Straight into the workshops on Saturday morning. Breakfast is always a sea of people bending over conference packs and making choices over which workshop to attend. When schools are farsighted enough to send more than one delegate, or where friends have been made, you can often hear groups deciding who will go and report back on which workshop. I had so many I wanted to see and I heard of so many great workshops that I couldn’t get to. I try to see people I’ve not seen before, but even this rule doesn’t always make it easy to take decisions. You know, I think I would be kicking myself over not getting to see @bones_carmel do her workshop on engagement, but for the great sessions that I did get to.
Paul Nightingale and Tim Jenner’s workshop on ‘using extended original texts with less able students’ was very good – and just the right mix of ambition and practical examples. They started from the revelation that they could make reading and understanding a text the aim of the lesson, and that modelling different kinds of enthusiasm for text would help, but would only get students so far. Their take is that students who find history hard are often given less complicated texts, when what they need is to be ‘skilled-up’ and to an extent given the contextual knowledge to understand the more complicated texts. Having listened and taken part in this great session I think what they have really achieved is slowing pupil thinking down, and encouraged engagement with the text whilst at avoiding student anxiety about ‘getting it wrong’. That they have managed to do this creatively and with, wait for it… engagement with the text, is what makes their ideas compelling to try in the classroom.
Three activities really stuck out for me. The first was ‘stage directions‘ – making your students dramatise and present the action that takes place in a document. In small groups we played briefly at being pupils, and highlighted, scrawled and discussed ways in which we could make the meaning of our text come alive. I know I’m a 40 something history geek, and that this is hardly a scientific approach, but I think this great idea merits trying with students. With the right class, and with the right text (we had a Wilfred Owen poem) students might be able to use this technique to get to grips with text in deep and thoughtful ways.
The second was text mapping, which could be done individually, in pairs or in groups. With large copies of the text students are encouraged to highlight key features, key terms, argument, pictures, diagrams, summaries, conclusions, titles, headings, footnotes. In groups initial support for getting into a complex text could be given by asking lower attaining students to do simpler and increasingly complex highlighting. The crucial thing is that this is not the end of the use of the text. The highlighting is not the point of the activity, it is just the first activity – a way of helping students attain familiarity and confidence before moving on to other things.
The third I’m including because at first I internally dismissed it as something I’d seen before. However, a few subtle details brought me up short. Wordle has now been around for a while, and I went through a period of using it quite a lot, as a quick way of demonstrating the main theme in some writing. I have in the past made students create wordles of their coursework or essays, in the hope that it would help them see their main themes (or lack of them). I had started to think that it was a way of skimming over the details in a text and I worried that it stopped students from really reading a document – they didn’t need to if wordle had already summarized it.
Paul and Tim have taken the idea a little further by asking students to look at the smaller words in a wordle – the words that occur less frequently, but nonetheless are there. They ask ‘what’s the subtext?’, what ideas are being snuck in under the radar? They also suggested using a wordle to predict the content and thrust of a document before using some of their other techniques so that students can then compare their initial prediction with what they really find when they become familiar with its contents.
Overall, what struck me about their approach was the building of knowledge and confidence as students worked continuously on the text, and how this went hand in hand with the text itself. It was however never a crude ‘here’s what you need to know, now lets look at the text’ approach. Subtle and energising stuff.
Then I was on doing the second outing of my own workshop – which went much better the second time around. I’ll post the powerpoint soonish, probably after I’ve finished blogging about #SHP15 (who knows when at this rate).