Sunday, 20 May 2012

From Bloom to SOLO to exam skills

Working in a school where lots of the staff use Bloom's Taxonomy to create learning objectives, the students are very familiar with the language: Know / Understand / Apply / Synthesise / Analyse / Evaluate / Create. However, recently I have introduced my GCSE C/D class to SOLO, and I wanted to get them to think about how this wasn't a complete change from everything they were used to, but simply a different way of thinking about the process of learning.

More importantly, I wanted them to understand how their AQA Foundation English Paper 1 was constructed in a similar way - the skills required building in complexity as you go through the paper: Qu 1a Retrieve, Qu 1b Infer, Qu 2 Retrieve and Infer, Qu 3 Analyse Language, Qu 4 Compare Presentation.

Not wanting to simply tell them how I think this works, I got them to do it for themselves. I gave them the bits of paper, post-it arrows and asked them to create a learning diagram. One group came up with this:

The final step was to think about how those skills can be demonstrated to the examiner. We did this by using PETER paragraphs (Point / Pattern, Evidence, Term, Explain / Explore, Relate to question):

Qu 1a (Unistructural) Retrieve (P x 4)
Qu 1b (Multistructural) Infer (PE)
Qu 2 (Multistructural) Retrieve and Infer (PEE)
Qu 3 (Relational) Language (PETER)
Qu 4 (Relational) Compare Presentation (PETER)

The different skills were reinforced with images which they really liked:


Infer (reading beneath the surface):

Infer and retrieve:

How does the writer use Language:

Compare Presentation:

The impact is hard to judge, as there are lots of other factors involved, but I gave the group a mock reading paper on Friday and 3 of the students improved by 8 marks from their previous attempt. All the others showed significant improvement on the Language and Presentation questions where the most marks are available and students struggle.

One of the key things this reinforces for me is that students, far from being put off by the seemingly complex terminology, really enjoy understanding the theory behind the way they learn. My hope is that they will then start to apply it in other subjects. Simply put, if they can understand the rules of the game properly they will become better players.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Text type mnemonics

So close to the exam and my Y11s are still really struggling to answer the 'How does the writer use language to...' (Question 3 of the AQA Foundation paper). They have real difficulty finding things to write about unless it is a persuasive text. So, I decided if I could come up with a mnemonic that matched the text type it should really help them remember what kind of things they could write about.

So here it (far from perfect) is:

Direct address
Verbs (modal)
Sentence length

Pattern of three
Emotive language
Rhetorical questions
Use of assertion
Direct address

Detail - adjectives and adverbs
Evoke the senses
Sentence length
Brilliant vocabulary (not proud of this one!)

In sections / sequence
Rhetorical questions
Mostly neutral tone

EXPLAIN is, of course, a mixture of DESCRIBE and INFORM (good luck coming up with something for x!

I've just remembered it to write this, so it does work! It should also help them to plan for the writing tasks too. Of course, there are other things you can include, but it it gives them a start, and they can also use it to plan for the writing section.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Writing using board games

This was something I was reminded of after reading a great post on 'Slow Writing' from learning

Simple board game template available from a complicated link:

Students have to begin with writing an opening sentence and then they can roll the dice. The squares repeat so they hit a range of strategies and they have to follow the instruction in their next sentence. If they land on the writing picture, they can write a sentence without a specific technique. If they land on the thinking symbol, they have to stop writing and check through what they have written.

I used this version with my Y9 group L3-4 and it improved their descriptive writing content considerably (the task was based on 'Teacher's Dead' by Benjamin Zephaniah). They loved it, especially the 'Chance' cards which they had to come and collect from me which said things like: 'What is your narrator feeling?' 'Describe 2 senses other than sight', 'Introduce a character and describe their appearance', 'Describe the weather'. They actually deliberately fixed it to land on those squares!

I've even managed to dig out the lesson plan:

It is very easily adapted for different kinds of writing and different abilities. Also great to use (and quieter) are these foam dice which are available from about 40p each online:

You can put techniques, questions, challenges, etc. on the different sides. I've used these right up to A level with different readings on each side: Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytical, etc or use the bullet points or assessment objectives from exam questions and get students to analyses texts according to what they throw.

Even better, get students to come up with their own games to challenge eachother!