We had an absolutely wonderful INSET Day this week; the kind that leaves everyone buzzing with ideas and the exhilaration of multiple conversations about something they care about. We’d given it a title: The Festival of Learning. We wanted to celebrate the work that everyone has been doing throughout the year, seeking to improve teaching and learning in their areas. It was a triumph – an impressive range of ideas, lovely collegiate atmosphere and a huge dose of professional learning for all concerned. Part 1, was a teachmeet-style series of presentations covered here; Part 2, was a marketplace-style event covered in this post. This was the first of what we intend to be regular joint CPD days with our colleagues from the Samuel Rhodes special school which is co-located on our site. Thank you to everyone involved – this was a day to celebrate.
This featured 9 superb presentations of 5 or 10 minutes from different members of staff across a range of curriculum areas. In terms of the depth of thinking, this was better than any other teachmeet I’ve been to so far. I can’t do justice to the depth of each one so this is just an overview:
Memory and the Ancient Greeks:
Marie and Laura from the Humanities department showed how they’d used ‘memory palace’ techniques to improve students’ capacity to recall key pieces of information and then to apply that to more analytical pieces of work. The results were impressive. Walking us through an example based on a study of China, they demonstrated the technique – it was amazing. We all now know key dates (1995-2005), that the level of wages were 40p, and that Taiwan, South Korea and India and the major trading partners. And we’ve all got 500,000 people in our kitchens! Video clips of students recalling apparently obscure facts to their own amazement and subsequent success in applying the knowledge to their writing showed the importance of making learning for memory a central feature of our teaching, building up knowledge and cultural capital deliberately and explicitly.
Illustrating progression in learning (Using a hand-held projector)
Sean explained how he uses a neat bit of kit – a hand-held projector – to show video clips in his PE lessons. But is wasn’t really about the kit. Sean illustrated how he uses the kit so show students the progression path through the skills required, in this case in trampolining. By breaking down a complex skill into components, showing how to get from here to there via well selected video clips, Sean was able to take all students forward; this was about the meta process of teaching about progression in general. Instead of responding to students asking ‘when can I go in the deep end?’ or other equivalents, Sean focuses on showing them the next steps they need to take to get there. The question for us is how we can break down the learning in our subjects into similar steps so the journey can be mapped out in a similar way.
Rhetoric in the structured curriculum
Andrew, an English teacher, is a passionate advocate for debating in the curriculum. He began by making the case that we don’t do enough to tackle students’ communication skills and that this is more important than ever; poor communication skills hold underprivileged people back in terms of employability, often more than their qualifications might. Andrew suggested that we need to make stronger links from speaking to thinking and to writing . It’s hard for students to live in a world where ‘Yeah yeah nah nah wasteman‘ is the currency (unchallenged and accepted) and then to have to walk into the exam hall to answer ‘Write a letter to your local MP asking for more sports facilities’ in coherent, intelligent English. We need to raise our consciousness around the imperative to enable all of our students to become confident speakers; we should not be letting them out into the world without the ability to speak confidently and correctly.
Andrew then explained how often we default to unstructured discussion which is dominated by a few students and where, often, poor speech isn’t tackled. He advocated a school-wide approach to using ‘structured speech events‘ such as formal debates that ensure students have roles and expectations that are understood. His take-aways pictured above were just some of the ideas shared for taking this forward. Dialectic and Rhetoric at the heart of our curriculum!
Equalities, Student Leadership; Philosopher Kids
Ruth told us about the student Equality Group that she runs called Paper Clip. This group grew spontaneously in response to students’ desire to have a forum to discuss LGBT rights and other issues. She reported how the students feel passionately about equality issues and get frustrated with teachers who witness homophobic bullying but don’t intervene. The range of issues they’ve covered is impressive: feminism, LGBT rights, transgender identity, drag queens, racism, body image, discrimination and the Police, patriarchy and gender roles, prisons, gun control, the election! They are mostly in Year 10 with other year groups making a contribution. Ruth ended with a reference to this passage from The Trivium 21stC: – the Philosopher Kid. It was a powerful ending showing that an Equalities Group isn’t a fringe activity; it should be part of how we conceptualise our curriculum that space is given so that these issues are explored and students ask these questions.
Metacognition in exam preparation
A hugely enthusiastic talk from Barry, Head of Philsophy and Religion, showed how he’d applied some ideas about metacognition to helping a low-attaining Y11 set prepare for their forthcoming RE GCSE. He’d take inspiration from John Tomsett’s post about annotation and metacognition in Economics. The RE class had discussed the five-part structure of the exam paper, highlighting the key points to remember for each one, referencing the different styles of questions. Barry had then used a memory palace method of locating each section in a corner of the classroom. Students rehearsed locating the paper components on a mental journey around the room. They then took a mock exam and the results were amazing. Barry told us students had improved from Es and Fs to Bs! This was a major confidence boost all round. He wasn’t making a claim for universal proof – simply that this method resonated with him and them and seemed to have a positive impact.
Yet, Not Yet. Embracing Growth Mindset language in the creative process
Our indefatigle resident Art Legend Phil Diggle took the floor to show he’s embraced the ‘Not Yet’ language from the Growth Mindset literature in his art teaching. His target (‘found’ somewhere in Muswell Hill apparently) is his devise for engaging students in a discussion about progress, outcomes and grades. He bemoans the fact that students always want to be ‘finished’ or want to know their grade. The target shows them they are not there yet! No-one hits the bullseye. This all relates to other ideas about accepting the ambiguity of life, the need to ‘Act On’ – to take steps. I know I’m not getting this right….you had to be there… but he did end with this message: Dwell poetically.
Practice makes perfect? Structuring and monitoring practice as homework
Sarah, our Head of Music, talked about the challenge inherent in creating a culture of routine practice for students learning to play instruments. Setting practice as a homework is a much less tangible outcome than asking for pieces of written work – and students often assume that teachers don’t really notice if they don’t do it! She outlined a range of strategies that seemed to be working: practice journals to capture their reflections, asking students to share and discuss what they find difficult, running music practice clinics and producing videos to show how to do improve on certain techniques. All of these things are a work in progress.
Organising anything. Using Trello for flipped learning and collaborative projects.
Max, our e-learning coordinator, is a passionate advocate for using the Trello platform. He uses it to organise his lessons in Geography, to inform discussions with colleagues involved in our IT Thinktank and, generally, to store and organise his resources. Max promoted the idea of using Trello pages to facilitate flipped learning; giving students resources to access and tasks to perform prior to lessons. It’s easy to use – very visual and logical. The examples shown were on display during the Ideas Marketplace.
Reading Texts: A lesson study report – and a call to arms!!
Physics teacher, Ossama, spoke with great humour and passion about the subject of reading texts in science. This is the subject of a Lesson Study process that Ossama and I are currently engaged in with another colleague, Tim. Having been educated in Germany, Ossama is horrified, shocked and in despair at the attitudes teachers and students have towards reading text books. He described his sense that they are often refered to as a punishment – a last resort when a class won’t behave – all in the context of the Matthew effect regarding the word rich and the word poor. He compared pages from UK and German science textbooks on the same topics. Gosh – what a difference! The UK versions look like comics in comparison. Cue references to German superiority in the industrial-economic superpower stakes!
Ossama then outlined his approach to teaching his Y10 GCSE students to engage with reading scientific texts. It’s embryonic but the starting point is simply to give it value. He now routinely uses text books and engages in group reading and decoding sessions. Our Lesson Study report will shine a light on this further. He reported that progress was being made…his Y10s have started to volunteer to read instead of laughing incredulously as they had done before. Ossama’s energetic, charismatic delivery drove the message home. This is such an important issue.
A massive thank you to all the presenters! This was inspirational and thought-provoking. We could have stopped there – but there was more to come. Part 2 coming soon.