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Jonathan Brown's Design Narrative: We are Borg!
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Mr Jonathan G Brown
25 March 2017
I was the teacher of a Year 11 GCSE English Literature class. The class was nominally ‘top set,’ yet many of the class, particularly the boys, had difficulty in thinking and working independently. Essays they produced on poetry showed understanding of the texts, but little in the way of inference and developed interpretation. Several of the class, however, displayed exceptional insight in their responses.
The class had six hours of lessons per fortnight, made up of four single hours and one ‘double.’ The default location was the classroom – this had a whiteboard and projector by my desk. Pupils had a place at a desk, allocated through a seating plan. To encourage collaboration, pupils were seated around desks in mixed-ability groups of 5 or 6. Desires of the pupils ranged from wanting to work hard to get an A* in their exam, to simply wanting to get through an hour’s lesson without having to write too much. In this situation, group work was imbalanced – even when specific roles were allocated, the more able ended up doing more work.
I was aiming to improve the quality of students’ written responses to poetry exam past-papers – success measured by an improvement in marks awarded for inference, insight, and independent interpretation.
- I looked through the pupils’ practice-exam responses, attempting to isolate a key difference between those who had scored highly, and those who had not.
- There were a few factors, such as less sophisticated vocabulary, sentence structures, and punctuation – but the one which stood out was that those who scored poorly had very short explanations of quotations they had used.
- I thought about possible actions to address this, ranging from teacher-talk to group-work; but I wanted to come up with a way that would combine the benefits of collaboration with the necessity of pupils thinking and writing for themselves. I decided that I would have students working collectively to produce an exam-style response to poetry; one team would produce one essay, made up of contributions of individuals. As a Star Trek fan, this reminded me of the Borg ‘collective,’ which led to this lesson being called ‘We are Borg!’
- I decided that one of the reasons group-work had not always been successful was that some of the boys were relying on the girls to do the work. To combat this, I split the class into two teams, boys vs girls, a near-even split.
- I allocated a poem/exam question to each team. I then sub-divided the teams into smaller groups, each responsible for analysing and explaining one aspect of the poem. Some members of the teams were given the task of overseeing the work of the sub-groups, co-ordinating responses.
- Pupils responded well to the element of competition, and there was a buzz of enthusiasm in the room. However, it was difficult to co-ordinate everything, as it required pupils to move around a lot to share ideas.
- After the lesson, I decided to combat this using Google Docs, which would allow real-time collaboration without movement. I set up and shared a document for each team, showing their essay question and an outline.
- The next lesson was in an ICT suite, with girls on one side and boys on the other. I went through the shared document carefully, reminded pupils of the aspect of the poem they were analysing, and set them off.
- Two of the girls’ ‘overseers’ were absent. This meant that I had to spend more time helping the girls co-ordinate everything at the beginning. This meant that I didn’t immediately realise a problem the boys were having: even working in smaller groups on one paragraph, it could be confusing having so many writers working at once. I had to narrow down roles further and reduce the number writing at once.
- Occasionally, Google Docs would disconnect on a computer, not allowing further editing until it reconnected. This slowed the process down.
- At the end of the lesson, each team printed out a copy of their collaborative response.
The two finished responses were very good – each paragraph showed evidence of detailed and developed inferences, and the pupils were proud to have an example of a high-grade essay to which they had contributed. However, although the next set of individual responses was much improved, many pupils had failed to produce a complete answer. They had some very detailed individual paragraphs, at the expense of a complete essay.
I was most pleased by how much pupils enjoyed the experience – the most significant result was perhaps not the improvement of inference, but in that everybody in the class had seemed motivated and engaged, working hard. However, I think the scale was too ambitious – having 15 people working simultaneously on a document was difficult to co-ordinate, and either Google Docs or our network struggled. Moreover, as the task was so different from the ‘authentic’ activity of writing an individual exam response, the outcome was not as successful as I had anticipated.
I've embedded my plan for an imagined H800 Block 1 Revision activity (link to Google Photos).
Reading the Dimitriadis interview yesterday made me question how useful such software could be in helping to plan the creative process (rather than representing already planned lessons).
I found the tool more useful than I expected, allowing me to move activities around or add in additional ones as they came to me. The process was very slow, however - this took a while to prepare, and the fictional resources mentioned would also take a long time to create. I'm not sure that using this tool would result in a different lesson.
I would like to have a way to represent timings of parts of the lesson - and perhaps a grid so that I could align the icons!
Mr Jonathan G Brown
11:53 on 28 March 2017