Enquring Minds and Year 12

No year 8 so far this week, as we were moderating coursework (which might be the subject of another post if I get the time).  As an aside though, I used one of the tools that the Enquiring Minds site recommends for ordering student’s thinking with my year 12’s.

They’ve had difficulty in detecting the difference between knowing about a topic and using knowledge to argue their opinion on a question.  I’ve marked many essays that contain paragraphs ‘about’ an aspect of a topic.  I’ve been exhorting them to write paragraphs that argue about the importance, or effect of a factor, and to build those points into an argument that conveys a judgement on the question.

They’ve not been getting it.

Whilst flicking through the digital tools published by Futurelab on their ‘enquiring minds’ site I came across this one http://www.readwritethink.org/materials/persuasion_map/, which asks students to devise a theory on a question, and to back this up with arguments that are, in their turn supported by evidence.  We spent half a lesson in the traditional way, exploring an question using the board, the textbook and discussion, and then for the second half we explored the tool using the projector.

The explanation was painful.  I’d written a paragraph which did what I wanted, and then deconstructed it using the tool.  I think I over engineered this part of the lesson, but I didn’t want them to think ‘oh this is just another PEE burger model’ (which it is, but they don’t understand how to do them either!).  Their homework was to plan an essay using the tool.

The tool is limited in that it only allows you three points in your argument, and that it doesn’t allow you to link points.  It does however force you to think in terms of argument, rather than in knowledge.  It seemed to work.  Their essays are, as a class much better.  One or two individuals, who had written long rambling descriptions or overviews of the period previously, wrote much more focussed pieces that earned them higher grades.

More importantly, I think this has helped one or two udnerstand the importance of planning answers, of having an opinion and a strategy before setting pen to paper.


Enquiring Minds: Refining and Eliciting (again!)

the second stage is concerned with shaping, defining and focusing an idea or question or subject and making plans to research it further(1)

So says the enquiring minds guide, and provides me with a list of helpful questions to ask my students

  • What can you find out quickly?
  • What is left unanswered?
  • What direction do you want to go?
  • What aspects are most interesting?
  • What are the key areas to focus on?
  • Are there different perspectives?
  • Who might be able to help you or who might think differently about this?

I’m going to blend this into the eliciting stage, as I think they’ve only just really got going with this.  I’m going to take an approach that asks students to look at the kind of evidence that they’ve got for their questions, they’ll reply that they’ve got lots of pictures (because this is what I provided!).  I’m going to ask them where else they could look for information.  They’re going to say ‘books’ or the internet, which will lead nicely to another trip to the library, armed with paper, folders, pens etc.

I’m going to make this trip much more purposeful.  I want them to focus on text that might help them to answer their question, and I want them to think about their question, the provenance of their information, and how to move their enquiry forward.  I’m therefore going to do the attached diamond nine exercise as a starter.

Wish me luck!

Evaluation: The first part of this lesson went really well, and, for most students the second went well too.  In the first part they were able to use the diamond nines to discuss what they should be doing next in their work, and a really interesting discussion came from the positioning of the different cards.  Most students put ‘the right sources’ or ‘answering the questions we’ve asked’ near the top.  They were able to justify this position by explaining that this was the whole point of the study – to find answers to questions that they’d asked. 

They were also able to discuss the types of sources that they wanted to use, and predictably the ‘eye witness’ came up trumps.  I wonder if we can return to this later.

The second part of the lesson was not so great, mainly because there are three students whose attendance mean that they’ve not been able to follow the whole spread of lessons (in two cases they only came to one out of four lessons).  They don’t really understand what’s expected of them, they’re at sea thinking about their own questions.  I find I’m so busy firefighting queries about books, keeping order when students aren’t sitting in rows, and talking about interesting questions that it’s hard to help these three who did not attend earlier lessons.  I’m going to have to work on something to try to scaffold their thinking whilst others get on with their enquries. 

The guide refers to this – it says that some will go ahead faster than others in the class, but this feels like they’re being left behind…

(1) http://www.enquiringminds.org.uk/guide/the_enquiry_cycle/defining_and_responding/




Enquiring Minds: Initiating and eliciting…sigh.

Phew – that was hard!

Eliciting stuff from students who are used to being told stuff presented some real difficulties – and I’m still not sure that I’ve got it right.  We’ve had two lesson on this now, and by the end of the third we seem to be making some progress.

Lesson 1 – As per normal.

The first lesson introduced them to the idea of history projects, and I ran it much the same as I do every year.  We had a discussion about what history was about, which moved from ‘Kings and Queens’ via our recent work on the Industrial Revolution and cholera to ‘what happened to people in the past’.  We followed this up with a quick spider diagram about ‘where history comes from’.  For the final piece of the lesson they had to chose a topic from the list that we always do, with the caveat that they could, if they had a burning desire, do one that was different.  For their homework they then had to collect information, pictures, ask family,

Looking back on that first lesson, I realise that I was taking a ‘vessels’ approach, but instead of teaching them about history I was teaching them about the creation of historical knowledge. Either way, they didn’t really give much of a stuff – but they did listen politely.

Lesson 2 – Finding stuff (in the library)

They didn’t do their homework (well 40% didn’t).  This is the same 40% who always have to be harassed into doing their homework, so I should have been prepared. I wasn’t.  They did boring textbook stuff, whilst I asked the others to cut out their pictures and stick them on a piece of paper, around their question.  They did that.  I realised that I didn’t really know or understand where this was going, especially as the flow of material wasn’t exactly gushing. 

Somewhat naively I’d assumed that they’d be enthused by the fact that they they got to chose, and that we were going to make a collage of materials on my wall.  I actually think they were a bit uncomfortable.  I should have modelled what I wanted them to do.  Next lesson I’ll be better prepared for their not really understanding what is a new kind of classroom relationship.

We went up to the library in the end, because I thought that they might feel more comfortable if they new where to look in there, and the kinds of things to look for.  I talked them through selecting a book based on the kind of enquiry they wanted to make.  I modelled my own enquiring "what was life like in Roman Silchester" to show them where I’d look.  This went OK, but all in all I think the lesson was disjointed.  They got the impression that history was in books in the library, which of course to an extent it is, but I’d failed to ignite them.

Lesson 3 – Collage making and thinking about questions

I photocopied a load of pictures from books, collected the excellent box of resources collated by Mr Kydd (Head of Faculty) and prepared a presentation before this lesson.  The photos were of different aspects of local Reading history – football, Huntley and Palmers, Tilehurst history etc.  The presentation was about Silchester.  I took 6 pictorial sources and turned them into the attached pdf (which I later showed using the excellent keyjnote).

This time they’d done much better.  Most students had 4 or 5 sources, three didn’t, so I immediately directed them to the box and to the photos.  My astoundingly good TA, Miss Burgess was on hand to copy and photos that students wanted.  Suddenly things took off.  Students were interested, they flicked through books, selected interesting photos, interesting text (even!).  Michael regaled me with interesting snippets from a book of anecdotes about wartime Reading.  The padded back and forth, pinning their sources in related ‘lumps’ or groups on the board I’d set aside at the back of the room.

Then I showed them my presentation and asked what interesting questions I should ask as my ‘little questions’ about Roman Silchester.  They flew at the task, and I wrote a dozen on the board.  I’ve selected three, and will complete my own enquiry alongside them.  It feels like we’re taking off.  Finally they had to come up with their own three little questions, and pin these on the board.  For homework I asked them to look for more information and interesting items about Reading local history. 

I think this lesson went better because they’d (1) finally got the idea that they were bringing stuff in (2) I’d thought about what I needed to model in terms of thinking (3) I’d taken the effort to come up with a back up that still meant that they had to select their own material.  Tomorrow we’ll see if they’ve found anything, and if they have, then we can have another look at their questions.

Futurelab / Microsoft Enquiring Minds and Year 8 Local History Project

I recently read the enquiring minds guide put out by futurelab, which has chimed with some stuff I’ve been thinking and reading about.  I’ve been thinking alot recently about the question of knowledge and knowlegde production – I’m writing something for podesta.org.uk, and if I’m ever allowed to finish it, I’m going to explore the nexus between knowing and doing, knowing and naming that I’ve been reading about in Friere.  The futurelab guide references Friere in discussing the ‘banking’ concept of knowledge, which sees teaching as an exercise in filling vessels with knowledge about the world, where the knowledge and the ability of the vessels to receive and retain it are fixed and given.  The guide takes a different, more constructivist view (as does Friere).  Instead the authors of the guide put forward three different types of knowledge:



Functional – this is knowledge that allows us to operate in the world. It is often technical or ‘factual’ information. An example would be the knowledge required to read a map to navigate around a town.

Cultural – this is knowledge that is concerned with understanding the meaning of objects or events. An example would be the type of knowledge that allows us to understand why a particular place or landscape is considered valuable.

Critical – this is knowledge that allows us to understand and critique the forces that shape the world. An example would be the type of knowledge that allows students to understand the reasons behind things such as housing shortages or climate change.


They also offers a pedaogical approach which reflects these ideas. The model takes students (and teachers together!) through five different phases, which at first sight might seem familiar if you’ve seen things like the "big 6".  The main difference (as far as I can see) is the emphasis on the experiences, interests and views that students bring with them. 

This really chimed with me, following the reading I did for my Diploma about the power and strength of preconceptions that student teachers bring with them to their learning.   I’m trying more and more consciously to reflect on the position my students have in relation to the topics I’m asking them to study.  I’m also really inspired by the element of choice and student empowerment.  One of the (few) things that OFSTED asked us to think about at Little Heath was how independent and responsible for their own learning our students were.  I think that sometimes we confuse ‘taking responsibility’ for ‘doing what we tell them with little fuss’. This guide seems to be offering me a way of thinking about empowering students in a classroom environment which goes beyond this into meaningful ‘responsibility for learning’.

So, I’ve decided to give it a go, and what’s more I’ve decided that I’m going to record my reflections on this website – so that others might be able to avoid any mistakes that I make!  I’m just starting local history projects with my year 8’s.  They are a nice bunch, but some of them find history hard (and probably dull if I’m honest, despite my best efforts).  We run a fairly tight project normally – there’s a list of topics and they get to choose one.  We then go to the library and they ‘do’ their projects over the next few weeks.  For a couple of years, as a department, we’ve been worried that this often led to a cut and pasted document ‘about’ something, rather than an enquiry asking a question.  The fact that I was dreading doing the projects, coupled with my desire to try this approach, meant that this small class was an ideal place to try it out for the first time.  Watch out for further blog posts whilst things progress.



The morning after the night before

I’ve decided to post my thoughts on the BECTA symposium on my personal website www.podesta.org.uk.  This is mainly because the post isn’t really about history teaching, but also because www.podesta.org.uk is blocked by the LEA, so they can’t read it!


This probably amounts to bloggony, but who cares.