For some time now, I’ve been dreading my first blog post. Folks like Kenny Pieper and Fearghal Kelly have been doing this stuff for years – and what would I be able to add to their rich and varied posts? Classroom practice for me comes down to personalities and aspirations. As a teacher, you’re expected to take the lead, plan the lessons, define the learning outcomes, assess progress and so on. You dominate the classroom, whether you want to or not. But this can be stifling for both the practitioner and the students – where are the opportunities for learning to be driven by student needs and wants rather than by the curriculum’s artificial clock? At the same time, you need to create an atmosphere of higher expectations – where hard work, initiative and ideas are rewarded rather than simply getting the answers right. As a control freak, how do I give up some control, but keep aspirations high? Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Model UN as a standalone activity which may be of interest to many others. We’ve started on a small scale, meeting on Tuesday lunchtimes, having attended an open afternoon at nearby Inveralmond CHS at the end of October. The group is open to any S3 and S4 students, as I have S5 and S6 students attending an Amnesty International group on Wednesday lunchtimes. But I had high hopes that Model UN could match Duke of Edinburgh as an extra-curricular development opportunity for students. And so we became Chile for a day! We attended this week’s Model UN conference at Inveralmond CHS (called MUNICH14 – nice one Andy Pender) with apprehension and no little excitement for the seven students involved. They were blown away – and so was I. The committee sessions required only a little influence from any of the teachers from more than 15 schools from all over central and eastern Scotland, and the afternoon General Assembly sessions were even more impressive: at one point, as pieces of paper shuffled between the different delegations, the whole operation – amendments, proposals, resolutions – was managed with firmness and humour by a few seniors from ICHS. The teachers sat near the back of the hall – largely spectators at their own game. Motivation and enthusiasm were palpable from all the national delegations as desperate attempts were made to form or break alliances: but at the same time, fruit and sweets were exchanged as unmistakable bribes to influence and schmooze different groups. I’m sure a few Twitter names and Facebook walls were shared too. For ‘Team Chile’, friendships were formed, confidence and fun replaced fear and embarrassment: the team are now desperate to follow up on this experience by attending a weekend conference at George Watson’s next month. And we’ll need to meet more than one lunchtime a week before then to improve our participation against school delegations from all over the world. If classroom engagement represents students fitting in with teacher expectations about what a learning experience is about, then this was closer to student empowerment. Pupils taking the lead? Tick. Raising aspirations? Tick. Teacher happy to lose control? Tick. CfE writ large? Tick.
Boys… They have it tough. The gender attainment gaps in Primary school result in a reduction of life choices and chances by the end of High School. In 2011 48% girls went to University whereas only 37% boys had the same chance.
At our INSET with Gary Wilson (www.garywilsonraisingboysachievement.co.uk) on Friday we were taken through the challenges of boyhood and the barriers to boys learning. From succumbing to the peer police (“Better to be seen not to be bothered by winning than to try and fail.”) to issues with independence; with parents who have been lured into the false impression that it’s easier to do everything for our boys rather than live with constant nagging, raised blood pressure and ranting that even the smallest of requests can result in. From low self esteem to the negative labels society puts onto boys from a very early age Gary is on a one man mission to change these negative stereotypes (once challenging British Home Stores when they advertised a boys T-shirt in their Spring Collection declaring “Lazy and proud of it!”).
So what can we do in our schools and classrooms to give boys the best opportunities to meet their potential? Gary’s main suggestions of the day were:
- Promote breakfast – by not eating breakfast by 10.30am we have the reaction speed of a 70year old.
- Promote a “can do” ethos - internal auditory is louder in boys heads.
- Positive visualisation ensures success – Imagining yourself doing well means you most probably will.
- Feed your brain! Giving children fruit and a drink prior to test helps with attainment.
- Assist neuropathways by ‘piggyback’ learning- teach someone else what you’ve learned.
- Promote creativity- children who play instruments do better at school.
- Develop leadership capacity in boys so they get attention for the right reasons.
- Boys prefer active learning. Although there’s a need to balance approaches across learning styles make sure there’s enough active learning events in our lessons to motivate and engage so boys work to the best of their ability.
- Superheroes! Tapping into this genre helps to boys to make links to the real world. Staff should value play based on children’s interest whilst promoting order and boundaries. Superhero play = emotional intelligence = clear rules = structure = guidelines for success.
- Ban setting! Setting reinforces negative stereotypes. The younger a child is ‘set’ the worst they’ll do at age 16.
- Celebrate success by using hand written ‘I did great work’ style labels as success stickers to give parents a focus to celebrate success at home.
- Aifl- use those lolly sticks or a random name generator (http://www.classtools.net/education-games-php/fruit_machine) to ensure children are focused and expect to be included in the lesson.
- Plan the plenary! Don’t let the boys skip any part of Kolb’s learning cycle (http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html) in their rush to be finished.
- Focus on Fiction: it promotes emotional intelligence and
– exposes children to wider experiences,
– aids understanding of what others think,
– helps children identify with characters and their issues,
– gives children strategies to deal with dilemmas.
-Set up Systems - When in doubt give them a system!
- Think in the short term for long term success: Short term goals, short term targets, short term rewards = boys striving for success.
-Cut out the copying out – it has no purpose and is predominantly used as behaviour control. Out of the mouths of boys: “Teachers’ can’t be bothered to teach us when we’re copying out.”
-Make learning real and fun by giving children real audiences. Use Crazy Talk (http://www.reallusion.com/crazytalk/crazytalk_trial.asp) software to manipulate pictures and provide a purpose to writing.
- focus on fine motor control development. Often this is an area of difficulty for boys (http://scotens.org/sen/articles/primary_reflexes.pdf) so praise for quality ideas when quality presentation is a mountain too high!
- Consider training staff to teach the children peer massage (http://www.misascotland.org.uk/index.htm) or yoga (http://www.yogascotland.org.uk/findteacher.html). Positive touch and relaxation helps to keep students calm, focused and motivated.
Through Gary’s work with groups of boys their top tips are:
- Choose the right time of day to teach important stuff- not when we’re excited.
- don’t criticise if you can’t read my handwriting, it’s not always the most important thing.
- be more persuasive!
- writing in small chunks is best.
- we want to write in any way we want!
- use mind mapping ideas.
- you start the story, let us kids finish it.
- give us basic ideas to get started.
- make it fun!
- use lots of props.
- find out what interests us
- use mind maps as a form of plenary/ help me share my learning with a partner.
- read to us – it helps us with our own stories and poems.
- let us act stories out.
- give us time to think and talk.
- model writing – use visualisers to share pupil work.
All the approaches above are very much good learning and teaching and would benefit any pupil regardless of gender but with a focus on engaging boys and bridging the attainment gaps the whole class will benefit.
Other places to get Gary’s words of wisdom are:
I am only occasionally these days in front of a class and feel very lucky when I am because there’s technology involved and fun is instantly on the agenda. This week I was working with a class of P5/6 pupils on the topic of Olympic athletes. They had previously done some research on the internet and each had produced a word document with some facts and had added in a photo. This had been printed out and put up on the wall.
That made me a bit despondent. Part of my remit as Education ICT Officer is to help teachers embed ICT into all areas of the curriculum, to raise awareness of online, educational tools and resources as well as ensuring existing software on the school build is used to full effect. Looking at the word documents brought it home to me….I am not getting the message out to enough teachers and the pupils are missing out on the chance to build up much needed ICT skills.
We used ActivInpsire to create some flipcharts on the Olympic athlete they had previously selected. The first 20 minutes were spent practising using the tool box and discussing which tools would be useful when presenting their work to the class. (spotlight, screen, ticker tape, transluceny slide) I set them a test task to check their understanding of object layering and each pupil had to move round the class adding in something to everyone else’s flipchart. If someone was strugggling, the pupil who showed up to add to their flipchart could then help. I was part of the rotating group and so one of the stations ended was doing it on the interactive whiteboard.
By the end of the 90 minutes they had created great flipcharts with photos – (using the freehand camera tool), facts, quiz questions with answers hidden behind shapes/flags, embedded You Tube videos of the athletes using a TV image as the backdrop so you had to click on the On button to play the clip.
I lost 3 children at one point. They disappeared out the class to go show the next class what they were doing. I had forgotten how alert teachers have to be 100% of the time!
By saving to their own area of the server, I was able to use the teacher’s log in to bring up the flipcharts and share with the whole class from the teacher’s laptop. This was not a known option. It was an important thing for peer review, discussion and to practise presentation skills.
Summer rethink on sharing information with school staff especially those less confident with ICT…..
Thank you to all for your responses to our previous call for contributions. Fascinating stuff!
I think with the end of term rapidly approaching it would seem appropriate to follow it up with another call – next year I’ll…
What are you planning to do different next session? Why? How do you intend to do this?
I’ll get started this time…I intend to change the way I teach Intermediate 1 biology. I’ve already mentioned on my own blog how I’ve begun this process in these last couple of weeks and I’m going to persevere with this next term. This will involve planning my lessons using a learning cycle approach and striving to ensure that the lessons are as active and engaging as they possibly can be. I also intend to evaluate the impact of this in conjunction with my collaborative enquiry group at school.