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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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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Create meaningful and relevant stories with a difference

Add stories, photos and sounds to map
Create living maps with sound, stories and images

One way of creating meaning and relevance behind stories is to use illustrations and photos of various kinds. An even more powerful way is to add sound to a story to really capture a particular moment or event. Imagine including all of these features and add them to the exact location on a map. This is what MapSkip offers its users: create stories around a particular place.

After registering with the website find a location you wish to write about, for example the Normany landings in 1944 or example of coastal erosion on the North Norfolk coast, add a ‘marker’ in the shape of a hand and a small box with a form will appear and you can give the place a name. Now you can also upload a photo or drawing, and why not include an MP3 file which captures the fierce fighting during D-Day landings? Another good idea could be to create longer investigations with a class and keep adding to the map as you work through a unit, for example as they discover more about an individual’s journey, they can create a very detailed, meaningful and relevant story about this person.What about producing sound-trails or interviews from your locality and add them to your map like a local study?

Imagination is everything with this tool and students tend to think of 100s of ideas about how they can demonstrate their understanding of a topic or unit. This is a superb educational tool and one worth exploring further.

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.