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.
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:
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.
Students need to see how units of work tie together, link up, sequence and that there are recognizable patterns across what they have learned. It is of course our job to do this well but sometimes it can be very hard to make it concrete so that students understand. This is when the 30 Circle Test can help. We have adapted this activity for education from a task invented by IDEO, an innovative design company in the US (please watch Tim Brown’s talk on TED.com to see how they use it).
The 30 Circle Test
The key behind this activity is to get students thinking about the bigger issues and how they link together.
Print off a copy of the image/worksheet for every learner. Give them a Unit or Course area e.g. Surgery in Medicine through Time and give them 60 seconds to draw everything they know about the topic or unit. Students are not allowed to write anything just draw. Notice that quantity not quality is key here, so sketches rather than Monet will work better. Then get them to compare with each other and talk through what sort of items they have added to their 30 Circles – probably not many… Allow them time, round 7 minutes, to finish their drawings. Then in pairs ask students to compare with each other and give them a new 30 Circle sheet and get them to produce a new piece using their (can also be three students involved) previous ‘circle drawings’. It is important that they have established what the core of the topic or Unit is and what the key issues are for the activity to work so it needs to be guided by the teacher.
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.
Clay Shirky raises some interesting issues in his TED talk (http://tinyurl.com/lphud3) about how groups work. The issue for educators has to be how do we transform the learning experience to match the processes of those who regularly contribute to online activities. Sharing is part of the online culture and many young people are able to share videos and files without a second thought. How would Facebook or World of Warcraft look if it were a classroom activity. Our initial thoughts are that activities be open ended and should offer students a choice over expression and output. More ideas to follow…