Monday, 6 May 2013

Voice and Choice in Practice

The Flat Classroom project asked me to reflect on giving learners choice and you can read about my previous thoughts here.
Today, I took it one stage further with a Year 8 (Grade 7) group that have explicitly focused on increasing learner autonomy throughout the year. Although a rather extreme idea, I decided that I would start with a blank canvas when approaching a 2-week unit on poetry. It was experimental, it was risky but in the end - it was very much worthwhile.
We started off by adding our thoughts to the stem 'Poetry...' and posting our ideas on a blank wall. We then took some of the most pertinent ideas from the statements produced and placed ourselves on a continuum of agreement or disagreement. As we talked about why we'd chosen particular locations along the scale, further questions were generated which we recorded on a large whiteboard. Following this, the learners divided into 3 groups:

  • Group 1 looked at the  Assessment Focus grids for English and - considering our notes - picked out those most relevant to our unit with annotations of how these would address our questions.
  • Group 2 used question stems based on Bloom's Taxonomy to formulate higher order questions to address our enquiries.
  • Group 3 considered the learning that the group had indicated needed to take place and the activities through which this could happen or be demonstrated. 
After a flexible time limit, the groups explained the task to those who would rotate onto their station and we repeated the process until everyone had contributed to all three strands:  the results were much better than I had expected. A colleague was observing the lesson as a critical friend and commented on the engagement, maturity and level of challenge that the group had set themselves. A concern of mine was ensuring rigour balanced with engagement (a goal I set here) and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the learners really did focus on the learning, rather than the hi-tech, low-learning activities they often crave. Their discussions at the conceptual level went as far as touching on the question What is art? and the beneficial mental sweating was visible - with not a gimmick, game or laptop in sight.
What this experiment has taught me is that a staggered release of responsibility in a structured framework really can lead to higher expectations and outcomes for learners. They used their well-developed skills of teamwork, collaboration and critical thinking to achieve a solid learning plan that they can now take complete ownership of. How this will correspond to the levels of engagement and sustained interest in the face of a pretty challenging learning experience remains to seen, but it's been a great start and one that I look forward to seeing develop.