It can be summed up as something to think about, to talk about and to show in an appropriate form.
Sharing knowledge is the bread and butter of every subject area. It requires planning over different timescale, allocated to different year groups and clearly identifying, so that it is progressive building, rather than an ad-hoc hiccupping.
With different age children, there will be some accommodation to the needs of the children, in terms of vocabulary and phrasing, but the essence of the sharing is to impart information that is essential and desirable in order that the children can then tackle pre-planned tasks. The sharing might have required a variety of modelling techniques, beyond the teacher voice; manipulable materials, visuals, as video or drawn elements or sound, music or other relevant material. This is often called dual coding.
Hopefully, this input is the stimulus for many of the learners to start to think independently for themselves, to generate their own questions and, given time to discuss with their peers, to assimilate the information more firmly. Learner feedback after the sharing of information is the key to teacher decision making; move on or revisit?
Task Setting (What’s the challenge?)
Limitations can be embedded in the activities that are given to children. In earlier posts, I’ve looked at task setting and it is to this that I’d want to return, as it is, without doubt, the determinant of progress. Real learning, at least to me, requires embedding what is known into overcoming a challenge and solving problems.
Much school learning can be seen as activities; doing, following a set of instructions, rather than applying knowledge and skills to challenging scenarios. This “recipe” approach to teaching can be effective in the right hands, as can all approaches, particularly where learners may be insecure and it is effectively remodelling in practice, however in the wrong hands it embeds a limitation, created by the task. A level x task, given to a level x learner, will produce level x learning. Task choice and challenge is therefore an essential skill.
Unpicking the level of challenge, the need for learners to think, to plan, to organise, to select, to determine routes and ideas rather than just follow instructions, is an important aspect.
Completing an activity sheet does not necessarily equate to learning. End to end activity sheets do not mean a scheme of work.
The process of learning has to be a dynamic interplay between the learner and the context, making active links between what is already known and what is being laid before them. To that end the interplay of the formal lessons, homework and (rehearsal) time between lessons would also appear, to me, to be critical. How much homework is an unrelated activity, just because homework has to be given? What if the challenge was continuous, so that homework became pre-thinking, preparation for the lesson, or a reflection on the learning outcomes of the current one?
Boxing everything would appear to embed potential limitations, in inexperienced hands, but sometimes in more experienced hands, as a result of the system. From that point of view, the diagram at the header is limited as it implies boxes rather than a dynamic.
Tasks (should) embed a wide range of challenges for learners, including:-
Some will be investigative, some problem-solving, some using and applying what is known into new areas. All should be challenging to thinking and have an impact on learner progress. The context for a practice task needs to be considered carefully.
- There will be the intellectual challenge; do they understand the task and the nature of the challenge? Can they perceive the strategies that they will need to fulfil the task? Some of this will be determined by the teacher explanation of the task criteria, and what needs to be done to be successful, ie the success criteria, or what the teacher will be looking for.
- For some there will be the social challenge, such as the ability to cooperate with others in sharing available resources, organising, or being organised by, others.
- Some tasks will challenge independence. This, for the adults, is sometimes a difficult judgement call. Some tasks will need direct adult support, supervision and guidance to be successful. The amount and the detail of the adult support needs to be considered when reflecting on outcomes. What could the learners do for themselves?
- Some tasks will challenge learners to take what they know, to address the challenge with that baseline understanding, then to tackle new issues, identifying what they now need to know in order to make progress in the task.
- Some tasks will enable learners to identify areas where their learning is less secure and they may well ask for clarification or revisiting of earlier learning; in other words, the task is a “test”.
Based on the idea of “Here’s one I made earlier”, they require a copyist approach; follow the instructions to the letter and it will turn out just like the model. This approach does occasionally have a place, but, with overuse, it can embed dependence. The approach is, by default, the teacher guide in the worksheet, with limited room for the child to really show their capabilities.
The best tasks make learners think, retrieve what they already know to bring to bear on the task in hand, to consider the framework and strategy for their investigation, the information and resources that they need, their personal and group organisation (as appropriate), how they will record their progress, the timescales available, so how they will use their time effectively. This approach fits equally well in formal lessons as well as in more open situations. Learner awareness of task needs is a central element of success.
Activities laid end to end are not a curriculum.
- Activity/busy-ness is not necessarily challenge.
- If task outcomes are general, one set for thirty, they will only impact positively on a narrow range of abilities.
- Task setting should enable learners to go beyond the activity. Not just, “You’ve finished early so here’s another activity”.
- Consider “the loneliness of the long-distance worksheet”.
- More open tasks enable learners to show their thinking ability and, possibly, a wider range of skills and knowledge.
- In open tasks, what you see can be greater than what you were looking for.
- Children often surprise teachers in learning situations.
If you want a thinking classroom, it’s essential that everyone is thinking, not just you, otherwise you may well be working twice as hard as the children, just to keep up the momentum.