James Nottingham's Blog

Reflections from a World of Education

Archive for UK ideas

Learning Detectives

Learning Detectives

Here’s a really nice idea from Louise Brown, the deputy head and reception teacher at Amble First School in the UK.

At the start of each day, Louise chooses two children to take the role of Learning Detectives. Their task is to record their classmates engaging in whatever the focus might be for that day/week. At the beginning of the academic year, Louise tends to focus the children’s attention on social language and social skills (for example, listening to each other, working together, agreeing and disagreeing). She then moves them on to thinking about the skills of learning (for example, asking questions, giving reasons, making links and decisions)

At the end of the lesson or day, Louise asks the 2 Learning Detectives to feed back to the other children when and where they witnessed the particular skill in action. This feedback comes in the form of written notes, digital pictures or diagrams that are drawn on the interactive whiteboard. All are used as part of the plenary session during which Louise encourages them to reflect on their thinking and learning throughout the day.

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How Much Challenge?

Ava and AniMatch

Getting children to play pairs (matching one card to another) is a great way of improving their memory skills and strategic thinking. But how many cards should you start with when playing the game with nursery children? Most foundation stage teachers tell me 8 cards (4 pairs) or thereabouts.

So, what about starting with 20 cards and playing the game with 3-year-olds? Way too many, I hear you say and last week I would’ve agreed with you. But not now: during half-term, my 2 ½ year old daughter and I downloaded Animatch, a game of pairs for the iPhone that comes with 20 cards as standard. Thinking this is too many for Ava to deal with, we simply listened to the sounds that each animal makes and named the creatures as we went along.

However, within 10 minutes of playing around with the programme, Ava had worked out the object of the game and was merrily matching the cards to their pairs. Her initial strategy was to pick one animal and then keep going until she’d found it’s pair before moving onto another animal. She soon realised that this is an inefficient strategy and so moved on to working out what was under each card and matching as she went along. It now takes her 90 seconds to complete the game without the need of any guidance or encouragement.

I wonder where I can find a game with 40 cards to match …?!

Clown!

Clown in the classroom

I recently attended a Clown in the Classroom workshop led by Mark Labrow. Despite initial reservations, we all had an absolute blast. And not only that, it gave us some wonderful ideas for enhancing creativity and spontaneity in learning.

None of us were required to put on big feet or big baggy trousers; a simple red nose was enough to signal we were clowns. We learnt the key is to react to everything around you as if it is the first time you’ve ever seen such a thing; in a way, to become more child-like. So, picking up a mug as if it’s just a work of genius, or sitting on a chair as if it were the most wonderful, beautiful and imaginative thing you’ve ever come across is the way to go. And of course this attitude is infectious, causing the audience, particularly if they are children or child-like themselves, to be filled with a similar sense of awe and wonder. And to wet themselves! So go on, have a go!

Footnote: this posting is dedicated to Rebecca Bell, the tremendous clown in the picture and to Mally Milne, my old geography teacher whose favourite phrase was “Clown!” No matter whether you’d labelled your glaciated escarpment incorrectly or defaced a picture of the queen, the only punishment you’d get from old Mally was to hear the shout, “Clown!”

The Learning Pit

One of the frameworks I regularly share with teachers is that of the Learning Pit, a model that explains how and why challenge is necessary for learning. Having first heard Dr John Edwards in 2001 using a “pit” to explain how organisational growth more often than not involves getting worse before getting better, I thought that the metaphor was an ideal way to explain to my students why I was consistently making things more difficult for them. Since then I have developed the idea into the following four-stage lesson plan:

STAGE 1: IDENTIFY THE KEY CONCEPT
The learning pit always begins with an important concept, since it is through conceptual analysis that students gain an understanding of their world. Example concepts include: art, bullying, culture, democracy, existence, growth, indentity, justice, knowledge, language, music, number, originality, poetry, questions, reality tv, science, tourism, and so on.

STAGE 2: CHALLENGE
In July 2008, Professor John Hattie began an address on behalf of his Visible Learning Laboratory in Auckland with: “The major message from my work with 240m students, 800+ meta-analyses, 50,000+ studies is… Challenge Challenge Challenge Challenge Challenge”. Stage two of the learning pit is concerned with just that: challenging students to think more deeply, purposefully, critically and creatively.

STAGE 3: CONSTRUCT
This is the point at which students co-construct an undersanding of the key concepts through continued dialogue and study with each other. According to many notable educational theorists such as Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget and John Dewey, there is no such thing as knowledge “out there” independent of the knower, but only knowledge we construct for ourselves as we learn. Stage three recognises this by creating the conditions necessary for meaningful dialogue.

STAGE 4: REFLECT
If you reflect on anything you have learned, you soon realise that it is the product of repeated exposure and thought. Thus, stage four is concerned with students revisiting and reflecting upon their learning journey.

Notes

  • The Learning Pit will be published in my new book, Challenging Learning, this autumn. To reserve your copy, please click here
  • For an article covering the background, lesson ideas and outcomes of the Learning Pit, click here
  • The photo attached to this posting comes from Lacey McCarthy,whose Year 2 students at Douglas Park School in Masterton, New Zealand have been using the Learning Pit to deepen their learning

Enigma Table

The “Enigma Table” is a really nice idea that Kate McIntyre uses with her class of 4 and 5 year olds at Newport School in Middlesbrough, UK. As Kate explains:

The ‘Enigma Table’ stands alone in our Classroom and at the beginning of the week I put an interesting but not immediately indentifiable object (see photo). During the week the children come up to the table (independently) and have lots of interesting discussions about what the object could be. There is a pencil pot and post it notes available for them to write their ideas down (great for monitoring their writing and honic skills).

At the end of the week, we have a class circle time where we talk about our ideas. At this point, the children usually challenge each others’ ideas about why it ‘can’t be’. We finish off by showing them what the object is for, usually followed by cries of “that’s what I was going to say”!

If you have any ideas what the object in the phot is then post your answers here:

Teaching Attitudes

During my time as Director of the award-winning RAIS project, I worked with a number of schools to investigate the impact of children’s attitudes on their ability to make progress. Not surprisingly, we were left in no doubt that students with the best attitude towards learning (focus, determination, effort and so on) were making significantly more progress than other students who were either complacent, uninterested or simply not engaged, even if the latter students had better grades initially. This led to the development of the ASK model, a framework that allowed for the teaching of Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge as part of the curriculum.

Having shared the ASK model with staff at Sandringham Primary School in Doncaster during their work with the Community Designed Education network, I am delighted to hear that they have really gone to town with the teaching of attitudes.

As Emily Smithard, the deputy head explains: “Having been working on attitudes in school for a while now, we have been able to see just how much of an impact they have had. We are trying out a variety of systems in classes and feeding back every fortnight how things are progressing; sharing good practice and any hiccups we may have had along the way. We did a walk of the school last half term to see what was visible in the classrooms and at that point things were just emerging but last week I visited every classroom when everyone had gone home and now attitude displays are in every classroom, in both halls and along many of the corridors. Assemblies are also linked to the school attitudes. Our plans for the future include a kick-start for each of the attitudes, and an “Attitudes Day” when the children can brainstorm, act out and know what it feels like to carry out that attitude. It’s all exciting stuff!”

What I really like about this approach is that Sandringham are not following, for example Habits of Mind or Building Learning Power, but are creating their own structures based on what their children think. Each class has brainstormed the attitudes they think are necessary for learning, then taken a vote to identify the top 4 or 5. From these they are designing ways to develop each attitude through a process of teaching, investigation and practice. Their sense of purpose and of ownership is inspiring. Congratulations to everyone concerned.

Primary Twitching

I heard a great suggestion from the owner of Alnmouth Grocers, Alan Tilmouth, recently: twitching for children (taking children out regularly to spot birds!) As he says, “Bird-watching should be compulsory in every primary syllabus. It is a great activity for kids; it improves listening, observation, memory, counting, colour recognition and gets them outdoors more.”

Alan is of course biased. Not only is he a father of 3 young children, but he is the co-author of Birds in Northumbria and Editor of a regional weblog Bird North East. That said, he makes a good point! This, I’m guessing, would also be an activity of which, Reuven Feuerstein, recognised as one of the leading psychologists of his generation, would approve highly of.

Feuerstein’s programme of intervention, Instrumental Enrichment, upon which so many of the world’s curricula for children are based, theorises that the skills of thinking and learning are best developed by children when an adult encourages them to focus upon events, patterns, characteristics or notions that the child wouldn’t otherwise notice. So when a young child is building a tower with Lego bricks, we might draw their attention to the colours of the blocks, or prompt them to create different patterns with the tower. Or when teaching a child to swim, we’d encourage them to notice their head position and not just to focus on their arm movements. This mediation is at the core of teaching and learning, and indeed helps to distinguish between outstanding and average practice. And so it would be with bird watching: focussing children’s attention on birds’ colours, size, flight patterns and so on.

So why not give it a try? The RSPB site gives a lot of ideas and resources. Or, if you’re in Northumberland or the North East, I’m sure Alan would be only too happy to advise or support you. There’s also a retired police officer turned twitcher, Per Eidsten in Tonsberg, Norway, who I know would be the perfect guide for a spot of twitching!