Thursday, 30 August 2012

20 ways to get involved with your schools teaching and learning

One thing that I have been overwhelmed with since becoming a part of the Twitter community is the amount of amazing tweachers there are who have so many fresh ideas about teaching and learning.  I see myself as a very forward thinking person in this area but even I have to admit that my own professional development has increased dramatically since being connected to other educators.  And it’s not just from reading the various amazing blog posts that individuals promote, but some of the conversations that I observe or involve myself in have been rich and full of strategies and tips.  Ideas bloom and blossom at every moment and I think that Twitter proves itself to be a significant tool for teachers, schools and education.

One of the things I do hear a lot is a number of tweachers being humble or playing down an amazing idea they have shared.  Some doubt their ideas are any good.  But in fact some of these ideas are so simple yet brilliant that they have me heading for my planner or laptop to start creating something.  There are also those who played down their role in education yet they have personally inspired me to be better.  Now I have been extremely lucky in my teaching career.  Since my NQT year I have been involved in teaching and learning at my school.  I have been fortunate to be given both the opportunities, and have the freedom to create opportunities to share teaching and learning ideas with staff.  I have learnt not to be 'gung ho' but instead find the right forums or channels to share just what is needed, to those who are interested.  So I thought I would share some of the opportunities that I have seen or have been part of myself and give some tips for those teachers who want to share their teaching and learning ideas with staff but don’t know how.
Now I have tried to loosely rank order these in terms of difficulty.  These rankings are not evidence based.  Instead they are put in an order combining things like the impact they might have, the organising it may take or the SLT/SMT permission you may need.  In fact when it gets further down the list any one of these could be repositioned.  So, if you are a teacher with ideas and want to share them but don’t know how, or want to have an input on teaching and learning at your school, maybe one of these will help:
  • T&L buddy.  I have a fellow colleague who I always go to first with an idea.  I show them the reasoning, the evidence, my idea and my plan.  They give me feedback, help me tweak it, give me points for development or tell me when ‘It won’t have much impact on the learning’.  It works both ways.  If we have a good idea we share it with close colleagues.  Word spreads (so does the idea).
  • Get your own Twitter account.  Network with other teachers.  Listen into threads about a topic you are interested in.  Read blogs and posts.  Then when you are ready, jump in and get connected.  Share your ideas and pick up ones which you can filter back to colleagues at your school.  There’s so much out there and colleagues appreciate it.
  • Read educational books.  If they’re good, share them with your colleagues or order them into the school staff library.  Get together and discuss the content.  @HuntingEnglish recently bought numerous copies of 'The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson' for colleagues in his department.  Could an initiative or idea develop from this (in your department or whole school?)
  • Read lots!!!  Read, try ideas out and open your classroom door to staff.  There are a lot of good books out there which have ideas that are evidence based and have a real impact in classrooms.  Read them, tweak them as you see fit and give them a go.  Let colleagues know you’re trying something new and tell them they can pop in whenever they want.  Invite your head of department or SLT in.  Invite feedback.  If it works then you have planted a seed and word will spread.  Keep evidence as well.  Before and after test scores.  Attainment levels and other data help demonstrate that an idea works (or doesn’t work).  Don’t try too much too soon though.  Try one or two things at a time.
  • Professional development targets.  I know some schools that encourage you to focus on particular things because of a whole school push or part of the SEF.  But, if you have a particular interest or T&L initiative you want to work on, get it in as a professional development target.  This gives you the opportunity to research, trial, monitor and evaluate an idea.  See if another colleague in the school has a similar focus and work together.  Share your findings with your department or other staff.  Let them know what you found out.  People will take interest.
  • Nominate yourself to oversee teaching and learning in your dept.  Our department allocates roles between ourselves.  Some look after displays, KS3 curriculum, extra-curricular clubs…..  Maybe put yourself forward as the one who works with the head of department looking into T&L?  Identify a focus, go away and research, trial, feedback and embed if necessary.  Use your department review or action plan as a good starting point (what needs working on).
  • CPD.  With money tight it might be hard to get onto CPD courses for some schools and teachers.  But, make a deal with SLT/SMT or your head of department that you will lead your own session or write up your findings about the course which you can share with staff.  Great way for you to get ideas out there and share with colleagues.
  • Write your own blog.  The best thing I have done this year for three reasons.  Firstly it made me reflect on what I was doing and get my ideas out.  Secondly it allowed a lot of feedback from tweachers which really help me fine tune things.  And lastly it allowed me to involve myself in conversations about T&L which has been very beneficial.  Easy for you to do using Word Press, Blogger, Edublogs……  I can now quickly link colleagues to ideas I have used.
  • GEMS.  Each week, a colleague of mine sends out an e-mail called a ‘Gem’.  This is like the Bring and Buy where he e-mails a T&L idea to all staff.  They range from ideas for starters, plenaries, differentiation, groups work, learning objectives…..  Many are passed to him from other staff who he acknowledges in the e-mails.  If it’s from a book, he links it so you can click it and maybe order it.  Very easy to set up, effective and refreshing every week.
  • Teaching & Learning newsletter.  We had a newsletter that an AHT put together every term.  Staff were encouraged to volunteer and write an article if they had something they had done or trialled during that time.  The idea was to celebrate ideas that staff had and share best practice.  Maybe this could work for you?  Maybe you could facilitate it?  Could it be a blog?
  • Focus groups/CCMM’s.  Last year all staff were asked to join a focus group or cross curricular group.  Each group was headed by a member of staff who didn’t have to necessarily be in a leadership position (in fact many weren’t).  Each group had a different focus.  Directed time meetings were set up over the year, the focus was discussed, researched, trialled and evaluated.  Each group had to have an end product which ranged from displays in the staff room to webpages on the school system.  Maybe suggest this as an idea to SLT/SMT or offer to lead a group?
  • Learning & Teaching group.  Our school has one of these.  It is made up of the two Directors of Learning, our AST’s, our Innovators, our G&T coordinator and any other interested teachers.  We have loads who have come along over the years even though it isn’t directed time for them.  Be a part of yours if possible.  See what gets discussed and involve yourself.  Have a direct input in your schools T&L policy.
  • Involve yourself in an INSET day.  Chat to the SLT, SMT or AST in charge of INSET days.  Let them know what you’re interested in.  Ask them to involve you if your interest is a focus at a future INSET day.  Maybe run a small seminar or be part of a bigger presenting group if doing something whole school.  Always remember what your bad INSET experiences have been and plan to do the opposite.  Involve your audience and capture their imagination.  Invite feedback.  It may be your worst nightmare but how will you do better next time without it?
  • Mixing up the daily staff briefing.  Inspired by a number of tweachers visits to High Tech High, @Totallywired77 now uses the routine staff briefings on a Wednesday morning as a way to share T&L ideas.  He calls this TMBriefings.  Briefing starts at 8.15am and two members of staff present ideas on things they have used in their teaching.  Staff are encouraged to share ideas and chat about a particular element of T&L.  Tait says "this is a change in culture, people are volunteering to present and generally everyone sees it as useful, positive, helpful and all in a relaxed, supportive and comfortable environment".  What a refreshing way to start the day!  Could you implement this in your school?
  • Learning & teaching ‘cells’.  In our LTG, we split down into smaller sub groups when we go away and research a particular idea.  These groups aren’t always led by the senior members of the team.  In fact we encourage everyone to lead a smaller sub group.  This year, my group looked at developing ideas for creating an ‘environment’ for feedback in classrooms.  Our ideas can be found here.  Why not lead a small group or cell with a T&L focus and gain the experience that comes with it.
  • Learning & teaching ‘marketplace’.  When our LTG group has researched and trialled ideas, we then present it at an L&T Marketplace.  We have various ‘stalls’ or presentation areas and invite heads of department, staff, SLT/SMT to see what we have done.  Ask to be involved in a stall and chat to staff.  Enthuse them.  Give out a brief hand out or direct them to a link on the school system.  Many other staff were involved.  Maybe you could set one of these up?  Great to bring staff together.
  • ‘Bring & Buys’.  I started this up in my NQT year.  I guess this would now be called an informal version of a ‘Teachmeet’.  It’s simply a get together of teachers once a month/term to share T&L.  I booked the library, got refreshments and announced the event to staff.  Teachers would come along and we would share stuff that we had done in our lessons (the ‘bring’ element).  Nothing formal, no standing up doing a presentation, just listening one at a time to colleagues sharing something they did.  The best part of this was getting the e-mails about 30 minutes later from staff saying they’ve already gone away and created a new resource ready to use tomorrow (the ‘buy’ section).
  • Run your own T&L sessions.  This year I had a good play around with SOLO taxonomy and found it had some powerful results.  My Director of Learning also became interested in what I was doing.  I decided to run a SOLO session for staff (click here).  This would not be directed time and would rely on the goodwill of staff to attend.  I sent out a short e-mail to all staff and then an even shorter reminder before the session.  The first session only had three people.  Still I had the chance to share an idea.  In the next session the room was full and the event was a success.  This year I plan to run another one on a different topic.  If you have an idea and feel others would be interested then run one.  SLT/SMT shouldn’t complain as you’re sharing best practice.
  • Get a school CPD account.  @CanonsOPP is a Twitter account for Canons High School where they share their T&L ideas and work.  Maybe help set this up for your school and working with an SLT/SMT, AST or fellow colleague, collate ideas from teachers around your school and tweet them.  You could also get teachers to submit articles for a school blog which you can tweet links to.  Remember that this is the image of the school so I would always have this as part of a wider team.
  • Organise a Teachmeet.  Now for those of you that have never heard of a Teachmeet, it is a bringing together of teachers with ideas.  It is an event where teachers come along to either present an idea to the audience or gather fresh initiatives for their own practice.  You don’t have to give a presentation if you don’t wish to but if you do, they either last for 7, 5 or 2 minutes.  Organising one may seem a bit daunting so maybe try an internal one first with your own staff.  Book the main hall, conference room, meeting room or good space.  Give staff plenty of notice and advertise it in each department staff room.  Have a Google doc or paper sign-up sheet so staff can register their interest in either attending or presenting the event.  Get some refreshments and make sure the ICT equipment is ready to go.  Video the presentations so you can share them with teachers on the school network drive.  If it goes well, think bigger and invite other schools or go for an actual Teachmeet.  For a link to the Teachmeet site click here.  For some example videos of an actual Teachmeet click here.  For tips from @ICTevangelist on organising a Teachmeet click here.

Now these all range in difficulties but hopefully will get the neurons firing.  Some are easy to do, some need SLT/SMT backing.  It’s also important to remember not to force ideas onto people.  Share what you have with evidence, examples, reasoning and practical applications.  Get out there and be part of the T&L community in your school.  You’ll love the experience.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Designing gardens, getting influenced and developing a strategy for creativity.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the creation of new ideas.  I will explain why I have been thinking about this in a moment.  How often is it that we actually see a purely inspirational and unique product that has had no influence from other sources.  That is so unique that it resembles nothing we have ever seen before.  It is a product unlike anything ever before.  Unfortunately, I was struggling to think of one.  Not recently anyway.  A lot of products nowadays seem to be a version or adaptation of a previous idea.  They seem to have ‘borrowed’ elements or components from other products but personalised them to their brands style.  Whenever I see a new product being launched I always think ‘Oh it’s got an x which is similar to y’.  Apart from years ago when new inventions where actually new, I struggled to list many.

So why was I thinking this?  Aside from being a teacher, in my spare time I run my very own successful Garden Design business (don't believe me, click here).  I normally do this during the summer holidays, end of terms or half terms.  I do this because of a previous job as a ‘Garden Design Technician’ whilst I was training to be a teacher.  My job is to meet a client and create an idea for their garden.  They are employing me to make their garden meet their needs, style, lifestyle and interests.  They pay me to create something unique and inspirational.  But, if you are an experienced garden designer, you would probably be able to look at my designs and see elements of John Brookes, Diarmuid Gavin, Cleeve West, Andy Sturgeon and others rubbing off on me.  You would be right.  I would be the first to admit that what I put forward isn’t always unique and ‘never seen before’.  They all have been influenced.

So how do I become creative?  What is my method?  Well, when I get a client asking me to design for them, I normally follow the following procedure or structure:
1.      Go to the client’s garden.  I ask the client as many questions as I can to clarify what it is they want.  I produce a list of criteria called a ‘brief’ which lists all the things my design should do when it’s finished to be successful.
2.      I then go away and visit my books, websites, photos and Google images to get ideas.  I paste all of these inspirational ideas and options together to create my own ‘mood board’.  I always double check they link to the clients brief.
3.      I then create pages and pages of rough sketches and designs.  I create images of the shape, the planting, features, materials….
4.      I then evaluate the sketches and ideas and chuck out the rubbish.  This leaves me with a few rough ideas I am happy with and which meet the brief.
5.      I then start combining these ideas to create a final idea.
6.      I then draw up this idea in numerous forms and check it matches the brief.
7.      I then meet with the client again, show the design, talk it through and invite feedback.  If it needs it, I will go back to any of the above steps and make necessary amendments.

Now, you might be thinking that this is a teaching blog and what has this got to do with schools?  Well as part of my additional responsibility as an innovator in charge of L2L, my job is to find the best methods/strategies/systems that we can teach are students to make them more effective learners.  In our Year 9 L2L course, the final module which lasts over a number of weeks is a creativity project.  In the past we let them loose and asked them to ‘harness their creativity’ and waffled on about ‘tips to be creative’.  It has to be said that some of the ideas that students came up with were pretty poor, already in existence or not original at all.  A lot of students really struggled.  It seems children are very imaginative and curious, but find it difficult to think of an original concept.  Some on the other hand were good, but again relied heavily on existing influences.  So, for the last two years we have taught students, if you have to create something, a good starting method would be Geoff Petty’s ICEDIP method of creativity.
The ICEDIP process is very simple in its nature and links very clearly with my garden design.  It is a six staged strategy which helps students put a creative piece of work together.  It is non-linear in fashion and learners can go back and forth, swapping between the stages as they need.  The process is also extremely reflective and requires an individual to constantly evaluate or analyse their work at every stage.  For a detailed explanation of the ICEDIP process there is a link at the bottom of the post.  In summary, the six stages are as follows:

Clarification: This is the stage where the individual makes sense of what their task is.  It is here that they create their brief, success criteria or objectives.  It is where they work out what exactly they have to do to complete the task successfully.  As Geoff Petty says, ‘It is where you focus your goals’.  This is vitally important to do at the onset.  As you get engrossed in being creative, it is possible you can lose direction and go off in a tangent if you are not careful.  Use this brief or success criteria constantly to ensure you are working your way towards your goal and what you are creating meets the requirements of the task.
This is the time where I meet the client and clarify what they want their garden to look like or do.  I find out what it should be if it was to be successful.

Inspiration:  This is where you get inspired.  A lot of new ‘things’ in the world take their influences from existing or old ‘things’.  Some books use similar stories, themes or styles of writing.  Some artwork, paintings or sculptures may have influences from other artists or replicate styles.  Some music may have similar sounds, harmonies, melodies or lyrics.  It is this stage where you do something similar and get inspiration for yourself.  This is a research phase so spend time to go looking for existing ideas which might help form your creative piece.
The second part of this stage is the the ideas phase.  This is the best and most important part.  Here is where you let yourself go and create numerous versions of your piece.  You might wish to focus on the whole piece or specific components like plot lines in English, various lyric combinations in Music or different types of hinges in Technology.  The two most important factors though here are:
1) Don’t be critical at all.  Let your ideas flow.  Even if you change your mind halfway through an idea, it doesn’t matter.  An idea is an idea and will be helpful.
2) 99% of all your ideas will be rubbish.  But doing this 99% may help you find the 1% of brilliance.
This is where I create various sketches of the garden, its shape, style, theme, features….

Evaluation: This is the time when you sit down and evaluate what you have just created.  It is the time to think objectively and without bias.  It is also the time when you reference against your brief or success criteria from the clarification phase.  Look through your ideas and drafts and seek out their strengths and weaknesses.  What bits work and what needs changing.  This is an excellent time for critique or peer/self assessment.  If it doesn’t work, is a weak idea or won’t meet the target of your project, throw it away.
This is where I throw out the weak ideas and leave myself with a few strong ones that all meet the brief.

Distillation:  This is where you determine which of your ideas to work on in order to meet your objective.  It is also a time where you may merge your best ideas before working on your final piece.  Picking out the best bits and combining them will help ensure your final outcome will be a successful one.
This is where I combine the best bits from my best ideas.  I look at everything from the shape, plants, features, materials etc.  All of this to ensure I create the best final product I possibly can.

Perspiration:  This is the stage where you put the most effort in to get your final piece finished.  This should be the hardest section and involve the most effort as you strive for excellence.  You may need to go back and forth between other stages such as the clarification stage to check you are on course.
This is where I create my final piece using all of the work from the previous stage.  Here I strive to produce the best design I can.

Incubation:  I leave this explanation until the end.  There are times when a writer gets writers block, a musician can’t think of how to finish a song, a student gets stuck or a garden designer has a meltdown!  This is the stage where you take a few minutes out.  A time when you walk away.  Don’t worry, your brain will still be thinking about your work and you may have a eureka moment.  When you are ready and refreshed, return to your task.
This is where I usually bang my head on the table and go and watch some TV.  I may even return to the inspiration phase in a less stressful way.

When I have delivered it over the last two years, I always use my garden design background as my personal method of explaining the ICEDIP method of developing creativity.  I also stress the importance of thinking outside of the box and looking at ideas from different angles.  I have a set style but my gardens aren’t all the same.  A Samsung Galaxy or HTC isn’t exactly the same as an iPhone.  Things are similar, but different at the same time.  In fact it seems that the culture of 'borrowing ideas' is very apparent in the world today.  And what about using this process with students?  Well in my experience it really works.  The work over the past two years was much better than the previous.  It was more structured, more reflective and more coherent.  Students weren't sitting looking at a blank page, producing identical designs of existing products or only creating one idea.  They were understanding the process and the importance of working in this way (if only as a basis).  And to stop this becoming a copying or plagiarising exercise, focus heavily on reflecting between each stage and harness humans natural curiosity with the use of some excellent questioning.  Use Kipling's Who, Where, What, Why, When and How.
So how could it filter in other classrooms?  Well in many ways.  We plan so many activities in our lessons where we ask students to go away and be creative.  And this process doesn't have to be solely used in naturally creative subjects like Art or Technology.  This process could be used in any.  In a creative writing task in English for example, students create the brief, research what other writing in a specific genre looks like, create numerous ideas on plots, characters and settings, evaluate the quality of the ideas, wean out the bad, merge the best parts of the story together, work hard to get the final piece together and be reflective throughout the whole process.  In that single task students could be guided through using the ICEDIP method.  The same can be done for a GCSE Photography portfolio, an Art project, a scheme of work for Music, coursework in Graphics…..  The list goes on.  My main advice though is it’s the actual process of making the stages explicit to learners that is important.  Sometimes we do this in our lessons naturally.  But actually scaffolding our youngsters through the process, talking about the six stages and getting them to constantly review and reflect on it is how working in this way becomes habit.  Getting them to understand the stages ensures that this method of working is replicated again and again.  This is basic Learning to Learn.

As always, this is only a way, not the way.  But in my experiences over the past few years, it has been a beneficial strategy to use, share and teach students.

Click to link to Geoff Petty's website and ICEDIP information available to download.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Rewarding achievement

Now I'm going to write this post from the perspective of a PE teacher in a secondary school.  I'm going to explain something we do every year for the past 7 years.  As I chatted about this with fellow Tweachers a little while ago, what I will talk about can, and already has been, done or replicated in other schools in other contexts.  Maybe after reading this your subject, department, faculty or school could do something similar?  It doesn't have to be just for sport.

In the first year of teaching, I was incredibly lucky to start with two other NQT's in my department.  The three of us were separately mentored by older figures but helped each other out where needed.  In our first year, we had the usual excitement as you would expect from a 'fresh out of uni' teachers and I came with a million and one ideas.  It was my fellow PE NQT's that would reign me in and put my ideas into practice.

So, in my first year I put forward an idea that I had kind of got from a teaching placement.  At this particular school they focused only on three sports (Basketball, Football & Hockey).  It was a mixed school but these were the only ones that they chose to put their energy in.  At the end of the year, they would get all of the students in one night and have a 'dinner evening' where all would come smartly dressed and bring the family of sport together.

I liked this idea but thought we could take it further.  Instead I came up with the idea of the 'Brookfield Sports Awards'.  The evening would be similar in idea to the one on my placement.  We would invite students in and have a dinner, but we would also reflect on the achievements of the year and give out awards to players on individual teams (a mix of a traditional end of season club awards evening and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year).  All in all, we wanted to recognise the efforts of students and inspire them to continue.

So numerous years down the line the awards are still going extremely strong.  The night has been amended slightly but the format has stayed the same.  We scrapped the Disco at the end of the night which we had in the first year because of the usual boys standing on one side and girls on the other.  Instead the night works a little bit like this:


Our PE team splits down with most members of the team taking on a particular responsibility for the evening.  This ranges from organising the invites to sorting the food.  Letters with invitations go out and students have to return these with a small charge to cover cost of the evening.  As they return their reply slips, they have to vote for one player on their team who they feel made the biggest contribution.  This doesn't mean the best player and never usually is.  There have been a lot of votes for players who have just been committed, great leaders or the most improved.  These votes are then tallied up by our amazing admin support colleague Tracey.  By the time the evening comes, we have a 'Players Player' for each team voted by their peers.  Trophies for each of these individuals are then ordered.

The night

We go overboard here but with very little cost.  The venue we use is our school hall.  Normally used for assemblies of staff meetings, every year we transform it.  This transformation can not happen without the help of Handmade Productions who are a team of set designers.  Every year without fail, they provide us with amazing staging and props completely free.  This goodwill and sense of community is amazing!  We owe them a lot.

Every year, with the help of Handmade Productions, we create a theme.  Over the years we have turned the hall into a circus big top (it was mind blowing!), ancient Greek games and this year, in celebration of the Olympics, we turned it into the city of London.  Every year the students and staff that attend are wowed by the visually appealing environment we create.  We like to make a fuss.

To start the evening we normally have an impact piece.  This year it was the use of the Olympic bid video to get the atmosphere going.  When we had the big top we had our drumming band and a team of circus acrobats start the evening.  Think of it as our 4 minute opening ceremony!

The format

This year we had 17 teams invited covering Football, Rugby, Cricket, Netball and Basketball.  Teams in each sport range from Year 7 to 9 for both boys and girls, with some combined teams in there as well.  We focus on one sport at a time (e.g. Rugby).  We then break it down to focus on the teams within that sport (e.g. Year 7 Rugby).  We start by reading out a speech prepared by the PE staff reflecting on the year and noting any highlights or performances.  We then announce the winner of the peer voted 'Players Player' award and invite that student up.  The cheers and applause they receive is amazing and such a humbling thing to see.

Winner of the Year 8 Cricket 'Players Player' presented by last Years Sports Personality of the Year.

Before we move onto a whole new sport we have bridging pieces.  Normally these are in the form of inspirational videos, highlights of the students year or special guests.  This year with the Olympic theme, we tried to show off as many 2012 hopefuls as possible to inspire our youngsters.  We were also very lucky to have Jon Tait (@TeamTait) who was an Olympic torch bearer record an excellent video message that went down a treat (and nearly made some staff cry!).  Thank you Jon for doing this it was a very memorable part of the evening.  His two videos are mid way through the above presentation.  Worth a look.

Before the end of the night we then announce the 'Team of the Year'.  This is decided by the PE teachers and isn't only based on successes (and we have a lot!).  It usually becomes a very heated debate when this is decided in our curriculum meeting and rightly so.  We are blessed to have amazing talent and some of the finest young athletes around.  These students behave impeccably at fixtures and are a credit to the school.

Finally, all of the 'Players Player' winners from the night are put forward to the final award.  Any of these 17 students can win the overall 'Sports Personality of the Year' award.  The PE team decide this before hand and secretly vote for their overall personality from the 17 'Players Player' winners.  The winner of this has their name engraved on the prestigious trophy and honours board.  It is also customary that just before the winner is announced, that the winner from the previous year addresses the evening with a speech.

This years winner - Captain of Cricket & Football.  Also a Rugby player and the coach of the Year 7&8 Cricket team.

And afterwards

Gone are the days of the disco.  After the evening is over, we ask the students to retire to our foyer whilst we bring out the pool tables, Wii sports, giant inflatable Bungee Run, inflatable Pugel stick gladiators..... We then invite them back in and let them enjoy themselves!

So why?

We put a lot of effort into sport at Brookfield.  We have tried hard to develop an ethos and culture which we have simply named 'Team Brookfield'.  We encourage recreational activities and then push our school teams.  We have a training night for each sport for all years once a week and we have the simple rule that if you attend training, you are available for team selection.  You do not have to play though if you don't wish - although we have never had this.  We rotate players to ensure everyone plays and experiences competitive sport.  We have older students managing teams, running training or refereeing matches.  We promote fair play and respect.  We instill an idea of effort and commitment.  We try and demonstrate good team work.  The list goes on.  And the reward we get from our amazing youngsters in priceless.  The smiles, moments of brilliance, times of goodwill, fair play, sportsmanship, etiquette, learning from defeat etc are what makes our job special.  From the PE team, we have these awards to say 'Thank you' to our young athletes for all that they have given to our PE department and school.

As a leaving note, I have two quotes/comments.  I asked a colleague (my old NQT buddy) to just sum up her thoughts on the evening:

"The Sports Awards is a chance to celebrate and recognise the achievement and progress Brookfield students make when competing for the school - of which there is always much!  The Sports Awards allow students to have an understanding of the success of other teams and individuals and consequently give them something to aspire to.  I think the look of pride on each of the winners faces and the humility with which they received an award nominated by their team mates is a reason for our Sports Awards - if nothing else for the fab decoration of the Main Hall!"
Fran Bennett

Also, the mother of this years Sports Personality of the Year sent this to us which I think sums up PE, sport and the evening so well:

"Jamie is so pleased with his award and we are so grateful for all the support and encouragement given to him by a lot of the staff at Brookfield particularly the PE dept team.  Sport is very important to Jamie and we believe it teaches so much, not just skill and technique but social, emotional skills and so much more.  Thank you to all."

Friday, 3 August 2012

Sharing SOLO with students

One of the questions that I have been asked a lot lately from either colleagues or Tweachers is 'How do you actually introduce SOLO taxonomy to students?'  Many of the people I chat to obviously have caught the bug and want to take it further in their lessons but had the same cautious questions that I did to begin with.  Once you get your own head around SOLO, the terminology, symbols, resources and activities all make perfect sense.  But it's getting your head around it that's the worry, and even more so for students.  Or so I thought as you will find out!  So I thought I'd share with you how I introduced it to students.  This is just one way, not the way.

As usual, I needed inspiration myself.  I like to get ideas from people but then put my own slight spin on things to suit my own class.  Once again I found my first piece of inspiration from Tait Coles (@totallywired77) and this was the starting point I needed.  In a post (found here), Tait used a well thought out lesson that used the X Factor as a means to introduce the stages and get to grips with terminology.  It also involved analysing exemplar work and placing it on the taxonomy.

My second bit of inspiration came from David Didau (@learningspy) and the way he introduced SOLO taxonomy at Teachmeet Clevedon.  I liked the way he got people up out of their chairs and involved in the process.  This is something I would borrow (really I mean steal).

My third bit of inspiration comes directly from Pam Hook and her amazing website (click here).  Pam is the guru of SOLO and her site has a bundle of amazing material that you can use in lessons.  I like continuity so I aim to use her unique style of logos and resources with my students.

My final piece of inspiration came from the Otonga Road School and the slides that they used to introduce SOLO to younger students.  I really liked the way that they mapped out a stick man conversation using a topic that was obviously relevant at that time to the students.  A link to that site can be found here.

So what did I do?

To put it into context, two lessons prior to this my students undertook their mock unit test.  Last lesson we reviewed their tests and spent the lesson critiquing and redrafting their long answer questions (8 marks each).  This lesson I would get students to critique their latest redraft and then introduce SOLO taxonomy.  This lesson was also being observed by two local college teachers who have since networked with me to implement SOLO into their AS & A level lessons.

To begin with, I carried on from last lesson and got my students to critique the redraft of their long answer questions.  I have removed these slides and picked up where the SOLO stuff began.

I then started the introduction of SOLO taxonomy.  First of all I gave a brief introduction about the new way in which lessons would be structured and we would be learning.  SOLO is very similar, but more structured than the method I was previously using (a mix of Blooms and the Accelerated learning Cycle).  I simply wanted to let students know that things would be slightly different from now on and explain why.

I then got a number of students to get up and be part of the full on introduction.  I began by giving each of these volunteers an A3 sheet.  Each one had a different stage of SOLO on it.  I got them to stand up at the side of the classroom.  One by one I introduced them and using the stick men slides as support, I explained the significance of each stage.

The SOLO stage sheets that the volunteers held.

Whilst this was happening, the other students who were observing, made a note of the different levels using a blank SOLO stage sheet that I had given out.  I really wanted students to be exposed from start to finish and making their own notes on the key points of SOLO really helped.  I made sure I emphasised key words and used the SOLO slides to support their understanding of each level.  One thing that really helped was the use of the example I put on the stick men slides.  We had recently covered the topic of principles of training so it was fresh in their memory.  The increasing challenge and depth of knowledge I put into those levels was clear to see on the SOLO taxonomy ladder.  I really think a relevant topic from your subject to introduce the levels is vitally important and contextualises SOLO so well.
The SOLO notes page I gave to students.  Many
of them independently stuck these in their books
for reference.
After the students had been introduced to SOLO and had made brief notes on each stage, I wanted to see if they could use this acquired knowledge of SOLO to demonstrate they had actually got a grasp on the taxonomy.  I handed out blank SOLO rubrics and a variety of statements from different GCSE PE topics.  The students had to put these five statements in order on the SOLO rubrics with the one they thought was pre-structural at the bottom all of the way up to the one they thought was extended abstract at the top.
They found this quite an easy task and when we reflected, only one pair had put a statement in the wrong order.  When I questioned students, they demonstrated that they had developed a basic grasp of what each stage was.  Now the reason I made different statement banks from different topics is I didn't want students to simply look over other peoples shoulders to guess the answers.  If they were different, people had to work it out and show an understanding.  it took a little extra time to plan but was well worth it.  This also means I have resources for these topics in the future

By this point I was very happy that 99% of my class understood what the various levels were and could see how they clearly increase in depth as you go up.  It was also here that I think students could actually see the relevance of the symbols.  I now wanted to see, based on their SOLO knowledge, if they could identify pieces of work and place them on the taxonomy.  To do this I handed back 5 samples of a homework that this class had previously submitted.  I also handed out a SOLO rubrics for this piece of work. 

An example of a piece of homework and the SOLO rubrics we used to assess it.

What I wanted them to do was analyse these pieces of work, justify which level on the taxonomy they were at and, using 'feedforward', explain what needs to be done to the work to improve it.  This I think is a key point.  It's very easy for students to see where they have come from using feedback, but if they are to improve they need to feedforward and see what they need to add (to their knowledge, work....).  SOLO does this so well.

After they had made their initial judgements on what level these pieces of work were at, they began to properly critique it and used the SOLO rubrics as an aid to this process.  Once the critique was finished, we reviewed these as a class.  There were 5 sample pieces of homework and only one group disagreed on a level one piece was given.  This was excellent to see and created a great discussion as to how deep the level of understanding that piece of work was. 

Finally, I asked students to go to their SOLO notes page from the start of the lesson and quickly explain to a partner what stage they were at the start of the lesson (all were pre-structural because none of them had heard of it) and what level they ended up at.  Many finished the lesson at relational but could clearly see what they had to do to get to extended abstract. 

As I said, this is only one way of introducing SOLO taxonomy to students for the first time.  I feel I pulled the bits from my 4 inspirational sources that worked for my students.  If like always you have any questions, please feel free to tweet me at @davidfawcett27 or post a comment.  These resources are also in my folder in the #SOLODropbox.