I know, I know…I made all these promises about regular blogging and then I disappeared down a black hole for weeks on end and both twitter the blog have been silent. Be assured, however, that my classroom has been anything but quiet!
In the face of end of term whinging about how lethargic the pupils were and how much they needed / wanted spoon feeding, I redoubled my efforts towards independent learning and bucking the ennui trend! The result? Amidst manic musical preparations for Christmas which culminated in a stunning Nine Lessons and Carols from my chapel choir, I lead some hugely enjoyable lessons and the kids did some pretty awesome learning. What follows is a description of some of the things I did with my year 9s and 11s. I’m currently not at home so all resources will be attached later.
General Strategies that created a positive vibe!
After the success of my QR Code reading lesson discussed earlier in the blog, I decided to make QR Codes a regular feature. Each week I put a new QR code on my classroom door. Sometimes it’s a hyperlink to an interesting or useful article, sometimes a poem or a quote and sometimes a reminder about prep tasks. Because it changes kids want to know what will be hidden each week and bother to look.
This has been brilliant and dead easy. One notice board, covered in Post It Notes and the words ‘Google Challenge’ overhead. The idea is that every time a student comes across a word or phrase they don’t understand when reading, they are responsible for independently finding out its meaning and writing it up and a Post It. This way, others can look at the board when they are stuck, learning from the research of others. Commends are given to those who bring definitions in from home when they have done their private reading. It’s brilliant and a wonderfully low maintenance but colourful display!
Using Thinking Maps
Models for these can be found at http://www.thinkingmaps.com I was sceptical at first about using graphical plans for creative things but I confess that it worked like a charm.
The students were studying ‘Wild Places’ by Robert Macfarlane (an amazing text btw) and in particular a chapter in which he relays the life of a soldier named W H Murray. The idea was to use this as a spring board for studying some war poetry and doing some non fiction writing. The next few lessons went like this:
1. Using the comparative thinking map they had to note down everything they knew about the First and Second World Wars and think about similarities and differences. Having done this in pairs they then repeated the exercise in groups of four to double knowledge. The results were astonishing. I needed to do absolutely no teaching whatsoever once they’d shared some key info with the class. Note to self…never under estimate the knowledge that children bring with them to the classroom! Children then made a fact file by using the appropriate chapter of all the info the could find on W H Murray before studying ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke and discussing attitudes to war.
2. Students given a booklet of four poems, two about or from each war. Group investigations followed and a timed comparative essay on two of their choice. Note. These were great lessons and great essays but not the focus of this blog post.
3. Time for the second thinking map. The multi flow map! Having looked at an obituary of a similar man (The late, great Canon G W Markham) we did some work on deducing and inferring and vocabulary choice. We were focussing on the idea that from a fact the obituary writer had conveyed the information so as to convey much more about the deceased character. They used the thinking map to do the same. In the left column they wrote a fact from the fact file, the middle square was his name and the third column contained what this information might lead us to deduce about Murray’s character. We also added another set of boxes and in this they wrote words or phrases they might use in their final writing – an obituary of W H Murray. This all worked very nicely indeed and apart none of it involved me carping on at the front. I was free to roam the room and work with / help groups or individuals. The framework is also self differentiating – winner!
These guys are tough nuts to crack! With the pressure to meet grade predictions on, they are only interested in the right answers and extremely reluctant to be independent. However, with mocks behind us I was able to sell the importance of independent learning based on the amount of unseen stuff in the new GCSE Spec.
Top Tip No. 1 If you haven’t used Class Dojo yet (just google it) do so! The assessment criteria are easily edited and all of my positives were for insight, analysis, helping others and independent discovery etc. The fervour that ensued as they competed for points was extraordinary! I linked it in with our commend system with the student with most points getting a commend after each lesson and the most in a week getting small bag of Haribo! As a result my classroom full of previously terse and grimy Year 11 has been blissful! I can’t recommend this brilliant bit of free kit enough
Top Tip No 2 My heartfelt thanks to Kenny Piper for this one. He suggested I try a ‘get out of jail free card’ system for this group. Brilliant! They have one card a week which entitled them to ask me for information. It would be fun if they all had their own cards but my lot would lose them or develop black market trade instantly. So I have an electronic tally instead. Instantly gone are all those annoying questions like ‘how do I spell…’ and ‘what page is….’ as they judiciously save their card for more appropriate use! Thank you thank you Kenny!
Unseen poetry is one of the hardest exam elements for my guys so in the last week of term we had a real blitz on it. We started by devising a list of questions we would like to ask a poem. They then used these to analyse a given poem in groups and feed back to the class on the understanding that I was NOT going to go through the poem from the front – they were responsible for each others’ learning. Excellent results and once we evaluated questions and finalised them, they were printed out for everyone’s folders,
We developed this idea by asking questions to the painting associated with the Sister Maude story. This gave the pupils great insight into the poem before study meaning I had to do absolutely zero explanation. This was followed by a summarising activity to give them some context which again, made them think about the information they were assimilating rather than merely copying down and saving for later.
To conclude, I had a manic but marvellous end to term trying out these and other ideas. It reminded me of what I have always believed but what is easily forgotten when up against it at the coal face… Trust the kids more. They want to learn, they know more than you think and you need to give them chance to share it.
Onwards to 2012 comrades! May it be full of independent learning, free thinking and creativity!