Stop using classroom gimmicks and educate children properly, Michael Gove tells teachers.
The Guardian online, Thursday 05 Sep 2013
Eight years ago, I stood and talked at classes for a long time, letting them in on what I know about English. According to the Head of Department on this first placement, the pupils were “eating out of my hand”and “hanging on my every word.” I was very proud; I was clearly an engaging teacher but I also didn’t have a clue!
Becoming an Advanced Skills Teacher was always the path for me; I love teaching and it is the only thing I have ever been sure that I do well. Since completing my PGCE, I have actively sought out action research projects, attended many, many top quality, thought provoking conferences, CPD events, Teachmeets, read a truck load (and variety) of teaching books and reflected upon my own practice daily. This has resulted in the way that I teach today and the development of many successful pupils. Yet, I suspect that my #Pedagoofriday tweet would have me fired if Mr Gove had his way.
Teaching does not have a fool proof formula (I’m getting that in before you think I am just a single minded new age hippie, hell bent on keeping gimmicks and getting rid of front of class teaching – I’m not). When planning, I never rule anything out and keep an open mind to everything that could support effective learning. Front of class, back of class, side of class or on the field with a fiddle…it is all the same to me as long as they are enjoying, achieving and making progress in both the subject and as effective learners. The way I teach is as a result of lots of research, experimentation and reflection. I’m in no way perfect but I now have a clue.
Many of the tools that I have used in my classroom could certainly be described as gimmicks but they are used to support and increase learning and they are always used with a clearly planned purpose. They are not used solely to entertain because they are the latest teaching fad.
Gimmicks That I have Used This Week:
What? Using thought Bombs to introduce characters in The Hunger Games
How? Using the image of Rue, the youngest tribute in the book, the question, “Could you bring yourself to kill this girl?” was posed. Pupils used question stems to question the question and asked, “What had she done?” “Had she killed before?” Pupils naturally wanted to learn more before making their decision and so the thought bombs began landing on their desks. Pupils actively sought out new knowledge and began making lists of character traits as they continued to ask searching questions. Sometimes their questions were answered in the thought bombs, other questions were asked during the class discussion that followed.
Why? The alternative to this might have been to list the characters and their character traits from on a Power Point. Quicker, yes but how deeply does that allow them to think? Does it allow them to take ownership over the learning? I could have talked in a very engaging way and have pupils bullet point my ideas before regurgitating them in an essay later. It might have worked but I doubt they would have learned as much and neither would I.
This was the first lesson of term and I wanted to hear how pupils interacted. I wanted to get to know their individual personalities and see how they interacted with each other and as a class. I was able to observe them as the bombs began to land, be passed on, related to what they thought they knew and related to their own sense of morality. The discussions were rich and the ideas belonged to them.
Pupils need to be able to analyse texts. Thought bombing exercises teach pupils to ask effective questions and search for answers and proof; when the same is asked of them upon analysing the text itself, pupils who have been taught these skills find analysis far easier. Pupils should thirst for knowledge; using thought bombing to introduce characters made pupils hungry to learn more in a way that a Power Point lecture just does not do. Pupils were actively involved in the discussion that followed and took the book away with them, hungry for even more.
What? Using Washing lines of words to closely analyse the language used in Of Mice and Men.
How? We began by examining the connotations of Earnest Hemingway’s “Baby shoes, never worn.” Pupils extracted as many connotations as they could think of from these four words. They shared ideas about dead babies, adoption, sadness, giant feet and snobbish parents who didn’t appreciate gifts. We then read the opening of Of Mice and Men and used slips of paper to record words that pupils felt the author had intended to have further connotations reminiscent of Hemingway. The individual ideas were pinned onto a washing line and pupils worked in teams to analyse each other’s choices which were unpegged and pegged back as and when they were needed.
Why? Pupils often struggle to choose quotations that prove their point; here they were actively using each other’s ideas to make points out of quotations. By pinning their examples to a washingline, pupils were happy to share ideas with each other and I was able to monitor misconceptions as and when they arose. As pupils had analysed each other’s quotations, a range of perspectives on one quotation were offered during the discussions that followed. Pupils were then able to use these examples to write about authorial intent with confidence.
What? Using paper chains to relate ideas about content and context in Of Mice and Men.
How? This works in a similar way to hexagons. Pupils were to write everything that they had learned so far onto slips of paper (this included information about characters, setting and context introduced in earlier lessons thorough thought bombing exercises). The pupils clearly had lots of knowledge but had not done anything with that knowledge yet. The challenge was to make connections between ideas and, when a connection had been made, a chain link could be created. Pupils were able to use search engines on their smart phones to add to their understanding where they felt that there was information missing. Once the time was up, pupils had to prove their connections by explaining them to the class.
Why? Pupils need to be able to explore relationships between texts, their characters and their setting. They will need to be able to write analytical paragraphs and they often lose confidence when it comes to putting pen to paper. Paper chains encourage pupils to first discuss the relationships between ideas and, once the chains are made, they act as a planning tool to structure their essay.
Should I Ditch the Gimmicks?
They might seem like gimmicks but they have purpose. Pupils are actively learning how to explore, question, relate and analyse; pupils are enjoying their learning, increasing their knowledge, learning new ways to learn and having a passion to learn more. Would I get all of that from a Power Point lecture?