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Friday, 13 July 2012

HOT SOLO Maps, iPads and a treasure hunt!

In my previous post I explained how we have tried to embed SOLO across the school through our learning teams. At the same time we have also begun an iPad trial. This started with a group of staff interested in the use of mobile technology in the classroom and has developed to ensure every department has one person with an iPad.
Last Monday we had our final training day of the year. We wanted to take this opportunity to incorporate our work on SOLO with the iPads.
In a conversation with @rachel_ireland and @Thereal_MrH we came up with an idea of a treasure hunt.
After a search on the Internet we found a company called Huntfun which does treasure hunts in various towns and cities. Armed with our HOT SOLO map templates on our iPads we followed the Darlington hunt to see whether we could incorporate them.
We merged some of the clues from the treasure hunt with activities around the HOT SOLO maps. My favourite being the cause and effect map where the event was 'you lose a £135 on Houndgate'. There were multiple possibilities as there was a betting shop and a pub but there was a sign halfway up the street that said cars parked would be clamped and the owner would have to pay £135 for its release. A lot of staff didn't find this sign!
We wanted to keep the day a secret until the morning so all we told staff was that they needed to be appropriately dressed to be outdoors! Those people who had iPads were emailed the HOT SOLO map templates to save in the Explain Everything app. This is a great app. It allows people to write on the maps, type in the maps or record their voices explaining what they have put in the various boxes.
On the morning of the training we gathered staff in the performance hall and explained what was going to happen. We demonstrated how to use the apps they were going to use in the morning and then emailed them the treasure hunt which had been prepared in the Pages app. Staff were told to take photos and record video footage as they would need them in the afternoon. Also the funnier the better! They were then split in to 14 cross curricular teams who were then in groups according to which bus they were going to be on. We had 2 mini buses doing two journeys. The teams were therefore split in to buses 1-4. Each bus was going to start the tour at a different time. Bus 1 went to the start of the tour. Bus 2 went on a tour of the catchment area before being dropped off. This tour was an important part of the day as it gave teachers a chance to see the context within which we are working. Bus 3 and 4 teams were in school designing a team logo in Paper 53 and a team theme tune with GarageBand before being picked up by the returning mini buses. Bus 1 and 2 teams did their logo and theme tune once they returned to school after their hunt.
When all of the staff were on the tour me and @Thereal_MrH prepared a barbecue for when they returned. I've got to say at this point that I simply cut the sausages and transferred cooked burgers etc to an oven in DT to keep them warm!
In the afternoon we demonstrated how to use comiclife and iMovie apps. Teams then had to choose which they would use to present what they had done in the morning. This was followed by each team presenting their work. Some of the imovies were hilarious! I will try and provide links to some when I work out how! The winning team each got a bottle of wine for their efforts.
The day went really well with lots of positive feedback from staff. From our perspective it achieved it's aim. It gave staff first hand experience of HOT SOLO maps, let them see the potential of iPads for learning but most of all allowed staff to have fun, helping to build that crucial social capacity which is needed in successful schools!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

We're going SOLO...

I came across SOLO for the first time a few months ago on the brilliant blog by Tait Coles (@totallywired77). This was completely by chance as I was actually researching the 5Rs and had started to read about the 5R day Tait had organised at his school. However, I was drawn to his posts about SOLO as it was something new to me. I immediately wanted to find out more, I did more research and bought two books by Pam Hook and Julie Mills - SOLO Taxonomy: A guide for schools. These books are excellent. If you do not know what SOLO is all about, and would like to find out then I would recommend these books along with Tait's blog and blogs by David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27), David Didau (@learningspy) and Paul McIntosh (@pauldavidmac).
I loved SOLO from the minute I got my head around it! Both as a teacher of Geography but also a school leader. I could see so much potential for its use.
I have used Blooms taxonomy for as many years as I can remember in my teaching to plan differentiated learning outcomes. I would use a bronze, silver, gold system in which the bronze outcome would come from Remembering/understanding levels of Blooms (new Anderson version), silver from Applying/Analysing and the gold from Evaluating/Creating. I've got to say that this didn't always feel comfortable as they didn't seem to flow at times and I wasn't confident that students would progress in that way. The other, very big problem I have with Blooms, (and I remember having this conversation with the consultant who was introducing the staff to it years ago) is that a geography student could probably get a grade C in the exam simply by being able to describe and explain, which of course are at the lower levels of Blooms! What also frustrated me about it was that an explanation, for example, no matter how detailed was at the same level, so that a student explaining how volcanoes are formed in one sentence would be judged to be working at the same level of Blooms as somebody who wrote a page of A4 explaining it in detail. One of the greatest things about SOLO for me is that the verb explain would sit at one level of SOLO (Relational) but students can either be Prestructural, Unistructural, Multistructural, Relational or Extended Abstract, depending on whether they give one reason, several reasons, linked the reasons together or made generalisations and put them into a different context!
I immediately started to incorporate SOLO in to my own lessons with students of all abilities, however, what I was really excited about was sharing this with staff. Every member of staff at our school is part of a learning team. In our current cycle these teams have been Thinking for Learning, Assessment for learning with a focus on Feedback and Differentiation. These teams were already in place before I knew about SOLO and two had been chosen as a response to our last Ofsted! However, SOLO fitted perfectly. The Thinking for Learning team are looking to create a 'toolbox' of thinking tools for pupils to use. We had been looking at Hyerle's Thinking Maps, but the HOT SOLO maps in my opinion are better. Why? Well for starters there are 3 more examples that are at a higher order: the Predict, Evaluate and Generalise maps. Also I believe they challenge pupils to think deeper about what they have actually put on the maps due to the because boxes. Pupils are required to explain what they have put on the maps. Finally, they have success criteria which accompanies them, so a student can complete a HOT SOLO map at each of the SOLO levels.
The Assessment for Learning team were looking at how we can make our feedback more effective. Again another strength of SOLO is the ability to give feed forward information to students. To link with the work of this team I introduced SOLO to the subject leaders and explained why I believed it could have a massive impact on what we are trying to do. I asked them all to bring along a student exercise book. I then got them to pass it to the person on the right and then look through the books to see if it was clear the progress that was being made. This was difficult to see and came as a bit of a surprise to them! I then asked them to come up with 4 or 5 key skills they wanted students to develop in their subject areas. We then looked at how that skill would look at each level of the SOLO taxonomy. These have been made in to feedback stickers.
Finally, the Differentiation team have been looking at different ways we can meet the needs of all learners. SOLO is an ideal way of achieving this both as a tool for differentiation by outcome using the success criteria or as Tait's blog describes the use of SOLO stations, which is differentiation by task and pupil choice. I'm currently in the middle of reading 'The hidden lives of learners' by Graham Nuthall and in it one of the points he makes is that students generally know on average 50% of what a teacher intends the students to learn through a curriculum or unit. But that 50% is not evenly distributed. Different students know different things, and all of them will know only about 15% of what the teacher wants them to know. So at any one time, a teacher will probably face a class in which about 20% of the students already know what the teacher is trying to teach them, 50% know something about what the teacher is trying to teach them, and about 20% have little or no idea about the topic. What better way to deal with this situation than SOLO stations? Where students choose their own starting point based on what they already know and make progress towards extended abstract. If you do know of any better ways then please let me know!
So where are we up to as a school?
Each team has been introduced to SOLO and are trialling various things. The Thinking for Learning team are trialling HOT SOLO maps, the Assessment for Learning team are trialling the SOLO feedback stickers and some of the differentiation team are trialling SOLO stations.
In every classroom we have HOT SOLO maps on the walls. We have also got some very keen subject leaders who are doing some great things with SOLO. In my 10 years of leading learning teams both in my previous school and this I haven't introduced anything that has got people quite as excited as SOLO. If you need some proof follow @EV_Sport and @EV_Art and look at the fantastic work they are doing. They are also blogging about SOLO too!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Teach, Do, Review - An outstanding lesson

One of the great things about my job is that I get to see some fantastic lessons being taught by some amazing teachers. This week we had our teaching and learning review day which was a huge success. We saw a 6% increase in the number of good and better lessons which was a big step forward for us.
I'm going to describe a year 10 PE revision lesson which was in preparation for an upcoming exam.
As I arrived to the room, students were being met at the door by the teacher and assigned to one of three groups. I could tell at this point the students were being grouped on ability. The lesson started with the teacher explaining that each group had a dry wipe pen and they had to write on the desks everything they could remember about bones and joints. Students had been given two mind maps to revise from over the Easter holidays on these two things. A simple strategy of writing on the desks made it different and immediately engaged the students. As the groups were working the teacher approached one group and got them to look at the board which had extra words and numbers on it. For example, 206 and cranium. Students in this group had to explain what they had to do with the topic. This ensured the more able group were extended.
The teacher stopped the activity and got some feedback from the groups about what was on their desks. He then explained what the next task was going to be. This is where teach, do, review comes in! The teacher explained that they needed to move themselves in to one of three groups. If they felt that they were really unsure about the topic they had to move to the teach group. The teacher would work with them and teach the material again. If the students felt that they were reasonably confident on the topic but maybe needed to deepen their understanding they were going to go to the do group and do a number of activities. Finally if they were really confident on the topic and knew everything they possibly could, they would go to the review group to have a go at an exam paper. Each group had a learning objective to achieve and an extension task.
It was really interesting at this point as the class was composed of a number of friendship groups and I wondered how they would sort themselves out. That is, whether they would stay with their friends! However, up they got and moved themselves to where they felt they needed to be and therefore took control of their own learning. This was really impressive to see.
As the groups worked on their tasks the teacher spent most of his time with the teach group but checked on the do and review groups every so often, intervening with prompts such as mnemonics that had previously been learned. There was real collaborative learning taking place, particularly in the do group.
At this point I had to leave the room to observe another lesson but I was so impressed at how such a simple strategy had ensured that the needs of all learners had been met!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Why R words are important!

It seems that recently a lot of the things we have been doing with students at school involve words that begin with the letter R. As a school we have implemented the 5R's in to our practice and will now reward and report on student progress towards achieving gold in each of the 5 R's. (I will write more about this in a different post!)
However, this post will be about the 3R's of Revision.
Over the last few years I have ran a 'how to revise session' with students. This year's event took place on the last day of term with our current year 11. Maybe not the best time to have done it, but we wanted to make sure students who were going to revise over the Easter holidays were going to do it effectively and were also mindful of the fact that staff did not want to lose year 11 students out of their class at this crucial time! We felt there may be less resistance on the last day of term!
To prepare for these sessions I always ask year 11 to complete a survey about revision which asks the following questions: Do you think revision is important to pass your exams? When are you going to start your revision? How much revision are you going to do? How do you revise? Have you ever been taught to revise?
The session starts with the results of the survey being shared. Nearly all of the students think it is important to revise to pass their exams which makes it a good starting point. The other answers show that students are often vague about when they are going to start revising (soon) and how much revision they are going to do (lots). There are always a few answers that are quite funny. One of my favourites this year was a boy who was already revising every hour that he was not in school and was going to do 1000 hours of revision! There are others who are very honest - "some revision but not enough to affect my social life". Students often claim to have been taught how to revise, with one student proudly proclaiming "I was taught to read in year 2". These types of answer reinforce the need for such a session as one of the main aims is to challenge their perception of what effective revision is. We point out the fact that a lot of students are not revising effectively and we will show them how they can improve their revision during the session.
The 3R's of revision are then introduced. Registering - which is how we get the information in to our heads. Retaining - which is how we keep the information in our heads and Recalling - which is how do we make sure we can recall the information we have registered and retained once we are in the exam.
Students are given booklets with all of the strategies in, but as there is not enough time for students to have a go at each of the strategies the session aims to give an overview whilst modelling a couple of the strategies.
When discussing Registering students were introduced to MindMaps and the laws behind them. They then worked in groups to produce a MindMap of the various ways we can Register information (Skimming, slicing, simplifying, networked notes and MindMaps). When discussing Retaining information the Loci system was modelled to them. This was something I came across in a Derren Brown book and found it very effective when getting students to remember Geography case studies! The Loci system works by attaching images to places along a real life route the students know well. In this case I used the students' houses to remember the effects of the Montserrat eruption. Retaining strategies also include mnemonics, mind pegs, reports and films, remembering numbers and the linking technique (another one from the Derren Brown book!) To finish the retaining part of the session we talked about memory fade and showed the Ebbinghaus graph. One student at this point declared "what's the point then if we are going to forget so much". But this then leads to the importance of review. As Mike Hughes says "learning without reviewing is like filling the bath without the plug in". We introduced students to four ways of reviewing information. They were transforming, verbalising, reducing and snowballing.
When discussing Recalling we went through the importance of time management, ways to reduce stress and making sure they are prepared for their exams.
To finish the session I showed the following video
This proved to be a powerful way to get the point across to students that they can be given all the strategies in the world but at the end of the day they need to have the desire to be successful and the best that they can be.
Finally, to prove these strategies really do work we played the number board game from a question of sport. Behind each number was a room in a house and they had to say what effect from the Montserrat eruption was pasted there from earlier in the session when we were looking at Retaining. All of the students got them all right, which was quite a surprise to some! Especially those who thought my story of dust on their TVs and tourists sat in Hawaiian shirts on their toilets was a load of nonsense!
Now all we hope is that the students have been using the strategies over the Easter and continue to do so until the exams are over!