Handing it over : Part 2 (not quite so sucessful!)

Yesterday I wrote about my plans for handing some control of the curriculum in my year 9 History classes to the students and the first of three activities, the personal project on any 20th century topic. Today, I’m going to look at the second activity which didn’t work quite as well!

In our revised schemes of work for this year one of the topics we have reduced the time for is World War One. As a result of this, as well as the range of issues and topics that it raises, I thought it would make an excellent topic to try my second idea, student led, mini-lesssons.

Following two lessons on the courses of the war, and an overview lesson in the form of the textbook challenge, students came up with a list of topics linked to the war that they would be interested in studying. They then spent five minutes walking around the room trying to find people with similar interests to form groups. These groups then agreed a topic and had two lessons to research and plan a mini-lesson of around 20 minutes. We talked (too) briefly about what makes a good lesson, and some of the ideas they could use. I asked each group to make sure they included some kind of starter, a main section which could include activities and a plenary that looked back and checked their classmates learning. At the end of each mini-lesson each group produced a brief evaluation.

Across the three classes we had an average of six groups ranging from two people to seven, and a full range of topics, including various aspects of technology, the war at sea, the home front, the effects on women, and the impact on professional sport. In each class it took three hours to get through all the lessons, some of which were considerably better than others!

What Went Well

  • In some cases students were able to explore areas that were outside the traditional scheme of work, and certainly wouldn’t have been covered in a reduced version
  • Some of the activities were excellent – one group brought in plasticine and made each group of students build a model of a trench as part of their lesson. Another gave a series of battlefield senarios and asked students to work out where they would focus their troops, or which weapons they would use. A third brought in headscarves and asked groups to produce 30 second commercials to get women involved in the war effort.
  • There were some very good uses of Powerpoint to support talks (rather than as large print scripts), one group included a video clip that they had created and another had a flash starter that one of the students had created
  • I suspect that the long-term recall of the topic they explored would be higher than had I taught this traditionally and many groups got to develop their communication and team work skills
  • One student at least admitted to having a new found respect for teachers!
  • In one case one of my SEN students ended up on his own for one lesson due to the absence of the rest of his team. I was able to work 1:1 with him for part of the lesson to help him write his script. He then decided to do a match up cards activity which he created and I copied, and then for homework he produced a powerpoint of images to go along with his talk. That 1:1 intervention to set him up led to an excellent talk for which he got lots of credit for from the rest of the class.

Even Better If

  • Students time management of their lessons was poor and we wasted a lot of time over these three lessons. This is turn led to problems of disruption which led to further interruptions and slowed things down further. This led to a slightly negative feeling over the whole thing by the third lesson.
  • Too many students relied on the same, relatively low impact methods, including word searches. And if I have to sit through another round of badly organised splat I think I shall scream!
  • Too many students still insist on reading out their powerpoints
  • There were a few cases of students ‘forgetting’ materials or having people missing. Despite my warnings that they would have to do it anyone, I had to improvise 30 minutes of one lesson when none of the groups were able to carry on.
  • In some cases there were factual mistakes made, or only surface level learning seemed to have taken place. In one case a group had planned to show a film clip. From World War 2.

Would I do it again?

Yes, and no. Not in it’s current form, there was too much lost time and not enough focus, but I still think that the idea of letting students explore an issue they are interested in and take ownership of is a powerful one. If I was to do it again, I think I would make the following changes:

  • Reduce the expectations from a ‘three part lesson’ to a presentation with activity. This will hopefully allow students to focus on the important points and get one good activity
  • I would spend more time talking about what makes a good lesson and produce more structured success criteria to help guide students.
  • Provide more focussed resources. Although I provided old text books, too much of their research was internet based and then parroted back with little understanding. Now I know some of the likely topics I can produce some ‘fact cards’ to help give them the basic information, and let their additional research fill in any blanks they have.
  • I also need to think about getting students to break the process in half a little more – work out what’s important and then work on how to present it. Too many groups prioritised the presentation overt the content
  • Set time limits and have a very visual clock for students to time themselves against.

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