Sharing joy and knowledge from an ordinary life

Is this research as we know it?

This is a tale of success… sort of.

This is a tale of research… sort of.

It was after reading the Activate Learning strategy that my first research plans were born.

Within the strategic plan is an inspiring learner journey. It’s a vision of what a typical learning journey might look like in the future at Activate Learning. I was inspired to say the least.

The vision includes all of the following:

The length of the course would vary depending upon what skills needed to be gained and the level of progress made each year.

Summers would be spent learning online prior to arriving in College.

The learner contained in the study speaks of booking her summative assessments as soon as she felt she had gained the skills required to succeed.

Employers were heavily involved in her assessments so that her skills were easily transferable to the workplace after her course.

Throughout the learner journey described, it was clear that the learner was at the heart of all decisions made about her learning and it got me thinking…

I already had some peer teaching and co-construction (read about @headguruteacher‘s journey here and hereworked into my SOL but later on in the year, when we’d all become a whole lot more comfortable with one another.


I then attended an EedNet session about Action Research and felt that a more full-on co-construction session (now fully formed) could spark some action research for me.

The premise of expansive action research is that you are trying to improve your teaching in order to improve learner outcomes. I had to embark upon this research journey, not fearful of the likelihood that if I was to progress with my action research, I could expect for my question (if effective) to breed further questions!

I began with the problem in my classroom to begin with so that I could form my question from that.

The problem: my learners are (on the whole) coming to class straight from school and there is a distinct feeling emanating from them that they want to be spoonfed. They cling onto my every word and follow my every instruction- to the letter. This kind of conformity is, quite frankly, unnerving to say the very least! I wanted to be in a position by January where they were able to study effectively alone, complete a suitable amount of work outside of class and ultimately, taking responsibility for their own progress and learning. An autonomous learner: the perfect situation, right?! Well I actually had this situation, on the whole, last year as my learners were slightly older and many of them were going to Uni straight from the AS course as it was the last number of points they’d need. I’d just been thrown into a very different learning situation (although one I have experienced before, it seemed alien).

My hypothesis would be that if I did a lesson planning session with them and the approach for the remainder of the unit was lead by what they had managed to plan (with some learner delivered lessons if they wished), then the learners would feel far more engaged with their learning, have independence and work autonomously towards their goals.

From the EedNet question format, I I do X, will Y happen? the question became, ‘If I conduct a group planning session for the next unit, will the learners take more responsibility for their learning as a result?’

So. The day arrived. It began with a bit of a disaster in that the staff for the room we were in were nowhere to be found and we couldn’t get the projector on and I couldn’t get the iPads out. So we did what any teachers would do and we improvised. We got the learners in the room and moved the plan around… Some of this was a mistake!

They began by finding their name whilst Mission Impossible music played. These names were written on sticky notes and each name had an accompanying number: the learners needed to find their matching numbers around the room. This was fine. There was the usual kerfuffle of people being missing and them being unable to find each other but it was a buzzy start to proceedings.

We then set them off on their learning cycle activity. There were already cries of why are we here? What are we doing?

These, I suspect, were a distinct result of us not being able to introduce what we were doing because we didn’t have the projector and I suppose in my frenzied state, I hadn’t really worked out that I could have just said some words to replace the lack of slides!

They completed this initial questionnaire that could give us some data about their perceived levels of independence at present in class.

After the learning cycle introduction, we discussed approaches to homework and we got the learners on their feet to add ideas to the walls added the injection of energy that we wanted. My colleague instigated this and I was reminded how wonderful teaching alongside a colleague can be.

I then took the learners through a rather swift overview of the unit.

The learners then had the opportunity to discuss previous approaches to studying novels that they had encountered in the past. We shared these in a master list and then they picked their weeks. There were 7 groups and 7 weeks to fill so there would be 1 week each. This was done via me reading out the weeks and them voting by putting their hands up first. This got a little too competitive when it came to w/c 17th of November. Goodness only knows why?!

Once they had their weeks, they had to come up with what they wanted to cover in each of their three lessons. This was totally unprompted and so at break-time, Brenda and I sat down to discuss what they had come up with and how we might need to tweak it.

On the one hand, I expected a distinct lack of writing or exam practice.
On the other hand, I expected a distinct lack of anything other than exam practice!

And then we looked through and on the whole, it all just worked. There was a really sensible balance of everything and most of the bases we had expected to be covered, were.

Here is the plan that emerged:

w/c 13th OctoberAP2 & Go Further WeekCultural Awareness- group 6 timeline of big events in the book- Explore the importance of food in The Kite Runner.Go to the kitchen and cook Kofta sandwiches.Cooking test. Discuss the relationship between Amir and Hassan Homework: research (assigned) 2 separate chapters to find key quotes on to finish the timeline in lesson 2.
w/c 20th October- group 2 go through a detailed analysis of chapter 7, class discussion and creating flash cards. go through chapters 8 and 9, feedback on emotions of characters role play include class members. this includes your idea of an alternative situation between chapters 7, 8 or 9. Homework: write an essay the relationship between Baba& Amir.
w/c 3rd November- group 7 Learning history of Afghanistan Discuss relationships between all characters (not just Hassan and Amir) Past papers and practice questions
w/c 10th NovemberAP3- group 4 create posters and mind maps about writing letters and diary entries using powerpoint as example. Try to write a letter and diary entry create mind maps about 3rd person narrative with dialogue and 1st person narrative (monologue) using powerpoint as example. Try to write both of them look at the way the characters would write and talk about and the language they would use to convey their thoughts and feelings
AP test. Four questions that they will pick to answer.
Homework: look at Afghan vocabulary and learn it (for Friday)
w/c 17th November- group 3 talk about the different themes presented in kite runner discuss the themes found as a group do a past paper question for themes in the kite runner -for homework find the different themes with evidence
w/c 24th November- group 1 Explore themes and symbols by researching on computers and making posters. Best posters will go on wall of fame.  The accurate and detailed work will get a surprise. Hot seating of characters and how they feel in a situation of the book Role play* of contrasts between drastic events in the book and how they are interpreted by different readers.*Monologue of characters to see how a diary entry is linked Homework:  Write a diary entry of character in a particular scene describing their thoughts and feelings. The best diary entries will go on wall of fame.
w/c 1st DecemberGo Further WeekEnterprise- group 5 Lesson 1-1)To understand the relationship between Baba and Amir.
2) To find relevant quotes/evidence to support the relationship between Baba and Amir.3)To unravel the changes of Baba’s and Amir’s relationship throughout the novel.
Lesson 2-1) Knowing the key events within the novel.2) Knowing which chapters are important, especially ones to refer to in the exam.3)Knowing specific quotes that are relevant to events and themes in the book, the relationships, the characters and the emotions in the novel. Lesson 3-1) Get a better understanding of the Afghan culture.2)Learn the key events in Afghan history that appear in the book- 1981 and the Soviet War.3)Understand the differences between the Hazaras and the Pashtuns. Homework-Essay Question (Lesson 2) – “How does Hosseini convey tension in Chapter 8?”
w/c 8th DecemberAP4- Mock Exam

Upon return from the break, the learners were introduced to some tech tools from James. They all seemed a little lethargic and disinterested but when I started to ask which tools they liked from the ones showcased and why, they came up with such fantastic ways in which they might be used in class! Hmmm… This could be good!

One huge negative of the learners returning after the break was that many of them couldn’t return:
– Some had other commitments that I had prior knowledge of.
– Others had brand new commitments that I hadn’t heard anything about!
– Some were called back into their second lessons by their teachers.
And then there were a small handful of learners who didn’t even speak to me about why they weren’t coming back. It is these learners who I now have the most concerns about in terms of their commitment to their learning in the year ahead.

But… Many stayed and what wonderful lesson planning occurred?!

We then had the best moment of the day. At 5pm (a little late- I need to adjust the timings next time!) the teachers and business support staff arrived to question the learners about what they had achieved. Some of the arrivals were managers and they grilled the students about questioning, reasoning behind activities, levels of stretch and challenge, flow from one task to another, how they’ll know something has been learnt… and so it goes on! This was wonderful to watch and I knew that these superstar learners, who had exhibited determination and dedication to their learning, had gained the most from the afternoon. I couldn’t have been more proud of what they had done.

The only input we had given was the overview of the unit and the learning cycle approach. I was amazed it had been this easy.

2014 - 1 2014 - 2 2014 - 4

From the pit of challenge, only the strongest few survived. I need to make sure it’s everyone next time because at the moment, I’ve failed to achieve what I set out to. The ones who stayed were absolutely buzzing in the next morning’s lesson and I only wish the rest had stayed.

My final questionnaire caused problems too as the results were not that conclusive nor did they convince me that the session was as effective as I’d hoped.

Throw into the mix, two teachers working together who had never worked together before and I was worried how things would progress from here.

Next year I plan for this kind of session to take place over the summer as a keep-warm activity and learners will be invited into College to form how their programme of study will look for the whole year.

Since this was written, I have experienced a lot of change in the group. There have been some really encouraging results with a trip, giving choice for homework and with some of students choosing to teach… I’ll write about these aspects in my next update! 🙂

I realise now, looking back to my question of,
‘If I conduct a group planning session for the next unit, will the learners take more responsibility for their learning as a result?’ that it was unreasonable to think that one single session would allow me to reach my ultimate aim… And so I move into stage 2 of my research and further experimentation in the classroom. I also need to explore more of the existing research and models around teaching learners to become more independent in thought and action. I’m not yet convinced that research works. It’s interesting but do I have time to do it properly? Do I have the understanding to ensure it’s robust enough? I know that the answers to these two questions are ‘no’ but I’m interested enough to continue to explore…

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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