I’ve been very focused this year on improving outcomes for students at key stage three. Last year I introduced the verbal assessment, which worked extremely well; but some students struggled to maintain it, let alone better it, when it came to the next written assessment. One side of my brain tells me that it doesn’t matter because it’s a level in a column on a spreadsheet and it doesn’t mean anything – they get it and that’s the important thing. However, the other side reminds me that GCSE History is all about the written outcomes.
That side is the one that hates it when students say, “I hate writing!” – what a crazy thing to say! You’d never say I hate breathing – it’s just a means to an end. You don’t hate writing when you’re texting your mate; you don’t hate reading when you’re on Facebook. You might find writing history assessments difficult but that’s a different thing.
Ahem. That side of my brain is slightly elevated, being stood on its own soap box.
Anyway. I was very taken with Neal Watkin’s TOWER method, which he explained at TLAB13 – I blogged about it here and my use of it here. It worked! It wasn’t rocket science, either – very easy to set up; though I must come clean and admit that we are struggling with the editing stage still: this currently involves me marking their work halfway through and them working on my feedback, rather than me having the guts to make them read each others’ and then rewrite the essay. I just need to work out how I’m going to sell it to them before I try that one.
From using the abbreviated model, I observed that the students who had the most productive chatter, in my opinion, had the best written outcomes, so I started musing about how to encourage students to have better chatter. I know Neal introduced video recordings for this.
Then I went to TMHistorySW, organised at Bristol Uni by Richard Kennett – here‘s his blog about it and here are the slides. Among other inspiring presentations, Leigh Almey shared something called an argument tunnel. This involves seating the class in two rows, facing each other, and setting a question. My Y9s were arguing about the JFK assassination. One side argued that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; the other argued that he did not. They’d had a few lessons beforehand with the evidence, so they all had some ideas. I got the cow bell out and we began. Side 1 talked to their opposite partner for 30 seconds; then side 2 had 30 seconds to respond. The bell rang and everybody on side 2 shifted one seat to the left. And repeat – except, after this first round, everybody who thought they didn’t need their exercise book went and got it. Serious business, this argument tunnel. Once everyone on side 1 had spoken to everyone on side 2 (this took approximately 15 minutes for my class of 25*), we reversed the sides so that everybody got to argue the other side.
This was a lot of fun to watch. There is something really rewarding about watching a student get so exasperated that they start shouting, “IT. WAS. AN. ECHO!!” in response to their partner. That is somebody who really knows what they think.
We haven’t written it up yet, but I am anticipating great things. They have gathered the opinions of a dozen other people and been forced to defend a point they don’t agree with: I am hoping even half term can’t negate the impact of that level of engagement.
* yes, there was an odd number. I paired two students who would normally have been supported by the TA, who was absent scribing for an exam. They killed it.
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