A year ago, I attended a deep learning weekend, hosted by Cramlington LV. Alongside a group of like minded teaching and learning geeks, I was up for a weekend of collaboration and self development. At the end of the weekend we were asked to present: “Six Brilliant ways I Teach My Subject.” After listening to the great Darren Mead and his work on SOLO, followed by Mark Lovatt’s exploration of effective teacher/ learner behaviours, I felt that my presentation was weak to say the least.
What did I have to say that these teaching and learning gurus had not already heard? How could I dare to stand in front of such brilliant minds and declare that I taught my subject in a brilliant way? Unfortunately, it was too late to back out so I took a deep breath and went for it. My final thoughts being that the group had hopefully switched off after the long weekend and wouldn’t listen anyway. One of the six points on my presentation was an explanation of how I use the outside space of my classroom. I like to have tasks outside so that pupils can begin thinking about their learning before they walk through the classroom door.
Almost a full year had passed since that day; I was visiting Cramlington Learning Village and met up with one of the learning geeks from the deep learning weekend, David Gray. David enthusiastically danced me along to his classroom to show me what he had been working on. He explained that he had taken my idea of using outside space to create a pick and mix activity outside of his classroom.
Outside David’s room hung four plastic wallets pinned to the wall and inside them were four levels of tasks that he used to connect the pupils’ learning. Pupils at CLV are used to colour coded differentiation during Maths lessons and so they knew to pick a task which matched their level. He explained that this idea had come from my presentation; he loved how I used the outside space and he adapted the idea to fit his own lessons.
After getting over the shock that anyone had listened to my presentation (let alone got anything from it) I returned to school armed with David’s pick and mix idea. I loved the idea of pupils having the choice over their learning as they entered. There was an element of choice in what I had been doing; for example, pupils chose a book cover from a choice of very pink and blue options when we were learning about style and stereotypes. However, the choice that David’s students had was differentiation by task and by choice and…I loved it!
To begin with, I hung plastic wallets outside of my room containing differentiated questions linked to the lesson. I used SOLO to build my questions from easy to difficult. For example:
• PRE: Guess what a language feature might be
• UNI: Name a language feature and its effect
• MULTI: Name as many language features as you can and their effect upon an audience • What do you know about the use of language in Wuthering Heights?
• RELATIONAL: How has language been used in Wuthering heights to manipulate the reader? How might this be compared the work of Shakespeare?
• EA: Which author has the most effective use of language features?
Since then, I have rearranged the front of my classroom to contain my choice boxes.
The pupils enter the room and can see the learning outcomes clearly displayed on a board; this also contains the level of thinking that I want them to achieve in that lesson. Pupils make a choice about their starting point based on their understanding of the learning outcome and choose a task from the box they feel most comfortable with. I take note of the choices made and have conversations with pupils about this choice as they are working on it. Is it too easy? Is it too difficult? Why did you make that choice? At any point, they can change their mind about their choice.
I have 10X1, an amazing class that I am so proud of. I wanted them to be able to evaluate Bronte’s use of language in Wuthering Heights against Shakespeare’s in Othello. We had worked hard on extracting evidence from Othello but we only knew the storyline ofWuthering Heights and this meant that pupils needed to gain more multi structural knowledge before they could begin to think relationally about this question. However, being very clever and wanting to achieve high grades, the pupils all walked in and went for relational (How does Bronte use language in comparison to Shakespeare?) or EA (Which is the better writer?) When they sat down and began to work through the answer, they could feel that their arguments were very one sided. They had no evidence to prove their thinking about Bronte and therefore many students had to return to the boxes and make a different choice.
By starting the lesson in this way, pupils were forced to think carefully about their current level of thinking and what they could do in order to improve this situation. I presented the tasks as a metacognitive wrapper so that pupils thought carefully about their learning steps and, therefore, knew what they needed to do in order to reach that higher level of thinking. They knew that without gaining more multi structural knowledge, they would not be able to be truly relational and they decided on the steps they wished to take to achieve their goal. They knuckled down to work and, at the end of the lesson, they were all able to up their game and express well researched thoughts about Bronte’s use of language.
This learning experience may never have been conjured up if it were not for the collaboration between David and me. One of the reasons that I love Twitter and I enjoy attending Teach Meets is that sharing ideas, no matter how insignificant you may think they are, no matter how brilliant you think everyone else is compared to yourself, can make a single spark turn into a burning flame. I hope that this spark gets you thinking too.
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