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.
Today my Year 9 low ability / SEN class made this:
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’:
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.
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.
Can you remember an event when you learned something unexpectedly? A ‘learning collision’. Let me explain.
I had been at a conference in London and was traveling back to Norfolk by train. When the train approached Cambridge we were informed that passengers had to go by coach to Ely and than onwards to Norfolk by train. This came as no surprise to travellers that day and we all shuffled through the train station towards the front of the building where the coach was expecting us. Unfortunately, there were more than just a few people waiting for the coach, in fact, hundreds of passengers were waiting patiently to be taken to Ely to catch the next link on their journeys. Eventually, a bunch of us got together to share a taxi: a lady from Northern Ireland, a pensioner from South Creak, a bishop and a Swede (this could have turned into a rather good joke I think!) and eventually managed to catch the next available train without being delayed for too long. A seemingly dull and potentially cumbersome trip turned into a very interesting and rewarding experience because of this slight miss-hap.
I had the pleasure of sharing the last leg of my trip with the bishop. He told me that education was very close to his heart as well and that his current role involved working with a lot with young adults. ‘Learning, I mean real learning’ he said, ‘takes place when you least expect it’. He went on to explain that the biggest impact his teachings ever have on his students is when they go on pilgrimages because each student experience something different to the other ones. The impact of their learning journeys continue after the pilgrimage, in later lessons and beyond. Talking to this friendly man got me thinking about how our students learn, why they learn and when they learn best. Isn’t it true that learning stays with you longer when you experience it and when you take an active part in it?
My wife and I spent a week in Dorset a couple of years ago and we also spent a few hours in Tolpuddle. As a History teacher this area is particularly interesting. Tolpuddle in the 1830s was a quaint little village where a small group of farm labourers joined together to protect their wages which were decreasing in this part of the country . The government, worried about workers rebellion, and worse case scenario revolution, encouraged local landlords and employers to come down hard on this small group of men. Eventually the six men were transported to Australia. They became known as the Martyrs of Tolpuddle – or The Tolpuddle Martyrs.
I always found this story especially interesting as the six men were treated so harshly for something rather peaceful, namely discussing what they could do to ensure they could feed their families at the end of the week. According to historical documents the ‘Topuddle Six’ gathered by a large oak tree to talk. When we arrived at the village my wife took a series of photos of me posing in front of ‘the tree’ which I could use to show my students. Suddenly an older gentleman stopped his car and asked why we were taking snaps of the tree. I explained the reasons for our peculiar behaviour but he interrupted me and asked if I really believed that the Martyrs would have sat by that particular tree. He then went on to explain that his great grandfather, his own father and himself were all brought up in Tolpuddle and he had been told that the six men never, and he repeated ‘never’, sat by that tree. ‘Guess why they didn’t?’. I was unsure so he said: ‘If that’s the Manor Farm and they sat there (pointing towards both locations), do you really think they were that stupid to sit 20 yards away from the boss?’. I had never questioned the legends or even local documents. Examine the photograph, find the tree, the manor farm and then think about it, would they really have sat there? Of course not. i just had a ‘learning collision’ which I will not forget.