Yesterday I worked with 220 Year 9 pupils at a London Academy for the whole school day by myself. I was brought in to ensure that the school could stay open during the one day NUT strike. Something which would make me popular with parents who otherwise might have to take a day of holiday or pay for childcare and with teachers who were not happy to cover colleague’s lessons however not so popular with the NUT I suspect. Then again the theatre company who were keeping Year 10 busy didn’t seem to have any qualms about being viewed as ‘scab labour’ (maybe I need to review my professional status?).
The day brought a lot of conflicting ideas into my head. Was I being a strike breaker and thereby reducing the impact of action being taken to highlight some really important issues by fellow teachers? Was I just a glorified babysitting service or had the day lent us an opportunity to do something that the curriculum normally never allows for?
After reviewing what we did for the day and the impact it seemed to have I am sure it was the latter.
Putting a whole year group in one room for the entire school day is an ambitious undertaking for a school. Being willing to work single handed with that number of children for the day probably borders on the lunatic. Fortunately this is a school I know well and therefore I could rely on them for good organisation. We worked in the sports hall with students seated in groups of ten and me presenting with two large screens and a quality PA system. There was an element of the ‘Vegas’ about it which made it appealing. Students were also very carefully corralled into and out of the hall and well supervised during the sessions.
However I think it was the subject matter which really clinched it. The day revolved around ‘Success’ with learning and study skills playing a secondary role. However I was careful to ensure that we had lots of lively, interactive activities. One of these was the ‘Success Election’ (an idea borrowed from Ian Gilbert many years ago). It is a fascinating exercise which culminates in each table of children performing a one minute presentation about a successful person. Twenty tables of students meant we had 20 presentations which even at a minute each took some getting through but it was worth it. The sheer range of people posted on the board (everyone from Justin Bieber and Martin Luther King to lots of pupil’s parents and siblings) and the differing styles of presentation were amazing.
The ‘winning’ presentation was from a boy who talked about his mother who had died last year. The courage of his sharing and the emotion involved left hardly a dry eye in the house.
Having established this amazing atmosphere of trust and sharing the rest of the day was spent on looking at some skills for successful learning but all with an emphasis on being successful based on question one of the three questions of success, ‘What is it that you want that will make you feel successful?’ (- with an emphasis on the ‘you’ and the ‘feel’).
I am confident that if Ofsted had walked in at any point that it was clear that ‘all groups’ were making ‘rapid and sustained’ progress and that they were all ‘enthused and engaged’. In terms of SMCS then I think we blew the lid off the concept. The levels of politeness, respect and empathy the pupils showed to me and to each other was incredible. Something that the head of year stepped in to point out a number of times.
This was essentially one huge differentiated lesson with brilliant organisation and some great materials facilitated by someone expert in their field. I would have awarded it at least good.
Of course the final point has to be is there a role for ‘big learning’ (as I have now decided to call it) in schools on certain occasions? I think that when it as well thought out and executed as this was then the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.
And so to conclude, as with any good lesson – the AfL. Did the students learn what I wanted them to learn and how do I know? Well firstly they had an opportunity to fill out feedback sheets but they also did something very spontaneously at the end of the lesson – applaud loudly!
That will do for me thank you. Shame it took a strike about pay and conditions to allow us this amazing opportunity!