Thursday, 19 July 2012

The video: Teaching SOLO taxonomy through SOLO taxonomy

I have recently run a successful SOLO taxonomy to staff.  Full details including the presentation are here

The idea of the session was to introduce SOLO taxonomy to staff.  For many, this is the first time that they had ever heard or seen SOLO taxonomy.  I therefore needed to ensure that in the time I had, I got the main features of the taxonomy over and explained some of the key principles.  I would need to keep much of the theoretical element quite simple in an effort to not overload staff.  I would also have to pick out the key features which would have the most impact for staff.  The idea is to get the imagination running and then direct colleagues to further reading (in the form of books, blogs and websites).  I therefore decided (with our Director of Learning) to run the session in the following way:
  1. Introduction to SOLO Taxonomy - Gaining the theoretical knowledge and understanding
  2. SOLO Taxonomy examples - How we at Brookfield are trialling it in PE and Music
  3. Collaboration and developing in your own practice - A chance for staff to chat through ideas with others and see how SOLO Taxonomy could fit in the subject area
  4. Future thinking - Discussing a time when we can meet up again and see how things are progressing.
As you will see, the first section is very directed by myself.  This was simply to get the facts across clearly and skill up staff before they embarked on their journey.  If I were to use this with students, I would make it more active and include tasks which allowed students to interact with SOLO as they learnt it.  The review of the session for the staff though was very positive indeed so I was happy in the structure.

In no way is this the full explanation.  In no way is this complete package.  I am also sure I have made mistakes and missed out key points.  What it is though is a start.  An introduction.  An idea.  If after watching it you aren't interested in SOLO taxonomy then that's completely fine.  I would never force anyone to try it or push my thoughts or opinions on people.  But, if like me (and many others) you catch the bug, please head back here and check out some links to other teachers who are playing around with it!  Enjoy (and be nice!!).

Section 1a - Introduction to SOLO Taxonomy (the longer version)

Section 1b - Introduction to SOLO Taxonomy (the shorter version)

Section 2 - PE and Music examples of SOLO in use (@davidfawcett27 and @riches50)

Section 3 and 4 - Future planning

So, since the session took place, SOLO taxonomy has begun to take speed.  In fact, I ran this session twice more with smaller groups of staff.  So where are we now?  Well, many staff are still getting the background reading done in preparation for September.  A few though, have already taken the plunge and started embedding SOLO straight away.  As I have said, this is one way of explaining SOLO to staff.  Next time I plan to take this one step further and have more 'hands on' SOLO activities (like I would with students).  But what I hope this has done is give you a taster or insight into SOLO and what SOLO can do.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Developing Curiosity - The 'Curiosity Campaign'

I have been reading a lot over the last few years.  Most of it has been about developing my teaching or more specifically Learning to Learn.  When I first got my job as the developer of L2L at my school, I was directed towards the Campaign for Learning by various people.  It was here that I first heard about a number of the key components of L2L and how it works.  Whilst reading through their website in 2007 I came across a really interesting idea that they had begun back in 2000.  For those of you that know me or have read previous posts, if a strategy or initiative doesn't catch my attention or I don't see that it will make much of an impact, I don't use it.  But this idea intrigued me and developed my curiosity.  It really got me thinking and I could see its practical use immediately.  Even if it doesn't work, it's simple enough to give it a go.  The idea was beautifully named the 'Curiosity Campaign' with the tag line:

'You can switch anyone onto learning by...............making them curious'.

Campaign for Learning described the idea as follows:

'The campaign is based on the premise that a desire and motivation to learn can be stimulated by curiosity. Award winning advertising agency, St Luke's, worked with us to develop the creative format for the Campaign: a series of posters incorporating a single, striking image and a teasing 'curiosity', or half sentence.  The ideas behind the 'Curiosity' campaign have been influenced by our marketing learning experience and research to date. Our research has told us that people with negative learning experiences behind them, in particular, resist a learning propaganda or 'learning is good for you' approach. They have heard it too many times. Rather, the posters work by stimulating people to think about the answers and engage in a mental, or actual, dialogue about the topics the posters are based on'


So how does it work?  Well, I think it's very self explanatory from the above statement but a brief summary would be as follows.  As the C4L state, 'Curiosity works like an itch. It irritates us so that we want to do something about it' and the posters do just that.  Simply identify a topic in your subject area that you could use as a hook.  Find yourself a striking image that links to the topic but doesn't give the game away.  Next, come up with half a sentence (or an 'annoying' half sentence) that starts to talk about an amazing fact, but then doesn't finish it.  Put it all together as a poster or display and the innate curiosity of learners (not all) will make them want to know or find out the answer. 

So, what have I done with this.  Well, as you may know I don't have my own classroom so I have been playing with this idea for a few years.  I have though been thinking about displays a lot this year (click here).  As the summer holidays approach, I know I will be in school for a day at some point to get things ready for September.  During this time I plan to create a few posters to display around the department.  I already trialled one as a starter with my Year 11's and I have to say, honestly, it got a great discussion going and got learners asking a lot of questions.  I could see the curiosity flowing.  My idea though is to use it outside of lessons and display them around our facilities so students from all years can see them.  I want to get individuals talking about our subject and see that there is a great depth to what we teach (specifically at GCSE level).  Now it clearly has links to PBL and Inquiry Based Learning where we do something similar with stimulis images.  But this is different.  This gets them before they come into the classroom and may even make them find out the answer independently.  Then again it may not?  But who knows unless I give it a go.  Finally, as I was reading up on curiosity, I found a quote from Jeff Arnold from that answered the question 'Does curiosity inspire learning?' quite nicely:

"Yes, definitely -- curiosity is at the very heart of learning. It's what drives people to want to learn more about something. Once that initial spark of curiosity happens, the next step is to investigate the topic, event or thing more thoroughly. That investigation then leads to wanting to wholly understand it -- to unravel the mystery of it. And of course, that's where learning comes into action."

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Creating an environment for 'Feedback'

Over the last year, our Learning and Teaching group (LTG) has been focusing on three areas that we felt needed developing further after our last Ofsted inspection.  To look at these in more detail, we created three 'cells' within the team and adopted a focus each.  One group looked at 'Level 4 Boys: Raising boys achievement', another at 'Differentiation' and the cell I headed up looked at 'Oral and Written feedback'.  We would spend two terms creating ideas or strategies, trial them in our classrooms and monitor the impact, and then share them at a 'Learning & Teaching Marketplace' with the middle leaders of our school.

When we were issued our brief, there was a link to Dweck's 'Growth Mindset' and how could we develop this with our learners.  The link was there because we want them to learn from this feedback and actively want to improve.  We also had to be conscious that across the whole school there were a number of action groups in place and strategies for oral and written feedback was one of their aims. 

So with this in mind, we decided to let the focus group find strategies, whilst we looked at:
  • Ways to involve every student in an effective system of oral and written feedback
  • Ways to actually provide feedback for the learning that takes place, as well as the content that is learnt
  • Ways to create an ethos or culture of learning in the classroom
  • Ways that promote the giving and receiving of feedback as an essential part of the learning process (and develop a growth mindset)
So, the team came up with a number of initial ideas and went away and trialled them.  Anything we did had to be easy enough for staff to adopt and effective enough to warrant them using it.  Evidence of impact was not collected by means of data, but through teachers self-reflection and reviews of their lessons.  As we came back to meetings, we scrutinised their effectiveness and a number of additional ideas evolved. 

Finally, we created the following resource that we shared with middle leaders at our 'Learning & Teaching Marketplace'.  After reading the comments forms after the event, it seems that the marketplace was a huge success.  A number of particular mentions of our presentation was commented on with leaders indicating that they would be embedding our ideas from next September.

A summary of the ideas we developed:

No Hands Up Rule: We found that a number of students still didn't contribute to lessons, either through questioning, discussions or giving feedback.  The strategy is rather simple then.  Instead of allowing hands up (which Dweck found a lot of fixed learners thrive in), the teacher picks those to contribute.  Therefore, in any part of the lesson where feedback from learners is required, the teacher can facilitate and involve every student.  We found that after  numerous lessons doing this, learners felt more confident to do this and were all able to contribute without feeling pressured or put on the spot.  All learners were able to contribute and a culture of involvement was created.  Our AST Neil Chance developed this further and added an 'ABC' process.  When feedback was given by an individual, other students could Add, Build upon or Challenge the comments that were being made.  As a result, feedback got more detailed and more specific.

Stuck Walls: Talked about in an earlier post (click here), this is a resource in the form of a poster or criteria that is displayed in classrooms.  Normally, if a student is stuck, they have to find the answer from three other sources (can be a book, peer, resource, notes).  Isn't this resilience or independent learning?  Yes, but we did it for feedback.  I personally have students who say "Sir, can you check this is right?" at which I then pointed at the display and said "Can your partner or your table team or someone from another table review it and give you feedback?  Can you not get two separate people to evaluate it and both give you feedback?".  Supports growth mindset and creates a culture of peer assessment.

3 Plus Me rule: The same as the stuck walls but without a display.  Instead of a resource, it is a general rule that work needs to be evaluated by various people in the class before the teacher checks it.  Hopefully, after peers have reviewed it, the final piece that reaches 'me' is an excellent piece of work and students have learnt how to produce it.

Effort and process reward cards: One of the favourites!  Talked about before here.  Does all feedback have to be about the work they produce?  Surely if students are working in a particularly effective way, or have used a very good strategy or even put in a lot of effort, we can reward them?  Highlight this way of working enough and they start to develop good learner habits.  I know when I do something in a way that works and someone gives me positive feedback on it, I'll do it again.  Simply, have a number of small cards with with key learner qualities, attributes or 'good habits' on.  Hand them out to students when you spot these.  Instant feedback on the way they worked.  We (probably against some research somewhere!) gave them merits at the end when they traded the card in.  What this also did is allowed us to have a learning conversation.  Invaluable!

Feedback first: Not revolutionary.  Simply, when we provide feedback, we simply gave feedback.  Grades and praise were kept aside until later.  Very closely linked to Dweck's work.  If we gave the praise or grades, learners look at that and ignore the worthwhile comments.  No improvements are made.  Grades first also promotes fixed learners who use grades as a symbol of intelligence.  We therefore use this to stop that.

Peer and self assessment: Again, nothing revolutionary.  By marking the work of others you increase your own understanding of the topic.  You have to or you can't assess it effectively.  You also learn other individuals ways of working and good learner habits.  I used this with a Year 10 PSE class when looking at writing personal statements and the improvements from first draft to second draft was immense.  Same system works for self assessment using mark schemes, rubrics or success criteria's.  Allows you to see what has been done or what needs to be done to improve: Feedback & Feedforward.

Critique: Another one of our favourites but very much in the infancy here at Brookfield.  A culture or ethos of gathering feedback to achieve excellence rather than an activity to put in the middle of your lesson.  Requires specific, helpful and kind analysis of work.  Comments given are hard on content and soft on people.  Can use an 'example of excellence' to help strive for perfection.  Involves a cycle of draft, get work critiqued, act upon suggestions, redraft, get work critiqued, act upon.......  One we will definitely be developing more before sharing out further.  See Ron Berger's 'Ethic of Excellence' book.

SOLO Taxonomy: But this isn't feedback, it's a taxonomy?  Correct but its very nature strives on feedback and feedforward.  Either by self, peer or teacher analysis, you can easily gain an understanding in either oral or written form that helps students develop and make progress.  If you hadn't guessed, its also one of our favourites.  More posts on this and in more detail are here.

So, we found that these helped create an environment where feedback, either in oral and written form, worked for us.  I am sure, like always, that there is research that contradicts these methods, or even methods that have more of an impact.  But, in our manageable in house trials, we found these to work with the learners we have.  As usual, we will continue to reflect and review these process, whilst looking for additional methods to promote the culture of feedback in lessons.