‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid’
This quotation tends to lend itself to the idea that curriculum, assessment and differentiation should lead us to expect, and accept, different things for different students due to an understanding of individual differences. And there’s a place for that – if every student left school at the same point, somebody’s been failed somewhere along the line. All students have different skills, attributes and talents and it’s reasonable to expect schools to nurture students in a way that enables each student to achieve.
The problem is that this idea can be over-simplified to the ideas in this cartoon.
In practice what can happen is that aspirations are capped because the decision is made ‘you won’t be very good at climbing a tree, so we’ll not introduce you to a tree at all‘. Or because certain students don’t succeed very well in extended writing, or because they’re bottom set, or kinaesthetic learners, we’ll remove the extended writing or highly scaffold it in the name of fairness. As long as all learners feel they’ve achieved then that’s all that matters, whether the achievement is real or not.
When looking at examiners’ reports at KS5, there’s been a welcome move in recent years warning staff not to send students into exams with pre-prepared essay frames, writing templates and other formulaic crutches designed to get students through exams with the minimum of independent thought. Aside from my personal feelings about endless writing frames, they send the message to students that ‘you can’t do it on your own’. Students can become reliant on them and then panic and go into learned helplessness when you suggest that they write an essay independently – worse when it’s accompanied with cries of ‘but Mr/Mrs so-and-so gives us starters!‘.
At KS5 this is well overdue but with shifts in GCSE exams to new specifications, I’m inclined to say that this is a very welcome shift away from teachers dragging students through with check-lists and crib sheets, and towards a curriculum that values students’ independent application of knowledge. On #EngChatUK there was a lot of pre-specification worries, which seem (largely) to have worked themselves out. (Whilst planning this blog I found a new post by Andy Warner on the new GCSEs which is worth a read here)
The relevance to Key Stage 3 is to work backwards from KS5. If we’re going to ensure that KS3 is challenging, engaging and unapologetically academic, then there needs to be time set aside for promoting the value of scholarship and high-level thinking. In KS3: The Wasted Years, Ofsted mention that it is the ‘most able whose progress was particularly affected when secondary schools did not build on prior learning.’
Using driving questions to structure and support learning ensures that all students make rapid and sustained progress.
In this series of blogposts I’m exploring ways that KS3 can be reclaimed rather than being viewed as a second priority behind KS4/5. To go further, what I’m suggesting is that if schools want to ensure maximum progress gains at KS4, then targeted investment in KS3 is essential.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the nature of engagement and relevance in the eduTwittersphere in recent months and it’s clear that these concepts raise a range of issues to be explored.
Sometimes I find that engagement is often tied up in discussions of relevance and self-esteem and many other concepts that shift the focus of learning away from the student and on to the teacher. When engagement becomes synonymous with ‘entertaining’ and ‘fun’, there’s an implication that if there’s an issue with achievement or student behaviour, it can be explained away as ‘the child only behaved that way because they found the lesson boring’. This approach fundamentally undermines teaching staff and excuses poor behaviour. It gives students an opt out and acts as a stick to hit teaching staff with – hardly conducive to developing a high performing team. Positive behaviour for learning should be non-negotiable, regardless how entertaining students find the lesson. In this post, I’ll be exploring why challenge can help foster engagement and how through praise we can promote engagement within an academic environment.
An area I’m currently exploring is how to promote digital literacy across the curriculum. One of the ways that this can be done is through explicitly teaching research skills and guiding students through the process. The result is that students gain transferable skills and a set of useful notes at the end of the process (and we don’t have to wade through copy and pasted information that (most likely) is either less than relevant or beyond the students’ understanding of a topic).
In a nutshell – if we don’t teach students how to research well, then the success of any research task is left (at least in part) to chance.
The process here is taken from an eBook for a Year 9 group. Students will be researching the social and historical context of WW1 poetry and they’ll record their findings in a pdf version of this workbook in Showbie or Notability.
Step 1: Give the students a reason to buy into the research process
Start by giving students a reason to buy into the research process so they can see the value in high-quality research. This idea is taken loosely from the ‘so that…’ form of lesson objective as it highlights a sense of purpose. The aim with this starter is to get students thinking about the role of context when they interpret literature so that they can appreciate that literature isn’t just created in a vacuum. Once they understand the reason for exploring social and historical context, they’re more likely to engage with the research process.