When I first read about Kill the Question on @rlj1981’s blog (http://createinnovateexplore.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/3d-planning-and-kill-the-question/) the idea got me pretty excited.
I am vampiric when it comes to borrowing other people’s ideas and I loved that Rachel’s idea was so easily adaptable to the English classroom.
Below is what worked and what didn’t work as I tried to figure out how I could use this activity with my students.
Working up to it:
Rachel described this activity as a starter, for me it became a whole lesson and later as you will see a 2 hour workshop. The idea is to ask students to look at a concept (or an essay question) from every conceivable angle.
Our year 12 students return after their exams and we normally start teaching year 13 material. This year we were given a free reign and I decided to do some year 13 Literature prep by looking at philosophy and some of the great philosophers who have shaped the way we think. Prior to this lesson, students had worked in groups to research and present on a specific philosopher or a period of history that saw some great advances in philosophical thinking.
The activity itself is based on CSI and the idea is that students gather evidence to “kill” or in some cases “resurrect” the question.
You can see from the above, we “killed” to ideas – the only truth is knowing you know nothing, and freedom is a redundant idea.
Students were then allocated cards of a specific colour, and in their philosopher groups they had to gather evidence from their works (I would like to spare a moment for a quick thank you to Squashed Philosophers http://sqapo.com/ at this point).
Once students had gathered evidence, this was placed around the idea and we debated from the stand point of each philosopher, what they might say to “kill” or indeed “resurrect” this idea.
It was then that I realised I wanted to try this activity lower down the school.
As S&L debate this could be very useful – think of the connections that students could make – links to themes, character and setting, links to context, links to other texts and writers.
With my year 9 students, studying Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale, we took the bold step of using chalk on the carpet in my classroom. Note – it did come off eventually, but only I after I scrubbed it…
The idea we killed this time was Malcolm X’s quote: Nobody can give you freedom; nobody can give you equality or justice. If you are a man, you take it.
To begin I allowed students to write their “first response” to this idea on the carpet in chalk (another learning point for me here – don’t even bother trying to discourage year 9 boys from making your dead body anatomically correct – you are wasting your breath). I was pleased and surprised that I got a full range of responses, not just what they thought I wanted to hear, but what they really thought.
After this, I put students into small groups and gave them each a non-fiction text that in some way added evidence to the idea. I had an in-depth article about the science of the murder gene, another on nature vs nurture, one on dictators and the world history of overthrowing a government. Students worked together reading this texts, using my summarising annotation scheme and then chose evidence to support or oppose Malcolm X’s idea. Their evidence was placed on different colour cards and placed around the body. We began to discuss it.
Finally, I have each student some green cards, I asked them to find evidence from either of the texts we were studying (most chose Lord of the Flies) or from the contextual evidence we had gathered about Golding and Takami.
Again, we then together looked at each piece of evidence. As a class we weighed it against our own thinking, what we felt to be true and we created a collection we were happy with.
This collection could have been used to write an excellent essay – if that had been the plan, which it should have been, looking back on it in hindsight.
Next year then.
What came next? The workshop
For the first time this year, we ran a year 12 literacy day. A colleague and I were asked to do a session on “talk for writing”. Our kill the question activity, became Kill the content, kill the question.
We had about 40 students from the whole spectrum of subject areas and so needed something that would grab the attention of everyone.
The idea we went for was “religion and racial inequality are still the greatest flaws in our society”. We knew everyone would have an opinion, we knew the ‘slightly’ slanted perspective of the question would insight fierce opposition and strong support.
As a warm-up each student was given a different statement which they had to respond to in writing at the start of the session. We then placed students in groups and introduced the idea we wanted them to “kill” or “keep”.
Each group was given a whole bunch of different colour cards, which we had labelled in advance for them and they were sent off to research as much evidence as possible, from as wide a spectrum as possible to support, oppose or just explore the idea.
We expected each group to provide evidence from:
- Their own personal experience, or their gut feeling
- Historical evidence
- Contemporary culture and current affairs (we quoted Black Skinheads at this point and discussed how music and art could be used as evidence)
- Literacy and artistic
We challenged them to come up with evidence from ‘their subjects’ that could contribute.
Once all the evidence was in, we then re-allocated one evidence collection to each group. They summarised it and wrote that summary in one of the big thought bubbles on our chalk floor. Together we read and digested everything.
Things that surprised me (and perhaps shouldn’t have) – the kids found it hard to come up with literary evidence (even the ones doing literature) and ended up citing Of Mice and Men. Contemporary cultural evidence and current affairs evidence was very obvious – they cited the Woolwich murder and 9/11 but weren’t able to reference anything from the Middle East. They couldn’t find any scientific evidence. They didn’t bother looking for any artistic evidence – when I asked why, they couldn’t see what kind of art might deal with race or religion. We discussed music but they couldn’t apply it. I mentioned graffiti – they laughed.
The above makes it sound like this wasn’t a very successful workshop, but it was. The debate, a standing debate – which I am a big fan off, once we got going covered a lot of ground. Far more than we had evidence for. Students did use the evidence they had gathered. Most students contributed to the debate, they were about 5 who led it and were polarised in their own thinking enough to make it interesting.
Did the workshop or debate change their thinking on racial inequality or religion? No. It wasn’t meant it.
Did the workshop and debate help them see that in many ways everything is connected (don’t worry I’m not about to break into The Circle of Life)? Yes.
This workshop got me thinking.
For my year 12 students, I was left feeling that in those last few weeks before the summer I wanted to challenge them to broaden their horizons a little. To become more than a Croydon teenager.
I stumbled across this resource on TES – http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/50-things-to-do-before-you-and-39-re-twenty-6180376/ and I fell in love. This became my year 12s homework task each week until the holidays. We made a list of 50 things and each week they would choose one (so did I) and come with some kind of evidence (generally photographic) before the following week.
The most popular by far was learning to cook a roast dinner, but students also learnt to iron, do the washing, do the supermarket shop. They visited farms and museums. One, who was afraid of hills, learnt to run down a hill. We learnt to say “thank you” in 10 languages and to say “no”, particularly important when your Saturday job boss asks you to do extra hours the week before your exams. I learnt to play the guitar and they wrote a song about Stanley and Blanche – I would share it but it is inappropriate. We googled the space elevator and asked our parents why we were given our names.
For those few weeks, we became more.