Student Led Enquiries: The Summer School Diaries

For this year’s summer school at Copleston High School we investigated how Ipswich can be made appealing to the people of Bruges in Belgium. It is a real and significant problem (to us, at least), since the two towns have forged new links and have started to work more closely together in the last year. The Year 6 (soon to be Year 7) students attending the Summer School needed to decide what can be said about Ipswich and how it could be presented to their continental counterparts.

Below is a diary of the activities we used to build up the enquiry and student responses to them.

DAY ONE – Breaking the Ice
On arrival students were asked to play the ’11′ game. Everyone forms a circle and the first person starts counting, they can add 1, 2 or 3 numbers to the total. The person who has to say the number 11 is out and the counting starts again. This activity is a fun way to engage the brain and get people communicating in a small way.

Next, we carried out a litttle trust experiment, inspired by the work of Dan Ariely in The Upside of Irrationality. The group were split into two teams and each were given a bag of sweets (enough for one each). The first team had to decide whether to keep the sweets or hand them over to the other team for a chance of getting back many more than they started with. If they handed them over, the second team would receive four bags of sweets – making a total of five when added to the one they were already holding. The second team now had to decide whether to keep all five bags or split the bounty with the other team.

The results were fascinating. The first team debated for a while, but based on the fact that ‘we don’t know them and we don’t know that they will share’ they rejected the offer and kept the bag for themselves. The second group had decided to split the pot if they were given the option. Their rationale was that if the first team showed trust in them, they felt oblicated to reward them. The first team then felt bad and as we debriefed the activity the idea of trust came out really strongly as a key element in making any group enquiry work.

The final part of the morning session was used for getting to know people’s names (using ryhmes, e.g. ‘My name is Neal and I love a good meal,’ and a ball for random selection).

In the afternoon session we experienced archery. The activity was new to all students and a real challenge. The debrief centred arounnd a discussion of developing existing skills and learning new ones.

DAY TWO – What do you know already?
In the first session students were grouped to include a range of creative talents and then given the problem: How can you market Ipswich in Bruges? They had to think carefully about what they knew already and think about what questions they wanted to ask. We did this by doing a real brainstorm session and using David Leat’s 8Q approach (5Ws plus How, Could and Should). We also created a grafitti wall of our favourite questions where answers could be shared throughout the project. In the debrief students said that they now needed to find answers and suggested a visit to the town centre. Anticipating this, we made made a few bookings for Day 3.

The afternoon session was football coaching, where the students took a familiar skill and developed it in new ways.

DAY THREE – Summer Schooll On Tour
The whole day was spent out in Ipswich. We had pre-booked three guides: one at the docks, one at Ipswich Football Stadium and one at a local Mansion House. The idea was for students to get their questions answered, generate one ones and start to think about how to sell Ipswich. The whole day was fascinating and students were really starting to think about their knowledge because they were the ones in control of the questions. We also gave each group a digital camera and a journal so that they could record the day and take ‘publicity shots.’

The debrief took the form of a group Mind map and showed us that they had taken on board a lot throughout the and were now keen to get on with the project. So, we adapted our plans for Day Four and allowed the students freedom to create.

DAY FOUR – Any Ideas?
The fourth day was about students starting to develop their thoughts and coming up with the final product. They developed a range of responses, including live websites, powerpoints, models and branding – all through group interaction and problem solving techniques that they employed on their own. It was at this point that they ‘took over’ and started to call the shots about how to spend their time. Our role was to fascilitate and sort any logistical issues.

At the end of the day, the debreif centred around what skills they needed or wanted to develop. The students identified six key areas:
- How do we create good publicity?
- What language/words most persuade people to do something?
- How do we create good powerpoints and websites?
- What makes a good brand?
- How do you make a good speech?
- What does Ipswich stand for?

The staff then sat down and planned a session based around each of these questions for the next day…

DAY FIVE – Get Skilled
In the first session students had to allocate members of their group to attend the sessions listed above. There was a free choice as long as someone from each group attended each session. Three were run in the next hour and then another three after a break. The students then got together and swapped experiences and skills. The afternoon session was spent applying these new skills to their projects.

One of the issues that came up in the debrief was that they did not really know Bruges and so could not make a judgement about whether the points they had highlighted about Ipswich would appeal; as one girl put it, ‘We are saying that Ipswich has 12 medieval churches in use, but what if Bruges has 15… that won’t make them come here, it just makes them look better!’ It was a good point and we had anticipated this and organised a trip to Bruges.

DAY SIX – Are we ready to go?
The day was spent putting together a set of proposals and materials to test against the backdrop of Bruges. Students had two scenarios to work with ‘unique’ and ‘complimentary.’ The idea was to decide if they would sell Ipswich by stressing its unique features or whether more could be done with the links between the two places. Both theories would need testing against Bruges. They would need to test the strengths of any claim. By the end of the end students were filling their journals with points they wanted to clarify.

DAY SEVEN – The Big Road Trip
This was a long day, but worth the effort. Students were given a set of graphic organisers to fill in as well as collect information to support their approach to promoting Ipswich. The organisers were designed to capture a range of information and cover many skills – each member of the group had a different one to fill in and we left it up to the group to decide who did what. We had around five hours in Bruges, following set tours and recording information.

DAY EIGHT – More Information, More Problems

This day was spent making sense of the findings from Bruges and preparing media files shot on the previous day. Students decided how to spend their time and what to do. They submitted their plans in the morning and then started to work. It quickly became apparent to them that they now had information overload and almost all the groups started to edit and refine their work. This was interesting to watch as it is a skill we often teach and yet here were students independently recognising that it needed to happen.

DAY NINE – Statuesque
This day was devoted to throwing in one last challenge. Students were told that a sculpture had to be built to commemorate the link between the two places and they needed to submit a design. After the initial design was complete, students were asking about their presentations so we allowed students to manage their own time, as long as the whole project was completed, they could do whatever was necessary. So, they did.

DAY TEN – The Final Presentation
Parents and assorted visitors had been told to arrive at 1:30 pm and so students had four hours to complete their presentations about marketing Ipswich, create a stall to market their approach and show their sculpture and rehearse their speech. These last few hours were frantic, but the results were worth it. Each group did a unique presentation – some with ICT, others with mock-ups, and some just talking – and impressed the audience (who were full of questions).

At the end, staff revealed that they had kept a journal and noted down achievements by students. We called them up one-by-one and said what achievements we had seen them make in the two weeks and why that made us proud.

Epilogue
I have included here a copy of the original programme. I have done this to show just how much we changed as we went along, adapting to issues and the needs and requests of students. This ability to adapt is sometimes overlooked in normal classroom scenarios and yet it was what made the learning flow and be relevant to the students at that particular time.

The spirit of this group was so strong that we have decided to let them develop the programme for nest year. They will come up with the ideas, manage the budget, make the bookings and find the materials. Should be an interesting project to blog about…

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Choosing Your Students

Each year a full-time teacher receives in the region of 250-300 students who they will deliver quality learning and teaching. As teaching professionals we don’t get to choose our students, of course not, our middle leaders and the Assistant Head in charge of time-tabling will organise what classes we teach. But, can we in fact have a say in what sort of students we eventually get to mould into independent thinkers?

I came across a brief post by Seth Godin who exclaimed that businesses and companies choose their customers:

Yes, you get to choose them, not the other way around. You choose them with your pricing, your content, your promotion, your outreach and your product line…

In many respects Seth Godin’s quote echoes many truths about education and how teachers must think carefully about what students they would like in their classrooms. If we breakdown Godin’s quote and rewrite it to fit schools it could sound something like this:

Choosing your students:

Yes, you get to choose them, not the other way around. You choose them with your lesson planning, your creative skills to engage, your offer of challenge and progress, your subject and professional expertise and your respect for them…

Let’s look at each element briefly.

1. Planning:

Purposeful planning and careful lesson design will help making students want to learn and see that skills progression matters both to life as a student but also beyond the classroom. Planning takes time, particularly if you’re recently new to teaching, but this time is worth every minute. Good planning leads to good learning but this is not to say it is easy to achieve as structuring an outstanding lesson is difficult. We have written extensively about lesson planning and design in our books and in recent posts which are also worth taking a look at: Planning GCSE with a Smile, Creativity in Teaching: start designing lessons and Educational Mashups part three: creative ideas from the ‘Industry’.

2. Creativity and Engagement

Thinking carefully about the outcome(s) of the lesson is crucial so that students learn and their skills develop. Creative and engaging lesson activities will help you and them to meet those outcomes. For example, how can you make a difficult concept easier to understand or in what ways can you help them find a topic more enjoyable? As teachers we know very well that if we plan good lessons with engaging and creative ideas students are more likely to enjoy it which means they stand a greater chance of learning and not behaving in such a way that would be detrimental to their and others’ learning. We have devoted a lot of time to developing creative and engaging lesson activities which will help you to plan effective lessons that are packed with learning, take a look at these posts: Educational Mashups Part four: creativity boosts from the wiseSimplicity at its best and Handheld Learning beyond the Classroom.

3. Challenge and Progress

I once heard a student talk about their options and they were to select them depending on how ‘easy’ they were. I later taught this student and in one conversation she explained that the easy subjects had become boring and that those that made her think were more enjoyable. Even if a student asks to watch a film it is unlikely they will enjoy that as much as having to work hard at solving a problem, collaborating on a project or receiving positive feedback on a piece of writing. This is why it is important to produce activities that not only challenge them to think but also moves their thinking forward. Purposeful feedback will help here. Take a look at these posts for further ideas about challenging students and motivating them through good feedback: Shred Their Work: or Reflections on Student Motivation and Using ‘The Ten Faces of Innovation ‘ in the classroom.

4. Subject and Professional Expertise

Terry Haydn, Senior Reader at the University of East Anglia and our old mentor (well, he’s not really old just very experienced!), always said that sound subject knowledge contributes to sound lesson content and that the power of good exposition should not be forgotten. Indeed, good story telling can enliven topics and give structure and a road-map to the ‘bigger picture’ that the class to follow. We also strongly believe that a broad understanding of our profession is key to becoming an excellent teacher and that this should never end. However, we urge you to read books that may not directly link with our profession, so not books about teaching but to cross-pollinate ideas from other fields like marketing, design, music, art and business. In return for reading, listening, watching and discussing with people from other industries other than education you will be rewarded with a myriad of stimulating and creative ideas. We have written a series of posts on cross-pollination called Educational Mashups which could be used as a starting point: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 .

5. Respect

In my work as Advisor I often get the opportunity to talk to OFSTED inspectors or receive training on lesson observations. One thing that always crop up both during lesson debriefs and in whole school feedback is the relationships between students and their teachers. Those teachers that have strong relations with their classes rarely have many behavioural problems compared to those who do not. However, this type of relationship does not happen quickly and involves more than jokes and understanding students backgrounds. Strong relationships between the teacher and their class happen when there is a clear and continued dialogue as well as exchange of thoughts. This is where good feedback, Assessment for Learning, Student Voice and just plain politeness are needed in order for this dialogue and exchange to occur. This post deals with how relationships can be solidified via purposeful feedback and enhanced student involvement:  Shred Their Work: or Reflections on Student Motivation.

The correct ingredients in making the perfect class is of course variable and the list provided above is by no means exhaustive, but will hopefully give some insight into what we as teachers try to do. In this respect, perhaps Seth Godin’s advice works in education as in business – we do get a say in choosing what sort of customers/students we get to work with or teach…eventually?

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Creativity in Teaching (Part 3: start designing lessons)

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.

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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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Using 'The Ten Faces of Innovation ' in the classroom

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.

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