We all want well behaved, receptive students that have the ability to sit in silence and hang on our every word as we impart to them our wisdom. That’s exactly who were waiting outside my classroom last September, 10X1 at your service miss. Model pupils, you would think, until the moment that they sat in my environment.
“Group work?Independence? What do you mean miss? Aren’t you just going to tell us what to do? We will listen, promise!” Errrrr no!
This class had varied origins but it appeared that, although they had all experienced a variety of teachers and teaching styles, they were all very used to sitting in rows, passively learning and generally behaving themselves. When they were presented with group work and exploration, they could barely cope.
Autumn term 2011
Time, perseverance and a whole lot of effort went into independence training during 10X1’s first term with me. Group work began as a nightmare. They were off task, silly, giggly teenagers and did not resemble the perfect X1 that I knew sitting in rows could create. When I asked them to review their behaviour at the end of one such group work lesson, the response came that they were not used to working like this.
Our first controlled assessment was a piece of creative writing named “You Don’tKnowMe.” An apt title considering this first half term was spent holding a mirror up, helping them to get to know themselves. We were learning about genres, audiences, writing purposes, techniques, structural features among other rich content but we were also learning how to be effective and independent learners. We needed to discover what effective learning looked, sounded and felt like and also the benefits of working in this way. I needed them to experience the success of their own achievements, not the success of what I had told them to do.
The class were taught to make decisions about their own levels of involvement and progression using learning outcomes linked to SOLO; they were taught techniques for creating their own responses using their own creativity; they explored tools such as Fox’s thinking tools, thinking hats and planning techniques so that they were able to make choices about the best tools to use given different learning situations. This was hard work, continually reflecting on ourselves, learning new tools and techniques as well as ensuring all of the relevant content of the GCSE course was covered while making rapid and sustained progress.
Life got easier for me. After the long hard winter slog of ensuring my new class were independent, creative learners, the pupils began to flourish. They were able and willing to apply their new skills to whatever content I threw their way. They tackled Wuthering Heights, Of Mice and Men, the reading exam, writing for many different purposes, poetry and much more. I was free to set them up and watch them go. My role became facilitator, inspirer, assessor and proud teacher.
These well behaved pupils had been ready to learn from the moment they stepped foot into our school but now they can be so much more than just passive learners.Recent conversations with them have included:
“Miss this song would link so well with the content of what we are learning about; do you think you could use it in your planning?”
Miss, I’ve had a beast of an idea – we all need to look for the least obvious feature so that we stand out from the other pupils being examined.”
The more amazing they become, the more imaginative I have to get in setting up effective learning experiences to stretch them. That said, the end results are always so satisfying that it is more than worth it. Today they were working on tranforming the literature poem manhunt into a new genre; they had to use the meaning, language and structure of the poem to influence their end result. They also had to analyse a base text of that genre and prove that their end product was a perfect representation of that genre. This is great for the language exam preparation. It is however, an A Level task. I am so proud of them!
A lively class stood waiting outside of my classroom. 10X3 were awaiting their first lesson with me and they were in exactly the same boat as last year’s class. I am nearing the end of my second half term of independence training with them and they are doing fantastically! They too were willing and able to be independent, they just needed the training. If they were willing and able, last year’s class were willing and able and indeed, every class that I have ever taught have been willing and able, why do I spend the first term in training?
Imagine receiving a class in year 7, fresh from primary school and full of enthusiasm. Imagine harnessing that enthusiasm and developing independence to go along side it; you teach the class enquiry skills, to be reflective and resourceful and you show them what amazing tools there are out there to enhance their learning and ability to be independent. Imagine keeping that same class throughout Key Stage 3 and allowing them to use those skills during rich enquiries, full of rich content that sparks their curiosity of the world in which they live. Imagine being able to take that same class and watch them grow and develop in their GCSE years and even on into A Level. Imagine watching that class leave you, off into their successful futures, ready to enjoy and achieve as independent citizens. That would be my ideal.