lforner


PBL with Year 10

As well as reconnecting with my PLN this year (see my post about the New Year), my aim is to make learning more engaging, exciting and meaningful for students by taking more risks myself.

I have an extension Year 10 class this year, and our first unit is a close study of a poet. I always struggle to find meaningful ways to assess speaking, so I am going to run a loosely-based PBL unit with this class, with their product being a podcast in which students interview the poet about his context, poetic concerns and style to answer the driving question:

What is the value of poetry in our modern world?

It is a question I put to my Year 10 class last year, and students came up with some really interesting answers:

  • to express ourselves
  • to communicate ideas
  • to gain new perspectives
  • catharsis

I want this year’s class to explore these ideas in more depth.

With most students now bringing a device to school, students will use these to research, compose and record their interviews. Their podcasts will then feature on the podcast channel we create to ensure that students have a real world audience.

Having neglected technology for a while, I had to do some informal PD. I have been researching exemplar podcasts, manuals and tutorials on podcast technology, and come across these great examples of podcasts which are effectively ’round table’ discussions of poems and poets:

I also found this guide helpful, but it may be a bit technical for students who lack digital literacy:

I am going to aim for the flipped classroom approach (another risk!), giving them the analytical information they need to know to study at home, and then giving them time to collaborate, seek feedback and work on their project in class. Hopefully I can get back on the PBL horse without too many hiccups and students can see the value in studying poetry.

 


Module A Musings

Whilst I was preparing to teach my Year 12 Advanced class their first Module (Module A, Intertextual Connections) over the holidays, I spent literally weeks puzzling over the best way to present the content to them whilst ensuring I was developing the requisite skills for the Module the entire time. In the past, my teaching style has been to teach the content, THEN work on the skills, but I wanted to go for a more integrated approach this time and really try to make learning meaningful. I set it up like a project-based learning initiative for myself, with the goal being the meaningful delivery of content and development of skills which improve their HSC and real-life outcomes. Eventually I hope to become confident enough in the process to enable students to do this process themselves by the time we reach Module C.


 

Step 1: Make Learning Meaningful
So I made a list of the skills they need to succeed in this Module (research and discovery through close reading of syllabus documents and markers comments), in both the final exam and the assessment, and also the skills which I wanted students to take away with them into the workforce, and their general life (again, research, but this time most of it came from education journals and psychological studies), from school. It looked a little like this:

  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • independent inquiry
  • deep understanding of the content of texts and author’s context
  • ability to synthesise multiple texts
  • ability to extrapolate and use relevant key information
  • ability to construct a cohesive, coherent and insightful argument and support it with evidence
  • respond to a variety of different topics under timed conditions
  • appreciate the value of the texts studied

Of course, the students need to know about these skills and WHY they are useful to them, they aren’t supposed to be a secret! So I made up some notes for them about how each of these skills, which they will develop in this module, will help them beyond school (Of course, I will ask THEM to consider this before I give them these). I included some research findings (quite a few ‘science-brains’ in my class) about life-long learning and 21st century skills in the workplace, as well as some personal anecdotes about deadlines and working within budget constraints.

Step 2: Skills development through engagement with syllabus documents
I decided that the best way for students to start developing some of the skills was to first flesh out the ideas in the syllabus and prescriptions. For those of you who don’t teach English, it is a bit of a tricky and abstract document, so it really needs to be broken down for the students (personally, I cannot wait for the implementation of the new Stage 6 syllabus!). Here is the relevant section for those interested:

Module A: Comparative Study of Texts and Context
This module requires students to compare texts in order to explore them in relation to their contexts. It develops students’ understanding of the effects of context and questions of value.
Students examine ways in which social, cultural and historical context influences aspects of texts, or the ways in which changes in context lead to changed values being reflected in texts. This includes study and use of the language of texts, consideration of purposes and audiences, and analysis of the content, values and attitudes conveyed through a range of readings.

Elective 1: Intertextual Connections
In this elective, students compare texts in order to develop their understanding of the effects of context, purpose and audience on the shaping of meaning. Through exploring the intertextual connections between a pair of texts, students examine the ways in which different social, cultural and historical contexts can influence the composer’s choice of language forms and features and the ideas, values and attitudes conveyed in each text. In their responding and composing, students consider how the implicit and explicit relationship between the texts can deepen our understanding of the values, significance and context of each.

I mapped each of the skills I brainstormed in Step 1 to this document, so students could see the links. Then I made some notes myself about how each of these aspects of the syllabus/prescriptions could perhaps be turned into a simple general thesis statement which targets the key aspects of the Module. My plan was to model a few for students and then let them loose on their own to tap into their independent ideas after these discussions. For example, The context of a composer is critical in shaping the ideas and values in a text. I want to use this activity to really reinforce that their study is NOT about the texts, but about the key concepts of the Module, and practise their skills (especially in independent thinking, extrapolation and constructing an argument) as they become familiar with syllabus content.

Step 3: Skills development through discussion of context of authors
I gave students research tasks to complete during the holidays to investigate some of the key aspects of Austen and Weldon’s context (one of the texts studied being Pride and Prejudice) and so their research will form the basis of this activity (like a flipped classroom). I want them now to develop a flowchart using their contextual research which looks like the following (practising their independent inquiry, critical thinking and gaining a deep understanding of the author’s context):

*please note that the flowchart usually says social/cultural/political values, but the text was too small for the purpose of a small graphic on here!

Mod A flowchart

After students complete this (they may need to work BACKWARDS through the flowchart) for each author, they compare and contrast their contexts, enabling them to see where conflict in the ideas of the authors may arise, and where there will be opportunities for synthesis.

Step 4: Skills development through the content of the texts
You will notice that the final box in the flowchart is ‘ideas in text’; this is because this section of the flowchart is designed to facilitate the discussion of the text only after the students understand how social, political and cultural factors influence the composition of a text.

My discussion at this point with students will focus on the key ideas of the text. The most difficult thing I find with Module A is that there is so much detail in each text that it is difficult for me (let alone them!) to include only what is SIGNIFICANT. The dot point form of the flowchart makes it easier for students, when they come to write their responses, to whittle down the information to only the important parts.

This section I will mostly want them to be doing independently, instead of using whole class discussion, as I want to let their ideas form before they share them. We have spent a considerable amount of time in our class discussing how IDEAS differ from EXAMPLES. That’s also why I find this flowchart useful; there should be no character, plot or style information in the ‘Ideas’ box, an idea is more general than these aspects of the text. I use the metaphor of ‘taking a step back from the text’, a colleague of mine tells the students to “close the book and think about what you remember”. They must be able to relate each of these ideas to the THESIS statements they came up with from the activities in Step 1 (at this point, they may choose to refine these statements).

Students need to, again, compare and contrast ideas between the texts:

  • Where are the possibilities for synthesis?
  • What are the strongest ideas I can write a response about?
  • How do these ideas relate to the syllabus and thesis statements I’ve generated?

Step 5: Skills development through analysis of ideas.
Now that they’ve done the ground work, constructing an analytical response should not be difficult. Students need to find evidence for each idea from the texts and be able to analyse the significant aspects of the form (in our case, novel and non-fiction) which represent these ideas. I gave my students handouts of what constitutes a ‘significant’ aspect in each form (e.g. don’t discuss metaphors in a drama, this is NOT the most important aspect of the dramatic form).

Step 6: The response!
Now students need to generate thesis statements (which they’ve already done, they just need to refine these) in relation to a variety of topics (all taken from the syllabus, so if they did Step 1 correctly, at this point you can say ‘Voila!’) and break these down into the ideas they generated in Step 4 and 5. I recommend to students that they have 3 ideas per thesis statement (remember, thesis is taken from the syllabus, ideas are taken from the texts) and that those ideas relate to both texts (whether it’s a point of comparison or a contrast). Of course, this is where they will need scaffolding with their introductions and body paragraphs, but I have been more interested in the process rather than the details during my planning.


What I’ve realised during my reflection upon these musings, while compiling them into a comprehensible for others, is that essentially I need to work in both forward and reverse, if you like, to help them integrate their knowledge, see their own development and make their learning meaningful in several ways. Hopefully when I make this process transparent to them, they can practise it during Module B and be independent in its application in Module C-mastering yet another important skill I’m trying to target: problem solving!


Fun with Shakespeare

 This term, my low literacy class and I faced the prospect of battling and struggling through Shakespeare for 8 weeks. Instead, it turned out to be an experience students thoroughly enjoyed through utilising Elizabethan culture to make scenes from Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth concrete, understandable and accessible for the kids.

I focused our study of Romeo and Juliet around the class and gender division in society at the time and how this manifested in things such as celebrations, food, language and clothing. We looked at the scene at the language used to address each other in Romeo and Juliet (especially the servants, the way the nurse could be taunted without consequence and the way the older rich males were spoken to and obeyed) and the scene in which Romeo is asked if he can read by a servant. This gave context for an investigation and discussion of the education in the time of Shakespeare. 

Next we looked at the ball scene and how it explored the entertainment of the upper classes during the period. We read/acted out the scene and then it was the students’ job to design a feast which would be eaten at this ball ( see worksheet: Design a feast for the Capulet Ball). To give them the background to do this, we watched an episode of the series ‘Supersizers Go Elizabethan’  available on YouTube, which provided them with information about eating habits, courses and meals.

We then used Macbeth to investigate All things unnatural including witchcraft, religion and kings and queens as ‘gods’. Students divided into groups and investigated something which interested them about the sentences delivered to witches, the kings and queens of the time, or the religious wars which waged. Students then examined the original script and the representation of the witches in 3 different productions of Macbeth using a YouTube clip, and after this had to come up with the staging and costuming of the first scene in the play for a Shakespearean audience(see the Globe stage diagrams I developed). In order to be able to do this, students needed background about what the Globe Theatre was like in this period. They used this The Globe Theatre interactive site and digital worksheet to investigate this.

Please feel free to use the resources I developed during this unit which are attached on this page, but do give Creative Commons credit where it is due.


Research in the classroom

Recently, I have been participating in research through a Melbourne university run by a colleague. It has been a valuable learning experience for both myself and my year 8 English class, who have been the participating class.

Run within our media, persuasion and rhetoric unit, students have been learning about the “zine” text type and analyzing the way elements of this text persuade their audience and shape meaning for their readers and viewers.

The kids have LOVED it. I have ensured that, like usual, the appropriate amount of scaffolding was provided, but the unit has allowed many of the students to show their more creative side.

The kids are, this week, pitching an idea to the rest of the class (who are members of a board) to persuade them to publish their own “zine” after watching the Gruen Transfer‘s “pitch” segment.

Most kids group work skills have improved out of sight, and many kids who struggle with other tasks have shone during the program.

Next week we have professional guest speakers in to talk about how professional publications persuade readers and viewers. We will then start our poetry unit, in which students will learn about different forms of poetry and apply this knowledge to publish poetry in their “zine”.


Improving Teaching through heightened self efficacy

Self efficacy, what is it? And why is it important for teachers?

Many teachers (and the population generally) turn their nose up at research, thinking that it is something conducted in a lab with limited real world applications. Having done an entire research-based degree (psychology), I can empathize with this view.

Recently however, I have come across some interesting and very relevant research on self efficacy which can really help us in the classroom and in the staffroom. Self efficacy relates to someone’s beliefs that they can accomplish something or succeed in a particular domain or at a particular skill. Whilst it is generally considered more specific than confidence, it might be helpful for present purposes to be discussed as confidence in a particular area.

Research on self efficacy in teachers has found that teachers with high self efficacy, that is, teachers who are confident that they can assist their students in achieving the outcomes and bring about change in their students, are more likely to:

-value student autonomy in the classroom
-allow more student directed learning
-praise than criticize students
-persevere with low-achieving or behaviorally challenging students
-raise student achievement levels
-try new strategies, resources and materials
-be more flexible in the classroom

I don’t know about you, but to me, these teachers seem to be overall more successful teachers, and the students seem to benefit immensely from having a teacher high in self efficacy.

Great! But how do we lift the self efficacy of teachers?
I’ve looked around for research on this topic, but the most I have found is on boosting student self efficacy. Although some of this information is helpful, there seems to be to be other solutions which are relevant to boosting the self efficacy of teachers in your workplace:

help each other out: teaching is renowned for being a collegiate profession, though many people think this is declining with the emphasis on standardized testing. The more you can assist each other in sharing resources and ideas, the more likely teachers are to feel in control and on top of their workload, leading to a feeling of mastery.

give someone in your workplace a compliment: we all know that teaching can be difficult because it is sometimes thankless. Just commenting on how effectively a teacher in your workplace handled a situation, or the rapport they have with a difficult student, or the way they are always so organized, could be a boost for a teacher who feels as though they are struggling.

reduce emphasis on standardized testing as a means for assessing teachers: I know I’m probably dreaming with this suggestion, but consider the impact of low standardized test results for a teacher who is already feeling as though they lack the ability to help their class reach appropriate achievement levels.

But we already have enough to worry about as teachers…

The consequences of low self efficacy include the unwillingness to try new materials or teaching strategies, low self esteem, and can be as dire as dropping out of the profession, or mental health issues. Instead of blaming these teachers for reverting to a ‘safety blanket’ of traditional teaching practices, we should be looking to give these teachers experiences of success, and slowly build their perception of themselves as great educators in order to maximize learning experiences for students in their classes.

In an environment like teaching, where there is constant talk of a need to “change” our mindset as teachers and move to more student centered modes of instruction and encourage C21st skills in our students, teachers can be made to feel as if they are to blame-they aren’t doing enough (to quote @EduSum “Don’t tell me my classroom is broken!”). It can be overwhelming, even for someone who considers themselves competent. If we want to wield change in our profession, this blame culture must go. We must boost self efficacy by empowering teachers, making them and their contributions feel valuable, and recognizing the diverse range of skills which exist within the profession. If teachers have this high self efficacy, they will be more willing to try new things in the classroom, including relinquishing the control which student centered learning requires and integrating more technological tools and applications in their teaching. What seems to be a forced change will come naturally.

Let’s look after one another-tell another teacher they are great today!

References:
Badura et al. 1977
Kagan, 1992
Smylie, 1988
Woolfolk & Hoy, 1990