few schools recently it is these type of moments that I have seen in other teachers’ classrooms where I too feel the impact. On reading Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like A Champion earlier this year, it was with excitement that I discovered this technique formed part of his chapter on creating high expectations, it was called ‘No Opt Out’. More than that, he provided more detailed and developed ways this could be used, with real concrete examples. I was transfixed by Lemov’s recommendation to focus on your teaching strengths and develop that. It made so much sense to me and it also gave me something real to hang my ethos of high expectations on. Reading Dweck’s Mindset. How You Can Fulfil Your Potential has similarly given me a narrative which shapes my thinking about what I am expecting from my pupils. Whilst having an impact in your classroom can come from the ‘tacit knowledge’ of being a teacher, I appreciate the value of academic literature to help teachers consolidate and put into action their instinctive teaching strengths.

The WHAT

On the subject of literature; it has also become clear to me (particularly in the last year where I have been directly responsible for curriculum design) that the content of teaching is as important, if not more than the way you teach it, on creating an impact on your pupils. I have been in debate – both internal and external – about the content which should be taught as part of an English curriculum. In particular this has come back to the types of texts we should be teaching our pupils. When I first started teaching, I was concerned about picking easy to access, relevant texts; the schools I worked at generally taught the likes of Skellig and Holes to KS3 and KS4 was a mad rush to ‘fit in’ literature around the English Language paper; thus teaching Of Mice and Men to most was often justified because it was short, whereas To Kill a Mockingbird could be delivered to those elite, higher sets who would ‘cope’ with it. At KS3 some of this came from time pressures and bad teaching, most of it came from a genuine desire to try to engage pupils in the love of reading, and what I now see as a misguided idea about how this worked. I find the argument around text choice fairly complex – I’m a huge fan of contemporary fiction; my study of it at university made me alive with passion for studying literature, both contemporary and classical. I also struggle with the ‘pale, male and stale’ aspects of the canon, but want my students to have the opportunity to know these works so they have the chance to be critical of them. I also think that the studying of contemporary fiction is enriched by a knowledge of the literary heritage that has influenced it. Equally, as pointed out here by Chris Curtis, contemporary children’s texts often lack complexity and challenge. I now lean towards a curriculum with a range of canonical texts studied as part of a chronology of literature, with additional units of work/comparative studies of challenging adult contemporary fiction. After all don’t great teachers have the ability and responsibility to bring all texts to life; to allow our pupils to see the beauty of texts beyond those they would find for themselves? In this debate I also found myself coming back to the idea that if I think my pupils can only enjoy and appreciate texts which are about their own experiences or written for them in their own time, am I lowering my expectations of them and what therefore is the impact on their learning?

This question was answered recently when I taught a unit studying the play Macbeth. Lessons were pretty much get on your feet, let’s act this out and get to grips with the play and Shakespeare’s language. As part of their end of term test, I decided that this acting approach needed to be represented – they were also writing an essay – but I wanted to give room for the acting out of the play to be as important. So I set them the task of learning and acting out a scene/soliloquy. They had a number of prep sessions (our in-school homework time) to work on this and could come to me for guidance but were largely left to tackle the task independently. The first moment I had a vision of the impact this was having was when one of my pupils who is a struggling reader turned up after school to spend an hour of his time getting help learning his speech. The next day another pupil turned up to do the same. At lunchtime I walked down the stairs ready to confront the noisy crowd of pupils evidently up to no good only to find full rehearsals ago with pupils acting to each other and asking for feedback, or using their tablet computers to record and analyse their performances. For over a week, every corridor, stairway and empty classroom rang with the sound of Shakespeare; so much so that the other day a quotation from Macbeth came to mind and I heard it in the voice of one of my pupils. Many of the performances themselves were spectacular – with pupils learning whole scenes and speeches and performing them so expertly that I felt like I was in an audience at a real theatre. Of course the outcomes varied amongst pupils; there were certain pupils who had worked really hard on the scenes and set themselves high standards, whereas others had attempted some learn lining or some acting but not quite pieced this together. In this was a lesson for me – the task had set the challenge but imagine the impact if I hadn’t been blindsided by the fact they were only Year 7. If I had set that expectation higher for all my pupils then they could all have made it there. Now I have exemplars to show and have tried this out, I won’t make the same mistake again.

So in answer to my earlier question – I do think the impact is lessened when you don’t push yourself to expect more, when you allow yourself to narrow your thinking about what they can or will engage with. Impact for me comes when I expect more, both of my pupils and of myself.

#pedagooglasgow
PedagooGlasgow

It’s been a while coming but I’m in the proud position to announce that PedagooGlasgow is on. After some healthy consultation with the University of Strathclyde, we will be holding an event on Saturday June 14, in Glasgow. We are still fleshing out the details but the day will take a similar form to the Fringe event we held a couple of years back and the PedagooLibraries event last June. A selection of workshops will be available with, hopefully, four slots throughout the day so you are guaranteed to hear some amazing ideas. After some great events in England, it’s about time we got something happening in Scotland.

However, I’m determined that this Pedagoo event gets teachers in a room talking. There will be no speakers as such, although David Cameron ( @realdcameron) has agreed to attend so you never know. There will be few frills – might not even be wifi – so the emphasis is on collaboration and conversation. The event will take place in the Lord Hope Building of the University of Strathclyde so the space has been created with learning in mind. In true Peadgoo-style this will not be a series of lectures but a day of workshops in which everyone is encouraged to get involved. Active not passive.

But it will not happen without your contributions, your interaction, your presence. So, now, we invite anyone who would like to lead a workshop to sign up. We hope that we can offer workshops from all sectors; early years, Primary, Secondary, FE, all other educational establishments. Workshops will involve a twenty to twenty-five minute presentation style talk from the leader and fifteen or twenty minutes of audience participation in some form. Who knows, it may prove so popular that you have to run it twice. We’re aiming for about eight at a time, four slots during the day, so there are lots of opportunities if you haven’t done something like this before.

It is also very likely that there will be little in the form of catering available. A real back to basics event. We may need to improvise with a PedagooPicnic in the main room of the floor we are on; coffee, sandwiches etc. We have no sponsorship so if I can find any coppers down the back of the settee then I’ll see what I can do. Shops are close by but it may be better to bring something. Who knows, you may share some great things over lunch, perhaps with those at workshops you couldn’t attend. Remember that’s what Pedagoo is all about. Getting teachers in a room to talk.

Pedagoo started three years ago when we were very much in the early stages of this final push into the new Curriculum in Scotland. We have all come a long way. But it is hugely exciting to be able to gather again and discuss the progress we have made in Scotland. We could be on the verge of something very special and we’re the ones to make that happen. By this time next year all assessment changes will be in place, more or less, and we will have what we have. The glass is only half full. Let’s make a start on filling it properly. Sign up now: Pedagoo.org/glasgow

#PedagooWonderland

0530 on a Saturday morning is difficult, cold and after another long night of the ashes, very miserable. However, I was off to a Pedagoo event, packed with exciting speakers, thoughtful teachers, inspiring individuals and I was pretty confident that my chosen Saturday CPD event was going to be brilliant. It was…

The first thing that blew me away (after registering with the very welcoming pupils of the school) was the amazing building. It was bright, clean, tidy and very much the type of modern building I come to expect when I go ‘somewhere nice’. Just as our children know when they are being shortchanged as regards use of windows XP on old PC’s, they know it when they walk into a dingy building which is in desperate need of a paint job. Michael Gove said that the building and environment of a school makes no difference. I drive past these buildings at Fettes and Stewart’s Melville on the way to my school every day. Clearly, environment makes a difference.

The other thing about the building I loved was the use of images of Joseph Swan children working, often with ideas about how they work, or slogans/quotations about respect, reading etc behind them. That is something I will try and create in the next couple of weeks if energies allow as it looks so good and inspires.

Whilst having my complimentary tea and danish pastry (which would contravene the bring your own tea and biscuits policy of many councils) I set about reading my welcome pack. I loved the Happy Mondays leaflet which contained loads of great, ready to use, ideas for enhancing and reinforcing learning in the classroom. The Happy Mondays reference is because the teachers at Joseph Swan receive and e-mail every Monday, with a new idea or resource in it from their SMT. I love that idea!

MY first session of the day was in the Reading Room (and what an amazing space that is…) with David Hodgson. David talked about how we learn and how we can use techniques in the classroom to help children learn and remember how they learned things. As a primary teacher I get asked lots of questions from the children and my most frequent answer to them is good question. I don’t believe in throwing the knowledge confetti about for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not convinced the children will remember it whilst they walk back to their desks and secondly I (or A.N.Other teacher) will not always be there for them when they have a question or want to learn something. The things we did in his session were all practical examples of an NLP approach, and I was so impressed I bought his book for my Kindle this morning. He used this pupil feelings graphic in his session too which I find a useful tool to have by my desk in the class room. Something David said which rang a bell was that we should ensure our children ‘Have a get out clause for children when they don’t learn’. This is vital, so often our children get way more stressed than we ever do about a wrong answer. We need them to take risks, get it wrong, change it and get it wrong again, smiling all the time! That is a successful learner right there.

The next session was with Rachel Orr who is HT at Holy Trinity Rosehill Her workshop was about developing writing through Primary Learning and specifically using Pie Corbett’s talk for writing work. I had worked on a Pie Corbett workshop for writing day before (January 2007??) and it was amazing. I’ve bought a few of his books and love his approach to writing. There is a lot of material on the internet too to supplement his written work. I also liked the punctuation sounds and actions which children are to use when they are talking and can then reinforce the assessment process in class. Rachel has used Pie’s work in two differing schools now and shared with us examples of the successes her young writers had, and these examples cal be seen on her school blogs. Rachel gave us a disk with loads of fantastic resources on, many her own work (the learning keys are a great idea!).

During lunch I met some great folk including @spiceweasel77 who is doing some brilliantly exciting things with his class!

After lunch it was on to Hywel Roberts session. Hywel spoke passionately and humourously about creating contexts in the curriculum, allowing the children to view the learning they are given through their own filters and engaging children in their learning. I made loads of notes during Hywel’s session and later tweeted many of them. Here’s the quotations I tweeted:

‘It’s our job to get the World thinking.’

‘We need to dig learning holes for our children to fall into.’

‘we are the people who make sense of the curriculum we are given. ‘

‘Have a what’s great 2 mins at the start of staff meetings’

‘we need to induct our kids into learning’

‘all of these things are just doing the job we’ve been asked to do. That we’re paid for. ‘

I’ve got Hywel’s book and it’s a great read. I need to do more of this in my classes. It’s great stuff. I was incredibly impressed with Hywel and the way he works in schools.

Finally, my last session was about using enquiry based learning in maths. Stephanie Thirtle took this session, she is a maths teacher at Joseph Swan. (I’d love The Girl to have her as a maths teacher, lessons would be so interesting!)
We did some enquiry based openers which really got us thinking and she talked about the approach of letting the children work things out for themselves, rather than an I teach then you do model. I love the work things out idea and think the way she’s bringing it to maths in a high school works really well. Much of the rationale for enquiry based learning was on her presentation and clearly showed examples of enquiry based learning which we could use as one-off lessons or develop for a maths topic. Such things investigating square numbers, straight line graphs using algebra, and one which P7 will be seeing soon – 12 Days of Christmas maths.
Her room displays were wonderful and I snapped many of them on my phone and you can see them here. I particularly liked that ways she put maths into context making it real for the children.
That chimed so well with the session from Hywel previously.

I came away with my head full of wonderful ideas and a bag full of goodies!
So, what next…well before Christmas I will make some posters of children and their ideas about learning to go up in school and I will also make some musical posters for the music room.

After Christmas I will take loads more of these ideas and run with them. It’ll be different, fun and learning will happen.

NationalModeration.co.uk – a new(ish) approach to assessment moderation

As requested by @fkelly , I’ve decided to throw a quick post together about www.nationalmoderation.co.uk – a service I created to allow Scottish teachers to share their own unit assessments for the new National Qualifications.

Essentially the creation of this website was spurred by one glaringly obvious reality – the unit assessments provided by the SQA are simply not up to scratch, and as a consequence everybody is creating their own material and hoping that it meets the standards. Ón the face of it, this may be no bad thing – if we create our own unit assessments then we can tailor them to our own courses and our own pupils, and surely that is good idea?

To give an example, I have consciously themed my entire National 5 English course around the concept of ‘Coping with Conflict’, selecting texts which can be woven together across the whole year (‘Spiritual Damage’, ‘War Photographer’, ‘The Man I Killed’ and ‘Bold Girls’) – now that I am no longer forced to use a few set NABs I have also created reading assessments which follow this theme, thus enhancing the pupils’ overall understanding of what we are studying this year (at least this is the idea).

Several months ago, however, I realised that if EVERYONE does the same thing then there will be hundreds – perhaps thousands – of unit assessments being created across the country and many of us will be replicating the work that colleagues are doing (or have already done). Frankly, we all work too hard as it is to be reinventing the wheel hundreds of times over, so a system for sharing material is essential.

Of course, Education Scotland and the SQA are providing something along these lines, but there are two reasons why I believe it would be helpful for a service which is independent of these bodies. Firstly, the websites of these organisations (especially Education Scotland) are – to be kind – not particularly user friendly, and I (like many others) don’t have the time or the willpower to fight my way through Glow to find material on a regular basis; secondly, I firmly believe that the only way for us to ever really become confident in the development and delivery of our own materials is for us to move beyond a dependence on official bodies to confirm that every little thing is up to scratch.

If – or, depending on your philosophical view of the amount of fluid in a glass, when – Curriculum for Excellence fulfills its potential it will be because of the incredible work of teachers, not Education Scotland, the SQA or the Education Secretary, and I hope that NationalModeration might play a small part in that development.

Basically, it works like this: teachers upload their unit assessments, other teachers moderate them by leaving comments, alterations are made as required and, eventually, gradually, standards become clearer and are met across the country.

At present the site only has English assessments but it would be great if other subjects could begin contributing materials as well (I’ll create however many subject specific pages are required in this instance). In order to sign up you must be teacher in a Scottish school (and verify this, usually by means of an official email address) – this means that the material can be kept secure, allowing us to continue to use it in our classes as our official unit assessments.

If you think that the site would be of any help to you as you continue to develop your approach to the new qualifications please do sign up – the more people are involved the more effective our approach will be.

A TERM WITH YEAR 9 – HOW CAN I SHOW MY STUDENTS HISTORY MATTERS?

Why is history in the curriculum?

I’m not being rude but it doesn’t actually help you in your daily life.”

To punish people.”

So if anyone asks you a question you could answer instead of saying I don’t know.”

(Quotations from students in Richard Harris and Tony Haydn, ‘Children’s Ideas about School History and why they matter’, pp. 45-46)

Not all student responses looked like this, but these individuals’ words exemplify a problem: although 70% of those questioned claimed history was useful, fewer than a third were able to articulate why.*

It is possible that the absence of a clear and developed understanding of why they are learning about the past, and about the discipline of history, is impacting negatively on pupil effort and attainment in history, and on take-up rates post-14.”

(Ibid., p. 48)

A few months ago, noting that motivation correlates with attainment and GCSE choices, I argued that demonstrating the relevance of history to students is important if they are to immerse themselves in learning and recognise the subject’s importance.  In that post, I mentioned having spent a year working on this problem with a Year 9 class.  This post describes and evaluates my actions and their reactions during our first term together, as I tried to persuade them that history matters.

Who better to explore this with than Year 9 (thirteen/fourteen year olds)?  In most schools this is their last year of compulsory history, so it is critical in cementing their understanding of the past.  Most students are pretty confident at the beginning of Year 9 whether or not they will choose to study history in their GCSEs; the majority conclude they will not (nationally, a third of students study History GCSE, figures replicated in my former school).  History is a hard sell: a large proportion of students see the subject as difficult and irrelevant to both everyday life and their future careers.  Moreover, Year 9 is the dip: equidistant from the bright-eyed enthusiasm of entry into a school in Year 7 and maximum pressure from school, parents and usually, students themselves, in Year 11.  Proving history matters is a challenging task in this context, but a vital one.

What did my class think of history?

I was teaching a mixed ability class; most of the students were new to me – if we can overlook a disastrous cover lesson I’d had with a third of the group the previous summer.  The head of year was characteristically upbeat, noting that “You’ve got a very bright class here” and saying less about their fairly unenviable behavioural reputation.  She did mention that a couple of parents had never heard anything good about their children and if I managed to ring home positively early, it would be worth my while.

At the end of our first lesson together, I asked students to answer: ‘How do you feel about history?  The picture below shows my summary of reasons why students said they didn’t like the subject:

Relevance2

Above all, they expressed the idea that it was ‘not useful’ or ‘irrelevant to my life’ and ‘boring,’ a word which came up more than any other.  Only four students had anything positive to say about the subject… it seemed pretty clear to me that embarking on the (pretty dry) prescribed course was unlikely to achieve anything.

There is sufficient evidence of school or departmental effect in the data to suggest that teachers can have an influence on pupils’ understanding of the purpose of school history.”

(Ibid., p. 47)

My goal was to teach students to love history and to recognise its profound importance to their lives…  but I believed this was something they had to realise for themselves.  So I began by asking:

What questions matter to you?

I began with the still on the right from from the Italian Job and asked students what questions they would wish to ask about this picture – they came up with a good range: What had happened?  Was the driver drunk?  And so on.

Italian Job

I then developed an idea from Teaching as a Subversive Activity and asked students to imagine that they were redesigning the school curriculum from scratch, without reference to tests or syllabuses.  What questions would they want answered in such a curriculum?  I was nervous at this point as to how well they would respond to the idea; results varied, this is a representative sample:

  • If you were in a fight with one of your friends and you seriously hurt them, and no one saw you, would you take them to hospital or leave and pretend nothing every happened?
  • How did music emerge as a global phenomenon?
  • Why is there school? Why do we need education?
  • Can you explain global warming?
  • Is there something you can’t live without?
  • What do you aspire to be in the future?
  • Would you give your life for people you care about?

I closed by returning to the list of questions about the bus and asked what did almost all of the questions refer to?  The idea I was trying to convey was that we have to look to the past for answers to every question except one (what happens next?) we can predict an answer to this based on all the other answers.

How can history help us answer the questions that matter to us?

I wanted students to see how a historical question can help answer a philosophical or ‘life’ question, so I began with an easy example: one student had asked ‘Is Arsenal rubbish?’ so I invited students to break this down into smaller questions (for example, how many goals did they score last season?)  They then extended this to formulate historical questions which helped answered some of their other (more interesting) questions.  I also offered them some of my own historical questions (ensuring there was at least one historical question linked with each philosophical question); examples which linked with the questions I listed above included:

  • Why did the Victorians let children not go to school?
  • What did Roman people think you couldn’t live without?
  • What did the Ancient Greeks think was the meaning of life?

Finally, students voted on the question which they most wanted to research.

I wrote to a friend after this lesson: “I’ve been reading their books and from the last lesson some of them did write stuff like – now I realise the past can help us understand other questions… so I think it can work.”  And as another friend said to me at the same time, my having promised to prove that history mattered and let them choose their question “You have to honour that!”  I was unsure where things were going, but it looked like the right direction.  So I prepared to help my students answer their question through history.

‘Are you a leader or a follower?’

This was my students’ chosen question, and it was a gift to a history teacher.  I designed a lesson which explored this question from a range of angles: looking at why so many people voted for the Nazis, what made leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi successful and, by my students’ request, how fashion trends spread.  I also asked a wonderful Year 13 Psychology student to visit the class and explain Stanley Milgram’s ‘Obedience to Authority’ electric shock experiments.  Students spent a lesson examining these different examples of leadership & following and at the end, I asked them whether they were leaders or followers based on what they’d learned.

Over the next two lessons, students created presentations on different aspects of what we had learned: how we had got this far, what history suggested made a leader and a follower, what we had decided about ourselves and the skills we had developed.  They then presented what they had done to the head of year (and I had it filmed as well).

Other ways of demonstrating relevance

Although the hardest bit of the ‘selling’ process was over, I devoted the rest of the term to continuing this push.  We looked at propaganda as a tool during World War I – and applied this knowledge to modern advertising.  We worked on essay-writing and persuasion – as a tool for history and for life.  And we studied the origins of the London riots (one of the highlights of this was Zelal popping into a police station, on her own initiative, to enquire into the racial disparities in arrest statistics).  At every point, I devoted time to the ‘so what’ question – underscoring the importance of what we were doing.

In the spring term I pushed the class to create far better work – which matched their interest in the subject, rewriting essays and seeing some great essays from some of my students.  In the summer I focused on sharing what we’d learned and organised a trip to a local primary school to teach them what we had been learning, in which every student had a role presenting, teaching or supporting Year 6 students.  Again, every topic we studied or skill we refined, I set time aside to consider why it mattered.

The results

Avowed beliefs: In January asked students to write postcards addressed to my Year 9s next year which summarised why history matters (as I explained, to save me the time of those new students misbehaving before they recognised why the subject mattered).  The noteworthy factor is that no one refused, no one said ‘I don’t know what to say.’  No one wrote nothing – so all of them had gained some impression that history was useful.*

Choosing History GCSE: When it came to their choices, seventeen students chose to study history and seven didn’t – a rate which was three times the school average.  I asked them to explain to me as best they could why they had chosen history; my summaries are below (some students made more than one relevant question):

CIMG6153

(Two students were absent on the day I asked this question, both of whom had chosen history).

And as to why they hadn’t…

CIMG6154

Academic results: I received some absolutely brilliant pieces of work – the highlight being the student who moved from apparently being on level 3 to level 7.  That said, a handful of students made no progress on paper- primarily because a cunning combination of absence, time in the school’s behaviour unit and avoidance of homework meant I barely saw any of their written work; that said, I should have done more to chase those individuals.

‘Prosocial behaviour’: This one’s harder to evidence, but students displayed better attitudes to learning and school more generally.  Firstly, I ceased calling for help from my head of department/form tutors/the head of year/school behaviour unit, because off-task behaviour was sufficiently limited, and relationships were good enough, that I could address this unaided.  This was a novel situation with me for an entire Year 9 class – every previous year we reached a point in the summer where one or two students had adopted such a consistently negative attitude (and had long since chosen not to study GCSE History) that they were removed entirely from history lessons.  More tentatively, I would argue that there was a power in students having a subject which they enjoyed, succeeded in, had a teacher to say something positive about them in parents’ evenings…  I don’t know what it counted for in their wider lives, but I do know that one parent claimed she dropped the phone when I rang to say her daughter was doing well (first positive call home ever).  The same student (who was a bit of a terror), came up to me near the end of my time at the school and said: ‘I don’t want you to leave.’  And then wandered off.  What does that count for in the great scheme of things?  I’m not sure: but I’d like to hope it was worth something

Evaluation

Focusing on persuading students history matters meant I spent a lot of time thinking about the purposes of my lessons and considering how best to communicate this with my students.  It led me to work in a more democratic way – a managed democracy, certainly, but one in which I gave my students genuine choices and was open with them about the rationale for what was on offer and the decisions I made.  The more I did this and they responded, the more I was happy to be open and honest about the problems I was facing or things I didn’t know how to do.  Clarity about purposes and honesty with them improved our relationships and meant that they better understood why they were doing what they were doing and so chose to buy into it.

My plans evolved as I worked.  Although there were some things I had in mind early on (like visiting a primary school) much was unplanned; there were many points at which I wasn’t clear about much beyond the next step.  I acted by instinct and – for the most part – it worked – but it was pretty terrifying at times and it’s not something I would recommend lightly.

Were I doing this again, I would insist on a higher standard of work and behaviour from the start.  At the time I though I was doing pretty well – I judge myself now against a school with higher non-negotiables.  The time to chase every child and every piece of work myself, together with another four Key Stage 3 classes, Year 10s, Year 11s, A-level coursework and the UCAS system simply wasn’t there (especially in a system which demanded assessment and data entry six times a year).  I’m in awe of those who can honestly do this and maintain their sanity.  I did throw my teddies out of the pram on one occasion and make the whole class rewrite an essay – and I got some very high quality writing from some students.  However…  I now feel that I could have done more than I did.

Did they learn enough?  Possibly not.  They learned a lot – but among other things I dropped some topics to provide enough time to do others well.  I told myself then that I’d done more of a favour by getting them to study history so they would keep learning.  I look at these things differently now and appreciate this better – more knowledge and understanding provides the secure basis for later success.  Could I have pushed them further?  When I visited the school again in October, many of them were struggling with their GCSEs.  Why?

I had a massive amount of latitude.  I was in an ‘Outstanding’ school, subject to only one lesson observation a year.  I don’t think anyone really knew what I was doing…  How acceptable is this?  Had I had to follow the curriculum to the letter, I’m sure I would have been faced by some fairly mutinous students all year.  And yet most schools do not provide this space for teachers.  What would I recommend to teachers who don’t have this latitude?  I think spending five minutes at the end of a lesson to discuss why the lesson just studied matters – how it links with our lives or the present day.  But there’s a broader question here: if teachers (and schools) don’t have freedom to innovate and experiment, how can they meet the needs of their students?  Equally, once they do have that freedom, what’s to keep their choices at least somewhere related to their straight and narrow.

Intervention in Year 9 is too late!  This worked, but it’s not the best way to do it.  If you are trying to convert students from a negative impression of the subject, it’s hard work doing this in a year.  It can be done, but this is not the most productive approach.  We need to work harder in Year 7 to ensure students love and appreciate history.

Nor does an approach like this substitute for effective behaviour management, on the part of the school and the teacher.  One of my struggles was getting all my students to try as hard as I’d have liked them to do on their written work – or indeed, any task needing sustained application.  Equally, classroom management alone is sufficient neither to ensure students’ best efforts nor to ensure students pursue your subject with genuine interest.

Much of what I did doesn’t diverge far from what we might teach anyway.  Everything I taught was on the syllabus, except the London Riots (and even that was just a tweak of the syllabus: we studied the crisis in Syria this year in Year 8, of which more anon).  What this approach does is reverses the agenda, or the direction I’m pursuing – beginning with students and moving to history, rather than treating history as thing to press onto students.  The best case is having seen an example like the one above, students recognise the links between what matters to them and what they learn and then formulate them independently: one of my students in Year 7 did this spontaneously last week for almost the first time ever.

Conclusion – would I do it again?

Curriculum time is precious at Key Stage 3, but investment in these inputs can make all the difference between desultory compliance on the part of pupils, and wholehearted and enthusiastic commitment to wanting to do history, to do well in it, and to do it for as long as possible.

(Ibid., p. 48)

Aspects of what I’ve described above still make me uncomfortable.  There are many things which I would change: for a start, I would demand far better written work from the beginning.  I would be less sanguine about playing fast and loose with the curriculum.  One particular thought-experiment I haven’t considered enough if how I would react as a head of department if one of my teachers did this without talking to me about it first (as I did).

On the other hand, I believe the fundamental approach is sound.  I went from having four students who had something positive to say about history at the start of the year, to having seventeen choose to keep studying the subject.  Moreover, irrespective of their choices, students experienced things of enduring value: persuasive essay writing, identifying and analysing propaganda and teaching primary school students.   This experience has shaped a unit themed around historical relevance with which I begin the Year 7 curriculum (and similar units for Years 8 and 9).  With each class, the approach I take is different (I may come back to this in future) but with all of the, the result should look something like this – three photos of Year 7 work from last half term:

CIMG6089 CIMG6079

CIMG6074

Notes

* It’s not entirely clear from Harris and Haydn’s published report how bad the picture is.  70% of their respondents said history was useful.  Of 1,500 comments about its usefulness, 658 were tautological ‘It’s on the curriculum because people need to learn it.’  Over 250 appeared to offer statements which demonstrated an understanding of the rationale as expressed by the National Curriculum.  Over 200 responses related to employment – although many (around 50) were phrased as though history would only be useful if you wished to be a history teacher/work in a museum.  The best guess possible from the article is that around 400 students, from a sample of 1,500 who commented, were able to articulate ‘valid’ purposes of school history.

* More tricksy psychology: asking people to persuade others of something makes them more likely to believe it themselves.  I knew by this stage I wasn’t going to be at the school next year, but I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise for my students.

Further reading

There doesn’t seem to be much written about this – please point me towards exciting things I’ve missed.

Richard Harris and Tony Haydn,‘Children’s Ideas about School History and why they matter,’ Teaching History, 132, September 2008 (paywall) although you can download the full report here.

Ben Walsh has an E-CPD unit at the History Association website on exactly this question – again, behind a paywall.

I write lots more at improvingteaching.co.uk and I’m on twitter as @HFletcherwood