Sometimes we think to much about being creative and come up with all manner of elaborate schemes to engage and excite students. Sometimes it might be better to take a step back, look at the basics and change just one thing…
In the last week of term we decided to do some lessons outside. In fact, we did a day outside, complete with lunch cooked by the students on fires that they constructed themselves.
There was a lot of smoke and, more importantly, a lot of laughter. The day was a great success and this was down to three things:
1. Change of scenery
2. New element or angle to the work
3. Different students coming forward to contribute
The change of scenery started out as a way to help students gel and mix with a wider group. However, it actually energised their thinking. The task was a mystery, but instead of clues on paper they were spread around an orienteering course. This meant that students had to locate the clues before starting to piece them together. The route they chose affected the clues they reached and therefore their answers. This made the debrief fascinating, especially since unexpected students were coming forward to voice their opinions. The ‘outdoors’ element completely threw some students who are usually good at this type of thing, whereas a few ‘quiet’ individuals were vocal about the way they had tackled the orienteering part. The whole exercise reinforced the notion of variety being vital in learning. The change of senery meant skills not normally seen in the classrooom were needed and the students loved the chance to demonstrate them. One young man is autistic and finds it hard to cope with the lively nature of life at school. He can be thrown by last minute changes to his day, but here (due to his scouting background) he was confident and a real leader.
We will definitely be doing this again and coming up with new scenarios to challenge students.
I was inspired when watching this TED talk by Kiran Bir Sethi from November 2009:
Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge
I found myself nodding in agreement with virtually everything that Kiran was saying. It resonated with many of the ideas that you will find on this site, especially our writing about good enquiry questions. We have outlined four priciples for a good question:
CPD can be horrendous, both for the audience and the person at the front. Some teachers seem determined to totally resent it, probably due to bad experiences in the past, but schools must still provide five days of stimulating training a year. This is where the problems begin: what professional development to you offer and how do you engage most of your audience?
The TEEP (Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme)Trainers Conference in York set out to explore some possible solutions to this issue and outline several models that provided creative solutions to CPD. Below I have outlined five approaches that came from the day. I am not in favour of any particular model, but wanted to start a debate on alternative ways to look at teacher training (look forward to reading your comments).
MODEL 1 – Lead Practitioner (SSAT)
TEEP needed to expand and so it has just been taken on by the SSAT (Specialist Schools & Academies Trust). They opened the conference with an intriguing and exciting proposal: aligning TEEP with the Lead Practitioner Accreditation. This is an online self-assessment tool that allows teachers to move through four stages of development, leading them from good individual practice through to being able to lead others in their development. As each of the criteria are meant, the teacher ticks the box and uploads evidence to support the statement. The accreditation comes after the fourth stage, where the portfolio that has been created is externally assessed and feedback given. The process demands real CPD, with teachers having to back to the tool at regular intervals, moving through the stages and finding evidence. The reward for a quality portfolio is Lead Practitioner status (not automatically given) and membership to a network of other people in the same position (see website for details).
Schools have used this approach to their advantage. Take Lodge Park Technology College, who have created a CPD package that contains Lead Practitioner Accreditation. Staff who achieve the award go on to lead learning and teaching in their faculty, or take on whole school projects – their recruitment page makes interesting reading. At All Hallows Catholic Collegethey have used TEEP and Lead Practitioner status extensively and senior leaders say that it has improved the CVA and the number of good/outstanding lessons. The result has been that the school has shifted from ‘special measures’ in 2006 to a much healthier position now – see the Ofsted reports for details. Both schools have seen massive benefits to introducing a more sustained model of CPD and reaped the benefits in terms of outcomes.
MODEL 2 – Taster and Twilight (Hartlepool)
People can quite cunning and two teachers form Manor Collegeshowed just how much with their approach to lure teachers into CPD. They set themselves an ambitious aim: to create meaningful CPD, but also to engage people with the process. Firstly, they created an exciting and rigorous PD day that served as a taster for the CPD that was to follow. It involved activities about group work and staff creating presentations about the key ideas behind their programme (in this case TEEP). At the end of the day, all staff were given the opportunity to take on a TEEP Level 1 qualification to further explore the strands raised on the taster day, to be delivered in five twilight sessions of two hours each (a fairly big commitment).
There was no shortage of takers and group started to run. The trainers made sure that the twilights were a real ‘experience’ hitting the participants visually and emotionally, making it fun as well as intellectually demanding; they even drafted in a small army of students to evaluate some of the work the group created. The whole process created a buzz around school, as did the quality of the teaching now coming from this pioneer group. The result was a clamour from other staff demanding twilight training and to be part of this approach. The key to its success are engaging staff and making want this training, both through the taster day and twilight sessions, and providing a qualification at the end (something to aim at over a substantial amount of time). There is a wealth of research to back up why these kind of projects have such impact, but probably the most accessible is Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’.
MODEL 3 – 2+1+2 = More than 5
It is hard enough to entertain people on a PD Day, but what if your ambitions stretch a little further. One trainer, Cath, was given the task of engaging a whole school staff in teaching and learning over the course of five PD Days. She decided to use TEEP level 1 as a framework, but adapted aspects of it to fit the context of the school. She took the first two days back-to-back in early July 2009 and used them to enthuse the staff in the process of creative teaching and learning. The days were high on engagement and group work, but ended with a lesson planning challenge that left people with something to try out in their lessons after the course ended. They were encouraged to collect artefacts that illustrated their experiments in the classroom.
Three months and a few gentle reminders later, the staff were back for Day 3. Experiences were shared and more flesh was put on the bones of what an engaging and creative classroom might look like in that school. They discussed PEEL procedures and thinking skills as a way to increase challenge and set themselves a challenge before Day 4.
After another gap, the group convened for Day 4 and 5 and shared experiences before analysing lessons plans created by teachers from other schools. This provided a distance so that constructive criticism could take place and this could be related to good practice within the room. The final sessions focused on the wider actions of teachers and learners and how this affects the classroom. Like all good units, the course ended with a creative task.
The advantages of this approach were, according to Cath, how it encouraged greater creativity and built in specific points of reflection and also how it created more group identity with everyone wanting to find out about the ideas of others. This is a key point, how many schools actually build reflection into their PD programme? After a successful day on a ‘school priority’ how to schools organise feedback and evaluation? Having a coherent course that runs over all PD Days in a year means that you can achieve this. There is the possibility that some of the key threads might get a little disjointed with this method, but it has to be better for the teacher than trying to make sense five separate days. The whole approach is about making sense of things: shared courses, shared language for learning, shared responsibility. Even though the course lasted 5 Days, the learning and impact happened in between as well and made the programme more than the sum of its parts.
MODEL 4 – Viral CPD (Hull)
Hull was one of the first authorities to grasp the power of having a single training programme to offer all teachers that come to work in the city. They have offered a coherent programme to all staff that is engaging and carries a qualification (TEEP Level 1). This is accepted by all schools and all teachers know that it is on offer. This means they can offer greater incentives when trying to recruit; and the same package is offered to all (GTPs, teachers in Secondary, Diploma tutors, etc).
The package offered is absolutely voluntary, but has attracted a wide acceptance because it has gone viral. Word of mouth and positive lesson observations have attracted the attention of senior leaders and other teachers. Where individuals have expressed an interest they have been placed in groups with people from other schools andbegun to collaborate. What is even more impressive is that many of the training days take place in school holidays, but the perceived impact of good quality training has attracted the numbers anyway. There are mild incentives (overnight stays, meals, etc), but the improvement of practice seems to be the top motivator, that and the additional reward of points towards a masters.
Where senior leaders have taken on the challenge, the training programme has moved to a whole school model, similar to the one outlined above. For those schools with an Ofsted rating satisfactory or lower there is additional support.
MODEL 5 – Saturday Morning Fever (Sunderland)
This was similar to some of the ideas outlined above: a series of seven morning sessions for three hours each. The end result was a qualification in teaching and learning. It was offered to a number of schools in close proximity and was absolutely voluntary. It raised standards and creativity, just as in the 2+1+2 model and allowed for practical application between sessions. As noted above, it was amazing to see just how many people were willing to adopt this approach, willing to give up Saturday mornings to further their understanding of teaching and learning and be recognised for it. The aim benefit of this model was the amount of fun that generated – all attendees had chosen to be there and the weekend time slot brought a weekend atmosphere.
CPD seems to have more impact when people buy into it. If we can’t run it on a voluntary basis, then we need to make it coherent and long lasting. Senior Leaders need a long-term vision of where they want to go and plan a holistic course that will get them there. The idea of a qualification attracts some, but the prime motivator seems to be ‘getting better’ at teaching and moving on. If staff are given a reason to do something and a clear path through all the evidence suggests that they will give up time to achieve a goal. Above all though, the message comes through that CPD needs to be high quality and engaging – you have to admire schools like Lodge Park who have taken this into their own hands and ensured that this year’s CPD creates the Practitioners to deliver it for the following 12 months. Some serious (re)thinking needs to be done.
It is easy to recognise creativity. Take a look at this video I found on a designer’s website:
This is a great idea for getting a message across, and I really like the principles it sets out for creativity and getting good ideas:
1. Push your ideas
2. Trust your gut
3. Don’t fall in love with your first idea
4. Don’t censor yourself – figure out what you want to say
5. Worry about ideas first, execution later
6. Approach the problem from different angles
7. Don’t repeat yourself
8. Show people your work, see if they get it
9. Leave an impression with your audience
10. Keep going
The points above represent a well thought out set of advice, but we know it is not as simple as having these next to you when you plan. If it was, the job would not be much fun.
Teachers have a really hard job – enjoyable, rewarding and worthy of praise, but hard. We have to come up with lessons that are can stand up to the most robust of criticism and fulfil a whole host of criteria that we may or may not agree with. This, and the fact that we have to repeat the show for a new audience every hour.
What makes it even harder is that any negative feedback is going to hit you right on launch – if it is an awful lesson, the students will definitely let you know. That is why I sometimes daydream of being a designer, the anomimity of it seems like heaven – I haven’t heard of any designer having a disatisfied consumer throwing a product back in their face. However, students in classrooms do and it gets to you – no matter how much you tell yourself that it shouldn’t, it happens every time. Why do we get upset when lessons do not go according to plan? It might be the wasted hours spent preparing the matertials that hurts, “Do you know how long it took me to prepare this stuff?” Possibly, it is wounded pride – no one likes to get things wrong. I am sure these play a part, but they are probably secondary. I suspect that our annoyance comes from a deeper place than this most of the time. My view is that lesson ideas are our creative output and we are intrinsically motivated by producing great ideas that ‘work’ in the classsroom. This is how we measure our success and how we take pleasure from each lesson (it is our ‘Assessment for Learning’ I suppose). What matters to us when an idea does not work, is that we feel personally wronged. We invest a lot of ourselves in our ideas and if they fall flat, then we often take this to heart.
It is easily done. I have a challenging Year 9 group for an afternoon lesson, and I wanted to try something different to keep them engaged and active. Inspired by Thinking History, I devised a roleplay where each member of the group played a part in the story of Herbert Morris, a Carribean volunteer executed in the Great War. Each had specific actions and words to say at various times and they characters appeared and reappeared in the narrative, ending with a dramatic trial and execution (the big surprise)!. I thought it was going to be a triumph, but it was virtually ruined by the behaviour of a few boys. I had to keep them in at the end of the lesson to discuss their behaviour, I was actually annoyed that they had not taken to my idea for the lesson. They apologised, but one said, “It was a bit boring though sir, when you had to sit through all the other bits that weren’t yours. It was just listening.” I assumed, wrongly, that they would run with this. The idea was a good one, but not right for the class I was teaching. I broke rule number 9 from the film and for teachers, this is crucial.
I believe that two points are crucial when it comes to making creative lessons – purpose and audience. In the two previous posts I outlined the need for good subject knowledge and an understanding of how teaching works, this consistutes the purpose of teaching – ‘why’ we are doing what we do. If we add to this the notion of audience then creativity should start to flow. I have already posted a few thoughts on student voice and see this as a vital way of knowing what will work for a particular group. Knowing students and their achievements is also vital and provides us with the knowledge we need to be creative.
Take this quote from ‘Presentation Zen Design‘ by Garr Reynolds and replace the word design with teaching or teach:
Design is about people creating solutions that help or improve the lives of other people – often in profound ways, but often in ways that are quite small and unnoticed. When we design, we need to be concerned with how other people interpret our design solutions, and our design messgaes. Design is not art, although there is art in it. Artists can, more or less, follow their creative impulses and create whatever it is they want to express. But designers work in a business environment. At all times, designers need to be aware of the end user and how best to solve (or prevent) a problem from the user’s point of view… good design must necessarily have an imapct on people’s lives, no matter how seemingly small. Good design changes things.
Thinking of ourselves as designers, although a touch indulgent, is a good place to start and thinking about creative lessons.
So, how do we use this to be more creative in the classroom? If we have in mind, all the time, that we need to bring the students along with us then we have a starting point. Recently, we have used the ‘Principles of Sticky‘ to ensure that our classes are engaged and focused on their learning. It has meant that we have to find stories that will give the work coherence and work hard to make it emotionally and physically engaging for the students (Nick Dennis recently told me about the story of Hans Massaquoi which I’ll be using next year for the same reasons). When think about your audience and their needs you begin to open yourself to many new possibilities; the certainty goes out of planning lessons, because it becomes more about ‘educated guesses’ than concrete actions. You start to ask yourself questions like, ‘I wonder if they will like…’ or ‘Will this work if I…’ After years of working with training teachers I have noticed that a shift happens in their thinking at precisely the moment described above. When teachers stop worrying about what they need to do and begin to think about what the students might need or enjoy their teaching improves, the learning gets better and the whole process is more creative.A by-product of this is the use of technology in lessons. Quality use of ICT seems to go hand in hand with the realsiation that students are the audience. When teachers do start to experiment with ICT they become more creative – it is another tool in their box that can be used.
The same applies to other avenues. Both Johannes and myself are avid of Wired UK and steal ideas from it on a regular basis. It is not about teaching, but tecnhnology and stuff ideas. It takes a meantal leap to see how some of this could be used in the classroom, but that is the fun part. It is no different to watching great comedy – it is funny because you make the connection in your between the punchline or observation and the intended subject. Eddie Izzard is a brilliant example of this. Buy his ‘Glorious‘ DVD and watch how he builds the story of Noah and the Ark. As well as laughing (hopefully) you will see a creative genius making connections all over the place. This is the essence of creativity – making links between otherwise disparate elements. A whole that is more than the sum of its parts. Of course, drawing in new and random ideas that you think will hook and engage the students will lead to failures (see above), but as long as we see it ass just an experiment and don’t take it personally then we can arry on. BY next lesson students will have forgotten all about it and so should we – teachers who hold grudges are not effective in the classsroom.
One last and crucial point. All the above is based on the asssumption that the learning is about what students will do. Learning needs to be focused on students doing and reflecting, not on teachers tecahing. Only when this occurs will creativity flow.
Students have very different experiences from their teachers and view life with different lenses than we perhaps do. So when you start a new topic, if you discuss or introduce a new concept, how far do you think students see what you see? The quest, as always, is to make the abstractions of our subjects more concrete so they understand.
Seeing things differently
When Johannes first came to the UK from Sweden many years ago he got a job as a Guest Porter in a fancy hotel in Cambridge. This was a real learning experience for him particularly when it came learning colloquial terms and phrases. For example colleagues would ask if he was ‘alright’. Now this may not seem like an odd question to most, however Johannes felt that although they may be concerned about his well-being, he certainly was ‘alright’ as there was nothing wrong with him, so he would reply: “Yes I’m ‘ALRIGHT, there’s nothing wrong with me'”. Today Johannes can see what they meant. Strangely enough he was never lynched.
In a similar vein, the 3 minute talk below deals with those simple issues that can very easily be misunderstood, although you wouldn’t think that asking for direction could be so different? Continue reading Simplicity at its best