We observe the butterfly effect in action every day in school. Tiny tweaks bring colossal change. A little change to your seating plan and warring tribes are quelled. A quiet word on the side and a pupil’s focus is restored. A quick phone call home and clarity is achieved. A one letter change to an old teaching acronym and all pupils take a step towards deeper understanding of their curriculum. Errr… come again?
As crazy as it sounds, I really do think tiny changes to tired protocol can be very refreshing. I’ve recently led an initiative, well more of an outright full-tilt charge, to scrap the English teacher’s favourite acronym PEE (Point Evidence Explain) from our school’s pedagogical lexicon and to replace it with PEA (Point Evidence Analyse).
All references to the old system have been scrubbed out, burned, white washed and sold on EBay. PEA is in the building (complete with cutesy pea pod imagery) and we’re going to make sure our pupils jolly well know it!
Posters, assemblies, new school planners. The propaganda campaign is merciless but why go to these lengths? After all, surely everyone still finds hilarity in the old ‘PEE on your work’ gag?
Well, colleagues are going to have to write some new jokes because the old acronym simply wasn’t cutting it. Having completed departmental book scrutinies, learning walks and other methods of covert reconnaissance, it was clear that our pupils lacked the ability to explore their ideas in depth, and I mean, really, lacked this ability. With GCSE specs getting tighter than the average school budget, a simple ‘explanation’ of ideas just wasn’t enough. No, our pupils needed to dig deeper, produce clinical analysis of points and relate their ideas to the bigger picture of their studies. The need for PEA was endemic across the curriculum and just as essential in non-essay subjects.
So, switching one letter? Big deal! It’s not going to do much in real terms.
Pupils & staff are a surprisingly conservative bunch. The slightest change to the established routine is met with raised eyebrows but that just means you’ve got their attention! A great opportunity to rebrand, refocus and reinvigorate teaching & learning. In our school we’ve already delivered inset for staff on the meaning behind the change and have assemblies planned for all pupils as we roll out the new emphasis on ‘analysis’ over ‘explanation’. It’s a chance to explain explicitly the depth of thought required at C+ GCSE and to ensure that pupils see analysis as a skill to be applied consistently across the curriculum. Such a ‘silly’ little change requires strong justification and there stands the learning opportunity! In another blog post I’ll share some of the practical strategies I’ve used to move pupils on from mere explanation*. For now the message is that tiny tweaks can have big impact. If we’re successful, our acronym butterfly will bring forth a hurricane of fresh thinking across the curriculum. If not? Hey, it was just one little letter, got to be worth a shot?
*Just to be clear, I don’t value the skill of ‘explanation’ any less than that of ‘analysis’. In time pupils will see that they all form part of the one super-skill: learning. Don’t let Bloom’s damn-taxonomy fool you ; )