Planning GCSE with a smile

GCSE is a bit like going to the dentist for a check-up: you know that it is good for you in the long-run, but it leaves such a horrible taste in your mouth. Every so often it is worth going back to basics and designing a course from scratch. In this way you can ensure that it is enjoyable and contains learning that has real worth. The TEEP cycle can offer assistance when trying to achieve this not just for lessons, but in planning a whole scheme. Outlined below are six easy steps for creating a scheme of work that challenges students and makes GCSE much more rigorous:

 

1.       Prepare for Learning

The Big Picture is essential – both for teachers and students. Without it, the learning becomes a series of virtually independent chunks that bare no relation to each other. Planning without the big picture tends to produce a scheme that is heavy on content and light on memorable learning. From the perspective of the students, there is little to hang on to.

Firstly, a big idea or question is needed that will guide students through the work and offer them a line to pin their new learning on. Questions work well, because they encourage an answer and this in turn leads to better engagement. A unit on Crime might be approached with the following question:

 

Is Britain more violent and crime ridden than it has ever been?

 

The first lessons in the scheme – your way of grabbing them and getting them to think as soon as they came through the door – might focus on creating a debate or dilemma. For example, cutting out reports from newspapers about crime and creating a class montage helps to establish how the topic is viewed by the Media. This can then be analysed for dominate themes, e.g. crime is violent, on the increase, involving more children, more sexual in nature, etc. Offering an alternative viewpoint to this forces students to think about the following content and filter it through the debate. They will need to ask questions of and engage with the materials you provide.

When students see Steven Pinker providing an argument that the world is less violent than it has ever been and saying he can prove it, the reaction is always one of shock (see the film at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html). This approach establishes a real problem that students will want to spend the unit investigating.

 The students will now be thinking about the topic and actually caring about its contents – for a moment they might actually forget it is a GCSE exam unit.

  

2.       Agree Learning Outcomes

The next step should be to establish how the question is going to be tackled. In lessons teachers discuss the content, process and benefits, and extending this to a whole scheme helps to increase understanding. The content is easy, you have a Big Question and the specifications state the boundaries. The process might take a little longer, but agreeing on a logical framework in order to answer the question is needed to assist understanding. Equally vital is identifying the skills needed and tools at hand. Now for the benefits. Exam preparation is a clear one, but then unpicking other benefits can lead to greater motivation among students. This is substantially easier if the big question is rooted in a real and genuine problem.

 

 3.       Present New Information

Before launching into the content proper, overview activities encourage students to make links and tease out the key words and ideas in the topic. This process allows students time to familiarise themselves with the topic before they begin. It is a chance to embed the main ideas of the unit. It could essentially be seen as an early revision opportunity.

 ‘Chunked up’ learning and creating mini-enquiries, each with a question and a relevance to the main enquiry will also help to aid understanding and maintain interest. Tackling the smaller parts makes it more manageable for students and allows for regular review of the Big Question. These reviews can be linked to exam question practice that will allow staff the track and monitor performance.

 

4.       Construct Understanding

Content should be delivered through a range of activities that engage students with problems to solve and hypotheses to test.

For example, mystery activities can not only deliver new information, but provide dilemmas that engage students in the process of analysis. This Billy the Kid Pardon Activity gets students working on a real life dilemma from 2007.

 

5.       Apply to Demonstrate

Each section of the course can be concluded with activities to extend thinking and help students piece together information to answer the Big Question. One strategy for this is model making. The models can physically represent the information in a way that was easy to remember. It could be as simple as making a hat for each part of the course, where the inside, outside and brim all represent something different. Another strategy is to use concept maps and get students to make links between the key facts within the section. Links help with memory and develop understanding.

 

6.       Review

Starting the year with a blank display board and gradually added work, evidence and models under the Big Question is a great way to keep track of learning and develop a clear approach. Reviews in each lesson should be easy to plan as teachers can refer back to the Big Question and discuss whether an answer is anywhere near being established. Answers can be unpicked to see how students have come to their conclusions. The strategies they used can be recorded for future use, creating a kind of GCSE toolkit for them to refer to and use.

A unit can seem like a long time, but sandwiched together it is only about twenty four hours (of teaching). However, leaving students with an activity that is creative and exciting will help with positive feelins aout the work. The tendency can be to assess at the end of the unit, but this does not always provide students with an opportunity to look at a unit in its entirety and make sense of it. Neither does it provide a natural high with which you would want them have. No actor would want to go through weeks of rehearsals only to find they were writing the programme notes. It doesn’t have to be grand, just fun and cover the whole unit. Making a song about the topic set to an appropriate tune would be simple and not very time consuming, but it would also be memorable. 

The process of learning at GCSE should engage students and focus them in a way we expect from Key Stage 3. They must feel part of the learning and care about the final outcome.

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Using 'The Ten Faces of Innovation ' in the classroom

I am currently running a summer school for 35 Gifted and Talented students – it has been a great experience based around a murder mystery set in a temporary WWII hospital. At the beginning of the process I wanted to have an original way to group students and get them thinking about the who they should work with and why.

After discussing the advantages and disadvantages of friendship groups with them, we looked at a set of cards (click here to download the Ten Faces Card Sort) based on the fantastic research and writing of Tom Kelley. He has written a book called ‘The Ten Faces of Innovation’ and it outlines the 10 personas that he believes make for creative projects and solutions. I made a card in pupil speak for each of the personas and gave it to individual students on cards. They then had to create a diamond 9 diagram and discarded one card at seemed irrelevant to them. The diagrams they created then formed the basis of their negotiations for creating groups. Each team had to have five members and each having a strength in a different area.

The process worked really well and ensured that each group had, on paper, the abilities needed to be creative. There were a lot of students whose social and inter-personal skills were high, and just a few with ability to create exciting designs and experiences. This made them go for a premium and wanted by all groups. Eventually, students were questioning each other about who had design skills on the third level of their diagrams, and were asking if they recruited two people in this area whether that would be enough.

The real point, i think, of activities like this is to challenge students to work with different people and in a variety of ways. There is a great deal of academic evidence to suggest that ability to adapt to surroundings and circumstances is linked to happiness, acceptance and emotional progress in students. This activity begins to instil that approach with the students. I have always found that being open and allowing students opportunities to work both with friends and then others creates a good classroom ethos. With some classes I use a laminated football pitch poster and we tally the times that we work with friends and without and try to keep it even.

The crucial part of all this work is in the debrief or plenary to the activity. Here, the learning needs to be unpacked, but this must include questions on how effectively the group worked and how they went about tackling the problem or issue. In this way the messages about group work are reinforced by the experience and the reflection.

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Green Cross Learning (Stop, Look and Listen)

I have been working on a scheme of work for the past few weeks. I am quite proud of it actually – it contains some activities that I have never used before and has lots of variety. I think it works on several levels and challenges the way that students usually view and interact with the subject matter (the Great War).

Sitting back and looking at my creation, I was wondering whether the students in my classes would like it. I am sure that they will enjoy certain elements, but the truth is that I do not know.

I will soon though. I now make it a policy to try out new schemes of work with one class before inflicting it on the rest of the community. I get them to give me regular feedback on their opinions and work with a small group of students to tweek and sometimes transform lessons. I have even invited students from other groups to come and observe my lessons and have an input.

The point of all this is that the students have very clear ideas about what might and what does work. They know their stuff and when consulted, they can have some great ideas.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not going to let students write a scheme of work for themselves – they are not the trained professionals in the room! – but I am going to let them say what they like and don’t like and I am not going to get offended.

Student Voice in lessons is no different to a Mobile Phone company responded to the needs of its customers and altering their service plan. Students are on the receiving end and may perceive your intentions differently to how you imagined (there is a whole theory on this – Oppositional Reading).

Look what can happen if you let students loose on a topic:

http://tinyurl.com/o9apla

Student Voice is the basis for any creative solution in teaching. You need to have a good idea about what students in a group like and don’t like, how they prefer to learn and what they find acceptable. Armed with this information you can create a fantastic scheme or series of lessons. The beauty is that it is so simple to set up – teach a lesson and then ask students to write down on a post-it their favourite and least favourite part of the lesson.

It’s a start…

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Learning Walk… through Hackney

I went on a course today in Holborn (near Chancery Lane Tube station) and decided to walk back to Liverpool Street Station. On my way I passed through part of Hackney and got inspired by the ideas on display in show many shops, galleries and restaurants – it was what Tom Kelley would call fantastic ‘cross-pollination’. It is amazing how many ideas you can get from unusual sources – it is good to step outside of the profession for a while and just look at interesting stuff.

My best moment was coming across this sign outside a bookshop – talk about clever use of language and letters. I only had chance to look at the window, but there were so many books that I wanted to check out. I have tagged it on Google Maps ready for my more leisurely visit to London in a few weeks.

Bookshop Sign

We need more places that dare to do things differently and can inspire others.

Link for Tom Kelley’s book, Ten Faces of Innovation: http://bit.ly/dqs0R