Tweak it!

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).

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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 ; )

 

The Cognitive Canvas: Using Metaphor to Light the Way – Part II

 

My inaugural blog was an exploration of the ways in which I use figurative language in the classroom to foster an atmosphere of comprehension, engagement and shared vision. As promised, here’s part II, the critically acclaimed sequel…

Break Dancing Granddad

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Purpose: To encourage analysis rather than mere explanation.

Method:

What does ‘Break Dancing Granddad’ do? He breaks it down, man!!!

This metaphor is best served during a loud call & response session backed by some old-school Run DMC or even better… The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme!

I once had a eureka moment during preparation for GCSE English Language mock exams whereby I realised that my pupils were being held back by a misconstrued notion of the difference between explanation and analysis. (You don’t see sentences like that in hip-hop anymore).

Inspired by David Didau’s excellent blog on ‘zooming in & out’ I began using novel pictures of pensioners engaged in exuberant break dancing positions to make the point that those that analyse – go the extra mile for their art.

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Having completed some comprehensive work on the ins & outs of explanatory writing, it was natural for pupils to begin to two-step (d’oh!) towards wider, fuller analysis of their points. The cognitive block, it seemed, was the jump, jump, jump towards writing comments which contained bigger picture reflection and broke points down to their (hard)core before ‘building’ back up to consider ways in which points relate to the text as a whole. This is a skill as necessary in History as in English and the ‘Break Dancing Granddad’ metaphor can be deployed curriculum-wide to encourage pupils to ‘break it down, man’ and go the extra mile in their analysis/reflection.

It’s silly, it’s infantile and it will stick in pupils’ minds on a rainy Tuesday morning in the examination hall. Apply liberally.

Launching Rockets

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Purpose: To keep classroom discussions firmly on track whilst avoiding too much ‘teacher talk’ and encouraging democratic participation. Great for developing oral literacy across the curriculum.

Method: Quite simply, a ‘rocket’ is a digression. An off-topic point which ‘launches’ the conversation ‘away from base’ and into the ‘stratosphere of distraction & confusion’. Use colourful rocket-themed classroom posters/models to remind pupils of all ages to ‘avoid launching rockets’ during group discussions and class dialogue.

Everyone loves a good digression and I have to admit that many of my own points during class conversations are ‘rockets’ themselves. Indeed, high ability year 11 groups should be able to hold the thread of an argument whilst ducking & weaving around the point exploring alternatives/related ideas etc… However, the fact remains that classroom talk that is too disparate and free-flowing can lead to confusion and chronic misunderstanding later down the line. Far better to have a clear plan for classroom talk which involves pupils looking out for ‘rockets’ and using the metaphor to suggest politely that their peers have gone way off-course!

I picked this idea up on a training course once and although it was clearly aimed at younger pupils, I have put it to good use with a range of age groups.

Battle Planning

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Purpose: To ensure that pupils possess good time management skills and a strategic overview of their examination performance.

Method: Time management under exam conditions is often a massive problem for pupils studying the incredibly compartmentalised GCSE English Language course. Begin by removing the word ‘exam/examination’ from lessons a good few months before the event. Insist instead, with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, that pupils refer to their summer ‘experience’ or for fans of gratuitous alliteration: ‘Your Exciting English Education Experience’.

This seemingly senseless semantic subterfuge actually serves to ‘reframe’ pupils’ expectations of the exam and in doing-so can help to reduce stress as you explain to the class that they should view their ‘English Education Experience’ as a ‘morning of activities’ to be planned for and completed one-by-one. As it slowly dawns on pupils that their ‘English Experience’ is actually an opportunity for them to proudly show off the skills that they’ve accrued over eleven years of tax-payer funded education, they will come to realise that a ‘cunning plan’ is required to help them to make the most of it.

The preparatory spiel is, I feel, much needed. It’s one thing for teachers to trot out the mantra (adopt a nasal tone) “plan before you write” and quite another for autonomous pupils to produce personalised ‘battle plans’ for their ‘English Experience’.

Battle Planning is then, nothing more than pupils being encouraged to spend a few minutes at the start of the exam, sorry, experience, sketching out on the front of the paper a mini-timetable for the morning/afternoon.

My Battle Plan (09:00-11:15)

09:00 – 10:15 – Part A (Q1-4)

10:15 – 10:40 – Q5

10:40 – 11:15 – Q6

Play around with the structure of the responses. Play around with the timings. Play around with the weighting given to tasks. Always ensure that there is a battle plan in place before commencing work.

© Paul Norris and ‘edugeist’, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Norris and ‘edugeist’ with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The Cognitive Canvas: Using Metaphor to Light the Way – Part I

I find figurative language to be one of the most powerful weapons in the teacher’s arsenal. (Oh dear I’ve started already!) The ability to talk comfortably in metaphor has been identified as a strongpoint of my teaching and that got me thinking…

A teacher who can use language to ‘paint a picture’ of key concepts/processes is a teacher less likely to hear the haunting phrase “I don’t get it”. Think about it. We spend all day talking in figurative terms to pupils. “Put your thinking hats on…”, “pull your socks up…”, “the post-16 pathway…” ad nauseam.  Harnessed correctly, a palette of linguistic trickery can break down barriers (not again) and open doors (there it is) enabling pupils to access higher order cognitive tasks and to find their own unique ways of accessing complex concepts & processes. Can you go over the top? Certainly. This is a weapon best handled with care (d’oh!) but with cautious deployment and good training, you’ll be a figurative commando in no time! (If you like the military imagery, check out Double Tapping later in this post.)

Going on Safari: Hunting the Beast

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Purpose: To ensure that pupils understand the difference between identifying & explaining.

Method:

Encourage pupils to avoid simply ‘going on safari’ when writing about a text. In other words, avoid simply stating what you can see from a distance. This is best conveyed to pupils with over-the-top ‘binoculars’ hand gestures and a loud squawk of, “Oooo, look! A simile on the horizon!” Emphasise that this excitable ‘safari’ behaviour is merely identifying language techniques and not explaining them. Which leads us to…

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Hunting the Beast! Explain that true explanation requires us to hunt down the ‘linguistic beast’ spotted earlier on the horizon. Go in for the kill and drag the carcass back to base for forensic examination!

This metaphor can be used as above or built up until it becomes something quite gory and unique! I find that older pupils (boys in particular) relish the idea of ‘ripping open’ the ‘kill’ and ‘examining the entrails’! Not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but a surprisingly effective way of ensuring that C/D pupils begin to offer the appropriate level of explanatory detail.

Don’t just go on safari – hunt down the beast and gut it!

Double Tapping

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Purpose: To encourage pupils to craft effective openings for pieces of persuasive writing.

Method:

This one really engages those boys who love the Call of Duty games but aren’t so keen on learning to craft effective persuasive writing!

The lesson begins with a gory and high-energy description/role-play of the methods employed by the US Navy Seal team who killed Osama Bin Laden. The ‘double tap’ is one shot to the heart followed rapidly by a shot to the head. Bang! Bang! No recovery from that.

Now, with the class hanging on your every word, explain that a good piece of persuasive writing opens in the same way…

Shot to the heart = emotive language employed for persuasive effect.

Shot to the head = immediate use of facts & statistics straight after the ‘heart’ shot.

A worked example:

Task: Write an email to your Head Teacher persuading him/her to close the school early during winter weather.

Double Tap response:

Dear Sir,

I’m sure you remember the carefree, joyous days of your youth when you eagerly awaited the first snowfall of winter. Well, 95% of your hardworking pupils are feeling this way right now…

So that’s the ‘double tap’. It’s a great way to engage pupils and ensure effective openings to those persuasive pieces.

Building an Iceberg of P.E.E.

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Purpose: To ensure that pupils produce fully developed & detailed explanatory paragraphs (Point, Evidence, Explanation).

Method:

We all know the oft flaunted notion that only 10% of an iceberg is visible; the remaining 90% or so hiding away below the water’s surface. Use this simple image to encourage pupils to ensure that their explanatory P.E.E. paragraphs are largely ‘below the surface’. A quick pencil sketch of an iceberg in the margin of a piece of work can be of real assistance to the C/D grade pupil struggling to offer true depth and detail. Avoid early cries of, “I’ve finished”, by urging pupils to count the lines that they’ve written and ask them to ensure that the ‘iceberg’ is 90% ‘under water’ (the explanation is the bulkiest part of the paragraph). Of course quantity alone is no good. For much improved P.E.E. paragraphs, pupils must ensure that the explanation part of a ‘P.E.E. iceberg’ tackles two key questions…

  • How does the language device work?
  • Why did the writer choose these words (purpose/intention)?

Guaranteed improvement over the old slap-dash approach and pupils are now ready to consider analysis and evaluation in future lessons. All down to the ‘iceberg of P.E.E.’ Just don’t eat the yellow snow!

Going Back for a Refund/Secret Shoppers

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Purpose: To ensure that pupils set coherent and useful targets during peer assessment.

Method:

So you’ve planned and executed a great piece of AFL peer assessment. Pupils have checked their peers’ books; highlighters have been deployed and targets set. Just one little problem… Pupils have simply written ‘check your spellings’ or ‘improve your handwriting’ or one of the numerous nothing-statements that pupils fall back upon when they can’t/won’t come up with a true target!

The solution that I’ve found is to use good ol’ figurative language again. Build a culture in your classroom of ‘excellent customer service’ and stress that those ‘customers’ that are unhappy with their targets will be ‘going back for a refund’. (Your statutory rights are not affected).  As pupils generally dislike doing the same piece of work twice they will be more likely to ensure a high-quality target the first time around.

This metaphor can be developed with the inclusion of ‘secret shoppers’. These are pupils that have been notified of their role before the peer-assessment task and report back to you with a comment on the quality of their partner’s feedback. Tell the class that, “we have a few secret shoppers in today” and watch them take more care in the wording of their peer-assessment targets.

© Paul Norris and ‘edugeist’, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Norris and ‘edugeist’ with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome

Hi there, welcome to ‘edugeist: the spirit of outstanding’!

A little about myself…

I am a twenty-eight year old English teacher currently working in a thriving 11-18 academy on the outskirts of Norwich, UK. I’ve been teaching for six years and love going in each day to meet my classes. Long may that continue!

I am responsible for leading literacy across the curriculum and for KS3-5 English intervention as well as leading AS/A-level Media Studies.

My teaching style is a conscious hybrid of old-fashioned academic ‘rigour’ (Gove has ruined that word) and modern innovative exploratory techniques. I’ve described myself previously as a ‘bridge’ teacher or ‘nu-old school’.  (I’m well aware that this paragraph alone stands to open a can of worms and look forward to the passionate debate!) Essentially, I view teaching as an ever-evolving art-form which benefits from research, exploration, discovery and plenty of anecdotes. There is no one right way to teach; if it works, use it! However, a little research and reflective thinking can go a long way…

A little about this blog…

Having discovered edu-blogging last year, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the world of online discussion, debate and professional development. I’ve decided to take the plunge and start my own blog; it’ll be just like those fervent lunch-time conversations in the staff room (of which we need more).

So… why ‘edugeist’?

Education seems to always be in a state of flux. Movements come and go, pedagogy moves in cycles and political ideologies change with the wind. This blog is about capturing the essence of outstanding teaching, no matter the zeitgeist. This blog is about identifying & promoting ideas that will result in outstanding teaching & learning, every time. This blog is about celebrating the spirit of outstanding. So check your ideology at the door and welcome to ‘edugeist’!

Edugeist

24th Nov 2013

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