Sunday, 26 February 2012

Experimenting with SOLO and creative writing #solotaxonomy

I've used Bloom's Taxonomy for years to structure my learning objectives. I've always liked the way I rarely have to change them: understand / analyse / evaluate the poem / play / novel we happen to be studying. It helps students to transfer the skills they are using in one area across the subject and corresponds nicely with C/D to A* marking criteria at GCSE.
The problem is that a lot of students (and it seems teachers) struggle to grasp what analysis and evaluation actually are. On a learning walk at the start of the year, I went around all the Y10 English classrooms and asked students what they were doing, in every classroom the objectives were clearly on the board and used the word 'analysis'.
The conversation generally went:

'Can you tell me what you are doing?'
'We're analysing poetry.'
'Great. Can you tell me what analysis means?'
(Blank look) (Pause) 'It's when you annotate a poem.'

Only it's not, is it? I actually did find one student who gave the response:

'It's when you say 'how' the poem is written, or 'why' the poet wrote it.'

A much more helpful response, but how a student goes about showing that is still unclear. With that understanding, you could argue that saying, 'It was written using a metaphor' and, 'They wrote it to make a point' are both analytical answers!
Evaluation is even more straightforward: 'I give this text 9 out of 10' - job done!
So, my response has always been to train students to use key words and phrases that SHOW the the target skill.

The writer does this because...
This implies / suggests / represents...
A pattern can be seen...
The effect of this on a reader is...
Could / might / may mean...
Adjectives to describe the writer's craft such as impressive / original / thought-provoking / etc (and, of course, their antonyms).

This has proven very successful over recent years, especially moving Ds to Cs and Bs to As, but it still doesn't quite explain what you have to do to get a top grade.
So I'm trying SOLO. Again, the lazy side of me likes the idea that the structure rarely needs to change, and Lesson Objectives can be structured around the different levels of understanding.
I started on Friday with Y13. They are doing text transformation coursework - trying to shed new light on Macbeth along the way. They have all done a first draft, but a lot of them had failed to grasp that simply filling a textual gap by writing from a chosen character's perspective does not quite cut the mustard. Enter SOLO.
I went through the 5 stages and then we applied them to transformation coursework skills. This is what we came up with:

Creative writing that does not shed new light on the original text (therefore does not meet the criteria).
Takes one aspect of the original text, e.g. character or plot, but doesn't do much more than tell the same story from a different perspective.
Takes several aspects of the text, including themes, symbols, but although these ideas may be interesting and relevant, there is no interplay with the original text and the ideas are not linked or developed.
Has interplay with several aspects of the original text. Themes and symbols are developed, connected and integrated skilfully.
Extended Abstract:
The text goes beyond a transformation of the original text and becomes a comment on the writer's craft, literary theories and movements, or changes in contexts and values over time.

We then analysed a piece of work that got maximum marks last year and mind-mapped the Relational and Extended Abstract thinking behind it. They then had to discuss and map their own work using the SOLO framework.

Too soon to tell if it works after one lesson, but you could almost hear their minds ticking away, and I'm fairly sure that the room brightened as a couple of lightbulbs switched on. The verbal feedback certainly suggests that they have gone away thinking in a different way about their learning.
Finally, I realised that it also fits well with a metaphor I've been using for years - that of the juggler. Students seems to get this idea really easily and some have even started drawing it on their Controlled Assessment planning sheets!

Prestructural is having a pile of balls (see, it's appropriate in more ways than one!)
Unistructural is throwing one ball up in the air and catching it.
Multistructural is throwing lots of balls up in the air, but one at a time.
Relational is juggling (and the more balls you can juggle, the more skill you are showing).
Extended abstract is when someone else throws in a club, a hoop, or a chainsaw and you still don't drop a thing!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

How to avoid marking...

Last day of the holidays and suddenly the importance of tidying the house, doing that DIY job and shopping... ANYTHING to avoid marking...has gone through the roof. This time I also have the added distractions of an ipad and a blog! Those Controlled Assessments are calling my name, but they will just have to wait. I'll do them this afternoon.

And the good news is that I can. Rather than the first draft coursework nightmare, CA marking for the benefit of a moderator is breeze. For two reasons: firstly, because I only have to decide a mark out of 15 rather than 54, and secondly, because I don't have to worry about constructive feedback for students to improve their work in a second attempt at the same task. After all, why would you want students to improve?

Seriously, after years of desperately trying to ignore huge piles of marking lurking in dark corners of the house, I have devised several useful ways of cutting down the workload significantly and making sure I am focusing on AfL:

Photocopy the mark scheme for each essay and use a highlighter.

Rather than writing the same comment 32 times, create a cover sheet of the mistakes students commonly make for each type of assessment and tick as you go (I try to write a personal positive comment though).

Give the feedback separately, either on a different sheet of paper, or
projected, and get the students to match the comments to the essay. I love this one - and so do Ofsted inspectors and AST assessors! I like to cut up the comments into strips and get groups of students to stick the comments onto photocopied essays where they are relevant.

Also, just because students can't re-do the same task, it doesn't mean they can't reflect and focus on the skills they need to transfer and improve next time.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Creativity - how to create fizz!

This week saw whole school staff training on creativity. The challenge? In cross-curricular TLC groups, come up with as many creative ways of using random objects in the classroom as you can in 5 mins. Then we swapped the objects and groups couldn't repeat any of the ideas. Oh yeah, and it was of course competitive! Lazy post this week as it is half-term, but some of the ideas are great (and some are hilarious).
Playmobil people:
Use to teach genetics and variation
Challenging stereotypes
Large fake microphone:
Take out your frustrations on the deputy head in a controlled manner
Launch it from a rocket launcher
Revision - roll the dice and come up with that many answers to a question
Probability / chance of surviving in the trenches
Elastic bands:
Replacement knicker elastic
Parabolic curves in Science
(Worryingly) Sex Ed.
Atoms and molecules
Broken umbrella:
Create a better design
Circle of fifths / chord progression
Plastic cups:
Caste system
Building a tower challenge
Create a legal scenario - falling over a bin
What if there were no bins?
Key rings:
PEE mobiles.
Connecting connectives
Cheerleading pom poms:
Cod pieces for Shakespeare
How are these linked to learning?
A man- thong
A ball holder ( possibly the same answer there!)
Flip camera:
Maths value for money research project
Walkthrough exam vodcast
Puppets ( wolf, sheep and monkey):
Use as art critics
Must, Should, Could mascots
3 test tubes:
Science experiment ( I think the point of the session was missed! )
Use as a metaphor
My favourite responses came from one group who had the same answers for each of their items:
Science - burn it!
Music -bang it!
PE- throw it!
Drama - be it!
Art - Draw it!
And finally the winning group...
Bag of sweets:
Still life
Jewellery making
Energy content of food
Create a story from the love hearts
Recipes for new sweets
Resisting temptation
Branding / advertising / design
Effect of sugar on the brain
Chew or suck? Debate
Room 101 which sweet would you ban?
Life cycle of a sweet
Data handling
How do they create fizz?
A world without sweets
Who would you give your last sweet to?
Compare sweets in the western world to the third world
Sweets across the globe
Track environmental impact
Fair trade
Create a desert island disk for each sweet
Training days on the last day of term are always hard, but the positive response from this one was great. There were over 400 creative lesson ideas by the end of 10 mins!
We also used Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity and discussed 'the walkthrough' inspired by @kennypieper.
More of that to follow...

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Success and Failure: The Power of Locusts

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same..."
I've been reading a lot this weekend about failure - a great way to spend a Sunday! It is really interesting to me how students cope with failure and learn to bounce back. Last week I wrote about praise, and how good praise can really move students on if they truly understand what it was that worked and what didn't. On reflection, I think more and more that the same is true for failure, but it depends entirely on the student's attitude towards both these things. Do they believe their success / failure was of their own making?
"I've got that locust thing you were talking about"
Last year I ran an A/A* conference for around 60 of our most able Y11 students. They had the afternoon off timetable, a free buffet lunch, and revision workshops focusing on analysis, transferrable skills, and revision strategies to suit different learning styles. The session I did with them was on the external and internal locus of control (thanks Julian B Rotter for a great idea and even better name!).

In a nutshell, from a student with a strong external locus of control, you might hear:

  • "The question was difficult."
  • "The teacher is rubbish."
  • "I was unlucky."
  • "The dog ate it."

A student with a strong internal locus of control will say:

  • "I didn't revise."
  • "I didn't bother doing it."
  • "I forgot."
  • "I fed it to the dog."

The workshop was about students realising their mindset and starting to take more responsibility for their successes and failures. The link with praise is crucial here. If you praise success rather than the process of achieving success, then you can reinforce an external locus of control. What does someone do then when they have to face failure? Maybe Kipling had a point.

One of the more memorable results of this approach was when I found one of my Y13 students working in the library and almost fainted with shock. He was a bright student, but had got As and Bs at GCSE without a lot of effort (his C grades were down to a absent teacher, a disruptive class and not being told the right thing to do). He never met a deadline, ticked jobs off the list without doing them properly and generally cruised along in Y12, just like he had the year before. It was here he met his failure. Totally unprepared, as this hadn't happened before, I had a chat about what his outlook on life meant. He was an absolute text book case of external locus of control. Once armed with this knowledge he was able to start to change things around - hence working in the library rather than taking it easy in the common room. His explanation: "I've got that locust thing you were talking about".