Always look on the bright side of life

 

Motivational posterLanguage is a wonderful and precious double-edged sword. It has the ability to build and create but can just as easily destroy.

I have a very distinct memory from my time as a secondary school pupil – it was an assembly. We were informed in clear and definite terms that things had changed and it was no longer acceptable to refer to someone as ‘coloured’. That term – too connected to South Africa, apartheid – now held such unpleasant connotations that we needed to drop it.  And so we did.

At various times in my teaching career, words have been banned. Words ‘like’ or ‘ain’t’ are popular – and when well communicated most students see the benefit of being able to express an idea without them.  I worked in Croydon when one famous academy chain banned a whole bunch of words, putting a sign up saying “we woz” is banned. The irony.

‘Basically’ is the classic student sentence opener these days. When students use it – I blame myself.  It’s a filler word, they haven’t clearly formed an answer because I probably didn’t give them enough thinking time.  So I stop, allow time and start again.

All of the above shaping of language seems acceptable, doesn’t it? It is either curtailing prejudice or you know, like, stuff that basically makes you look less cleverer. But who decides what is acceptable or unacceptable?  Where the line between hate-talk and censorship falls?

In 2012, the US Department of Education created a list of words that it wanted removed from classrooms.  It contains some hilarious entries – dinosaur (for creationists among us) and Halloween.  These silly additions belie the worrying undercurrent of some of the other words on the list.  Poverty. Abuse. Freedom. War.  Slavery. Terrorism. Homelessness.

The legislation of language is something that I find troubling in general.  Each year I have to retackle my thinking on it – the ‘nigger’ in Of Mice and Men (or the ‘bitch, slut, tramp, tart’ – although we don’t seem to mind that so much) – forces me to grapple with whether language should or can be censored. And if indeed whether language is the problem at all.

Banning words – one example would be the word ‘banter’ – does not stop teasing or cruelty.  Does censoring student language, help them change their behaviour? Is this what happened when we stopped using the word ‘coloured’? I don’t think so.

The opposite works equally. The muttering over and over of positivity does not necessarily result in rainbows and unicorns.  Singing ‘all things bright and beautiful’ does not the weather change. But I do know many, many people who find comfort in the language of positive thought (religious or otherwise) and are convinced that it can lift the spirits.

How do we decide what approach should be used and enforced in school?  Who should decide this?

I am deeply uncomfortable with banning words – I am happy, always happy, to talk about words and the power that words have.

I am deeply uncomfortable with the use of words to control behaviour. Even when this is designed for positive effect. I don’t like maxims or tenets or sayings – I understand rhetoric, please don’t ask me to use rhetoric that is so hollow, it is in fact empty.

Here’s what I will do:

Talk about words and why words are powerful.

Talk about why words should be spoken with thought.

Explore the responsibility we have for the impact of our words.

 

 

 

 

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25+ ideas for increasing student talk

I’m always looking for new ways to get students talking.  The lethargy that comes with Friday Lesson 5 – or, you know, even Monday Lesson 1, can be hard to break.

So here are 25+ new and old ways to get your students talking.

25 ideas

This resource is totally free and can be downloaded from my TPT store here: 25+ ideas for more student talk

Here’s a few of the ideas to keep you going:

Slide23 Slide16 Slide13

Enjoy!

Skills transition 2 (KS4 to KS5)

In my post earlier this week I shared a number of stretch and challenge activities for helping students navigate the transition from KS4 to KS5.  These are a work in progress, but I mentioned a new set I am working on currently, also a work in progress, but here they are as they stand.

Teaching risk taking

Something that sets A grade year 12/13 students apart from others, is their ability and willingness to be bold (or risky) in their interpretation of the text.  I have really struggled to teach this skill.  Students are willing to taken certain risks, but not often true risks.

In Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, the narrator describes the children she is employed to educate as “princes of the blood”.  Our conversation on this quote, went something like this:

Mrs E: She describes them as “princes of the blood” what could she be suggesting?

Student A: Royalty, doesn’t “the blood” suggest the royal family.

princes of the blood

Mrs E: Excellent what else, what about the word “princes”?

Student B: Princes is a masculine word, she is describing Flora and Miles using a masculine word.  Does this mean anything?

Mrs E: Errr… you tell me.

The gender term debate went on for some time.  Finally.

Mrs E: Does the phrase “princes of the blood” suggest anything else?  Forget the text, think literature as a whole.

Silence.

Nervous student C: “blood” suggests violence, so if they are princes of the blood, then they are princes of violence.

Mrs E: Yay, what else?

Even more nervous student D: vampires…are princes of the blood, it’s a gothic novel, so it could be a vampire reference.

Mrs E: Wow, that’s fabulous.  Now we are beginning to be bold and take risks.  What else?

Student A: If they are princes, who is the king or queen? It suggests they are not in charge.

Student D: Who are they heir to?

Mrs E: Keep going.

Student C: If they are the heirs of Quint and Jessel, they were born out violence and also passion.

Mrs E: And…

Student D: Maybe they aren’t vampires, but they are monsters, they are like vampires as they suck the life blood from the governess.

This was probably the most risky conversation we have ever had whilst studying Henry James.  And I didn’t have to lead them to water.  I didn’t spoon feed the possibility or even hint at the interpretations.

This got me thinking, how can I teach independent risk taking skills.  I am slightly obsessed with my stretch and challenge activity cards at the moment and so here are a few “risk” activity cards, in an attempt to develop risky independence.  Download them here: Risk activity cards. I will add more as I go along.

Risk cards

A post on iceberg thinking cards to follow.

Knowing me, knowing you, aha, it’s the best I can do #TLT13

Among other new ventures this year, I have started an MA in Education.  It is definitely the “done thing” at my school.  So much so, that the lecturer comes to us on a Monday evening and I don’t even have to exit the school gates to experience academia.

As part of the introductory work, we have to write a pen portrait of ourselves including a biography and information on our professional context.  I have written 100s of pen portraits over the years.  The city loves them.  Schools love them.  On the whole I find them rather dry.

TLT13

In the midst of writing my pen portrait today, I have been thinking on David Doherty’s closing comments at #TLT13 yesterday.   In 30 years time, will my students look back at my English lessons and know the seas roared for them?  I was lucky, the seas did roar for me at school.  In one classroom, with one teacher.  Now it’s my turn.

roar more

Here is how the seas roared for me:

My earliest memories of education are not school-based.  In fact, I have very few recollections of my education beyond the moments of chaos and trouble and the resulting discipline and tears.  My mother was the true educator of my formative years, a single middle-class mum in the 1970s, she was an oddity.  Her strong political opinions saw me understanding more about the miners’ strike, the poll tax and nuclear disarmament than Barbie or Cindy.  In contrast, my private education, with straw bonnet and crisp white socks, resulted in the summation “Louisa will not succeed in academic endeavour” at the end of Year 5.  I am probably the only student in history, who was forced to “drop” Latin at the age of 7.   Added to this, a physical debilitating kind of blindness meant that I was unable to read for most of my primary education. eye test

My earliest memories of reading are not of stories, or books or even of being read to.  My personal reading history begins in the out-patients unit of Reading Hospital (the irony has not escaped me).  I was 4 years old and attending numerous appointments with The Eye Surgeon. Reading line upon line of letters – H, M, B, Z, F, G, L, P.  I hated it, the repetition, the bright lights flashing into my eyes, having to guess, and the pervading sense that something was wrong.  Sometime later I underwent the first of several operations that would result in my right eye being patched from the age of 5 to 7 years.  The Eye Patch is another enduring memory of my first attempts at reading.  My more functional eye was covered in an attempt to force my lesser functioning eye to work, the world to me during those years was fuzzy and uneven. It was wonky and it didn’t seem to work properly.  Nothing seemed to make sense, least of all letters, words, sentence or books.

tipping point

I suspect the end of primary was the tipping point.

My elder (and more clever) brother was off at a deliciously selective private-ish secondary school and my mother was left with the choice of the local C of E comprehensive or a failing technical college for my secondary school.  She placed her trust in the pastoral heavy comprehensive and is it there I meet Victoria Wood (not the comedienne).  Victoria Wood was my English teacher from year 7 through to Lower Sixth.  I wept the day she announced she was moving to New Zealand, it is one of very few days from my school life that I can remember with clarity.

This teacher taught me to read, to love stories and to immerse myself in the narrative world.  I have no idea what the popular pedagogy in the early 80s was, but it felt as if she would present a text or an idea and allow us to go wherever we could with it.  And we did.  Her mode of assessment seemed to be a glance over the rim of her glasses and a raised eyebrow.  A nod of the head, when earned, signaled something extraordinary had just taken place.

Mrs Wood was why, after falling ill for much of my upper sixth year, I choose to study Literature at a “lesser” university rather than retake, hoping for higher grades.  Her comments, via letter, from New Zealand were:

“an idea is an idea, whether it stems from an ivory tower or from the gutter, if it brings light in the darkness, it is always a gem”.

light

University was, perhaps unsurprisingly, less about academics and more about experience.   Through blind luck, I was given the opportunity to work for a world-famous film director, an opera company, be a nanny, a book editor.  I had academic articles and creative writing published.  I met my husband and decided it would have to take something pretty special to make me ever leave London.

The jump from university to an office job at one of the big 4 accounting firms was another stroke of blind luck, I was made redundant at the age of 22, when the technology bubble burst, and fell literally into a job where my boss seemed to value my talent for smoothing creases and juggling tricky customers, above my lack of technical accounting skills.  I become indispensable or so they say. I used this to my advantage (who wouldn’t) and cheekily took off for foreign parts (China) and trained to be a TEFl teacher.

In amongst the busy-ness of city life, came three daughters, and a need to regain some perspective.  As if by magic that came in technicolor in October 2008 when Lehman Brothers went under and triggered the “banking crisis”.  Although many of us ordinary types find it hard to pinpoint how the banking crisis did impact us, after all prices keep rising, pay rises keep falling, the impact I felt was monumental.  My small and beloved team in city were some of those blamed in the papers and in Parliament for being the root cause.  Remember those articles about pay consultants who push bonuses higher and forced bankers to be more risky?  Well, that was us.  The spotlight turned in our direction and we froze.  I think I stayed frozen.  Finally, it was over several glasses of wine, with my boss, after giving evidence to the treasury select committee when she asked me “What are you doing with your life, Louisa? You can do something better than this.”

My half-hearted reply was, “I always wanted to be an English teacher.”

Another tipping point reached.

So, as I write my pen portrait, I can’t help but think about my students and imagine them in 30 years – would their pen portrait say that school made them feel alive, feel like anything was possible.  Did they know that the stars were within their reach?

Yesterday, I attended Teaching and Learning Takeover 2013 in Southampton, David Doherty talked about making the seas roar in our classrooms.  That’s what Mrs Wood did for me, the tide changed.  I changed.  Now it’s my turn.

roar 2

roar 1

Skills transition (KS4 to KS5)

I really enjoyed the #Engchatuk discussion this week on KS4 to KS5 transition.  It feels like I spend more and more of my time thinking about KS5 and how I can improve my teaching, as well as developing strategies that we use in KS5 and can push back to the lower school.

Students have found my exam text particularly challenging.  I am in the third year of teaching it and it doesn’t seem to get any easier.  As I don’t have too much choice, I plod on.  Each year trying new ways to help students engage, to work independently and write eloquently.  If I’m honest, each year my results are a little disappointing (not horrific, but not amazing).

This, is the year.  I can feel it in my bones.  I think we have cracked the nut.  I can see the wood and the trees.  The pen is mighty than the sword etc, et al.  Something is different.  I don’t know what.  Perhaps our projects lower down the school are having an impact and therefore students arriving in year 12 are more independent, more knowledgeable and better equipped.  Perhaps this cohort are inexplicably drawn to Henry James and his craftiness.  Perhaps, just perhaps, I am seeing the payoff of three years of tinkering with skills transitions activities.

In case it is the tinkering that has helped, here is my journey to date:

Year 1 – obsession with Blooms

I was an NQT, terrified of having to teach KS5, let alone James’ The Turn of the Screw.  My solution was to ensure that students were able to access the text through the medium of Blooms Taxonomy.  Now the wisdom and sensibleness of this maybe questioned but for me it provided a reliable structure to ensure that we didn’t just talk about the story and the characters and for the students, it allowed them to develop a logical way to make sense of their thinking.

During this year, I created a set of Blooms activity cards and depending of my evaluation (or their own evaluation) of their strengths and needs, a student would pick a card from say the “comprehension” pile and carry out this task independently.  Below is an example of from the “knowledge” activities collection.

knowledge

These cards and activities worked pretty well for a while, but it became apparent that I needed more and I needed to be more creative about the tasks I asked students to do.

Out came the “creative” activities cards.

creative

Year 2 – Knee jerk obsession with assessment objectives

My tactic to cope with my results was to re-focus on the assessment objectives, and who can blame me?  The mantra became – “what is your AO4 Band 6 version of that?”  Sad, but true.  So, trigger new additions to my activity cards. The AOs.  Below is AO2.

AO2

Don’t forget students still have my lovely set of Blooms cards, so now the somewhat overwhelming option of 10 different colours to choose from.

But as the year drew on, I realised I was doing my students somewhat of a disservice.  So we ditched the cards and got whacky with string, and post its and youtube videos.  Most of my T&L activities are tried and tested on my amazing year 12s.

I wasn’t going to be kept prisoner by a bunch of AOs and some laminated cards.

Year 3 – Worth Taking a Risk

So, where now?  Less formulaic?  More?  Where is the balance?

Since making my AO cards, I have developed another obsession.  This time it’s with trees.

tree

Each time we read Henry James, I have to ask myself this question – are we looking at a close up or the big picture?  The inherent ambiguities of the text mean almost any contrasting comparative works (fantasy or reality, truth or lies, beauty or beast).

So, of course, I started thinking about big picture and close up activities.  Although I don’t use the cards every lesson, students still enjoy the choice, the independence, the ability to achieve.  Below are some of my new, big picture tasks:

big picture

One of my year 12 classes has a saying – “the sky is not the limit”.  We were discussing what a lesson should be and one of my more conceptual students stated “a lesson should a journey beyond reality and dreams, beyond even the stars”.  I know, it doesn’t sound like a 16 year old from Croydon does it?

So, in the same way that we created our 50 things homework project, we are now creating our own sets of activity cards under the headings:

  • Risk taking
  • The sky is not the limit
  • Iceberg thinking (thanks to Caldies English for this)
  • The journey
  • Innovate then debate

I have added to this list a set on scholastic / academic language collection and use.  Students want this but don’t know how.  So I will endeavour to find some ways to develop this as well.

Part one of activity cards is now available on my free downloads page, more to follow soon – I am adding the scholastic language tasks at this very moment.

Any ideas on activities for our new cards, please let me know.

25 ideas for increasing student talk…

As requested on this week’s #ukengchat, here is my toolkit #1 for increasing student talk in all subjects.

25 ideas

Here is the powerpoint that outlines each idea, if any of them are unclear let me know and I will explain more.

25 ideas for increasing student talk in lessons

More to follow on other student talk activities.

Prizes (imaginary prizes) for the person who spots the deliberate mistake…

More than a bowl of spag (my Goldsmiths presentation)

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with PGCE students at Goldsmiths University, talking about literacy and working with students who struggle to access reading and writing.

Here is what we discussed.

If you are interested in the texts we used and the activities we shared, here they are:

The strategies handout – Handout – strategies

The poem – Auschwitz by Elizabeth Wise

The non-fiction text Auschwitz info

Outside the box in a box

A hand-drawn mini unit on developing creative thinking skills (or what I did when I had finished all the schemes of work and the holidays were still two weeks away).

2013-09-03 20.26.06

Lesson 1: Kids probs

Ask students to come up will all of the problems they experience as kids.  Get a big class mind-map going on somewhere.

Around that mind-map put 4 sheets, titled:

  1. Outside the box ideas
  2. Bizarre and strange ideas
  3. Ideas from the future
  4. Friends and family ideas

Starting with “Outside the box” ask students to think about someone they know who has a very different life from them.  It could an elderly relative or someone who lives in a different country.  Students place themselves into that person’s shoes and answer the same question – what would this person say about kids problems?

Then you can get “Bizarre and strange” ask students to come up with the wackiest, craziest and most ridiculous problems they could experience (like being kidnapped by zombies on the way to school).

Next it’s “ideas from the future” students imagine childhood in 100 years time – what problems might these kids experience?

Finally, onto “Friends and Family” and this can be a nice think-pair-share-square activity or a fantastic homework.  Students need to gather other people ideas to add to their list.

2013-09-03 20.26.21

Lesson 2:  Solving the problem

Using the same style of expertly hand-drawn worksheet.  Students choose one problem from the previous lesson and attempt to solve it, using the same process.

Then you can get creative – make a homework machine, make the never-disappearing key ring, make the mum’s bad mood muncher.  Students can just design or they can design and make depending on time and resources.  Or get creative writing – use these ideas (sometimes all of them to together) to write the wildest, most hilarious adventures out there.

Lesson 3: Looking at my world

Now turn this way of thinking to analysis and criticism.  Using the same, now somewhat hackneyed worksheet ask students to spill onto paper everything they know about their school.  “Imagine you are a year 6 student, about to start at our school, what are you thinking, what do you want to know and what should we tell them?”

This can then form the basis of a piece of non-fiction writing (we made an A-Z of our school).

2013-09-03 20.26.46 2013-09-03 20.27.15

Sometimes thinking outside the box still requires boxes.

5 min literacy plan

5 min literacy plan

If you’ve used @TeacherToolkit’s 5 Minute Lesson Plan, you’ll know how quickly and easily it can revive the often time constrained art of planning.  If you haven’t seen it, check it out (http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/The-5-Minute-Lesson-Plan-by-TeacherToolkit-6170564/).  I love Ross’s plan because it is a finite document.  I have to hand-write it and am limited by how much of my big scrawl I can fit in the boxes.  I don’t have the time or the space to faff or to second guess myself.  It forces (or perhaps that should be ‘allows’) me to think in a way that works for me.

5 min lesson plan

So, in that spirit of reducing time and increasing focus in planning.  I have drafted a 5 min literacy plan and I want to emphasise the draftiness of it, as I would like of you to test it out for me and let me know what works and what doesn’t.

Here it is, just click to download 5_min_Literacy plan or at http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/The-5-Minute-Literacy-Plan-6352707/

5 min literacy plan 2

How does it work?

I imagine this will sit alongside another planning document (like the 5 min lesson plan!).  I don’t imagine that anyone will use it for every lesson or need it for every group of students.  I imagine it might be useful when tackling a difficult, long or important text or preparing for a key piece of written work.

So, the BIG picture remains the same.

The outcomes and needs are perhaps more functional, designed to focus on what the students need to achieve in the end because this outcome will directly feed into your choice of literacy activity and then how you plan it.

I included needs along with outcomes because for me they are always closely linked.  If a student doesn’t have the vocabulary knowledge to understand a text, then I need to tackle that first before reading.  If a student needs a more structured approach to writing, then this has to come first.

Key words in context – enough said, I have posted on this in the past.

Having purpose – You will see for each of the literacy “hot spots” I have added space to include a purpose.

You see I don’t want to pay lip-service to literacy.  I don’t want it to be another box ticking exercise.  I strongly believe that engaging activities around talk, reading and writing will help students progress in every subject, but only if we use them with a purpose that is tightly linked to our subject.

If we are going to ask students to express their ideas through talk or writing, we need to know why they are doing it, what we want them to achieve.

If we are going to ask students to read something, then is it because they need to gather knowledge and information, or to explore ideas, what reaction and response do we want them to have?

Speaking – what questioning will you use?  How will you extend and develop students answers?  See some ideas on Extending student talk and Accountable Talk.

Reading – what reading age / level is it?  This will impact any reading differentiation (shortened texts for some etc).  How will introduce the text/ideas?  What will take place during reading (annotating, answering questions, gathering evidence, listening) and what will happen after reading to demonstrate understanding, comprehension, evaluation etc?

Writing – once you have sorted the purpose, how you are going to help students plan their writing (please make them plan it first), what are you going to do during writing to ensure they are producing something high quality and what can you and what will they do after writing to improve it (see my comments on glow and grown marking here).

Your comments, ideas and feedback needed

Please let me know if you use it, send me some pics of it filled in.  Please tell me what needs improving, changing, adding, removing.

I would like this to be something practical and useful.

Killing the question, becoming more

I am free

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.

Kill the question

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:

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.

Kill the question 2

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.

kill the question - lord of the flies

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

Kill the content  kill the question

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.

year 12 literacy 2

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.

year 12 literacy

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
  • Political
  • Philosophical
  • Scientific
  • Psychological

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.

Becoming more

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.

50 things

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.

spaceelevatornicechicken guitar