The 5Cs – consistency; continuity; collegiality, creativity, and collective
Monthly Archives: March 2009
Ross High School / Don’s Blog / Weblogs / Home – Exc-el :: promoting excellent teaching in East Lothian
Last month The Assignment Report pointed out that according to Ofsted, ‘use of VLEs across schools and colleges has been slow to take off’ and concluded that the use of VLEs to enhance learning was ‘not widespread’. This has led some to question whether the VLE, in its current form, is a sufficient and effective means of achieving the government’s aim to personalise learning.
There is no doubt that VLEs provide an excellent tool for organising learning by means of curriculum mapping, student tracking, electronic communication, internet linking etc.: in effect – a digital filing cabinet. However, this is a supply-side approach to learning with the emphasis on teaching and information delivery; whereas in a Web 2.0 enabled world, learning is much more demand driven and the requirement is to bring resources to the learner personalised to his or her perceived need.
This is the real challenge: to customise learning as opposed to standardising teaching. However VLEs are not pedagogically neutral in their support of teaching and learning and their interdependent architecture tends to standardise, rather than customise, learning. This is reinforced by the need for teachers to select and upload resources which will, inevitably, because of the time and effort required, tend to be limited and assignment specific: in effect, electronic handouts which encourage passive learning – new technology, old practice. The danger is that the VLE ends up as little more than a repository for old and rarely used resources.
This critique of VLEs would have been more persuasive had it not been written by someone marketing a search engine which claims to ‘pull’ helpful and approved information (largely drawn from schools publishers it seems) to the searcher. A good idea in itself, but really no more Web 2.0 enabling than well-chosen resources on the VLE in the first place. Expensive too. Reading the first advert I thought it was going to be a bit more sophisticated by drawing on what was being typed into a Word document (something like Microsoft’s irrritating paper clip helper’s big brother, perhaps) but searches were actually made through a standard search box interface. David Black’s product can be seen at www.autology.org
Focus on engagement
You can know your subject inside-out, use the best metaphors and diagrams you can muster, but if students aren’t engaged in your lesson, very little learning is going to take place. Play games with them that test their understanding of topics. I love, for example – and this is very relevant to this post – Game Show Presenter. Cheesy, but fun! Another favourite is Andrew Field’s marvellous ContentGenerator.net products, some of which are free.
Game Show Presenter comes at a price. Another site I looked at in passing recently was www.classtools.co.uk I’ve used their countdown timers a few times (great with the ‘Countdown’ theme tune) but I really must take time to give their site a proper look.
Develop a winning formula
Never let it be said that teachers shouldn’t mix up lessons a bit, but there needs to be a basis on which this can be done successfully. As I’ve mentioned above and many times previously, I use a lot of music in my lessons. For example, students enter the classroom to a theme tune (think: Rocky, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, etc.) and know to write down the date, title and lesson objective. I then take the register whilst slower writers catch-up and those finished consider what the lesson’s keywords might mean. It works for me!
I always like to have some music on the go. Very often, I find it on www.last.fm which is great for finding individual tracks, but even better when using it to stream music from artists similar to the one you’ve picked. Often I use themes relating to the lesson e.g. Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind when introducing Simon Armitage’ ‘Hitcher’, or John Martyn’s John the Baptist’for Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Salome’. I also have some favourites to suit the day (Singing in the Rain comes in quite useful in Yorkshire, and it’s always nice to be able to use Let it snow). My principle usually though is to play music the students probably haven’t come across before.
I do like the idea of having students record the lesson objectives (or ‘learning outcomes’ I suppose I should say now).I’ve been playing around recently with trying to express them as questions to be explored rather than the behaviourist language that has been popular for the last few years. Perhaps I could combine this in the plenary/consolidation phase of the lesson and get students to traffic light their understanding? It could be quite useful as another way of assessing the level of level of confidence/competence in the lesson’s content. It would also act as a useful summary for students – as often the product of their work exists away from their books.
Autotelic is used to describe people who are internally driven, and as such may exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity. This determination is an exclusive difference from being externally driven, where things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force.
(Doug Beshaw commenting on ideas contained in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work Flow: the psychology of optimal experience.)
The idea of ‘Flow’ seems to be the balance point between level of competence and level of complexity. High complexity and low skill gives frustration, whilst low complexity and high competence leads to boredom. The Flow was represented as a band along the x=y line. This much was a useful (if familiar) model of what teachers face everyday in trying to match tasks to abilities.
There is a connection, worth exploring , with something I was chatting about to a friend and management consultant. Hearing I was again struggling to do all the things I feel I need to do, he commented on a coaching course he had been doing recently in which the idea of ‘good enough’ was being explored. As I understand it, it is the idea that a task is completed to the standard required to fulfil its purpose rather than to be perfect. As I pointed out, one of the problems in education is that nothing seems to be good enough, and we are urged to be ‘outstanding’ in everything we do. Does that make teachers who want to do well for other autotelic? Or perhaps we are externally driven by altruistic motives (to benefit others)? Or maybe instead of money and status, we seek approval from managers and colleagues? The source of the motivation is surprisingly complex.
It is the old story isn’t it? You use something regularly and come to trust it, the the first time you show it to an audience and it all goes pear-shaped. So of course, the day I show the blog site to the class and to two observers doing a ‘Quality Assurance’ grading on my lesson I get the dreaded ‘503 error’ message in the minutes before the class enter and I’m setting up the room. After several attempts, and the class now queing outside the door, I eventually got an image on my screen; however, I was looking at place holders instead of pictures, and ominous black spaces where the videos should be.
I managed to get the lesson going whilst thinking about how was going to switch the running order to get another go at loading the site. In the end I could show them the iPaper versions of Word documents and the temporary texts around the placeholders.
What was really annoying, though, was at the end of the lesson and the last students filed out of the room, the system burst back into all-singing all-dancing life! Typical, isn’t it? So, I showed it to my next class of hard-to-impress Year 10 students so they could witness that it did actually exist. And their reaction? “That’s quite cool”. Wow! From them, that is absolutely dizzying praise.
By the end of the first week of planning, students began to submit draft ‘features’. Photos were easily managed, as were things in Word, but a couple of sections filmed on mobile phones are still proving problematic. One student very sensibly uploaded his work to You Tube (without this being suggested) so we should be able to pull that in easily and it illustrates the intuitive nature of Posterous.
Keeping control of postings was, I think, sensible on the very first blog – but logistically it was a fair old challenge in a lesson with students using different formats and storage faciities. In the end, I came up with a card index system to log the feature, the location of storage, group members and any quick reminders. These should also be quite useful for sorting out the running order.
The first few were then posted that evening from home so that the student could see them in class the next day. I put a password protection on the site as these aredraft items and we need to decide on access an the level of comments we are going to allow.
A few students emailed items in later that evening (the final one being at 10.20pm).