It’s rare in education to find a piece of software which is extremely useful, cost effective and can be used on a whole school level. Just look on the unused programs on your school PC to illustrate that point. However, my latest purchase of Autology has been a resounding success for staff and students on a range of levels.
I met the sales team at last years Northern Grid for Learning Conference and was bowled over by the simplicity of the idea and the capacity it could have in my classroom.
Firstly, what is Autology. Simply put it is a locked down educational search engine. The site contains content from leading textbook companies, images and videos.
While this is useful, what makes the software so useful is the features it contains. The site can be filtered by subject and reading age. This makes differentiating, or personalising, learning quick and effective. Students can guide themselves to adequate learning resources.
Because of the high quality content on the site this also has an economic benefit for school leaders because they can cut down on the amount of textbooks they buy.
Finally, the software is slick and simply navigated which holds the attention o students when they re researching. I have a ICT room and I have found students refer to the site during lessons without being instructed. This is a great asset if you are trying to improve reading and literacy amongst students.
I’ve been looking back though some blog posts I wrote or Hodder last year and started to reassess my use of PBL in my classroom. well it’s been one year since I started using the approach in my class and its still going strong- engagement and attainment is up and I’m till enjoying it!
I don’t read many educational books, I find it off-putting reading the dry thoughts of an academic who hasn’t entered a classroom since 1987. For me most of these books are constructed in the châteaux and not the trenches of the modern class and so are simply coffee table books.
So it was with great scorn and derision that I accepted a copy of Ron Berger’s Ethic of Excellence. The only reason I accepted it was because my friend who offered it read even less academic literature than me. I took it home and began to read, and 6 hours later I was still reading. I hate to say this, because it is over-dramatic, but the book smashed up the way I looked at teaching and learning in history. No, this is an understatement, it was more like the revelation at the end of the Usual Suspects: I felt elated, angry and inspired all at once.
Berger’s book promotes project-based learning, a school of thought which sets extended projects encouraging pupils to take pride in their work through multiple drafts.
The crux for me was the idea of the authentic audience. Berger states that any project must have an audience whose opinion matters on the topic. In his book for tech projects he invited in designers and architects to pass judgement and offer advice to the students. This made perfect sense to me – why do we presume students are interested in our opinions on their work? I sometimes catch a look of myself in school and see an overweight history teacher in a cheap suit (my wife’s words not mine, my suit is very nice). But placing an authentic audience at the heart of students’ work can have a massive impact on their performance.
The first project I ran was a World War Two art project based on the images of Frank Cappa and art of Béatrice Coron. Students had to select significant events of the conflict, explain them and demonstrate them through art. To provide an authentic audience I arranged to have them showcased at a local art gallery and as part of the upcoming Northern Learning Festival. The inclusion of an authentic audience helped motivate students to take pride in their work and prepare, research and develop their historical skills more than before. My mantra throughout was ‘Do you want your name and photo next to a bad piece of work?’ or words to that effect!
The finished products were astounding! And we received a nice email from Béatrice Coron thanking us for using her ideas in the classroom.
For me project-based learning is the way forward. By setting a task and providing the students with the tools to complete it you can allow all to make progress and be empowered by their autonomy. The pace of work is set by the student and they measure their progress. Many schools are taking on board the power of project-based learning and fully incorporating it into their curriculum. If you look at the line up of most Teachmeets, some of the countries most progressive schools and teachers are advocating the merits of the system.
I do not hold project-based learning as a panacea for all the ills in the modern classroom; many children did not produce excellent work. However, these children were a minority, with the vast majority engaging fully in the spirit of the task. As for me, my classroom became a tip of card, medieval shields, battle plans and models of the Titanic, but every day I am excited to see what they produce and that fires me as a teacher, and that cannot be a bad thing.
I’ve been focusing on various aspects of T&L this year and I’d like to share my thoughts on one aspect: personalisation.
Ever since David Miliband used the term personalisation in his 2007 speech the term has taken on a life of its own. It’s strange how the lexicon of education is polluted by ill defined and ambiguous terms and how over time they take on a life of their own.
The case has never been more apt in reference to personalisation. What exactly is it? How is it different to differentiation? And is it achievable?
Firstly, the stock definition is that it is the offering of educational pathways to all students based on their learning needs. A just statement and you will not find a teacher in the land who would disagree with that.
However, this isn’t a definition, this is a sentiment, not a policy.
In reality how can one teacher in a class of 30 individuals, all with their own learning styles which are influenced by a multitude of needs really be specifically catered for by one person? Are the advocates of personalisation tacitly implying that we are to read the minds of every child we teach? On the job description it did not stipulate ‘must have Dr Xavier levels of telepathy’. No, this can not be achieved until we look at the issue rationally.
Over the last term I have started to build up a bank of ideas for creating a personalised lesson which is realistic and generic. I have came up the following plan
1. Firstly you have to flip the classroom.
2. Make a list of every single activity you use in the class with students.
3. For every activity make an instructional manual on how the task works and proved an example (ks3,4 &5) once this is done it makes planning SOW easier in the future.
4. Using a taxonomy of your choice grade the challenge level of each activity ( colour code or number them)
Once you ave done this take your class data and have a close look at it. Decide where each student is in terms of progress based on all available data.
The next stage is simple- each lesson give each student 3 tasks to complete based on their progress. If child A is working at. Grade C start them off on an activity you have categorised as grade C and then for the remaining two tasks given them activities which you have graded as B. This way you are specifically targeting the students needs whilst challenging them to progress.
Doesn’t this take ages to do?
In a word no! Whilst I admit the creation and codification of the activities took time to create ( laminated copies and digital copies) once this was one I simply resourced the lesson and allocated the activities in the space of ten min.
The resources already existed eg textbook or historical sources. The only difference was the way each student approached the task.
It also gave me the chance to roam the class monitoring progress and adapting the plan as the lesson moved on. I could also identify students who were struggling and change tasks to suit their needs quickly and effectively.
Is this personalisation?
Well I’m open to discussion! But since the term is ambitious I would claim that this was one approach.
To save people some time I’ve uploaded my resources to the site
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