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The Best Lesson I Never Taught
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As part of lesson study in my school (Soham Village College) I decided to try and develop a one off lesson which involved no teacher participation at all! Obviously careful preparation was paramount to success and the lesson did take several hours to put together. The activities were not as rigorous as I would usually plan for in a GCSE history lesson (some were pretty much there for fun) but it was a fascinating experiment and experience and demonstrated just how well students can work in collaboration (and independently) if we give them the opportunity.

Students came in – creepy music playing – tables set out with mixed ability group names on and an A4 envelope which stated – ‘Do not open until told to do so’. Groups were carefully selected in advance.

I handed a scroll to a quiet but able student which said – ‘You are the only person allowed to touch the computer this lesson – get up and open the folder called ‘start here’ – after the video has played ensure the screen with all of the folders on is visible’. Handing this student the note was the one and only teacher interaction for the whole lesson.

1

The student opened the intro video and I appeared on screen dressed as a creepy clown – this set the ‘mystery/horror’ mood of the lesson – the clown tells the class that if they are ever to leave they need to solve the mysteries and riddles during the lesson.

2

The clown tells the students to open the envelopes on the table. Inside they find a selection of sources, an A3 grid and an instruction sheet. Very quickly and efficiently the students worked out what to do. An interesting observation at this point was how natural leaders developed in groups and how groups took different approaches. Some choose to split the work amongst the group to speed up time. Others choose to work as one group with one member reading the sources to the rest. From my observations all students were involved in this first task.

3This task took them about 13 minutes and involved them trying to decide if the sources (9 in total) were for or against the statement on 19th century policing – at this point I was interested (and slightly nervous) as to what would happen next. They had no further instructions – all the clown had said was that the code would be revealed if they got it right. It was fascinating to watch as one student got up and started checking what other groups had got – the class worked together sharing thoughts until eventually they released that there were 5 sources for the statement and 4 against – this matched one of the folders on the screen ‘5F4A’ – the student chosen at the start moved to the PC opened the folder and this revealed the second clown video.

This video congratulated them and then told them to look under their chairs – which caused great excitement! Under selected chairs I had stuck words. There was no further instruction. The students who had words removed them – some students then took a lead and it was fascinating to see them organise themselves. They decided to use sellotape to pin the words onto the board – then they started rearranging them to make sense – it took no time at all for them to work out the message – ‘Look between the black and blue book on the shelf’. This then gave them the next batch of A4 envelopes.

4

5These A4 envelopes contained an article on the police and a sheet with another statement – this time on the failure of the police to catch Jack the Ripper. They had to read the article and identify reasons as to why the murderer was never caught and how far this was the fault of the police force. They worked out fairly quickly that this would reveal another code. Again they worked well and shared their findings across groups. One problem was that they only completed one side of the table as they quickly realised there was only one folder with 4 agree (4A 5D). Although this showed good initiative it meant they did not fully consider the arguments against the statement. Once solved the allocated student opened the folder and the clown appeared again. He is getting more erratic and evil by this point! The clown tells them to look under the recycling bin where they find the envelopes for the next task.

6The penultimate task involved the class trying to break 4 different codes – some involved replacing numbers with letters others involved changing letters – they were given no instruction as to what the code might be. It was interesting to observe how groups worked again. Some groups worked as a four – one code at a time. Other groups split and took a code each. The natural leaders worked out that working as a class was the most efficient method some students starting asking the whole class if any were solved yet. They were looking for factors as to why the crime rate fell in the late 1800s. Once they solved all 4 riddles they worked out they needed to open the folder called – Police, living, prisons, tax.

On opening the final video the clown presented the class with a riddle to solve. They were told that once they had solved it they should open the cupboard at the back of the class. They played the video a couple of times and then one student solved it. This was a special moment as the person who solved the riddle is an FFT E grade prediction – for a moment there she became the class hero!

When they opening the cupboard they were presented with 5 envelopes – ‘The Maid’ – ‘The Gardener’ – ‘The Butler’ – ‘The Wife’ – ‘The Cook’. The answer to the riddle was the maid. On opening this envelope they got the final code.

The final video gave them the end silly message from the clown and concluded the lesson. The whole thing had lasted 55 minutes – timings could not have been more perfect! I had not spoken to the class for the whole lesson (just sat at the back largely ignored by the students) and the only action taken during the whole lesson was handing the note to the student at the very beginning!

 

A Marriage? Challenge Based Learning and Collaborative Group Learning
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When designing a Curriculum which,

fully activates the processes across the Socialised-Learning Continuum, supports the application of the principles within each process stage of the Socialised-Learning Continuum and facilitates the application of a Collaborative Group Learning Pedagogy,

it is my belief that, in both its structural and applied (pedagogy) forms, it must be Collaborative, Connected, Challenging, Authentic in nature and driven by Concepts and Problems. Above all the Curriculum must be learner-centric and a educational route towards a Liberated Learning capacity.

A number of Curriculum approaches exist globally. Many would fundamentally fail to achieve the goals outlined above either due to their structural constraints but more likely due to their underpinning philosophies being at odds with the philosophies of liberation inherent in the vision of education these articles collectively champion.  Many, with reorientation, offer tried and proven approaches which align well with the ultimate aims of Collaborative Group Learning. Such Curriculum are epitomised by the International Middle Years Curriculum, the International Baccalaureate, High Tech Highs Project Based Learning (being applied here in London at School21) and Expeditionary Learning (which I recently observed in action at XP School in Doncaster).

In this article I want to present and discuss Apple’s (yes as in the IT Giant) Challenge Based Learning (CBL) as a model for Curriculum which I feel could help engineer and facilitate the processes, goals and aims discussed in this collection of articles.

I have drawn extensively from the Challenge Based Learning community to construct this article. 


What is Challenge Based Learning?

Challenge Based Learning is a collaborative learning experience in which teachers and students work together to learn about compelling issues, propose solutions to real problems, and take action. The approach asks students to reflect on their learning and the impact of their actions and publish their solutions to a worldwide audience.

As is highlighted in this opening statement, CBL promotes a process and structure of learning in tune with those of CGL.

It is clear that CBL seeks to mirror the 21st century workplace and it does this by promoting a Curriculum which make sure participants:

  1. Work in collaborative groups
  2. Authentically use technology commonly found in the workplace
  3. Tackle real-world problems using a multidisciplinary approach
  4. Develop practical solutions to these problems
  5. Implement and evaluate the solutions in conjunction with authentic audiences

The promotion of collaborative groups naturally reflects something I hold dear. However the CBL community have no stedfast rules to how these collaborative groups are constructed and seem to allow groups to reform from Challenge to Challenge. I believe this approach limits the effectiveness of CBL and CBL would be enhanced by applying the principles of CGL outlined within these articles (6, sustained, heterogeneous).

A real-world problem can stimulate increased interest, heightens engagement and gives value to the learning. Above all it makes learning authentic taking it out of the silo of a classroom and giving the development of KUS practical application, which is of course the reality of the ‘adult world’. An authenticity which prepares todays learners for tomorrows demands on so many levels.

Multidisciplinary approaches, facilitated by the a real-world problem, again promotes authenticity. The ‘real world’ is not a closed system where we apply KUS from just one discipline to solve problems of life, it is an open system where the messy ‘real world’ requires a messy application of KUS from so many disciplines to traverse the obstacles of life in its broadest sense. As such a Curriculum should model this very real way of learning and application and only through such a multidisciplinary approach can this be truly achieved.

I really like how CBL furthers this by ensuring every student produces, applies and evaluates a solution to the posed problem. A number of Curriculum will feature 1,2,3 but not go as far as 4 and 5. The creation of a solution, again mirroring the ‘real world’, makes education more than just knowledge consumption and regurgitation. Knowledge generation, solutions of practical worth, gives increased value to this Curriculum. Blending CGL and CBL has the potential of creating diverse solutions from diverse thinking, thinking made stronger through the application of CGL principles of group construction.

The community draw attention to the need to

  1. Connect standards-based subject matter to 21st century content and skills; thus requiring considerate mapping of subject Knowledge, Understanding and Skills across the Curriculum.
  2. Recognise that the teacher’s role is that of project manager, mentor; and, as I see it ultimately a resource.
  3. Let students determine the direction of their research and solution; thus fostering a capacity for Liberated Learning. 
  4. Enable students to have the opportunity to act on their solutions; giving the overall endeavour authenticity and moving education from knowledge consumption to knowledge generation. 

As I have written in a previous article new Curriculum approaches and pedagogies which seek to facilitate Collaborative learning processes require teachers to think and work differently. The CBL community recognise this highlighting that the task of the teacher in this new capacity is to work with students to take multidisciplinary standards-based content, connect it to what is happening in the world today, and translate it into an experience in which students make a difference in their community; a community which I feel scales up from local through regional, national to the  global. Accomplishing this goal necessitates teachers to give students structure, support, checkpoints, and the right tools to get their work done successfully, while allowing them enough freedom to be self-directed, creative, and inspired. Naturally the extent of ‘freedom’ should increase over time and as learners develop in competence with power moving from teacher to the learner; liberation.

The CBL community reflect on the evolution of the teacher role: Early on—when you introduce Challenge Based Learning to your students and set up the challenge—you are actively guiding the process by making decisions, communicating information, teaching skills, and answering questions about how the process works and what is expected of your students. In the middle stages, students take charge of planning and researching their own work and you serve primarily as a mentor working alongside the students, helping them through the rough spots and keeping them on track. In the later stages, students are deeply engaged in their own work while you monitor the mastery of required knowledge and skills through appropriate assessments. Finally, you will transition into the role of product manager supporting the students as they implement, evaluate, and publish their solutions and results.

I have reflected on this evolution within my Socialised-Learning Continuum approach where the shifting role of teacher, power, control and self-regulation is facilitated at each process stage from the Group towards the Liberated.

What are the Procedural Processes of Challenge Based Learning?

Challenge Based Learning begins with a Big Idea and cascades to the following:

  • the essential question;
  • the challenge;
  • guiding questions, activities, and resources;
  • determining and articulating the solution;
  • implementing the solution;
  • evaluating the results;
  • publishing the solution and sharing it with the world.

The Big Idea exists at a Conceptual level, for example Resolution, Conflict, Justice, and is then explored via the negotiation of a relevant Challenge, which is presented initially as a Driving Question and a community focused problem to be investigated. Such a question needs to be complex, requiring Foundational and Non-foundational knowledge to be drawn upon alongside a synthesis of skills from a  diverse range of subject disciplines.

Reflection, documentation and informative-formative assessment are an important part of the process at every stage as they reinforce learning, an importantly inform next steps and provide evidence of learning (collected and recorded in some form of portfolio). Self, Peer and teacher assessment should be applied throughout to facilitate the above.

Due to the CBL emphasis on exploring topics from many angles and through the lens of multiple disciplines teachers from different disciplines should work together. This not only enhances multidisciplinary approaches, provides the right level of discipline expertise/support while respecting and modelling the CGL approach of working in groups. To facilitate this form of teacher collaboration it is not just the Challenge and problem which need to be multidisciplinary but also we need to recognise the need for physical multidisciplinarity. Timetabling of staff, the design of teaching spaces, the application of technology, providing time for collaborative planning, evaluation and assessment, all need to be planned to enable this important aspect of CBL. Any school wishing to implement something akin to CBL must recognise and tackle these challenges.

Throughout the challenge the students, collaboratively and individually, must be provided with the opportunity to create a variety of products or, as I prefer, artefacts, which include:

  • a challenge proposal video,
  • a set of guiding questions,
  • research plans and results,
  • solutions with beta testing plans and evaluation parameters,
  • a solution video,
  • student journals, and
  • individual reflection videos.

Such artefacts provide evidence of thinking and the means to formatively and summatively assess learning as a process and its outcome. Also through portfolios it provides the evidence of progress for all stakeholders. The quantity and depth of products will depend on where the students enter the process and the length of the challenge. I believe that it is important that at the beginning of the challenge, teachers and students should work together to define the products and determine how they will be assessed, co-creating criteria guided by existing standards. This potentially increases understanding of requirements, buy-in and authenticity, when defined as personalisation.

Assessment, which I believe should be as feedback and feedforward, should be scheduled and should be regular. While CBL puts much of the responsibility in the hands of students, this is one area where the role of teacher is vital; mentoring, monitoring and managing. Examples of some prompts the CBL community use during these checkpoints are:

  • What part of the process are you working on this week?
  • What new knowledge or skills have you acquired this week?
  • What has been your biggest success this week?
  • What has been your biggest challenge this week?
  • How is your group doing as a team?
  • What are your top priorities for next week?

Summative assessment should take a variety of forms to meet the needs of the particular situation. With CBL a summative ‘event’ is built in with the completion and implementation of the solution. The solution will be tested in the real world and students will receive immediate and direct feedback, not just from peers and teacher but also from the authentic audience of that solution.

The Solution, Implementation, Evaluation Stage of Challenge Based Learning.

Using the research findings, gathered throughout the activities of the Challenge, students identify and consider a range of supported solutions before selecting the one that will be implemented. This key element of CBL is what makes it unique to other zeitgeist Curriculum. The solution they choose may involve

informing and/or convincing family, peers, or community members about the need for change;

specific actions that can be taken to address their challenge on an ongoing basis;

school or community improvement projects;

and other activities.

I think it is important to encourage the students to be creative in designing and carrying out their solutions and to document their activities. Naturally the desired levels of complexity present within the solution would be increased with the development of a learners KUS competency.

After identifying their solutions, the students will implement them, measure outcomes, reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and determine whether they made progress in addressing the challenge. When implementation is complete, students share their work with the rest of the world. I think this stage is a real strength of CBL. Quantitively and qualitatively evaluating the solution, ‘doing science’, with others gives the final outcome real value to the community while taking ‘real world’ learning to an increased level of complexity; a level most don’t experience until Postgraduate research.

Throughout the project students document their experience using audio, video, and photography. Near the culmination of the challenge, students build their solution video and record their reflections. The three-to-five minute solution video should include a description of the challenge, a brief description of the learning process, the solution, and the results of the implementation.

Students are encouraged to keep individual written, audio, or video journals throughout the process. As a culminating event, students can be provided a series of prompts for final reflections about what they learned about the subject matter and the process.

These solution videos, reflection videos, and any supporting documents should be shared with the world through web-based communities. It is also ideal to have a public event with all of the participants at the school or in the community to celebrate their efforts and thank those who have assisted. This could evolve into a Celebration of Learning, a wonderful learner-centric alternative to the stale Parents Evening.

The model of Curriculum presented here in the form of CBL aligns well with CGL and with minor tweaks, in particular the application of Collaborative Group construction, could be the basis of an exceptional Curriculum applied at a range of ‘academic levels’ here in the United Kingdom.

As ever keen to here peoples thoughts on this reflection.


Further information about Challenge Based Learning can be found here:

https://www.challengebasedlearning.org/pages/welcome

http://ali.apple.com/cbl/resources.shtml

https://www.challengebasedlearning.org/public/toolkit_resource/02/0e/0df4_af4e.pdf?c=f479

Framework


Cross-posted from COLLABORATIVE GROUP LEARNING

NEW TERM, NEW CHALLENGE
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The recent figures announced by the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland show a year on year rise in reported disability hate crime – the only area of hate crime to have risen. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We would agree with The Lord Advocate that disability-related crimes are still being under-reported and welcome further work to change this.

The horrific murder of Lee Irving in Newcastle only highlights the discrimination and physical and verbal intimidation that people who have learning disabilities experience day in day out.

It can be so common that it is often not reported.

It is heartening to see police and prosecutors dealing with the problem robustly, but disabled people need to have more confidence in the reporting system. They also need to see a change in public attitude that supports this.

Our members have told us about their experiences and that is why we launched our campaign #bethechange last year, to highlight disability hate crime and the last taboo of the verbal abuse people who have disabilities suffer. The words they said particularly hurt were mong, spaz and retard.

As part of that campaign, we have produced resources for teachers to use in the classroom to help future generations stamp out this problem.

We know that many of the current generation of school pupils do not tolerate this sort of abuse, but we need to let EVERY pupil know the damage and suffering hate crime can cause. Research shows that young people who have an understanding about learning disability are less likely to bully people who have a learning disability.

Our school resources are intended to help create a safe environment in which young people can learn more about learning disability to foster better understanding, meaning they are less likely to bully their peers who have learning disabilities or commit hate crime later in life.

Teachers can lead that process of learning and make a stand to #bethechange.

We would urge every teacher in Scotland to talk to their pupils about hate crime, and change attitudes so that pupils report these crimes, whether they are a victim themselves or a witness. And encourage them to sign up to our #bethechange challenge.

Jan Savage
Assistant Director Campaigns and Membership
ENABLE Scotland

A Project Based Learning Opportunity for UK Teachers
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Pedagoo has teamed up with Dreamdo to offer an exciting opportunity to UK teachers. We’re recruiting teachers and their classes to talk part in a project-based learning pilot using Dreamdo’s fantastic resources.

What is Dreamdo all about? I’ll let them explain:

Dreamdo Schools is a biannual program that helps school classes all over the world do great projects in one semester. Participating in the program is free and any students from 7-19 years-old can take part. Any teacher and their students, anywhere in the world can join the program and become a part of a global network of teachers and students who dream and do.

Dreamdo Schools is aimed at inspired teachers who want to connect with other teachers and classes around the world to share their projects and learn from each other. Student projects can be used as part of a normal curriculum or as a complementary extracurriculum activity. There is no restriction on the theme of the project, as long as it is something students themselves decide to do.

Imagine how much your students would benefit from taking part in this online, international, project-based learning experience with growth mindsets underpinning the entire approach…for free!

What’s the catch? There isn’t one. Dreamdo is run by a not-for-profit in Finland and they already have schools taking part across Europe. They just want to increase participation internationally. All that they ask in return is that you give them feedback and, if you like it, to help spread the word amongst UK teachers.

How does it actually work? Check out this fantastic video guide to the site:

If this sounds as if this would be beneficial for you and your learners, please get in touch to by completing the form below.

Geography Revision Goodie Bags

I wanted to give my students a little something to remind them of their exam dates and to also equip them with various bits of stationary and revision aid resources.

I noticed on Twitter that a variety of different teachers across the country had received packs as part of their teacher wellbeing. I then started to notice others appearing for students in particular subjects. I first saw the idea from @Laura_Oleary who gave her students a brown bag with a number of different revision guides in.

I knew I didn’t have time to organise larger bags so decided to get coloured sweet bags for my students. In each pack there was; a black/coloured pen, a pencil, a highlighter, cue cards, chocolate bar, lollipop and a laminated mat to identify the important diagrams for the physical paper.

All ready to go!

In Geography students are required to answer three sections in the Physical paper and three in the Human paper. To remind the students about this I identified the date of their exam as well as the sections they needed to answer. The students were delighted to receive their packs, especially the boys with many of them asking if I had more cue cards to help with their revision. Another positive has been comments from parents who have said how happy their child was to receive something that had come from the teacher and would help them with their learning.

Thank you to all those fantastic teachers who are already doing this in their subject and sharing this with their students and others.

How can we differentiate in a way that gives pupils ownership of their learning pathways?
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I’m a big believer in pupil ownership of learning. After all, it’s not my brain that’s doing the work; it’s not my skills that are developing; and it’s not my exam result on a piece of paper at the end of the year. As teachers, I see our role as facilitators: enabling pupils to achieve their potential in a way that develops the skills to do it time and time again. For pupils to do this, they need to develop the independence and resilience that comes from making their own decisions about how they learn; what pace they learn at and how to approach success and failure.

I’ve been trying to achieve this with a group of Higher Biology students. These pupils are in a slightly unusual position of studying a two year Higher beginning in S4. Although this gives a lot of time for teaching the course and developing understanding, I find they often lack the independence and study skills that you might expect from older pupils taking a Higher course. To try and encourage them to make their own decisions about learning, I’ve been using SOLO taxonomy stations as a way of structuring- and differentiating- revision or flipped classroom lessons.

The idea is to use a simple quiz- usually multiple choice questions- alongside a SOLO taxonomy framework to help pupils self-assess their current levels of understanding. Once they decided which level they are working at, they set about on the task designed for that level, sometimes physically moving between tables designated for each station. The pictures below show the SOLO taxonomy framework and the recommended next steps. So for example, a pupil who is pre-structural or uni-structural may need to catch up on notes or work on keywords. At the multi-structural level, pupils are ready to try Knowledge and Understanding type questions that help them revise the facts; whilst those moving to relational are ready for more challenging questions that link the topic together, such as an essay. Finally, pupils who are working at the extended abstract level are challenged to apply and link up their knowledge, either to problem solving or new topics not yet studied.

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I’ve had a lot of success with these lessons. Firstly, it gives a quick and visual way to assess individual confidence and understanding of a topic around the room, by the level at which pupils choose to work. Although I generally encourage collaborative working, it’s good to see that pupils tend to work at the level they feel confident at, rather than just following their neighbour. Secondly, it gives me the chance to provide support to ALL pupils at appropriate level. Because everyone is working at their own pace, everyone is able to at least start the task independently- even if they may require help over small challenges- which means I’m not stuck trying to help one or two of the pupils who are struggling most. This means that all pupils, including the most able, get some of my time, and get the support and push they need. Thirdly, over the course of a lesson, pupils make progress that is obvious to me and them. The tasks are designed so that around two levels can be completed in a lesson (and sometimes I use timed targets to encourage some of the lazier pupils to achieve this!), so pupils can clearly see how they have improved by moving up the levels over the course of the lesson. And from there, they know what they need to do next to achieve a deep understanding of the topic. If they get the self-assessment stage wrong, and their understanding was better or worse than they thought, they quickly realise the task is too easy or too hard and adjust their working level appropriately.

I was observed a while back delivering this style of lesson to a Higher class. Whilst the feedback was very positive, the observer posed one key question: if this were a large class of challenging S2 pupils, instead of my eleven delightful Higher pupils, could this still work?

I was intrigued. Could it? Could my S2 class, who find self-assessment and working independently a real challenge, cope with making decisions about their learning in this way? Would they engage with the challenge, or would they simply use this as a way to avoid anything difficult? Inspired by a wonderful resource I found on the TES website, I used the idea of Nando’s takeaway menu as a lesson framework for a revision lesson on space and forces, with pupils selecting a starter, main course and dessert task:

Untitled

Just like with the SOLO stations, pupils took a quiz prior to choosing their tasks, and used the result to inform their decisions about what to do next. Pupils choose their three tasks based on its heat level: from extra mild through to extra hot. There was a nice twist here, as I have been working with this class on higher order thinking skills, and as the heat increased, the thinking skills required became gradually HOTter… get it?!

So… was it a success? Well yes, hugely in my opinion- and that of the colleague observing my lesson. Pupil engagement was massively improved compared to other lessons with that class. Pupils had a clear understanding of what they needed to do and seemed to be genuinely enjoying undertaking the tasks set. Misconceptions were being quashed left right and centre, as I found I had more time to spend talking about the topic with individual pupils. Pupils were tackling tasks involving applying, evaluating and creating with confidence, and pupils were also clearly proud of what they were achieving at each stage. And best of all, pupils could explain clearly not only why they had chosen each task, but what thinking skills they were practicing by doing it- developing metacognition around their own learning that I’d just not realised they were capable of.

Next week I’m leading a learning conversation about this at the BOCSH conference, Talking About Learning 2015 at Inveralmond High School. I’d like to talk about the opportunities but also the challenges I’ve found using these strategies, and how others are achieving these aims. My questions will be:

1. How can we help pupils to identify current understanding, to inform their targets and next steps?

I’ve found SOLO taxonomy to be an excellent framework for helping pupils to identify the current level at which they are working. However, it is limited by how well pupils understand what is required at each level. Do they comprehend the increase in understanding required to progress? What other strategies do people use to help pupils self-assess?

2. How can we ensure pupils challenge themselves, but have the chance to succeed?

Even if pupils understand what is required at each level, are they making good decisions about what task is the most likely to help them progress? Interestingly, boys often select tasks from a level above where I would have put them; whilst girls often work below where I think they are capable. Is this due to confidence? Are they too scared to fail at the more difficult tasks? Pupils often state that they are ‘making sure they get it’ before they move. This seems like a good thing, but maybe it’s a barrier to their progression. I often encourage pupils to revise ‘outside of the comfort zone’: to revise the topics or skills that they really don’t want to- because they’re hard! How can we encourage pupils to work outside of their comfort zone, without them losing confidence in what they’ve already achieved?

3. Perhaps most importantly, how can we help pupils identify the progress they have made, and understand how they got there?

Through these lessons, pupils can see what progress they have made in their understanding, and I often ask pupils to reflect at the end of the lesson what progress they have made, and what kind of studying has helped them achieve that progress: be it revising content, applying knowledge or creating links. Is this valuable? Does it help pupils to see where they’ve come? And what strategies do others have to achieve this?

The power of the red pen!
red pen

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As a teacher I value pupil voice and understand the importance of quality feedback which needs to be more of a conversation than a statement. In practice though it can be difficult to achieve this without it becoming unmanageable. One change to my teaching practice this week has really made a difference to the quality of the feedback between myself and my class. The red pen!

End of the red pen as a teacher’s weapon

Under guidance from GwE our school dropped our use of the red pen this year and switched to green. I have never really appreciated the negative connotations of the red pen and believe that if you switch colour any negative connotations pupils do have towards one colour pen will simply be switched to the new colour. As a result of our switching we had a stock of red pens going spare in the store cupboard.

Reintroduction of the red pen for pupil voice

Red is naturally a prominent colour that stands out and it stands to reason that as a teacher you want to hear the learners voices as loudly and clearly as possible. Giving learners ownership of the red pens in order to make comments on their own work has really made the thoughts of the learners obvious within their exercise books and highlighted any changes they make to their work as part of the editing process following completion of draft pieces of work.

The result of red pen revival

Since using the red pen learners have really thought about what the good points of their work are and also been keen to show that they know how to improve. As a teacher this saves me from making suggestions for improvements that they can make for themselves and instead focus on the more subtle ways that they can raise the quality of their work. It is such a simple and effective idea that I can’t understand why I didn’t think of it earlier.

Viva la red pen!

Cross-posted from Enjoying Education

Pedagoo Primary: Using blogs and social media in the classroom
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Mary Jalland is a P1 teacher at Westquarter Primary School in Falkirk.

Ellie is the class mascot for P1 at Westquarter PS

Ellie is the class mascot for P1 at Westquarter PS

This learning conversation at Pedagoo Primary was all about how the use of a class blog and social media on a daily basis can enrich the children’s learning and build relationships with parents and the community.

The conversation ended with some comments about internet safety beyond the classroom. Listen to the discussion below.

Visit the class blog or tweet Ellie and the class.

You can find Blue Ellie getting all scientific on twitter too.

Pedagoo Primary: Learning Superheroes
Some of the 'learning superhero' artefacts shared by Lynsey and Alison.Some of the 'learning superhero' artefacts shared by Lynsey and Alison.

Lynsey Binnie and Alison Adams teach at Lasswade Primary School in Midlothian.  They led a learning conversation at #PedagooPrimary entitled: Using ‘Learning Superheroes’ to develop growth mindsets in the Early Years.

They shared their work on developing growth mindsets in the Early Years through the use of ‘Learning Superheroes’. They drew upon relevant theory and research to discuss how this impacts upon what children perceive a ‘good learner’ to be.

Listen to the audio from Lynsey and Alison’s first conversation of the morning: 
 

 

How to engage students in lessons.
Dream team

As a History teacher, or any other subject teacher for that matter, how many times have you thought how you can “jazz” up a topic? There are some topics that just generate teacher and student enthusiasm and some that even an experienced History teacher thinks are dull. So here are a few tips of bringing that “lust for learning” into the classroom.  They are all tried and tested and guaranteed to motivate and enthuse. Why not give them a go?

Tarsia Puzzles

These puzzles are brilliant for motivating and engaging pupils. This is because the students are competing against time and each other. They are really good for independent learning but students do often find it much easier to work in pairs. Students are given a series of questions and answers on a topic and they need to match them up by either using prior knowledge (revision exercise) or by using textbooks, information sheets or the internet. This doesn’t sound too hard I hear you say! However, the activity is to test the higher order thinking skills as the questions and answers need to be placed into a hexagon shape and this requires a lot of logical thinking.

The puzzles are extremely easy for teachers to make. You simply download the programme from the Tarsia website, input your questions and answers and the programme does the rest for you. This is an excellent resource for differentiation – you can use less questions, resulting in a smaller hexagon or even change the shape of the puzzle completely. My students of all abilities love this challenge.

tarsia

 

 

Topic competition 

This is another lesson that is based around competition and students do become a little frantic during the lesson, so be prepared for some noise. This is probably not the best lesson to try when another class nearby are sitting an assessment.

Students need to be placed into groups of three or four. Each group is given their own set of coloured cards but those cards are kept on a desk in the front of the classroom. One student from each group comes to the desk, collects their first card and returns to their group. The card contains a question. Again, this could be used as a revision exercise or the introduction to a new topic. Together the group find the answer to the question and write it down. The answer is brought to the desk by the second person in the group. The answer is checked, if correct the second card is given, if incorrect the student returns to the group and they try again. The first group that completes all the questions correctly are the winners. This is where the noise comes in as the students are frantically running backwards and forwards in the room. However, there is always a “buzz” in the room and it is a fun and different way of learning. This activity also lends itself to differentiation as you can have mixed ability groups, ability groups, a MAT group with more challenging questions. The possibilities are endless. The only downside to this activity (apart from the noise) is the preparation of the cards beforehand. However, as with all resources, once you have made them you can use them over and over again.

 

Motivating students into writing extended answers.

Once upon a time this generally just applied to those students who took History at GCSE. This is no longer the case as with the new curriculum changes there is a greater emphasis on extended writing for everyone as well as spelling, punctuation and grammar. So as a teacher how can you possibly make this task engaging? My exam board love questions that allow students to explain a series of events. For example, Why was Hitler able to gain complete power in governing Germany in the years 1933 – 1934?

This lesson needs to be completed as a series of lessons. Around the classroom I place a lot of topic information that the students need to cover in their answer. Then begins the information hunt. Students are given the opportunity to work alone or in pairs. They circulate the room and complete a headed table by collecting as much information as possible about each topic. Information can be differentiated.

Many of our students have no idea of how to revise for exams, so this is the next part of the lesson.  They are all issued with six small postcards. The idea is to use the information that they have collected to design revision cards. For each topic, the information should be bullet pointed, short and snappy and contain key words and dates. Students are only allowed to use one side of the card for their notes forcing them to choose the information that is the most important.

The following task is the extended writing task. For this, students need large sheets of sugar paper, coloured pens and to work in partners. In pairs, they write the first paragraph to the question – this is their introduction. After five minutes, every pair swaps their paper – this is much easier if you go clockwise around the room.  The new pair of students reads through the work, they correct any factual and SPAG mistakes, then they use their revision cards and information table to write the next paragraph. They will need slightly longer for this so I usually give seven minutes to each paragraph after this. This then continues around the class until the whole answer is completed.

The final part of this activity is for students to produce their own individual answers. All class answers are displayed around the room. Students need to pick and choose which paragraphs they believe will produce the best answer. This is another form of differentiation as it allows lower ability students to see how to write a higher grade answer. They can then use this model to answer similar questions in the future.

Engagement for boys – but not just for boys!

This was originally set as a homework task to encourage students to complete research and explain their reasons for their choices. It became the most popular piece of homework that I have ever given. Enthusiasm went through the roof. I had students stopping me on the yard, coming to my room at break and e-mailing me to tell me their ideas. I have to say that there were a lot of parents involved in this task as well.  The task was simple. Students were asked to create a historical football dream team. They could choose any one from history but every person they chose had to be given a position on the team and this needed to include an explanation of why that person should play in that position – what qualities did they have? Students were given the option of e-mailing their homework to me or simply just writing it down. I was absolutely inundated with ideas. The results were all read and I used my tutor group at the time to help create the final “Dream Team”. This was then developed into a display in the classroom and it always generates a lot of interest.

Dream team

As a teacher, I have to say that developing lessons that create so much enthusiasm gives me great pleasure. Despite the planning and the noise, I get great satisfaction when students leave the room with a smile on their face and say how much they enjoyed History today. However, what gives me the most satisfaction is when they tell me as they are about to leave in Year 11 “Miss, do you remember when we ……..?”