Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Category: A Level (page 1 of 2)

Beyond tokenism: teaching a diverse history in the post-14 curriculum

As we approach Black History Month in England, I thought it would be useful to share a piece I wrote for Teaching History earlier this year. When I wrote the article, I recall scanning the past issues of Teaching History and thinking about work that addressed similar issues. What was surprising is how little those pieces had been cited or apparently used by history teachers, especially based on the conversations at the Schools History Project conference this past summer.

Recent books published on education in England have made the case for consuming research from the sciences as a way to further the profession. I would like to add that we should be reading critical work from other disciplines as a way of challenging the conceptions we use in our lessons. The article came from my engagement with Michael Rothberg’s work on the Holocaust and memory in Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonisation. If you haven’t read it and you teach the Slave Trade and the Holocaust, you really should as it provides a framework for teaching connected narratives in our classrooms rather than competitive histories which seem to populate the media.

The recent Battle of the Somme memorial, We’re here because we’re here, denoted by the Twitter hashtag, #wearehere, provided an elegiac and physical reminder of the soldiers who lost their lives during the first day of the battle in 1916.[i]  Thousands of volunteers across the country donned historically accurate uniforms and walked, sat and lounged silently in train stations, shopping centres and other public areas, carrying cards bearing the details of the soldiers they represented. Their silence was only broken by their rendition of ‘we’re here because we’re here’ – a song sung by soldiers in the trenches – and the overall performance captured the attention and imagination of the public and the media.

Soldier sitting down next to commuters.

From the 14-18 NOW site ‘We’re here because we’re here’ https://becausewearehere.co.uk/we-are-here-gallery/395/

What was particularly striking – and heartening – about this portrayal was the diversity of the volunteers, a fact captured in the pictures on the memorial site. This was not a nod to political correctness on the part the organisers. The diversity of the soldiers represented in the project offered a more nuanced – and truthful – picture of history than the one often held up for memorial. Rather than focus on one example of difference, for instance the fascinating story of Walter Tull, the former footballer and first ‘black’ officer in the British army, the everyday nature of this portrayal avoided any sense of tokenism. Instead, it celebrated the complexity of our history, and showed that British history was (and is) also a global history. The #wearehere memorial proved the point laid out by David Olusoga in his book to accompany the recent excellent BBC series Black and British: A Forgotten History, that new and different stories can emerge when ‘black’ history is more than just a history of the ‘black’ experience.[ii] Seen in this way, the song ‘we’re here because we’re here’ comes to speak as much to the ever-constant role of ‘black’ and ethnic minorities in the fabric of Britain and British history as it does to the enduring memory of those who fought in the Great War.

Unfortunately, the capacity to address this diversity within England’s typical secondary school history curricula has been limited, with the material effects of this limitation seen in students from a black and minority ethnic background, as well as for white students. For the black students, uptake of England’s examination courses, from History GCSE and A-Level courses to undergraduate degrees remains low, and for the white students, their understanding of the rich tapestry of history is limited.[iii] Recent debates asking the question ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ often attribute the poor teaching of black history at school to a lack of historical knowledge and a narrow focus on topics such as the slave trade. This could be addressed by focusing on ‘Black History Month’ and by teaching units of black history, but this moves history teaching into the realms of tokenism and threatens to become an ‘add water and stir’ approach to teaching. Such an approach is particularly limiting in the post-14 phase where history becomes optional and is subject to examination specifications.  The syllabi provided by examination boards are prescribed, curriculum time is restricted and recent upheaval in examined courses have whittled down the capacity for history teachers to think beyond the subject being taught.

For Rothberg, collective memory of the past seemingly obeys the logic of scarcity, where memory of the Holocaust, for example, must crowd out the memory of African-American history in the public consciousness. The rendering of the public sphere as a scarce resource creates the conditions where the interactions of different collective memories battle one another in a zero-sum way for recognition and pre-eminence. Rothberg suggests that instead of this zero-sum game, we should consider memory as multidirectional and the public sphere a place where collective memories are not simply articulated, but are ‘subject [to] ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing’.[iv] Relating this to the history curriculum beyond the age of 14, it is not a zero-sum game between teaching the prescribed examination content and, to use the phrase from a recent book, ‘doing justice to history’.[v] Both can be done. History teaching, like collective memory, has an anachronistic quality, where the here and now, and the here and there, are brought together in a lesson or sequence of lessons. This powerful creativity allows the space to rethink and make complex the history that is taught in schools, and allows a more complex and challenging narrative to emerge.[vi]

This may sound easier to state on the page than to realise, yet the examples below will illustrate what is possible by deepening the knowledge already deployed by teachers in their lessons on the modern world.

‘The sugar at the bottom of the tea cup’: a wider appreciation of ‘Britishness’ during World War II

Writing in the early 1990s, the cultural theorist Stuart Hall remarked that people coming from the West Indies and other parts of the Empire had actually been in England for centuries – if only symbolically – and that those coming over were merely ‘coming home’. He characterised this by thinking of himself, and the people from Jamaica, as the ‘sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea’ that was a quintessential aspect of British identity. Moreover, the ‘Britishness’ associated with tea also obscured the fact that it came from Sri Lanka and India, not Lancashire.[vii] The Home Front in World War II is usually seen as a cultural touchstone for Britishness, through the creation of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ and the war as a ‘People’s War’, where class and gender differences were united in their fight against Nazism. Investigations of the Home Front and the forging of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ are typically studied from the view of different economic classes but not from the Empire point of view. E. I. Ekpenyon was a former Headmaster in Nigeria who had come to study Law in London and served as an ARP warden. His account of his training and experience on the Home Front makes complex the notion of a ‘Blitz Spirit’ being created by an ethnically homogenous group of people.  He recounts that the people in his area were very friendly and called him “Uncle Sam”, and followed his instructions as he was a ‘man of colour’, which to the people in his district saw as a ‘lucky omen’.  Below is Ekpenyon’s account of an incident in his shelter where the mix of people in his shelter had led to tensions.[viii]

E. I. Ekpenyon, a former Headmaster in Nigeria who had come to study Law in London and served as an ARP warden, describes an incident in his shelter

Some of the shelterers told the others to go back to their own countries, and some tried to practise segregation. A spirit of friendliness and comradeship was lacking. If this spirit had continued it would, as certainly as the night follows the day, have led to riots.

So I told the people that the British Empire, which is also known as the British Commonwealth of Nations, is made up of peoples of many races. I said that though I am an air-raid warden in London, I am still an African. I also said that I am one of many peoples of other countries that make up the Empire.

Then I spoke of the three classes in the shelter – namely, His Majesty’s subjects, protected persons, and guests. These last were refugees from other countries. I said that this third group of people who were in the shelter, and who were not interned, were entitled to the protection of the Union Jack. I said that this being the case I would like to see a spirit of friendliness, co- operation, and comradeship prevail at this very trying time in the history of the Empire. I further warned my audience that if what I had said was not going to be practised, I would advise those who did not agree to seek shelter somewhere else. For to remain in the shelter and to behave in an unfriendly way would force me to report them, because they were trying to create disunity in the Empire. The people responded, and few left the shelter.

Ekpenyon’s story is a fascinating account of someone from the ‘colonies’ acting as the guardian, and enforcer of, ‘British values’ and the ‘Blitz Spirit’ at the heart of the empire. His story, rather than an additive or distraction, places him squarely within the narrative of the ‘People’s War’. Two films produced by the Ministry of Information in 1943 and 1944, Hello! West Indies and West Indies Calling also provide evidence of a complex narrative of ‘Britishness’ and the ‘People’s ’.[ix] Presented by Una Marson, the Jamaican feminist and writer who worked at the BBC during World War II, the films show a range of white and black British subjects supporting the war effort in Britain as military personnel, nurses, factory workers and lumberjacks.

These stories, and many others in texts like Stephen Bourne’s Mother Country, show that the Home Front and the ‘People’s War’ was more diverse and complex than has been previously rendered. These accounts – which have the potential to provide excellent, accessible source material for students – also move away from the ‘black’ British story which starts with the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948.[x] The ‘black’ presence in the ‘People’s War, like the diversity of the soldiers on the front, offer just one example of a history that preceded and anticipated our practiced narrative of migration and diversity.

The boy in the Nazi jumper

In current history examination courses offered in England at GCSE and A-Level, the study of Nazi Germany incorporates the treatment of minorities in terms of persecution and death camps. Yet the lives of Afro-Germans at the time provide a nuanced understanding of the Nazi regime and social life in Germany. Born in 1926 to a Liberian father and German mother, Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi experienced first-hand what the transition from Weimar to Nazi Germany was like and how his skin colour defined his experience and his existence. His book, Destined to Witness is remarkable not only because it details the changing social circumstances in Germany but his life in the USA after the war. He explains in detail life at school, his relationship with other people and the attraction of the Nazis to young people. He too was an unabashed Nazi supporter ‘because they put on the best shows with the best-looking uniforms, best sounding marching bands’, which unsurprisingly appealed to his developing sense of masculinity.[xi] When he finally got his hands on a Swastika, he asked the elderly lady who looked after him to sew it is on his jumper and led to the picture taken below in 1933.

Hans J Massaquoi with a Nazi Swastika on his jumper taken from the front cover of his book Destined to Witness

The image shown is incredibly powerful. I have used it in my classroom, along with other extracts from the book, in order to help students move from the ‘concrete to the conceptual’ in their understanding of the Nazi regime.[xii] The text also provides opportunities to challenge simple historical explanations about the interactions of minorities with the Nazis. In one incident, Massquoi recounts his encounter with an SS officer at the Department of Labour in 1940. Obviously concerned that his fate lay in the hands of the one of the Nazi elite, Herr von Vett, Massaquoi was surprised when von Vett winked at him and invited him to take a seat. After inspecting his school record and an axe that he had created, von Vett stated that Massaquoi could be of ‘great service to Germany one day’. Thinking that von Vett had lost his mind, Massaquoi listened as the SS officer reasoned that Germany would reclaim its African colonies at some point and would need technically trained Germans to lead an African workforce and Massaquoi would be ‘ideal for such an assignment’. Massaquoi was promised an apprenticeship with a first-rate firm and as he gave the Heil Hitler salute before turning to leave, Massaquoi was called back by von Vett. He asked, ‘Aren’t you going to shake my hand?’.  Massaquoi duly did and gained his interview for an apprenticeship soon after.[xiii]

Massaquoi is not the only example of Afro-Germans living during the Nazi regime. Louis Brody was an actor in several Nazi propaganda films and Hans Hauck fought in the Wehrmact. Their lives, as well as being fascinating, provide a more truthful narrative of life in Nazi Germany, and would enhance students’ understanding of the complex racial laws, stereotypes, and hypocrisies at work in Germany in the years leading up to and during the war.[xiv]

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

One popular and longstanding unit within England’s history GCSE courses is Medicine Through Time.[xv] Its huge sweep of chronology and thematic approach provides another opportunity to deploy a ‘multidirectional memory’ approach when considering the ethical, legal and social effects of technology on public healthcare in Britain. Although the name may not be familiar, it is highly likely that we have all benefitted medically in some way due to Henrietta Lacks. An African American born in the 1920s, Lacks became the unwitting donor of cells from a cancerous tumour. Prior to Lacks’ cells being harvested, human cells that were cultured in labs lasted only a few days. There was something different about Lacks’ cells. They seemed to thrive and grow in cell culture and the mass manufacturing of her cells led to innovations in cloning, drug development for cancer, polio and many other medical conditions. Lacks’ family received no profits from these advances to modern medicine, or indeed any healthcare in a country that often denied them basic rights.  Henrietta’s cells – taken without the dying woman’s knowledge or consent – were helping people in countries where she would have been barred because of the colour of her skin.[xvi] Understanding modern medicine without an appreciation of Henrietta Lacks produces a history that is reductive. Her story – told in an engaging and accessible way in Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – also allows students to consider the ethics of the history they are studying, and enables them to see how one story can come into conversation, and indeed conflict, with another.

A black-and-white photo of Lacks smiling
By (archived link), Fair use, Link

The three stories briefly set out above are only a small introduction to the rich material available to teachers and students in the move towards diversifying the curriculum. Deliberately focussed on twentieth-century history, they are all easily linked to topics already studied in classrooms across the country, and fall within the existing subject knowledge of teachers. As I hope the stories demonstrate, a ‘multidirectional memory’ approach to teaching history can move us beyond a limiting method of seeing black history as separate, superficial and distracting  side-story from the ‘real’ history that needs to be taught at examination level.

References

[i] ‘We’re here because we’re here’ was a UK-wide event commissioned by 14-18 NOW as a memorial to mark the Battle of the Somme. Details about the memorial and additional images can be found at the following address: https://becausewearehere.co.uk/

[ii] Olusoga, D. (2016) Black and British: A Forgotten History, London: Macmillan, p.xxi

[iii] Lyndon, D. (2006) Integrating Black British History into the National Curriculum, Teaching History, 122, Rethinking History Edition, pp.37-43; Whitburn, R. and Yemoh, S. (2012) ‘Hidden histories and heroism: post-14 course on multi-cultural Britain since 1945’, Teaching History, 147, Curriculum Architecture Edition, pp.16-25; Harris, R., Burn, K. and Woolley, M. (2014) The Guided Reader to Teaching and Learning History, London: Routledge, see ‘Diversity’, p. 182; Gilborn, D. (2008) Racism and Education, Oxford: Routledge

[iv] Rothberg, M. (2009) Multidirectional Memory, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.3

[v] Mohamud, A. and Whitburn, R. (2016) Doing Justice to History, London: UCL Institute of Education Press

[vi] Rothberg, op. cit.,p.5

[vii] Hall, S. (1991) ‘Old and New Identities’ in Anthony D. King (ed.) Culture, Globalization and the World-System, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p.48-49

[viii] http://westendatwar.org.uk/documents/E._Ita_Ekpenyon_download_version_.pdf

[ix] Hello! West Indies (1943) Directed by John Page, Great Britain, Ministry of Information/Paul Rotha Productions; West Indies Calling (1943) Directed by John Page, Great Britain, Ministry of Information/Paul Rotha Productions

[x] Bourne, S. (2010) Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-45, Gloucester: The History Press

[xi] Massaquoi, H-J. (2001) Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, New York: Harper Perennial, p.41

[xii] Phillips, R. (2001) ‘Making history curious: Using Initial Stimulus Material (ISM) to promote enquiry, thinking and literacy’, Teaching History, 105, Talking History Edition, pp.19-25

[xiii] Massaquoi, op. cit., pp.198-199

[xiv] Lusane, C. (2002) Hitler’s Black Victims, London: Routledge, Campt, T.M. (2005) Other Germans, Ann Arbour: The University of Michigan Press

[xvi] Skloot, R. (2010) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, London: Pan Books

Share Button

Teaching at the Wren Academy – Part 3

Today was my final day at the Wren Academy and as I left the school, I had more questions than answers. This is a good thing.

After my first lesson, Ruth and I had a discussion around differentiation and checking progress in the lesson. On the first point, I do differentiate the work for my students lower down the school yet I do not do as much at A Level (I currently teach Politics to the Sixth Form). This is something that I will consider carefully over the next few months as I prepare to teach Unit 2 AS Politics. On the issue of checking progress, there are a few things to ponder. Many of the ‘progress checks’ I am aware of in terms of lesson observations seem to be an example of performativity rather than a substantive check on learning (hinge questions aside). I say this because learning is not necessarily reducible to a timetabled lesson.  However, I also believe that you should know where your students are coming from and where they are now so you can point/push/cajole them in the right direction in the lesson and if there was one thing that came out of my visit to the Wren is that to really help the students and my own teaching, I should have visited a number of their lessons first and read some essays. Something to consider for next time.

I also felt a little dissatisfied because if I had taught the sequence of overview lessons the Russian Revolution to the students at Berkhamsted, I would have set them an essay. This was my fault for not really thinking through the learning process before I arrived and if this is to work well next time, I might suggest a definitive task so I can actually see where the students are and start the feedback process (a genuine collaboration).

The conversation on progress also made me reflect upon the differences in inspection regimes and the issues can be seen through the lens of Liverpool College. Earlier this year, Hans van Broekman the Head of the former independent school (now an Academy) stated that ‘joining the state sector has improved our teaching’. You can read his article in the TES here. I’ll leave you to make your own judgements about the purpose of the piece yet what came across strongly for me was that before the move, Liverpool College did not think carefully about teaching and learning. More importantly, the changes they have implemented seem to be driven by the inspection regime rather than any substantive notion of what good teaching and learning looks like. For me, this is a dangerous path because if you survey what Ofsted has stated makes good teaching and learning over the last 10 years, you will find that they are consistently inconsistent (although they seem to be doing some hard thinking of late which is very encouraging). What the Independent Schools Inspectorate has been good at is thinking about the learning they encounter and seeing how it fits within the stated aims of the school (which will help Professors Becky Francis and Merryn Hutchings who, rather worryingly, missed out the Independent Schools Inspectorate when they conducted research into the quality of teaching in the independent sector for a Sutton Trust publication) . That is not to say that the ISI system is perfect because it is not (and expect another blog post on this soon). However, what ISI is good at is recognising the accountability/quality assurance processes within the schools it visits. To my mind, Good schools (in all guises) have robust internal accountability procedures because they are driven by their core purpose.  

So, as I head off this weekend for some more CPD with 200 other History teachers at the Schools History Project Conference in Leeds, I have a few more questions to consider. A great starting point for further reading and thinking.

I want to thank Ruth, the History team and the other staff members at the Wren for their warm welcome. I would also like to thank the students for their time too. As an A Level group left a lesson today, one of them asked if I was teaching at the school next year. When I replied negatively, the student said that I should. They have no idea that they made my day.

Share Button

Teaching at the Wren Academy – Part 2

As I got in the cab on my way from the Tube (I did not want to be late) this morning, the driver freely offered his opinion on the Wren: it really is an excellent school. He has no children there but he added that some of his clients speak about the school in glowing terms. Priceless marketing. Yet as I left the school this afternoon, I worried what the funding for Sixth Form students could diminish the education it (and other schools like it) offers. The possibility that schools like the Wren may, in the future, have to increase class sizes or shed teaching staff to balance an already squeezed budget seems wrong. Those niche (within a school context)  subjects at A Level will disappear. Regardless of what some research may suggest about optimum class sizes, doing a good job with 30 A Level students in one class is wrongheaded especially when the other demands of teaching can reduce your capacity to maintain the high standards many teachers strive to achieve (and the students need). As I made the journey home and thought about the cab driver’s words, it seemed that whilst there is general praise for the work schools like Wren do from the community and the government, their ability to thrive was being stifled by the cutbacks. It reminded me (for some strange reason) of Geoffrey Howe’s words as he resigned from the Thatcher government:

It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.

Geoffrey Howe, resignation speech, 1990.

I do not believe that we are there yet but if the people with power are really serious about making state schools the ‘best in the world’, there really is a lot of work to do.

On a happier note, the Y10 lessons (on the consequences of the Cuban Missile Crisis) went well and I had some fantastic answers to the ‘who won the Cuban Missile Crisis?’ question. I also spoke to some of the students and many of them were keen to do History at A Level, a great endorsement of the work Ruth and the team have done/are doing.

I also had a quick discussion with Michael Whitworth (the Principal of Wren Academy) around lesson observations and CPD and I look forward to continuing those discussions tomorrow after my final Sixth Form lessons on Lenin’s rule.

 

Share Button

Teaching at the Wren Academy – Part 1

One of the things that interests me intensely are the stereotypes people have of the independent and state sectors. Many of these views stem from the fact that they have not set foot in some of the institutions and ‘did the work’ so they could talk with some conviction. As an aspiring Head (yes, I am considering both sectors) it also made sense for me to avoid the same accusation so I decided last year that I would spend a few days teaching at The Wren Academy which is sponsored by Berkhamsted School. I have visited the Wren before and invited them to participate in #TLAB13 and #TLAB14. Ruth, their Head of History has visited Berkhamsted a few times and we agreed that it would be great for her NQT colleagues to see an experienced A Level teacher take some lessons.

As I arrived this morning, there was a sense of dread. My first lesson (Y9)sort of worked yet I wanted to polish it/check a few things before I taught. It did not really work out that way and to be honest, it fell way beyond my own standards (and would, in my reckoning, been a ‘3’ in Oftsed language). Not a great start and a timely reminder that nothing should be left to chance.

The second and third lessons went well (The Russian Revolutions 1917) and I will be seeing the 6th Form classes again on Thursday. I also helped teach an ‘enrichment’ lesson with a small group of students struggling with the Wall Street Crash with Ruth and I must say, this was my favourite part of the day. Armed with sheets of paper and text books, we discussed the causes and effects of the Depression and I was impressed with the questions and factual information they had retained from previous lessons.

At the end, Ruth and I sat down to discuss the day and lay the groundwork for tomorrow. We both agreed that the first lesson was terrible so we left it there! We then examined the observed 6th Form lesson (no judgement) and it was interesting that my point for development was to consider wider opportunities for AFL. We then discussed the tension between asking individual questions of students and small, paired discussion before asking questions. This was a useful conversation because it gave us both a chance to think about our natural inclinations in the classroom and how we could switch between these two approaches and it will certainly inform my planning for tomorrow when I teach the consequences of the Cuban Missile Crisis to Y10.

We also touched on the focus of lesson observations (they have been developmental, not judgemental, at Berkhamsted for a long time), CPD and Lesson Study. I hope I can convince Ruth and her team to present at #TLAB15…

Share Button

Conference Update #1

I love good news especially when I know others (as well as myself) will benefit. This weekend I had two good pieces of news which I am really pleased to relay.

The first piece is that Alistair Smith, author of Accelerated LearningLearning to Learn, the Secrets of Successful Schools and renowned trainer has agreed to speak at the Teaching, Learning & Assessment conference at Berkhamsted School on the 16th March 2013.

The second piece of good news is that Professor Bill Lucas, co-author (with Guy Claxton) of New Kinds of Smart, The Learning Powered School  and co-director of Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester has also agreed to speak.

With workshops run by outstanding teachers from across the country alongside distinctive and challenging key speakers, we believe that the conference will be a unique learning experience for attendees with lots of practical, effective ideas. Ticket prices and details about booking will appear on the blog and the Berkhamsted School website in October. What I can reveal is that the event price will be pleasing to everyone!

Places will be limited on the Saturday to make the workshops manageable so please bear this in mind when tickets are released. To enhance the weekend and to provide as much collaboration as possible, we will also be holding a TeachMeet on Friday 15th March which will be free to everyone. Further details will also be released in the next few months.

The response to the call for workshop proposals has been fantastic and we are still looking for more suggestions. If you would consider presenting a workshop or would like further information, please sign up to our Google Form on the original announcement post.

We look forward to seeing you on the 16th March! Stay tuned for further updates….

Share Button

How to create an effective consensus…or plan a really good history essay

Fig.1 The need for alignment

 

Just before the end of the Christmas term, the Headmaster invited one of our current parents to run a development session with the senior leadership team. It was a fascinating exercise on developing a coherent plan for the future and the parent explained that when teams think about where they are now now, there is a relatively tight consensus represented by the shape or ‘perception crowd’ and the crosses on the left hand side of Fig. 1. However, when looking to the future, the area of consensus within the group widens with some team members very much outside the ‘perception cloud’ (as shown on the right hand side of Fig. 1). Working on this basis can lead to inefficient, or more devastating, ineffective work. The way to overcome this problem is not to create agreement (as variety is necessary and healthy) but an ‘alignment’ of thinking which provides the basis for action (Fig.2)

Fig 2. The creation of alignment

 

The way to create the situation on the second diagram is to go through the following process:

1) Each person writes on a post-it note a single idea they would like to see happen in relation to the big question

2) All the ideas are then collected and placed together on a wall and they are organised into some loose groupings/categories

3) A single post-it note is selected and read out. The person who wrote the idea is allowed to explain the thinking behind it. If someone is not ‘aligned’ with the thinking, they can ask for clarification from the proposer. A discussion between the person who proposed the idea and the person who is not ‘aligned’ continues until a point of ‘alignment’ is reached and the idea on the post it note is amended to reflect this (if needed). No other person can join the discussion until the two people discussing have reached a resolution. Once that is done, another person can join the conversation with the idea creator.

4) The ‘aligned’ idea is then placed on another wall or notice board and becomes part the consensus about where the group wants to be in the future.

5) This process is repeated until the final board or wall demonstrates a more closely connected idead of consensus. What you do with it afterwards is up to you…

Having gone through the exercise, it was obvious how powerful it is in creating an atmosphere of careful discussion and reflection between the person proposing the idea and the person not ‘aligned’ with it initially. For the people not engaged in this discussion, the vantage point of observer was particularly instructive as quality time was given to listening to the issues surrounding the point raising awareness and understanding.

As I left the meeting, I thought this exercise would also make a great essay planning lesson on the causes of German unification. Each point on the post-it notes created by the class would relate to the main causes or interpretations of unification and discussion would allow everyone to have a say or listen to something they may not have considered. At the end after a discussion of each factor, the major  points would be reflected on the board, captured by a camera and be a resource to help the writing process. The discussion would also revisit the prior learning of the students too.

I love it when a plan becomes ‘aligned’.

Share Button

Check in – what have I been doing in the last two months?

I have been away from the blog and twitter for the last two months. What have I been doing?

Work

Being a senior leader in a school is always challenging in terms of extending your own capacity and helping others to do the same. This term has again provided many learning opportunities and victories in helping staff and students develop their potential. My International Baccalaureate class have devoured everything I have thrown at them in terms of 20th Century Chinese History and I feel happy about their position coming in to the mock exams. We have set up the new internal MIS system and instituted a new website and the mobile learning project is coming along.

Movember

With the support of many of you I have managed to raise over £300 for the Prostate Cancer Charity. I am humbled to think that a bit of face furniture can make a difference…

#edjournal

It is finally here and I am very pleased with the first issue. Editing takes a lot of effort (as I have learned!) but it has been worth reading every single word. James Michie has worked hard on the design and the support of the community on Twitter has been heartening. I look forward to reading/hearing about the reaction and we are already in the advanced stages of the second issue with a focus on mobile learning.

London History Network

I will be upfront and say how much I admire a woman who goes on national TV with ballons under her arms and shouts, ‘Good morning Year 7’. Esther Arnott, filmed for the teachers tv programme From Good to Outstanding and the woman with the ballons under her arms, let me in on her plan to create a network for History teachers in London. We now have the first London History Network meeting at the Department for Education on the 28th January. If you would like to sign up, please register your interest at the network website.

Orange

I have been negotiating with the mobile phone provider Orange for the better part of a year about a deal to provide mobile devices in the hands of staff, parents and students so that mobile learning can truly take off at Felsted and beyond. I am pleased to say that we have reached the final stage and the project should go live in January alongside Radley College and Haberdasher’s Aske’s Boys’ School. The parents and students are looking forward to the devices and I am very interested to see the effect of a lower entry price point in device standardisation.

Independent Schools Council

Somewhat to my surprise, I have been invited to be a member of the Independent Schools Council ICT Strategy group. Consisting of Headmasters/mistresses and ICT specialists from the different independent school associations, the group offers strategic advice relating to ICT to Heads, Governors, Bursars and other senior leaders at independent schools across the UK.

What is coming next?

I have been invited by the Faculty of Education, Cambridge to run a seminar on educational technology and RE teaching in January and then I am going to the Apple Education Leadership Summit in London. If you are coming to the latter event, it would be good to meet and exchange ideas. I have also agreed to write a A Level History textbook with a difference for the Schools History Project/Hodder if I can fit it in…

Image: lululemon athletica@ Flickr

Share Button

SCVNGR Reflections

I have been talking up the potential of SCVNGR since I first heard about it earlier this year as I thought it would provide a vehicle for games based learning at the school and beyond. Initially marketed as an electronic scavenger hunt, the direction and feel of the application was changed during the course of the year to incorporate social networking functionality similar to Foursquare. Even with this change in orientation, I believed that it would be possible to use the platform to implement a game based learning approach to historical trips/visits. Questions (or ‘challenges’) can be set and answered by typing specific answers, free form text, submitting a picture or scanning a QR Code. The experience today has made me reflect carefully on the further use of the tool with the students.

The use of SCVNGR in school today was meant to provide a fun activity for the boarders and also test the application in a relatively controlled environment. As I was building the ‘Trek’ (it used to be called a scvngr) I realised that one of the aspects of the earlier build has disappeared, namely the ability to display large images in the game and attach questions to it. The screenshot below shows the original implementation.

Scvngr Screen Shot

Old Scvngr image based question

However, the new version of the game only allows (as far as I can tell) thumbnail displays (as the screen shot below also shows).

Current SCVNGR question with image.

Continuing with the image theme, the students had some issues uploading to the game the pictures they had to taken in order to answer a challenge. It seems to be an iPhone issue (seemed to work on Android devices) and this severely dented the enjoyment of the students taking part.

Uh oh...

The short game today has made me think very carefully about the use of such software in a classroom based environment. I still believe that it has massive potential for learning outside the four walls of the classroom and could lead to a significant modification of task design to help learning. However, the platform needs to be developed to to able to meet the high expectations of the learners and staff, especially with image submission. I had intended to use it for the Apple Regional Training event at the school this week but I am undecided at the moment. If you are coming to the event, be prepared to test it out and let me know what you think.

Share Button

Travelling without maps (I)

World Map - 1689

‘We could roll up the map of the Cold War and travel without maps for a while’
E P Thompson on the possibility of social groups affecting the Cold War in 1982.

The academic year has finished and as you often do when things end, I started to think about my assumptions at the beginning of year. In some cases, I exceeded my expectations and in other areas I have been left with an uneasy gnawing feeling that only exists when things are left undone or have been completed poorly. Thinking about my role as Assistant Head in particular, I have come to realise that the plans I made were just guesses, contingent on a range of assumptions (succinctly and brutally put in Fried and Hansson’s ‘Rework’) that I was not really in control of despite my best efforts. Of course, there were variables I could control myself but my ‘map’ of how I thought the year was going to go did not lead me to plan for all the changes I was going to encounter. It is impossible to plan for everything but one thing I can do is to get better at preparing myself before I start. I have learned from experience that the best way to challenge and stimulate my own thinking is by seeing the excellence displayed by my peers. It was obvious that a journey around the country to see and experience excellence would help me create a more detailed ‘map’ for the coming academic year.

Source work at Diana Laffin's workshop

Source work at Diana Laffin's workshop

The first ‘stop’ on this journey is the Schools History Project conference in Leeds. This is a good place to start as it provides an amazing opportunity to see many History teachers and trainers at the top of their game in one place. One person I always try to see is Diana Laffin. Her work with her A Level History students always forces me to raise my expectations on what can be done with History in the 6th Form. This year was no exception and the source analysis activity she and Emma Kelley modelled using Enoch Powell’s speech was brilliant. They gave us the text of the speech but also said that an extra sentence/paragraph had been inserted and we needed to identify it. What this neat trick did was to force us to read the source a few times, getting a feel for the overall speech and looking for a specific phrase or wording which would betray the inserted text. This ‘surface’ and ‘deep’ reading worked brilliantly. They also asked us to annotate, in silence, the questions we would like to ask and any observations we wanted to make before we could discuss it as a group. Finally, we were instructed to make up a tabloid headline representing a particular point of view using a variety of sources, making the seemingly ‘dull’ topic of housing an engaging and ‘live’ topic. There are so many ways that their work could be deployed in my planning and I hope the students feel the benefit of Diana and Emma’s inspirational workshop.

Another stimulating experience was chairing the TeachMeet session with able assistance by John Heffernan, Sarah (Head of Classics at Felsted) and the brilliant ICT technicians at Trinity and All Saints. 39 people turned up to find out what other teachers were doing in their classroom and I was impressed and challenged by all the presentations. I would like to thank all the people who volunteered to present, Steve Bunce for booking the Flashmeeting and Doug Belshaw for keeping things running virtually. In addition, I also want to thank the sponsors: Beedocs, Vital, Heinemann and Toucan Computing. After the frenetic pace of the TeachMeet I had hoped for a rest but I readily volunteered to became a ‘common soldier’ in Parliament’s Army as part of Ian Dawson’s brilliant Saturday night extravaganza on the English Civil Wars in the North of England. Ian’s work is interesting as he has the knack of making the fiendishly complex easy to understand through active learning and this session was no different. The weekend was rounded off with a session delivered by Christine Counsell on Change and Continuity. What I loved about this session was Christine’s use of the Cambridge PGCE students’ work to illustrate her points and the understanding that her thinking on the issue was still developing. I was also struck by her use of Playdoh to get the delegates to represent key concepts in a visual way. This is a brilliant way to get the students to genuinely show their understanding of a concept even though it appears to be simply making shapes to represent a word.

Christine Counsell at the SHP conference.

Christine Counsell at the SHP conference.

Christine’s activity with the Playdoh resonated with most of what I had seen that weekend in terms of the role ‘play’ has in learning; being a journalist or a common soldier increased my enjoyment and understanding of the topic we were looking at. How could I thoughtfully use such activities to increase engagement but also develop ‘deep’ thinking to allow my students to see and touch the different textures of the stories within my lessons? A possible answer to this question was given by visiting Dawn Hallybone at Oakdale Junior School in East London. This was an unusual place for me as a secondary teacher but Dawn is well known in UK educational technology circles as an advocate and leading practitioner of Game Based Learning. Seeing her class ‘On Safari’ radically altered my perception on Game Based Learning and my own teaching. Using the Nintendo Wii game, ‘Wild Earth: African Safari’, Dawn’s class roamed around the virtual Serengeti national park taking ‘pictures’ and recording information meticulously about the animals they encountered. When they were given a task by the game to find an animal they did not know, Dawn directed a student to find out and they shared the information with the class (like the case of the Zorilla, which I had no idea about). Always mindful of the environmental impact of their exploration (due to the bar on the top of the interactive whiteboard), they continued to record information about the animals they encountered in their notebooks until the game clock had elapsed. From a secondary school point of view, the level of concentration displayed really impressed me and what happened next really made me rethink writing at secondary level. Without the use of a writing frame, the pupils in pairs (via Purplemash) began to produce fantastic descriptions of the animals they had seen, using the facts they had gleaned from being ‘On Safari’ in their notebooks. I realised in that moment that what I had just seen was a creative approach to knowledge acquisition augmented by the intrinsic motivation of the pupils within a context where saying ‘I don’t know’ was seen as a necessary and normal part of learning. Dawn did guide her class at times but they were merrily recording information and writing without much external pressure. For a secondary teacher, it was revelatory and I would like to thank Dawn and her class for sharing their learning with me.

Both the SHP conference and the visit to Dawn’s school made me challenge my ‘map’ of priorities for next year. I still have two more schools to visit this week but it has become clear that in order to renew my focus and deal with the rapid changes and demands, I need to roll up the map of my current way of thinking and travel without maps for a while.

Front and first image: Chuck ‘Caveman’ Coker @ Flickr.

Share Button

Visible learning and mobile devices


You can tell I’m on holiday due to the number of blog posts written and today’s is something I have been turning over for a while. I intend to write, by the end of the Easter break, a discussion document on hand-held learning for the school. What has occupied my thoughts over the last week or so is not the selection of devices or the examples of use but the principles behind it. For me, this is the most important feature of any approach to e-learning, as it sets out the framework for the use of the technology. This is a slight departure from some of the literature and on educational technology; ‘engagement’, ‘retention’, ‘relevancy’ and ‘preparation for employment’ are usually included as the drivers for use. In the UK this seems an especially problematic as hardware and learning is often combined into the category ‘ICT’ and the promised land of increased achievement does not seem to match the spending. This conflation, and the subsequent lack of clarity, creates an environment where people can easily dismiss technology as a useful tool for educators. This is where John Hattie’s work provides an interesting read. His book, ‘Visible Learning’, a synthesis of 800 educational research studies over the last 15 years, points to a number of research based elements that seem to improve student achievement. Here are just three examples:

1.The ability for students to set their own targets on pieces of work/term grades
2.Small group learning
3.Feedback

He suggests that if we are to become excellent educators, we should heed the ‘signposts’ his research identifies (which, if national figures are taken into account, we do not do). I find his argument persuasive because as a teacher, I want to do the best for my students and his work clearly shows some things work very well in raising performance. I also think the above would provide a clear steer on what the outcomes of the principles should look like, but not limit the ways they could be achieved. Within this ‘space’ of choice, hand-held devices would become another tool but with some very distinctive possibilities in terms of where the learning can take place and when.

For example, students could record their provisional target grades (by submitting an audio file or by filling in a simple text box) and this is stored in a management information system/learning platform/VLE. They and the teacher could refer to the provisional target before attempting the work and then deciding whether the target has been met before submitting (and after). The potential for substantive feedback in this example is obvious and the technology, rather than being the driving force, acts as the vehicle for learning. On a school visit, the use of an application like Scvngr to check comprehension (and giving feedback with hints) on an individual or group level would also facilitate learning in line with the principles.

In both of the examples, mobile devices, with their camera/video recorder features, GPS capability, data connections and rich applications create the possibility to be more thorough in recording and challenging learning beyond the four walls of the classroom than with paper. Notice that they are not the driving force – it is the (research driven) learning that is most visible.

The above is just my first attempt at working through some of the principles behind hand-held learning and I’m sure, after reading Clayton Christensen’s ‘Disrupting Class’, my thinking will be refined. Comments, as usual, are most welcome.

Image: sherrattsam@Flickr

Share Button
Older posts

© 2017 Nick Dennis's Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑