Sunday 3 March 2013

The 'Great Big SOLO and PBL Mash-up' Part 1

Planning a project:

Now this is a post that has been brewing since the London Olympics but has taken some time to compose.  To set the scene and give a bit of background to this post, imagine back to the brilliant summer that we have just had in 2012.  We were privileged to be a nation that watched one of the greatest spectacles that I have had the pleasure to see.  We were immersed with stories of determination, commitment, motivation, bravery, hard work, fair play.... and blessed to see role models and stories that inspired and moved us.  The London Olympics was filled with euphoric moments and had the whole nation caught up in its brilliance and moments of magic.

But after watching the Olympics, something changed within me in regards to the way I view sport.  As a PE teacher I now cringe at the number of Football examples and stories that I use with my students, particularly in my theory lessons.  I now think were these the best examples to share with students?  Did they provide enough variety?  Did they best explain the topics I taught.  Are they even the best role models to warrant recognition in students exam answers?  There was one part of the Olympics that caught my attention in particular:  Track cycling.  Now I remember back to Beijing and the success that we had, but London 2012 took this to a whole new level.  I was in awe of the professionalism of the athletes.  I loved the stories that they brought.  I was engrossed in the technological elements of the sport and the minute detail they focused on in order to gain a marginal advantage over rivals.  Watching this, I thought "Could I use cycling with my students and use it as a rich example that covers many of the topics we cover?".  And with that, a plan began to hatch.

So, as any normal teachers does whilst relaxing in their summer holidays, I thought about school.  I knew in the back of my head that the topics coming up in my GCSE PE theory class where ICT in sport, Science and technology in sport, sponsorship, role models and media.  Everything that I had seen through the track cycling had effortlessly provided me with examples that I could use in my lessons.  But this wasn't enough.  I didn't simply want to replace my Football examples with Cycling ones.  Instead I wanted to go bigger.

It was at this time that I had also re-read Ron Berger's mind blowing book called 'An Ethic of Excellence' (recommended to me by the excellent Martin Said).  The book is a must read if you haven't already and explains his vision to make learning more whole and strive for a culture of excellence in the work students produce.  He uses well structured projects that bring in the real world/community to develop secure understanding of content knowledge.  He refers to this as Project Based Learning (or PBL for short).  I could really see myself putting together an eye opening project which covered all of the content I needed to, gave rich examples for students to put in their exams and was both inspiring and challenging.  But with anything new, I also had the worrying doubts as any reflective practitioner does such as:
  • What if it goes wrong?
  • Why try something so radical with students when they're in Year 11 and have exams at the end of the year?
  • What do I know about cycling and should I just stick to normal 'content lessons'?
  • Will they gain secure content knowledge in all of the topics or will the project hinder this?
  • What happens if what I create isn't PBL and doesn't work?
  • Will what I do have a negative influence on my departments/colleagues plans?

With these in mind I used my Twitter 'mentors' in the form of @DKMead, @Totallywired77 and @saidthemac.  I bombarded them with these cautious questions and was overwhelmed by the support and guidance that they gave.  They helped with many aspects of my planning and posed further questions for me to think about in an effort to create something that was not only driven by content, but also incorporated as many of the elements of a good project as suggested.  It is this collaborative culture that Twitter has created which is so helpful when trying something so daring.

Finally, I have also been a firm user of SOLO in lessons and as a non classroom specialist, this has been an excellent way for me to structure lessons and develop learning.  I had been thinking in an earlier post that I could use SOLO as part of a bigger scheme of work where each topic in itself would be a multi-structural element of a big picture.  I therefore decided to incorporate SOLO within the project in order to measure and look forward for opportunities to secure my students knowledge of the content.

So what did I do?  What was my aim?

It would probably be best if I explain the process that I took with the project using the structure from Berger's book 'An Ethic of Excellence'.  In it he describes an essential toolbox that should be incorporated when planning a project.  These elements ensure that the project is planned meticulously and is detailed enough to ensure all of its aims are met.  Following these steps also helps students to develop a culture of excellence with their work.  Although I promote students to take pride in what they do, I felt taking it a step further would enhance the quality of work that students were creating.

I also (rather shamelessly) wanted to make the experience of learning this topic to be memorable.  I wanted to ensure that students worked with the topics over and over again and so reinforced its understanding.  I wanted students to be able to sit in an exam and specifically remember the content because the information had been covered in detail numerous times. 

Berger's toolbox for designing a project

1 - Powerful projects

'It may sound obvious, but the first step in encouraging high-quality student work is to have assignments that inspire and challenge students'.

Using Berger's advice and guidance it was easy to come up with a brief idea.  I wanted students to undertake a project that meant students learnt the content of my subject whilst drawing out this information from the world of Cycling.  Using specific examples in PE exams has been a weak area in the past and I wanted to ensure that students gathered as many as possible as they went.  I wanted examples at every opportunity.  I also wanted to develop students extended writing as this is a skill that is tested twice in the AQA PE paper and again has been a weak area.  Finally, I knew I wanted students to really demonstrate their knowledge of the subject, but at first I couldn't think how.

This is where the excellent Darren Mead, Martin Said and Tait Coles came in.  They allowed me to bounce ideas around and kindly offered advice, eventually coaching me to an answer.  Martin in particular helped create the idea for the driving question and final product (details on this below).  Now I had a starting idea, how would I ensure that I put an actual PBL plan into place, rather than just an end of unit 'project'.  Believe it or not there is a big difference.

'Projects don't generally have a great reputation in schooling.  This poor reputation is often deserved.  I need to explain that the project model we use (in PBL) is very different from the models of my youth.  When I was a student in elementary school, doing projects meant getting ready for the annual science fair.  This was the structure: My teacher would say, In one month we're having our Science Fair.  Projects are due May 1.  Good luck.

Here are some problems I have with science fair model.  The projects had nothing to do with what we were studying.  Instead of being a culmination of our learning that could inspire dedication and quality in our daily work, the fair was like visiting a carnival, disconnected from school learning.'

I too have run projects over the years.  I have even run enquiry based learning projects through our L2L course.  They did what they needed too but I never felt that students gave them their full effort and there was always a mad rush the lesson before the deadline.  Hardly ever did a four week project resemble the work of four weeks.  In class, presentations never really felt as professional as they could have been.  But PBL is completely different.  The way it is designed ensures that students get completely immersed in it and begin to take pride in the work they create.  They learn how to complete a project successfully and pick up many new skills such as critique, time management, presentation skills, research and much more.  They key is to design a thorough and authentic project.  One which isn't seen as an add on to learning, but itself becomes the vehicle for it.  What you create needs to inspire students to produce work of the highest standard.  It also becomes a team effort where everyone in the class supports each other.  So what are some key points in designing a project?

First of all is a strong aim, driving question, purpose or authenticity.  I tried my hardest to ensure that I included all of these elements.  Too many times I have conjured up 'fake scenarios' that I wanted my students to work through a project on.  Needless to say that students didn't 'believe' the process and never gave it their all.  PBL is different though.  If you can address an actual issue or link the project to a real world/community problem, the authenticity of it will help drive it forward.  I was very aware that cycling had very little media coverage despite the fact that we are world leaders in many of its disciplines.  The sport has numerous household names like Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton, yet we rarely see them race outside of the Olympics.  Is there a way we as a class can campaign or argue for more media coverage?  Can we take it to the media or create an audience to actually hear our arguments?  The topics we would be covering would support this.  And from this came the brilliant driving question from Martin Said:

'How can we persuade the media to give more weight to cycling?'

To make the project authentic, we enlisted the help of British Cycling, Calshot Activities Centre, Eurosport's David Harmon and local journalists from the Western Wards Gazette.  By having these organisations involved and actively helping us create our final pieces of work, it would only help increase the quality of the learning and drive up the final outcome.  It would create numerous experts who we could call upon and create an actual real life environment for the students to work in.

After deciding on the aim of the project I wanted to ensure that I planned for students to develop the very important content knowledge.  In PBL, it is the project that drives the learning and this can be achieved in various directions.  The process can be very organic and primarily is driven by the students and the class.  If needed, actual content lessons can be taught to ensure that there are no gaps in knowledge and key/difficult topics are understood.  I had a few of these up my sleeve if I needed them but planned to let the project drive itself to begin with.  I wanted the project to run similarly to how the SOLO levels are structured.  I wanted time for students to acquire knowledge (multi-structural), time for them to link them and apply them to Cycling (relational) and then use all of this information in an abstract way to put forward a case for Cycling to get more media coverage (extended abstract).

Once I now had a draft idea to work with, it was time to start putting together a detailed plan.  As this was my first time using PBL I probably over planned and factored as many possibilities that might happen during the project.  Because I would be working with Year 11 students in the final year of their GCSE, I really needed to be sure that I would not hinder their learning and miss out important content.  To help with the plan I used the many downloadable resources from the Buck Institute for Education (click here).  This is an excellent site that gives numerous pieces of guidance, exemplars and free resources to help structure your own project.  The BIE planning template I used allowed me to identify how and when I would certain aspects such as key skills, opportunities for formative/summative assessment, resources needed and other key criteria.  By unpacking my ideas and using the template to logically order them, I began to feel more confident about the project.

Another aspect that I had to consider was the length or timing of the project.  With previous projects I have used in the classroom, students have a deadline and there is that usual 'rush' to get it finished the night before.  As I said earlier, very rarely did a 4 week piece of work resemble a 4 week piece of work.  Ron Berger and  teacher Jeff Robin from High Tech High both have one clear message before starting a project:

"Do the project yourself!"  

This is a highly important part of your planning as it allows you to see what students will have to do, what pitfalls there are, what resources they might need and so on.  The general rule of thumb is - 'However long it took you to do it, times it by ten for students'.  With this in mind I set off and created my own final product which I would share with students at the start of the project.  It really opened my eyes and I knew exactly what was needed if students were to also be successful at it.  From this I decided to run the project for just 10 weeks (which included 2 weeks suspended timetable for Mock Exams).  This would be ample time to learn, prepare and create an outstanding final product.

'Projects are structured to make it difficult for students to fall far behind or fail.  They are broken down into clear components and students progress through checkpoints to insure they are keeping up'.

One other key aspect of PBL is having a clear timetable or calendar.  Although I wanted the project to be organic and drive the learning itself, I needed to plan in various checkpoints along the way when tasks either had to be completed or critique sessions would take place.  These were shared with students at the very beginning and with their help, we then filled in the gaps with a mature dialogue and honesty.  Because they were involved in the creation of the time line, it meant I felt confident students deadlines would be met and work flow throughout would remain high.

So what did I decide to do?  What was the final outcome?  Students would endeavour to answer the driving question through the form of a newspaper article and a 'Teachmeet' style presentation evening.  Each student would have to construct an article that used one or more of our five PE topics to convince the reader to support cycling's call for more media coverage.  Students would also have to work in pairs to create a presentation that would be shared at our exhibition.  The presentation would come in two forms.  The stronger arguments would be shared as 7 minute presentations and would attempt to gain support from the audience to get more coverage of cycling in the media.  The remaining students would create expert presentations that would cover one of our five PE topics and these would be shared at the mid interval 'Genius Bar'.  And how did I plan to launch it with students to create that buzz I was looking for?  Well I put together this video (click here) which even now gets me motivated to do the project again.  Now I had an aim, a driving question, a detailed plan, a list of experts, a calendar, authenticity and now an end product, time to look at the rest of the key ingredients.

2 - Models

'I want my students to carry around pictures in their head of quality work.  It's not enough to make a list, a rubric, of what makes a good essay or a good science experiment.  This is an important step, but it doesn't leave a picture, a vision, an inspiration.  It's not even enough to read a great piece of literature together and analyze the writing, or to look at the work of great scientist.  If I want my students specifically to write a strong essay, to design a strong experiment, I need to show them what a great essay or experiment looks like.  We need to admire models, find inspiration in them, and analyze their strengths and weaknesses.  We need to figure out together what it is that makes this work strong'.

Berger is very clear about the importance of good models.  I'd always know that showing a good piece of work to students is a good benchmark but I had never actually thought about how analysing it could form a strong part of the learning process.  I never thought that I could dissect this and give students an aim, goal or aspiration.  After reading Berger's book I suddenly understood that a carefully selected model is different from showing students a nice example which is brushed aside in a few minutes.

Berger used a lot of previous students work as good models.  As this was my first attempt I didn't have any to share.  I therefore had to find them myself.  As I stated in the earlier section, it is vital that you do the project yourself.  By doing this not only had I learnt what the project would entail, but I also had a model to share with students.  My model was the presentation.  I decided to create exactly what students had to but change the topic I was talking about slightly.  Instead of using one of the five topics to talk about cycling, I instead use 'gender in sport' which was a topic we had studied a few months earlier.  I did this so I wasn't giving away any possible arguments that students could use in their work.  Whilst creating this model I undertook some in depth research and found articles and evidence to support my work.  I spent a long time carefully selecting quotes and gaining opinions from various viewpoints.  Although the topic I was talking about was slightly different, I eventually had created a piece of work which I felt could be shared, dissected, analysed, pulled apart and learnt from in a lesson.  I felt that it could really benefit students work in the project and give them a clear example of what they should be aspiring to create.  And what if they just copied this?  Well Berger calls this tribute work where an idea or structure from a model is borrowed.  It is up to us as the facilitator to ensure that students put their own spin on it.  It isn't copying, it's getting inspiration.

For the articles which students would have to create, I decided to use actual articles written about cycling.  I took these from numerous websites and newspapers.  To teach students the variety of styles of writing, I ensured I took articles covering actual news stories, insights into the sport, scientific analysis and so on.  This variety would help my students analyse the various styles that they could approach their own article.  A list of articles we used can be found here.  Students would spend designated time learning how to write like the professionals and understand the differing ways this can be approached.

3 - Experts

'In my school, teachers meet with outside experts during the planning stages of investigations, bring the experts into the classroom to help guide and critique the work, and take the students to meet with them at their office or lab or at a fieldwork site.  My students often contact experts through email, letters and phone calls during the course of a study.

We treat our experts royally.  We honour them with respect, courtesy, genuine interest in their field.' 

In terms of the content of my subject I am very confident in my knowledge.  I could therefore call myself an expert.  But part of this project required specialist knowledge to be brought in.  Rather than attempt to teach these elements myself to a satisfactory standard, I decided to get in a number of experts to share their professional knowledge.  This allowed my students the opportunity to learn new skills in their authentic context, rather than in a fictitious environment that I would have had to create.

Now I was very fortunate.  When I analysed my project plan, I identified the need for my students to get real life examples from the world of Cycling in order to relate the subject content to.  I also knew that I would need some expert advice on writing articles as close to those in the industry as possible.  And finally was the need to have some expert guidance on delivering presentations to an audience in a professional manner from someone who did it on a daily basis.  And why did I need all this?  Well purely to make the project as close to the real thing as possible.  I simply didn't want to recreate a fake environment, I wanted students to actually to be in it.

For the Cycling element, I was very lucky to have contacted British Cycling once and instantly be put in contact with two of the most inspirational people I have met;  Mark Adams and Dave Jowett.  Mark is the Regional Development Manager of British Cycling and has been involved with the British Cycling programme for many years.  He has had experience working from the world class programme, all the way to the grass roots (which is where he found gold medallist Dani King).  Dave Jowett was the Go Ride coach for the southern region and was involved in increasing participation of the sport, running clubs and coaching youngsters into the first steps of cycling.  I was very hesitant to meet them as I knew I wanted their help and generosity but didn't want to be too demanding on their time and resources.  Within five minutes of explaining the project to them they both offered to be involved above and beyond my expectations.  Dave offered actual cycling sessions in school for my students whilst Mark would run a seminar to my students to link all five PE topic areas to the elite world of British cycling.  He would bring along various pieces of equipment and materials to give my students a deeper understanding of how our course linked to the real world.

I had planned to take students to our local velodrome at Calshot Activities Centre.  The idea behind this was twofold.  Firstly, we would be able to get on the track for an expert session for 90 minutes.  This would give students an insight into the demands of the sport and what it is actually like to ride in a facility like this using actual track bikes.  Dave Jowett would prepare us in 5 cycling sessions at Brookfield so that we had experience of how to ride before we made the visit.  Secondly, it would also allow Mark Adams an opportunity to deliver his 90 minute expert seminar and teach students the five PE topics with very specific examples from GB cycling.  And underlying all of this, I wanted the students to feel the excitement of the sport which would hopefully motivate them to argue harder for more media coverage of cycling.

Dave Harmon was a stroke of genius from Darren Mead.  I had  a Skype session to Darren with Shaun Riches to run some ideas and alleviate some worries I had about the project.  When discussing the use of experts, Darren suggested using Eurosport's David Harmon to Skype into our classroom and chat through some of the road cycling elements and how they link to the five PE topics we were covering.  A tweet and an email later and David was on board.  I shared with him the content we needed to cover and he began to put an expert session into place.

One element of the project which I didn't feel confident about was the creation of authentic newspaper articles.  I know how to write as any teacher should be able to.  What I was missing was knowing how to create a piece of writing that resembled that of a professional journalist.  I was unsure how to structure opening paragraphs and how to ensure readers stayed interested throughout the entire article.  I could have used some of our amazing English department but was very concious of time and burdening them with extra work.  Instead our Deputy Headteacher solved the problem by putting me in contact with our local contact at the Western Wards Gazette.  Rachel Fraser is a journalist who had worked closely with the school and agreed to come into our lesson and run an in house expert article writing/presentation session with the help of her editor Kevin Briscoe.  Both had also agreed to come back in during our first in depth critique session to offer expert advice.  Having this authentic element to the project would really help drive up standards.

4 - Genuine research

'There is almost nothing more exciting in education than being engaged in genuine research - research where the teacher and students are exploring new ground together'

Berger talks about the need and the importance of conducting genuine research when undertaking a project. He talks about replacing text books and encyclopedia's and instead use resources such as local public records, journals or allowing students to conduct their own experiments or research interviews.  He states that the excitement and energy that students get from real discovery, rather than from a prescribed source, is unparalleled.

For this initial attempt at PBL, I had to analyse the opportunities and facilities that my students would have to conduct this research.  Contact time with the group as well had a factor to play.  The driving question we chose had a real need for students to find out information and gain viewpoints from various individuals.  It also required students to get a deep understanding of not just the topics, but also the vast world of cycling.  To ensure that something resembling Berger's idea of genuine research happened I had planned to both model genuine research taking place whilst providing the opportunity for it to be carried out.  I chose a number of 'lead in articles' which I shared with students in our very first lessons.  I would use these to show students how rich these resources could be and the variation of content from various media outlets.  I would also directed students towards the Victoria Pendleton and Road to Glory documentaries which gave a real insight into the lives of elite cyclists.  I had lined up a number of experts who shared email or Twitter names which students were able to contact.    All of these experts were booked into our lessons and were open to answering probing questions.  We had access to the internet in most lessons so students could go away and researched very specific examples of the topics we covered.  This may not have been to the level, extent or depth that Berger talks about in his book, but it was the first step in our PBL journey and felt sufficient enough for our students to achieve the project outcome.

5 - Building literacy through the work

Part of an outstanding project involves the development of literacy skills.  This can come in many forms and Berger lists a number of excellent examples of how he has implemented this into his students work.  For me, I decided to really emphasise the use of literacy in our work and created a number of opportunities to help students develop this aspect.  I didn't want it to be a add on to the project with meaningless tasks, instead I wanted it to be at the core of what we did.

There was a substantial requirement for students to immerse themselves in reading within the project.  I had a strong connection with driving literacy in our subject and planned to develop the skills wherever possible.  I had chosen a number of lead in articles for students to analyse in an effort to develop their understanding of the world of cycling.  I would also require students to independently research the link between our topics, the sports and our project aim.  This in itself would require detailed reading using specific analysis tools.

Students would also be required to write an article as part of their final piece so I planned to spend time dissecting real ones to learn the skill of doing it.  We booked in local journalists to help us do this and offer expert guidance on writing something as professional as they were.  This skill combined with specific terminology taken from the world of journalism would also increase the literacy element.

The use of Mark Adams and Dave Jowett, combined with Eurosport's David Harmon and Team GB cyclist Andy Hargrove would also help develop the specific terminology that my students would be using.

The last part that I catered for in my planning was getting students to present at our exhibition evening.  Some of these would be 7 minute Teachmeet style, whereas some would be Genius Bar expert presentations where guests would be able to question students on their knowledge.  Student would obviously need to have the literacy skills to formulate such presentations, as well as having the specific speaking skills to present to a real audience.  The use of key specific terminology from our subject and the world of elite cycling would therefore be essential.

So why do all of this?  Deep in the back of my mind is the dreaded thought of exams.  Traditionally, many students struggle with answering the two essay styles questions in our final exam.  They require students to link a number of very different topics together in a constructive way, all the time relating it to a 'fake scenario character'.  This is tough for many and the thorough focus on literacy in this project (in particular the ability to write an extended piece in the form of an article) would be a key skill for students to take away to the exams machine.

6 - Multiple drafts

'What could you possibly achieve of quality in a single draft?  Would you ever put on a play without rehearsals?  Give a concert without practicing first?How much editing went into every book that we read?

Drafting is a term that I had never actively used in my classroom before, and if I did, I didn't use it in its correct context.  For many years I have asked students to do a piece of work.  It gets written once, I mark it, it gets given back with feedback and we move on.  Feedback was only intently acted upon when I required it.  Normally this was during pieces of GCSE PE coursework and that happened only once a year.  My reflection on this prompted me to write this post earlier in 2012.  Now like Berger, away from being a teacher I have a secondary interest/job.  I design gardens and run my own company.  Don't believe me then click here.  Every time that I meet a client and then design their garden, I create numerous versions of the design.  I take them back and forth to the client for their opinions and run them past my old mentor Simon Foster.  Each time I would amend or redesign the design and then carry on with this cycle.  Only after multiple 'drafts' did I have a piece that was commissioned and perfect in my clients eyes.  It was when I read Berger's book that I realised that this approach to producing excellent work was essential and is something at the centre of PBL.

I planned to refer to all work as drafts until students felt confident that they had produced their best final piece at our deadline.  The word draft immediately makes it clear that the work isn't finished.  I would try and embed the culture that because of the authenticity of the project and the way the final outcome would be shared, it was in our best interest to do our driving question justice and create stunning work.  I would get students to create multiple drafts of their final pieces and using critique sessions, provide clear instructions on how to improve it.  I would also use these sessions as a chance to develop specific elements and teach new methods to produce the work.  I would aim to take away the fear of the word drafts and demonstrate how these small amendments and developments would eventually result in work to be proud of and not be seen as rejection or failure.  As Berger explains in his book, I had clear deadlines on a class calendar to ensure everyone would keep up to date.  Many of these deadlines were our actual critique sessions where drafts would be reviewed and then taken away to be reworked.  So is this time consuming?  Well in my opinion I hoped not.  If critique is providing specific feedback and this is being acted upon in redrafts, this incorporates the learning of content and actual becomes the driver of it.  And ultimately, with such high stakes in terms of our final outcome, I wanted students to see how their work had progressed over time (linking to Dweck) and how they were all capable of producing excellent work.  Producing multiple drafts which were kept in their portfolios clearly would do all of this.

'Students need to know from the outset that quality means rethinking, reworking and polishing.  They need to feel that they will be celebrated, not ridiculed, for going back to the drawing board'.

7 - Critique

By far the biggest revelation in my teaching career and it all stemmed from one Tweet sent by Jamie Portman whilst he was on a visit to High Tech High in America.  The picture was a very simple one and showed pieces of work which had feedback pinned under them on a cork board.  Now this image wasn't in a classroom but instead was in a normal corridor within the school.  This single image really got my mind thinking.  Students were clearly displaying draft work and wanted their peers to suggest specific improvements.  All of the drafts were in well presented frames and there was no evidence of other students damaging them.

This image led me to Berger's book and opened my eyes to the power of effective feedback that was actually acted upon.  He took this process and embedded it into his practice in a way that I had never thought about.  The process he used was called critique.  Critique is more than just an activity that we place in our lessons to get students to peer assess each others work.  Of course critique involves that, but it takes it a step further and makes the giving and receiving of this feedback a culture, habit or classroom norm.  Now Berger takes this process beyond a 15 minute type activity and dedicates in depth sessions to allow students to unpick each others work and suggested areas for improvement.  This can then be redrafted by the author.  He uses a very simple cycle which is initially led by himself as an example and good model of how to undertake the process.  He then allows students to critique before the redrafting of work takes place.  The work then returns for more critique, then a redraft, then a critique.......  So what about the time constraints and opportunities to teach content?  Well Berger explains....

'When teachers ask me when I could possibly find the time to fit in critique will all the lessons I need to teach, I explain that these critique sessions are the lessons.  Rather than talk in the abstract about how to write well, how to compile a good bibliography, or how to prepare a data analysis, we sit as a group and critique examples at our attempts at this work, refining our criteria and vision of what constitutes excellence'

Critique sessions can run in two distinct ways.  The first is an in depth critique where individual pieces of work are analysed as a whole class before students critique work for themselves.  The other method is called gallery critique and involves students work being displayed and individuals are invited to give feedback.  All of these methods follow 3 simple rules.  All comments in a session must be:

  • Kind (Focus is entirely on the work.  No sarcasm or personal comments)
  • Specific (Refined and precise dialogue with detailed explanations on positives and steps to improve)
  • Helpful (If it doesn't benefit the work, the learning, the learner or the class, don't share it)

This process really appealed to me and with the final outcome being a public exhibition, it was essential that work was completed to a high standard.  I therefore decided to have critique at the core of the project and as suggested by Berger, I timetabled critique sessions into the project calendar.  This gave students clear deadlines to drafts and raised the profile and importance of giving well structured feedback.  I decided to run the critique sessions as suggested by Berger, holding an in depth session first to demonstrate/model the process, and then opt for more independent critique sessions using both the in depth or gallery model.  I also played with the idea (in a chat with @pekabelo) of taking the gallery element further and maybe putting students work online for Twitter users to critique, or even post students work up at the local Velodrome so the local Cycling club could critique it.  If work was going to be outstanding, these critique sessions were vital and careful accumulation of support materials such as assessment criteria and expert help sheets would be essential.  I also knew that I had to work hard to make critique the culture of the class and demonstrating its impact to students would be vital to this.  Finally I was also conscious that I had to refine the comments, terminology and feedback that students were giving and planned time in lessons to support students in doing this.

Now there are numerous other elements to critique which make it stand out from normal assessment lessons.  These range from the protocols, the critique rules, the way in which the teacher structures the session.  To make it easier to understand, I have included a video of a session that I ran to our whole staff during a morning briefing.

8 - Making work public

Berger makes a very valid point that a lot of the work that students produce is for a very singular audience.  Usually work is completed and handed in purely for the viewing of the class teacher or maybe just an examiner.  Understandably, because of this, work isn't always completed by students with a sense of pride or completed to the high standard that it could be.  If I am honest and look back at work I have set my students (even the creative bits of work), I know it could have been that bit better.  Berger again takes a bold step and plans to have every project piece end up being displayed in a public setting/forum where it will be viewed by numerous people.

"There is a reason to do the work well, and it's not just because the teacher wants it that way"

Berger also talks about the fact that if you can make the work link outside the classroom and tie in with local life, it again takes on a greater sense of importance.  Is there a task that locally needs to be carried out that your class could do?  When writing a biography in English lessons can't you interview real local people and present the work back to them?  In fact Berger offers a number of examples where the end result of the project has close links to the outside world, the real world.  Now this isn't possible every time but knowing the final piece of work will be publicly viewed is a great driver of quality, pride and excellence.

"Not every project or assignment can have life importance, but when students know that their finished work will be displayed, presented, appreciated and judged - whether by the whole class, other classes, families, or the community - work takes on a different meaning"

Collaborating on ideas for this project with various Twitter teachers led to Martin Said giving me an amazing final product.  With the project aim being students ability to argue the case for more media coverage of Cycling, Martin suggested having a 'Teachmeet' style exhibition evening.  The night would consist of a number of 7 minute presentations that answered the driving question and aimed to persuade the audience to give us support.  During the mid evening interval, the other half of my class would run expert sessions at our 'Genius Bar' and would go into detail about the five topics we had covered.  This would be a less formal presentation and would allow for guests to question my students.  It would also tick off my 'are they learning the content' worry I had.  

The other final product would require every student writing a newspaper article that used a range of the topics we covered to again highlight the case for more media coverage of cycling.  These articles would be displayed on the evening and invite feedback from our guests.  As the articles would be the first final product to be completed, it would also allow us to decide who would do the main 7 minute presentations on the evening, and who would be best suited to lead the Genius Bar.

The final piece of the puzzle would be the guests that we would invite.  To once again raise the stakes, we would need to have a range of people that covered the world of cycling, media and the general public.  I therefore decided to invite journalists, members of the cycling world and parents and students from all of our GCSE PE classes.  The importance of doing this meant that we had an authentic audience with all three key groups catered for, and students could expect some extremely challenging questioning which meant their knowledge needed to be high.

Hopefully this authentic and genuine outcome to our project would ensure that every student produced work and developed knowledge way beyond what I would normally have expected.

9 - Using assessment to build stronger students

Quite a clear and obvious outcome for most work with students is a grade.  Some form of summative assessment usually follows a unit or piece of work and usually tries to quantify the level of learning that a student has achieved.  Berger talks quite passionately that through a good project, there is more than a final grade outcome that is on offer.  He worries that this branding of grades doesn't always reflect students abilities.  He offers a different view and looks at alternatives to grades and talks about the use of portfolios to reflect the work that students have done.  There is much that I agree with Berger on this point and feel that I could incorporate strategies within the project to allow students to present their achievements away from a final test or grade.  I do however have to be conscious of the structure of our education system and exam specification where ultimately a test will take place.  So, to merge Berger's thoughts within the constraints of our subject, I decided to incorporate the following systems:

A portfolio system:  The portfolio idea instantly appealed to me.  As a garden designer as well as a teacher, I know the importance of a portfolio.  My qualifications confirm my secure academic knowledge, but the portfolio is what prospective employers or clients spend most of the time looking at, analysing, discussing, questioning and so on.  The portfolio shows my audience how I work and what I can do.  I always keep every draft and design for each garden as well so I can talk through my process and show people how ideas have evolved.  It's always nice to see the route I took to get to a final piece.  I really wanted students to see this as well so decided that every paired group in my class would receive an A3 portfolio wallet which I would keep centrally in a file.  Students would be required to keep all of their work in here.  Every draft they do will be put in here.  This A3 wallet would be the main reference point for students.  It would allow them chance to look back through previous drafts and ideas, analyse what to do next, hunt out any previous research, check to see that they haven't made the same mistakes and so on.  It would also help students see at the end of the project, the amazing journey that took place.  I wanted the progress from draft one to the final pieces of work to be extremely visible and the upkeep of a portfolio would clearly do this. Something a simple final grade wouldn't.

SOLO Rubrics to assess students content knowledge.
Use rubrics:  Grades are important in our education system.  I know that because of the nature of the system, grades have become increasingly important to students as well.  Sometimes I feel they value this too much and seek out the grade before the more important feedback.  But certain grades for some students can be seen as elusive.  For some categorised as C/D borderliners, the dizzy heights of an A* seems unattainable.  In this project I am trying to get students to break free from this grade labelling and am expecting all students to produce work of excellence.  Although I need to be aware of data and previous scores, I aim to pitch Berger's notion that 'If it isn't perfect, it isn't finished'.  But how can I convince students that they all can create great pieces of work? I have thought carefully and plan to use well structured and detailed rubrics/assessment criteria.  I plan to keep this visible so students know what to do to create outstanding work.  I plan to make the criteria detailed enough so students know what to do to get that grade rather than hope to get that grade.  Having this framework for the two final pieces will be essential. Using the process of critique and redrafting, comparing work to examples of excellence/models and using the criteria to structure comments will all serve to help students push their work forward.  I also plan to integrate SOLO levels into assessment as my class have been using this all year.  This is an ideal way to stay away from grades and purely focus on the quality of work that students will be creating.  Luckily, due to the English nature of the article and presentation, I have had some excellent help from @huntingenglish and @hgaldinoshea who constructed the assessment criteria for the final pieces.  By merging their suggestions I feel that students will have a criteria that can both help structure students progression and drive the quality of the work up.

Test: Finally I have written in a unit test at the end of the project to ensure that content knowledge is secure.  This will also allow me a chance to assess any areas of weakness from the project and address them before we move onto new topics.  Finally this will allow me the opportunity to gather data which I can compare to previous units (not taught through PBL) and evaluate the impact this method has had.

10 - Project tuning

The final element of an effective project is called 'Project Tuning'.  This involves sharing your initial plan with a group of individuals.  In the first part they listen to your pitch before unpicking it as a group and finding any areas needing improving.  The set up sounds scary but is essential if we are to produce projects of clear value.  I was lucky enough to have been offered a tuning session which would include Jamie Portman, Darren Mead, Simon Brown and Tait Coles.  The plan was to work this through a platform online and allow these teachers a chance to scrutinise my plan.  Unfortunately the time element worked against me so this session couldn't be set up in time.  I therefore ran my plan past my Head of Department and line manager.  I also had a Skype session with Darren Mead from Cramlington which alleviated a number of concerns and fears.  Having the plan talked through allowed me to develop any weak areas and include clearer structures and systems where needed.  With this I could make any amendments and set the wheels in motion.

So now that it was all planned, how did it go?  Well the next post will provide a reflection of some of the key elements of the project and tie together the theory behind the plan.


All quotes taken from 'An Ethic of Excellence' by Ron Berger

Pedagoo London Presentation on Project Based Learning and SOLO.

Article Assessment criteria

How to write a Newspaper Article - Expert guide

How to write a Presentation - Expert guide

My BIE Project Overview Planning document

Critique sheet - differentiated

1 comment:

  1. Hi David,

    I am a PE Teacher in Dorset, looking for a way to inspire my AS level class and I think I have found it.

    Thank you for sharing, I am so enthused about the prospect of running this and would love to maybe run a few things by you, if you wouldn't mind.

    If you wouldnt mind adding me so that i could DM you some questions etc that would be brilliant.

    Best blog of the year.