The Y11 Trial
I began the session by asking pupils to link their learning back to the previous two lessons. In lesson one, we had responded to the question: What do we know about American andOf Mice and Men? . I deliberately kept this first question quite simple as I wanted them to be confident that they could respond to it. By this point, we had read the first chapter and learned of the American dream. I gave the pupils detailed written feedback on their responses which they had to apply to lesson two
In lesson two, we began by using information stations to gain further multistructural knowledge of 1930s America, before answering the question: How does John Steinbeck represent 1930s America in his novel Of Mice and Men? This time, I used the + – =marking method, a method from Dylan Wiliam. Pupils now had to use the feedback from the first lesson to respond to their + – = and tell me, in writing, why thy think they received this mark and what they will attempt to do today to reach a relational level.
Most pupils had become more multistructural, in that they had discussed America in 1930 and the story together in one paragraph; however, there was no depth to their responses or exploration of these ideas in relation to the set question. The responses remained a flat point, evidence and explanation paragraph.
Before being presented with the hexagons, I wanted pupils to see what they were using the hexagons to achieve. I showed them a relational response and we explored what made it relational. The pupils decided that to be relational, you had to:
- relate many ideas to the question set
- you needed to relate ideas to each other
- linking words were very important within the relational response.
Search for Meaning
It was at this point that I presented the all important hexagons. I put unistructural statements onto each hexagon such as quotations, ideas about characters, information about 1930s America and racism/ sexism/ farming/ depression etc…
I asked pupils to begin by making simple links between ideas. For example, all of these ideas link to 1930s American farming. Pupils naturally sectioned off the hexagons into simple groups of twos or threes.
I stopped the pupils and asked them to challenge themselves further by attempting to join as many hexagons as they could. I asked them to think back to their explanation of what made responses relational and to use this while explaining their connections. They were unsure at first but slowly, they began to make more links.
One group came up with:
They explained that the drought and famine had caused farmers to travel; this would make it difficult for them to hold down a family. George and Lennie were one representation of this however, the workers had also mentioned “cat houses” this was probably because they were unable to hold down a family and they needed the company that the prostitutes provided.
The conversations that pupils were having were rich and, as they gained in confidence, more interesting connections were being formed. Pupils were able to justify the connections thanks to prior learning; the hexagons provided the perfect stimulus to practice their responses out loud before…
Pupils returned to their books to demonstrate what making links between hexagons had taught them. I gave them the same question and the same amount of time to respond. Although the responses remained far from perfect, there was a notable improvement in the pupils’ ability to make links between a wider range of multistructural information. Here is the improved response from pupil A:
Final Thoughts on Hexagons for Lower Ability
This task provided pupils with a visual example of many unistructural elements of the character, context, themes and ideas in Of Mice and Men; pupils need to learn to piece together these ideas to form a coherent written reflection of the novel in exam conditions. By allowing pupils to collaborate, discuss and explore how these ideas literally fit together before responding in writing, pupils’ confidence was raised as was the quality of their written responses. Overall, I would say using hexagons to reach a relational level with a lower ability class was a success!
Next step…top set year 10 and extended abstract thinking