An answer to the question, “How long does it have to be sir?”

I have just finished a round of assessment with my Year 9 SEN group. They are not yet at the stage where we can do extended writing, but given that their last assessment was a verbal presentation, I wanted to get them to write something and think about how words can be used.

I have been a fan of ‘mini-sagas’ in the classroom for a while now. They are a great revision tool and can make students really think about what are the essential elements of a story or topic (see http://is.gd/1j46p). I thought that it might help this group if the assessment was reduced down to 50 words and I made them think about what they had to write rather than how much.

The task was to look at the story of a woman called Kitty Eckersley, whose story appears in the excellent book, ‘Forgotten Voices of the Great War’ by Max Arthur (see bit.ly/90PZwC). I wanted students to explore the relationship between big events in History and the impact on people’s lives. The key skills being tested here were diversity and chronology – for as we call it ‘Patterns in History’. I mini-saga seemed to fit in this appraoch and so I created a seessment sheet ATY9 Kitty’s Storyand we began to draft…

The results were very good, with some students going down a poetic route and others focusing on telling a memorable story. A couple of the mini-sagas can be seen below:

“Kitty worked in a mill. She found love, they got married. He went to war and she didn’t see him for six months. She worked in a leather factory when he came back and bought her a hat. He returned to war, but she got pregnant. Then came THE LETTER.”

“Working hard every day, married a young man who decided to go to war – was terrified. After six months and a lonely Christmas he arrives in January. Pregnant. Seven months later I got a letter saying “I am sorry to tell you of the death of your husband.” Tears fall.”

So, we assessed the impact of the Great War in 30 minutes and in 50 words, which stopped all those annoying questions about how long the assessment has to be. The next step is to work out how we can move students on and allow them to access the higher levels of thinking; getting them to explore the difference between the outbreak of war, which passes Kitty by, and the recruitment drive, which impacts her significantly.

Getting creative with SEN

Today my Year 9 low ability / SEN class made this:

Collage created by Year 9 at Copleston High School
Collage created by Year 9 at Copleston High School

It was the result of a lesson that started by analysing current adverts for their message. We then went on to look at the story of Kitty Eckersley and why her husband joined the Army.

Next, we brainstormed (properly – in fours and in silence, then sharing!) why men might volunteer to fight. With a little help, we came up with four ways that the government might try to persuade people to ‘join up’:

– Patriotism
– Anti-German messages
– Heroism
– Shame

Students then looked at six posters from WWI and identified one of the four elements within them, choosing specific parts and not whole posters.

As an extended plenary, students used the free form capture tool on the whiteboard to cut out the areas for their theme and designed new posters using the bits they had selected. We were able to save it as an image and print it out.

For homework, the students are comparing the posters they created to the Kitty Eckersley story and identirying which of the four methods most influenced her husband.

What was really good to see was students making informed choices and debating whether certain sections could be included under two headings. By allowing the creative task to come to the forefront of the lesson we unlocked a new set of thinking: students were thinking about the interplay of images and text, as well as how to create an overall effect. They got an end product and were willing to invest time in making it look good. Also, they wanted it to work.

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Inspirational books

A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink

Daniel Pink explains that:

‘…the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys’.

This distinctly new group of people will offer more than linear, logical thinking and they will view their environment, workplace and life from a more holistic perspective, aware of the changing world around them. The educational system must meet that challenge. Teacher will benefit greatly from reading this book as we are the ones that must prepare students for an emerging labour market which has evolved from what Pink describes as a knowledge based sphere of linear thinking, analytical and calculating skills to a new sphere were they will need the ability to detect patterns and opportunities, among other things. If the former were the skills of the Information Age, then synthesis will become the core skill of the 21st Century, where students are required to grasp the bigger picture and to combine contrasting elements into a new impressive whole. Welcome to the Conceptual Age. This book has helped us re-focus our own teaching as well as outlook on education and beyond. It is a truly insightful read, get it now.

Voices of Our Time (CD collection) by Studs Terkel

When Studs Terkel passed away in October 2008 thousands mourned, yet most people around the world had never heard his name. The most interesting thing about Terkel is the way he interviewed people and, perhaps most importantly, who he interviewed. The list of celebrities who are involved in this selection is quiet staggering, however, Terkel’s ‘magic’, in my humble opinion, is when he devoted his time to ordinary individuals whose life journeys revealed a lot about life of that time. This particular selection of interviews include Aaron Copland, Oliver Sacks, Margaret Mead, Daniel Ellsberg, Maya Angelou, Pete Seeger, John Kenneth Galbraith, and dozens of others. This collection provide excerpts from 48 interviews, first broadcast on Terkel’s daily show on WFMT, which all together, provide a fascinating portrait of the last half of 20th century.

Please visit Studsterkel.org to explore this fascinating individual in more detail and discover other books and listen/watch interviews conducted by Terkel.

Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times by Studs Terkel

This books is a master piece.

In this book Studs Terkel turns to a subject more elusive than those of his earlier oral histories (see Studsterkel.org), namely hope . There are many very thoughful and though-provoking interviews which keeps you from putting the book down. My favourite interviewis when he talks to Brigader General Paul Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay over Hiroshima in 1945, when Tibbets dismisses the possibility for peaceful resolutions to the post-September 11 conflicts. It raises many interesting questions about the nature of warfare and violence.

Chris Abani: GraceLand

Abani’s best-selling 2004 novel GraceLand is a searing and funny tale of a young Nigerian boy, an Elvis impersonator who moves through the wide, wild world of Lagos, slipping between pop and traditional cultures, art and crime. It’s a perennial book-club pick, a story that brings the postcolonial African experience to vivid life. Abani writing is as honest, funny and imaginative as he is on stage. If you have a spare 17 minutes do visit TED.com and listen to Chris Abani’s talk of African stories: complex, moving, funny and conscious.

Here Comes Everbody by Clay Shirky

The world we live in today shows “…the largest increase in expressive capability in human history”, according to Clay Shirky. He explains the significance of new and emerging technologies such as Social Media and demonstrates clearly that the way we communicate with each other has changed immensely. This new world has for example created opportunities to collaborate and communicate to express positive ideas and opinions like during the Iran Elections of 2009, but it has also created negative elements where young girls can share ideas about becoming dangerously skinny. Clay Shirky gives us many different examples like the Sichuan earthquake where the BBC found out about the terrible event via Twitter.com and that the last time China had had an earthquake by such magnitude it took more than three months before the the Chinese government released details about the event. This is a superb book which provides insight into the this new way of working and communicating, a world which will affect, well…everybody.

Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds

Reynolds book is, to put it simply, outstanding. There are several books that discuss the issues of presenting information in various ways, some of which do an excellent job for example Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points, but Presentation Zen takes the reader to another level when it comes to understanding the nature of presenting one’s message.

Reynolds summarises current literature on the topic and gets you thinking about why your key point(s) matter and how we can go about ensuring that the audience, in my case students, are engaged, want to continue to listen or discuss and that they remember what your message is all about. Presentation Zen encourages the reader to become more creative and, something which we feel is essential, shows us as professionals how we can teach our students to become inspirational and thoughtful communicators.

When we deliver INSET or workshops we always use Garr Reynold’s ideas and his theory behind a successful presentation. Please visit Reynolds website to find out more.

Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley

Tom Kelley, CEO at the innovation and design firm IDEO, explains how they have created a culture of innovation at the firm and how simple and effective their techniques and methods really are. Kelley introduces a series of ‘individuals’ you can play during meetings and brainstorming session to gain as much as possible from all present. Kelley also suggest many creative ways to stimulate discussion and generate innovative ideas. This book is a must for those of you who want to gain a deeper insight into the workings of a successful and innovative working environment. It is an enriching, thought-provoking and fun book to read and one which we whole-heartedly recommend to anyone seeking new ideas.

Please visit IDEO’s main website to find out more.

Alan November

Fourteen year old: “I’m working on a history paper about how the Holocaust never happened.”
Long pause. “Zack, where did you hear that the Holocaust didn’t happen?”
“The Internet. It’s on a Web page at Northwestern University.” November Learning

How often do you hear students, and teachers, mutter something like ‘find it on the net’ or ‘just do a Google search’? We all face the same dilemma of how to use the World Wide Web effectively and wisely. There are good websites out there which can enrich learning, excite students and challenge them to think. What websites do teachers use that do all of this? Alan November raises many important questions about how children, and adults alike, use the internet to access information. One of the most interesting articles, Teaching Zack to Think, on the topic is still hosted on his site and available to download. Well worth a read as well. Web Literacy for Educators provides concrete examples of how to use the internet effectively, from dealing with plagiarism to searching safely. This is one of those books you need to have.

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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Reflections on Social Media in Education part 1

The world we live in today shows “…the largest increase in expressive capability in human history”, according to Clay Shirky.  He explains the significance of new and emerging technologies such as Social Media and demonstrates clearly that the way we communicate with each other has changed immensely. Clay Shirky gives the example of the Sichuan earthquake where the BBC found out about the terrible event via Twitter.com and that the last time China had had an earthquake by such magnitude it took more than three months before the the Chinese government released details about the event.

Shirky emphasises the point that new tools such as Twitter and FaceBook help citizens in repressive regimes to report on real news, bypassing censors (however briefly). Mr Ahmadinejad’s controversial re-election in June 2009 and the subsequent protests, some of which were violent, generated immense global interest. Twitter became a genuine tool which many protesters used to spread what was taking place, including uploading images of some of the worst clashes between protesters and military. We followed updates using ‘hashtags’ in Twitter. These hashtags are added to your post which act like a mini channel which others can follow and read so for example during the Iran elections protesters used #iranelections to only follow updates from what was happening. There were even websites such as  Mashable that provided readers with guides on how to follow the elections via Twitter.

It seems that many counties in the UK have opted to ban, block or discourage the use of Twitter, or any Social Media tool for that matter, as Twitter can leave students open to a range of different problems.  The interesting question is of course: Shouldn’t we use Twitter in the classroom so that students learn how to use it well and about potential issues with social media so they know what to do and what to look out for? It is crucial that teachers and educators give students the right skills to be able to use these new online tools. There are some teachers and educators that do use Twitter well to engage and challenge students to learn and those who are new to WEB 2.0 tools must be shown the way.

On Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky’s talk can be found on  TED.com. Make a cup of coffee (or tea!) and enjoy 20-odd minutes of brilliance. If you found his talk interesting then do not hesitate to buy his book which is equally fascinating: Here Comes Everybody: how change happens when people come together . In a similar vein, Charles Leadbeater has also examined the way we communicate and collaborate nowadays in his brilliant book We Think: not mass production, mass innovation.

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