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Visible Learning
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Using a short, silent film to stimulate independent learning, discussion and writing

I was really delighted to be asked by Pedagoo to explain how I would use this short film to enliven learning in my classroom. In this post I am mindful of how to harness the abilities of our visual learners. By using this visual text my aim is to generate extended thinking and learning and to encourage engagement with the writing process. I was inspired by David Didau’s hexagonal learning (Solo taxonomy) strategy to create genuine pupil-led independent learning and to find some evidence that this, often alchemical aspect of teaching has taken place.

Activity One
1.Watch this short film prior to showing it to your class. It lasts for 7 minutes.

2. In the classroom you might PAUSE the film mid-way when the little girl is resolute that she won’t accept the boy’s charity. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT ?– cue class writing activity… Five minutes of writing

Join in with this activity teachers !

The whole class including you writes the story. Write frantically, announcing an amnesty on spelling (just for this activity). What really matters here is that ideas are being blasted onto paper. After a strict five minutes, (set a timer) everyone must stop. Then enjoy reading all of the weird and wonderful responses this writing generates. Don’t be precious, read yours out too and accept the fact your pupils may be a little ahem… underwhelmed !

Leave it there fizzing with potential for next time. Your pupils will love this unrestricted burst of writing. Deliberately don’t be too prescriptive about using certain vocabulary banks in advance, see what your students will try, what might flow.

3. Don’t forget to read lots out even if it’s only a paragraph or two – then watch the film to see who the future script writers might be in your class !

Activity Two
Hexagonal Learning – Independent Learning using this visible thinking strategy and discussion tool.

  1. In groups of 4-5 pupils list the narrative moments in the film on hexagonal post-it notes. One event/word per post-it note. Ideally you would use lots of different colours and link the colours to the content.
  2. The pupils then list some of the themes they think may be emerging in the film.
  3. Together the group joins the hexagons up and discusses why they are placing them in a particular order.
  4. The hexagons are photographed and then using Bluetooth or other alternatives are linked to the classroom white board for all to see. Two members from each group go to the board and explain the connections they have made collectively, their decisions and the group thinking to the rest of the class. See below for an example:

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Figure 1 Hexagonal Learning using Hexagonal Post-it Notes

This activity ensures that pupils, come up with ideas, lead the discussion and make decisions and links independently.

You could also use a template, depending on your class and the ability ranges, where you direct the learning and the pupils develop the initial ideas. I would use this sort of template below, which is a PowerPoint that can be tweaked according to whatever you are teaching. I would have at least 20 prompts on the hexagons. Print and cut the hexagons out, for longevity you may also wish to laminate them. (Do this while they are still in sheet form and use the school, paper guillotine for cutting out.)

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Figure 2 Hexagon Generator Pam Hook
pamhook.com/solo-apps/hexagon-generator

How can we differentiate in a way that gives pupils ownership of their learning pathways?

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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 08.55.25

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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?

Using Hexagon Learning for categorisation, linkage and prioritisation
Students at the International School of Toulouse studying the rise of Stalin using the hexagon approach

Hexagon Learning Case Study: The Rise of Stalin

The ability to select, prioritise, categorise and link evidence is a valuable skill that students learn in History. It is also highly transferable to other subjects.

Using hexagons is a particularly simple and effective way of developing these skills, as the following case study seeks to demonstrate.

Historical Context

How Stalin was able to emerge as leader of the USSR against apparently overwhelming odds is one of the most intriguing questions which we study at IB Level. In the years that following the Bolshevik Revolution, due to a series of blunders and miscalculations, Stalin had lost the support of the party leadership: so much so that on his deathbed, Lenin dictated a formal ‘Testament’ describing Stalin as a liability who needed to be removed from his post. He was also hated by Lenin’s closest ally, Leon Trotsky, who was widely expected to step into the leadership position after Lenin’s death. Yet just five years later Stalin was undisputed leader of the USSR and Trotsky was in exile.

The story of how Stalin transformed his fortunes so dramatically is a great story revolving around Stalin’s treachery, cunning and downright charm. But the danger of this is that the essays that are then written become mere narrative, storybook accounts which do little more than provide a step-by-step account of the main events between 1924-1929.

The Hexagon Approach

After a study of the events culminating in Stalin emerging as leader of the party, I made a list of factors which could be used to explain why Stalin became dictator of the USSR. I then put these into my Classtools.net Hexagons Generator to create two single-page documents containing a total of 40 hexagons.

Stage 1: Selection and Categorisation

The class was divided into pairs for the activity. Each pair of students was given a copy of the first sheet of hexagons, which they cut up and started to organise on their desks into categories of their choice. This process, involving the categorisation of 25 hexagons, took about 20 minutes. Students were encouraged to come up with no more than five categories overall. They could also choose to leave some of the hexagons to one side if they were considered less important than the others.

We then spent five minutes comparing the different categories that students had identified. Each pair of students took turns to suggest one idea for a category heading until all the ideas had been shared.

Following this, I gave each students a blank sheet of hexagons. The challenge was to identify other factors which could help to explain Stalin’s rise to power and write these directly into the hexagons. After five minutes, each pair of students took it in turns to suggest an idea. If this was a valid (and fresh) idea, then the other students copied it into their pair’s version of the sheet, and the students who shared the idea were each given a sweet (we had a bag of these left over as a result of our ‘Rise of Stalin through sweet-eating’ lesson which had preceded this lesson!). This process was repeated until the students had run out of ideas.

Each pair of students then cut up this new sheet of factors and used them to develop their existing diagrams. In some instances this involved merely adding fresh evidence into existing categories. Sometimes though it involved adding new categories, or amending earlier categories.

Finally, each pair of students was given the second sheet of hexagons and the process of categorisation continued.

Stage 2: Linkage and Prioritisation

By this stage, the students had decided upon the main factors to explain Stalin’s rise to power, organised into key categories. Each of these categories could form the basis of a paragraph in an essay. However, it was still necessary to decide two things.

Firstly, students would need to decide in which order to deal with the points in each paragraph. It would not be enough to simply introduce the category title, then randomly write about each piece of evidence from the hexagons in that group. This is where the hexagons are particularly useful. The six sides mean that factors can be placed alongside each other in various combinations to highlight connections between batches of factors within categories. After students rearranged their factors in this way, they stuck them down onto sugar paper with a glue stick. They could then write the title of each category over each batch of hexagons, and annotate around each group of hexagons to explain why they were arranged in that particulary way.

Secondly, students had to decide how to connect their main categories together to create an overall thread of argument. They did this by drawing arrows between the factors and explaining their connections over them. For example:

“Economic problems in the country > created > Divisions in the party > exploited by > Stalin’s Cunning”

Stage 3: Essay preparation

The final part of the process was to use the completed diagrams as an essay plan. I photographed each of the diagrams and shared them with the students. Their task was to use the diagrams as the basis of their essay on “Why did Stalin become leader of the USSR?”. Each paragraph was to focus on separate categories of hexagons, and the points made in each paragraph should have some logical order and ‘flow’. Moreover, the order of the paragraphs should be dictated by the arrows linking the categories, with the opening sentence of each paragraph after the first one being based on the explanation over each arrow.

Reflections and Conclusions

The ‘Hexagon Approach’ worked very well. It steered students away from a narrative approach and into an analytical frame of mind. It helped them frame categories of analyis, build up their command of the material step-by-step. It provided them with the opporunity to easily change their initial assumptions, connect factors together both within and between categories, and give them a very effective basis of an accomplished written piece.

It is also a very simple approach that can be transferred to other topics and other curriculum subjects. All that is needed is an initial list of factors – contributed either by the teacher or the students – which can then be written into a blank hexagons template or turned into hexagons automatically using my Classtools.net Hexagons Generator. Thereafter, all that is needed is a pair of scissors, some sugar paper and a glue stick. And, ideally, a bag of sweets!

 

SOLO taxonomy resources
July 29, 2014
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The SOLO learning grid works in the similar way to my previous learning grids in that you roll a dice to generate a question. Each box within the grid has one of the SOLO symbols and a corresponding question. The boxes are differentiated from less complex uni-structural identify questions to more deeper extended abstract questions such as apply or compare. Pupils take it in turns to roll the dice to generate their own question or questions for their partner. This can be used as a revision tool at the end of a unit or topic. Questions can then be peer marked and extension feedback questions added using the questions in the grid. The grid could be linked to the roll a plenary or starter grids.

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The SOLO dice involves using a number of blank squares (can be purchased from amazon), some of which have a key word on and the other half have the SOLO labels on them. Roll two dice to get a key word and a solo level. Pupils can then generate their own questions with the results or create questions for others to answer.

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The solo chatterbox is another way to create questions. On the outside of the template are four SOLO levels with a command word e.g. multi-structural and describe. Pupils spell out the command word by moving the chatterbox with their fingers which will then land on a question related to that level. This provides good differentiation as pupils can choose which question to answer. This could be used as a starter or plenary activity.

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Acronym Attack: AfL and ZPD through SOLO #PedagooGlasgow
June 20, 2014
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I’ll let you into a little secret…come closer…promise not to tell anyone…before last week, I’d never actually done a workshop at a Pedagoo event! Having come up with the whole idea and organised the first ever one, that’s quite a shocking revelation to many – but there you have it. So, I was actually quite nervous on Saturday morning when I realised that I was actually going to practice what I’ve been preaching all these years!

And as if that wasn’t enough pressure, the night before this workshop on how we’ve been trying SOLO Taxonomy…there was a massive stooshie on twitter about this very subject! The main objection from those who are ‘against’ SOLO [since when did we become so either/or and argumentative on twitter 🙁 ] seems to be that there is no ‘evidence’ to support it. I have two problems with this view of the world…

  1. This assumes at all ‘evidence’ has to come from large-scale randomised controlled trials that results in an increase in attainment. I don’t particularly buy into this positivist view of educational research. At our school we have been engaging with SOLO Taxonomy as enquiring practitioners and evidencing impact (or otherwise) in our own context based on the outcomes we are interested in achieving and whilst our evidence is also surely flawed, I’m actually a lot happier about its validity than many of the ‘respected’ sources of evidence.
  2. And secondly. This view also assumes that SOLO is a ‘thing’ in its own right. Perhaps others see it that way, but we don’t. We’ve been using SOLO as a way of supporting metacognition and formative feedback. So if you’re really wanting to base everything you do on metaanalyses, then this would be my response. SOLO is just a language, it’s not the actual pedagogy.

Anyway. Thought I ought to get that out of the way first. So, SOLO then. How have we been using it? I’m not going to start by boring you with what SOLO is. If you don’t already know that there’s loads out there already which will do this much better than I can. Instead, I’m going to start by telling you what led us to try using SOLO. The diagram below summarises the learning and teaching model at our school, the important bit here being that we’re trying to introduce a six-part lesson cycle approach to planning most of our lessons – with thanks as always to Cramlington Learning Village.

PLLearningDiagram

One of the hardest issues presented by this approach is trying to properly reflect on learning, as well as reviewing it. Both students and teachers find this difficult, and part of the reason would appear to be a lack of a common language to discuss the learning process. It is for this reason that we first attempted to use SOLO in our Biology lessons. We added SOLO outcomes to our National 5 lesson cycles at the review and reflect stage of the cycle. Although this improved things a little, it wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. In particular, I felt as though we are constantly ending lessons leaving students feeling as failures as they had inevitably not yet reached the top of the scale and we were having to move on with the course due to time pressures.

So, I had a brainwave. If the SOLO outcomes were introduced at the discuss learning outcomes stage of the cycle, this could support students to identify where they currently are in their learning of the topic and what their target would be. This I felt was in some way akin to setting a zone of proximal development for the lesson. We also began to try and write the SOLO scales in a consistent format, with unistructural being the expected prior knowledge, multisctructural being the ‘C’ level content, relational being a ‘B’ level understanding of the topic  and extended abstract being equivalent of an ‘A’ grade candidate’s ability to apply their understanding of the topic.

In addition, we also made a much greater effort to plan demonstrate tasks which would allow us and the students to assess their progress in the cycle against the SOLO outcomes [such as using the hexagons from Pam Hook’s fab website]. The hope was that this would more effectively support learning in our lessons, and also improve the level of reflection occurring throughout and at the end of cycles. Having observed each other’s lessons and interviewed the students we did indeed find this to be the case. We also found that the students were more able to articulate their progress and their next steps, and more likely to act independently to progress these next steps. They weren’t all positive though. They want printed versions of the SOLO grids and they want each one to last for longer than one cycle, both of which we’re going to take on board for next session.

So, that’s what we’ve been trying. We’re by no means experts in SOLO at all. We’ve just been giving it a go and are willing to share. Perhaps you’ve used SOLO too? Why not tell us how, why and what you found out as a comment below.

All the handouts we gave out on the day can be downloaded here.

SOLO Squares

When it comes to analysis, some students struggle to develop and extend their ideas. The ‘SOLO Squares’ resource is an effective way of encouraging students to explore deeper meaning within texts. It’s great for group work and useful for planning extended writing pieces. The resource is simple to use and can be applied to all subject areas. As you can see from the example, I have used it recently in GCSE English Unit 1 exam preparation which requires students to identify presentational features and explain how they are effective.

Here’s a breakdown of how it works:

  1. In the centre square write ‘The Big Question’ or key focus for the lesson. In this case I used Question 3 from the exam paper. Character names can also be used – my Year 7 class have recently analysed the protagonist Stanley Yelnats from Holes.
  2. The second square should link explicitly to a SOLO Taxonomy skill. Here, I have started with the ‘Multistructural’ strand as students already have several ideas about presentational features. Within this space, construct a question that leads students to ‘Identify’ features/quotes/words.
  3. The third square requires students to ‘Describe’ their findings linking their ideas to the key concept/question. Notably, the prompt questions are progressive and link to the ‘Relational’ SOLO level. You’ll see in the picture, students had to “describe each feature, where it is located and why it has been put there.”
  4. The outer square should stretch and develop student responses. It is linked to the ‘Extended Abstract’ SOLO strand and pushes students to ‘Explain’ and evaluate their ideas. In the example, students were required to “explain what effect each feature has on the reader” and explore their “connotations”.

The skills in each square can be changed or adapted to suit the needs of your students. As you may have spotted, I often include QR codes on the resource too in order to ‘support’ or ‘stretch’ learners – this always goes down really well!

Please feel free to contact me if you would like the resource or if you have any questions.

@JamieClark85
www.jamieleeclark85.wordpress.com

Teaching and Learning Toolkit

My toolkit contains tips, tricks, ideas, strategies, suggestions, resources and information for teachers across all subjects, ages and phases of education!

The toolkit is a central location for teaching and learning related posts laid out in a simple to use and interpret fashion. The information is short and snappy and links to what is needed are always provided.

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You can search for a post using a particular keyword or you can filter the posts based on their tags. Such as literacy, group work, independent learning and so on.

The toolkit is designed to allow teachers to become more creative, more inventive and most importantly allows them to save time by using some of the effective ideas that have been shared. The posts usually contain images showing the activity in action and provide links to further reading if relevant.

Currently the toolkit contains over 215 activities that have been tried and tested by teachers. I know they are effective because the activities I post are ones that are being used in classrooms. Ones that have been used and been successful with the students I teach.

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To date the toolkit has had over 550,000 views and is used worldwide! Many posts are currently being edited/updated to include the variations educators have made having seen the original idea from the toolkit.

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The principle behind the toolkit is to create more agile teachers who want to liven up the learning of their students. The toolkit is also a central hub to share important information such as the changes in Special Needs provision in the UK and so on. Some ideas you will love, some you will think about, others you may not agree with at all. That’s the beauty of the toolkit- it is guaranteed to cater for some of everybody’s teaching methods. If an activity doesn’t sit well with you, simply ignore it and try another? 🙂

If you would like to guest post and share an activity that you have used in your lessons on the toolkit then please email me on aal@cheney.oxon.sch.uk over 30 teachers have written a guest post to date.

Get in touch… @ASTSupportAAli

P.S-

The toolkit was recently featured on BBC News show BBC Click in the #Webscape section as a fantastic tool for educators worldwide.

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The toolkit is also linked to many websites/blogs.

You can help spread the world by sharing posts on twitter, facebook and google +.

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www.cheneyagilitytoolkit.blogspot.com

or

www.bit.ly/agilitytoolkit

Talking pedagogy globally

February 2013, after #ukedchat on Twitter a group of us who use and are interested in the use of Solo taxonomy have a chat about its use. We are all UK based and the chat is interesting and very useful. The next morning, another educator I have chatted with about Solo enquiries if the chat she had found on Twitter was a regular solo chat. Alice is based in Melbourne, Australia. I tell Alice that no it’s not a regular chat but go on to tell her about an experiment in July 2012 led by John Sayers (known to many on Twitter) that was a group of geographers discussing Solo’s relevance to their teaching.

The geogsolo chat was on a Saturday so that it could cover as many time zones as possible. It included Penny from Virginia, USA;several of us who are UK based inc. John and myself; Emma in Abu Dhabi; Amy in Australia and we were also joined by a teacher from New Zealand. In one our we had made a global link based on one pedagogical idea.

So, why is this relevant? because Alice and I decided that we’d try a repeat exercise but for an open group to discuss Solo with a global audience one Saturday in April 2013.

The chat which we have been promoting in several countries is called #sologlobalchat and it takes place on Saturday 13 April at 11am UK time (GMT +1). Alice and I will host and the session will be archived using Storify by Alice. Feel free to join us or read about how it went after the event. To practice hosting a chat I acted as #ukedchat host last night on the topic of CPD. The rush of tweets was a surprise at first but I seemed to host successfully.

Onto Saturday and beyond …..

I am on Twitter at @aknill.

Is this a cheap plastic shuttlecock I see before me?
January 26, 2013
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So this all started when I read this genius tweet from genius @nicnacraph:
Yr12s prepare for Tabletop Shakespeare: using everyday objects to explore 'Twelfth Night' #PedagooFriday http://t.co/tx4CTeTC
@nicnacraph
Nic Raphael

This piqued my interest (curiosity may have killed the cat, but in between all of the gory felinicide it finds plenty of time to prod me into a bit of lesson planning), and a quick Google search took me to Be Stone No More, a project by the RSC involving actors performing ‘Table Top Shakespeare’. I won’t explain what this is, just have a look at these examples for yourself:

Romeo and Juliet performed by Sam Taylor

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYeXkauIZo0[/youtube]

Hamlet performed by Nina Lampic

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRAW-GkJe3w[/youtube]

What a great way to get pupils to cement their understanding of a narrative’s plot, don’t you think? A lot more interesting than a fusty old card sort.

Director Tim Etchells, who created the idea, makes reference to using “a collection of banal materials and objects”, which suggests a disconnection between the objects and the characters. However, for those who like a bit of praxis and extended abstract thinking, ‘banal materials’ are an opportunity to make interesting connections with seemingly unconnected objects.

Having just looked at the story of Romeo and Juliet with my Year 11 class, I felt this was a perfect task to consolidate their understanding of the plot before moving onto textual analysis. With this in mind, I made a quick trip to the 99p shop with no other criteria than to find items that came in packets of 8 or more. Just under £15 lighter, I came back with this haul of ‘banal’ objects:

The ingredients of Heston's celebrated pound shop tat bouillabaisse

 

I then sorted this potpourri of cheap curios into 8 Table Top Shakespeare starter sets:

The global recession had really taken its toll on the traditional Academy Awards gift baskets

 

The lessons that resulted were quite simple. After arranging the pupils into groups of 3-4, I gave each group a sheet of sugar paper and a pen. As a nice recall starter, I asked each group to write down the names of as many characters from the play that they could remember. Inspired by the spirit of competition, cue groups huddled over sheets trying to protect the classified name of “that bloke who married them” and taking out super injunctions so that nobody in their group may utter the names of the Montague servants out loud for fear of other groups hearing this classified information.

Once we’d recapped and I’d broken the Official Secrets Act by asking them to share their lists with each other, I presented each group with their TTS starter kit. This group understand the SOLO levels, so were comfortable when I asked them to use extended abstract thinking to apply an object to each name. I asked them to think about how they can make links between the object and the character and to justify their choices. As these objects weren’t bought without conscious connections in mind – price was the only influencing factor – this is a nice use of praxis, or post rationalisation (the pupils are doing the work to justify the connections: I had no preconceived ideas about connections when I handed them out). I also urged them to root around in their pockets and bags for any other items that they wanted to use to bolster the kits.

The extended abstract connections were excellent and showed real understanding of character. I heard discussions where people had assigned a toothbrush to Lady Capulet as it symbolises health and care, only for others in the same group to argue that Nurse would fit that reasoning better and that a scourer should be Lady Capulet as she is only interested in the appearance of perfection. In other groups, Nurse was a plant pot because she nurtured Juliet and watched her grow, unlike her mum. A peg represented Friar Lawrence because he binds the lovers together through marriage. A plastic banana was Mercutio because he has a skewed look on love compared to Romeo. Romeo was seen as a packet of tissues “because he’s soppy” and a pineapple because “he’s soft inside”. Tybalt was a toy dinosaur or a soldier because of his aggression, and even a shuttlecock because… “well, he’s a cock, isn’t he sir?”

Table Top Shakespeare

We then looked at some clips from the videos above and I set them the task of creating their own 5-10 minute Table Top Shakespeare films. They planned this out ready to make their films during the next lesson. At the beginning of this next lesson, we did some work on speaking and listening success criteria. They were then given a video camera, a table, their boxes of objects and the lesson to produce their films. The pupils really threw themselves into the task and showed clear understanding of the plot of the play and how the narrative fits together as a whole. This will inform their textual analysis and help them support their ideas (particularly helpful with a discussion of foreshadowing) by reference to the wider text.

But why stop at Shakespeare? I’ll be using Table Top ‘Of Mice and Men’ and Table Top ‘An Inspector Calls’ to revise with GCSE classes in the future.

Going SOLO – Part 2 : Hexagon Alley
January 13, 2013
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I don’t know how well my overall approach to SOLO is going to go — it’s still too early to tell — but what I can say after my first week trying to apply some of the ideas in my classroom is that hexagons are amazing. No argument, they make a profound difference to how I approach delivery, and more importantly, how learners engage with what they are doing. Read on to find out how my #pedagooresolution is going.

Before talking about my week, I do want to just take a second to reply to this tweet that I received:

TweetGrab

I will be honest that I make no claims to being expert in using it… or even, necessarily particularly competent. That will require time and repetition (and how often do we say that to our classes?), but the early signs are very encouraging. As I interpret it, SOLO is a means of giving learners the tools by which they can ask their own questions, and drive their own learning. If this sounds like the Holy Grail of education, then you already appreciate that the fundamentals of teaching learners how to actually learn is one of the most important skills they will need as they grow and develop.  As I mentioned in part one of these reflections, SOLO describes 5 stages in the development of understanding: Prestructural through to Extended Abstract. These recognise the 5 stages of learning from knowing nothing through to being able to taking knowledge and hypothesising or creating in an abstract way based on what has been learned. What follows is my somewhat enthusiastic approach this past week… I have made a couple of mistakes as I progressed, but my classes and I have learned a lot!

Hexagons

SOlo HexagonAs I was reading through the reflections of other teachers who use SOLO, I recognised a common technique that many use when teaching: hexagons. As best as I can tell, these originated with Damian Clark on his In Visible Learning blog, though I first encountered them from David Didau’s Learning Spy. In simple terms, they are a physical/concrete means of encouraging learners to move beyond Unistructural and Multistructural knowledge to Relational understanding. In other words, they are used to take statements of facts and basic knowledge of the text/topic/subject/theory/etc, and to ‘see’ the relationships between them. As I have found, they are an incredibly powerful enabler for most learners.

Using Hexagons – The methodology bit!

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 11.22.44I had started by giving the class a sheet of A4 with blank hexagons (click the picture to the right to download the pdf for yourself) and simply asked them to write down a fact about the text they had been studying. Then, once I had done a quick visual check that they had done this (“Class, hold up your sheets… er, David, you’ve gone over the lines… have a new sheet and try again!” {tip: have spare sheets!}) , I asked them to add another couple of facts. I then threw in a couple of single words (basically the theme[s] or some key concepts from the text) for them to write in a hexagon, then asked them to write 3 or 4 statements about the characters, and finally, to fill in the rest of the hexagons with interesting lines/quotations from the text. In doing so, they were essentially moving from Unistructural (knowing one thing) to Multistructural (knowing lots of things). Next came the scissors!

Paired Hex Working

Two of my learners sorting their hexagons based on Cathy MacPhail's novel "Tribes". They responded magnificently to the challenge and surprised themselves almost as much as they did me!

 

I provided a pile of scissors and asked the class to cut out the individual hexagons (Learning point: ask them to put their name/initials on the reverse of each hexagon! I found out the hard way). Once we had a delightful mess, I tasked them with putting the hexagons together, the only criteria being that they had to explain why they had them touching — in other words, what the relationship was between them.

What followed was absolute magic. The class grasped what they had to do, and became thoroughly engaged. My role changed in that, rather than directing them to ‘the’ answer, I became a challenge agent. I could see at a glance what they were trying to put together, and could simply ask them to justify their decisions. And what decisions they came up with! The simple act of moving pieces of paper around, but with a reason, became really involving. I was finding genuine engagement and genuine responses in a way that way surpassed my hopes for the lessons. Before long, every desk was a mosaic of hexagons and a lot of learners were very evidently beginning to grasp the key concepts and relationships in their texts.

The next step was to pair them up with their neighbour/shoulder partner, and to see if they could combine their hexagons into one bigger mosaic. Given that they had had to come up with their own initial hexagons, none of them had exactly the same things written on them. Suddenly, and quite unintentionally, I heard them explaining to each other why they had written what they had, and in a totally natural and organic way, they were merging their knowledge. They also began to ask for some blank hexagons so they could add more to their creations — for me, evidence that they were learning and looking for deeper answers.

The Penny Dropped

I tried using hexagonal learning with all my classes this week (no half measures here!), and want to recount two classes experiences in particular — both S2 classes (aged about 13).

I have a really interesting mixed class with a number of pupils who do not have English as a first language, some who have problems staying focussed, and others who quite wrongly do not believe they are capable of performing well. I always have another support teacher (Mrs Jackson) in the class, and because of this, while the majority of the class have been studying Cathy MacPhail’s novel Tribes, some of the class have been looking at The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore on my iPad. Despite having read two different texts in class, all the class were able to complete hexagons for their text. They were also able to add extra information, and more importantly, no matter which text it was, they were all demonstrating really deep learning as they justified the hexagons they placed together. Working with this class was genuinely infectious. They responded so magnificently that it was impossible not to be proud of them. This also converted wonderfully into some of the most focussed essay writing they have done for me. In addition, what struck me after the fact was that, for the first time, they weren’t asking me to check what they had written was OK every couple of sentences. I see this as a sign of the confidence they had developed through the exercise, and also a sign that, having moved from Uni/Multistructural knowledge of their texts to Relational understanding, they had the confidence to write without seeking constant reassurance from myself or Mrs Jackson. In fact, Mrs Jackson was positively raving about the difference in the learners… to the extent that she has been telling everyone she has met about this technique! And we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.

BUT… I got cocky! I have another S2 class who are very, very able. And I blew it completely. Having had a week of thinking I was beginning to master hexagons and the theory of SOLO taxonomy, I tried to deliver a really ambitious lesson that I hadn’t had the time to think through properly. It crashed and burned big time! Ironically, one of the classes I thought this would work best with, I had the least success with… but on reflection, this was about me trying to run before I could walk. I had not thought through the lesson, and crucially, it wasn’t my lesson I was using. I’d found James Theobold’s brilliant Heston Blumethal approach to poetry on the Wildern School Improvement site, and — because I admire Heston Blumenthal, and know a wee bit about poetry — thought that would be a great lesson to try. I hadn’t thought through the importance of making sure my own knowledge was deep enough, and so because of that, and my over-confidence at having had such startling successes with my other classes, I expected magic to happen again, but instead, the class found it too difficult to make the relationships between poetry and Heston Blumenthal come to life. The whole exercise began to feel forced and very unnatural. Lesson learned. Stick to my own texts/knowledge/topics, or make sure I am thoroughly up to speed before using someone else’s materials.

Reflection

I’m becoming very convinced that SOLO taxonomy as an approach should be an essential part of any teacher’s skill-set/tool box. It is not the only answer, but it is an incredibly powerful part of the solution. I am aware that the use of hexagons to develop Relational understanding is only a part of the SOLO process, but even if some of my learners never become capable of moving to the next stage (though I expect they all will), they have almost all found a technique that empowered them to be able to talk about, and write about, texts in a way that even a week ago, I wouldn’t have believed. This is a technique that I will be using regularly  in the future. It works…

Next week

Having focussed on one particular technique, and one particular stage (Relational) of SOLO, I’m going to be looking at making sure my classes begin to feel comfortable with the whole process. This will mean giving them the full SOLO toolkit, and especially the verbs they will need to allow them to make their own decisions and to become even more independent in their learning. Exciting times!

SOLO-Diagram

NB: I am finding my way so it is essential for me (and anyone else learning about SOLO) that you should pass on any thoughts, hints & tips, and especially clarifications in the comments — Thanks!
Cross posted to If You Don’t Like Change…
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