Change and continuity in teaching Literature

I’ve been trying to be more actively interventionist in my Literature teaching this year, inspired by some thinking about Personalised Learning I’ve been moved to consciously work on some ‘high impact micro-teaching strategies’ that might help student learning as a follow up to some thinking on formative assessment over the past couple of years.

So, I’ve kept the things that have been working pretty well (the wikis, using OneNote as the default teaching, presenting and note-taking tool) and the blog as the primary means of communicating class news and information.

But I’ve also tried some new things too. I’ve also been up front with the students about that, talking them through my thinking and what the intention/s are. They’re Year 12 students after all, 17 or 18 old most of them, well able to understand these approaches and generally just as keen to do well as I am for them to do well.

We began with a ‘no-hands’ up approach to discussions and I showed them a couple of bits of research about that, including this piece from the BBC.  This approach, coupled with greatly increased ‘wait-time’ has seemed to make the class more generally attentive and receptive. I haven’t had a problem getting discussion going with this group; they’re great about that, but the ‘no hands up’ means that everyone is involved potentially.

I also moved the room around a bit, based on some feedback I got from a couple of teachers who sat in one of my lessons for a ‘classroom observation’ project we’re trialling. I’m stuck with little individual ‘test-style’ tables and, yes I could bundle them into ungainly little squarish pods each lesson, but the next teacher would probably untangle all that and start again. So, I’ve tried a kind of horseshoe arrangement that I use for lots of meetings I run, where students can really make good eye-contact with each other in all the conversations. They’re still all facing the front where the data projector (and teacher) is, but it’s generally more conducive to a good collaborative atmosphere and, importantly, the other teachers who use the room, can mostly tolerate it and don’t shift things back.

I’m going to do more surveys too, shorter surveys more regularly. I generally do an end of semester student survey and end of year but, inspired by a young English teacher who’s been giving her students short surveys using Google Docs (I don’t even know how to do that) I plan to do more surveys online using our own school system.

I did the first survey this week and already it’s given me some good feedback that I intend on acting upon right now, rather than wait until the end of the semester. This is all about helping students improve as they go. I found that they haven’t much enjoyed the poetry cartoon tasks I’ve been setting, which is interesting as I wouldn’t have picked that. I liked them!

And they’re sometimes not so sure about how well they’re going, the kind of progress they’re making. So I want to work on more individual feedback more often, short, focused learning conversations perhaps.

I was also inspired by another teacher to try the “Icy pole sticks”. A simple technique, that you’d often do with younger students, of having an icy pole stick for each student, with their name on it, and selecting the stick at random and asking that student to answer the question. A kind of simple randomiser, and you can just keep selecting sticks at random, or move them from the big pile to a ‘used’ pile to ensure that questions are distributed around the room. I told my class about the idea and got them to name and decorate their stick with some iconographic aspect of themselves. Which was fun.

So, the icy pole sticks, combined with wait time, and the ‘no hands up’, has helped reshape some of the questioning that goes on in the classes so often. And helped make me more conscious of this approach even though, every now and then, I’m drawn to ask the keen student who I know is itching to say something.

Finally, the questioning itself has been sharpened by trying a technique called: ‘Pose, Pause, Bounce, Pounce’, where a question is posed, wait time is added, the question is responded to, bounced to another student, and then a third is asked what they thought of those answers. Sounds more complicated than it is and you can read about it at the Guardian HERE

I’ve just started to try to collect some of these techniques on a Diigo list HERE.  Suggestions are welcome, particularly focused on assessment for learning strategies.

Finally, some traditions are too good to change. Cake day, once every fortnight at the end of the day, is a student-inspired initiative that I’m happy to continue just as it is.

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