Sunday, 25 November 2012

More opening sentences, but this time it's non-fiction

In this blog, I am going to write about a lesson I use for teaching the openings of non-fiction texts. In this I will write about examples of …  Gosh, I hate openings like that. Where is the mystery? Where is the suspense? Where is the hook? It seems that students ‘pick up’, from somewhere, this notion that the first sentence of an essay or text should state its intent. It is almost as if it is a text that has to assert that it isn’t a piece of fiction – bit like Daily Mail readers. I am not a story or a poem! We hate poems. The idea that I am a piece of poetry disgusts me, as I am clearly a discursive essay. I am proud to be a discursive essay and I wear a badge and wave a flag to prove it.

Imagine if stories were written in this way. In this story I am going to write about a vampire that falls in love with a human girl. I will write it so that you think they get together and then they fall out, but I will then write about how they get together at the end. Thank you – I don’t need to read the rest of the book now.

I don’t know if students feel that teachers aren’t that bright or that we need constant reminders of things as we have so many things to do. Maybe this provides them with this need to regurgitate the purpose of the assessment so they have it clear in their head. News flash: I set the task; I know what you are going to write about, so I don’t need you to tell me what you are going to write about.


What do I expect an introduction to do?

·Grab the reader

·Entertain the person

·Persuades the reader that they have to read the rest of the article

·Give a hint about what the text is about

·Inform the reader of the direction you are taking - agree / disagree

·Explain complex ideas

 
Quite a few English teachers across the land are preparing students for the English Language exam in January, and I am one of those lucky teachers. Like most of them, I have set the class a writing task to do and, when I received it completed, I noticed the same thing: introductions that don’t engage the reader. Introductions that don’t signal to an examiner that these students are bright, clever people. This blog is about how I got them to improve – ahh, I am doing it again.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS  - The Lesson

The lesson started with a slide full of stills from famous film openings. There were shots from James Bond films, Star Wars, Jaws, Harry Potter and some other films. Students had to decide what the connection was. I think I played the opening music to Star Wars too, just to release some stored emotional memory linked to music. I could have cooked up some popcorn too to focus on the memory linked to smell, but I thought that was a bit too much.

Anyway, they saw the idea of openings and how they were good openings. Then I provided some examples to them. Now, these were not the best, or even A grade quality, but they were openings that responded to the following task:

Write a magazine article persuading teenagers of the dangers of smoking.

Students had to grade each one and decide on what makes it so good or bad, depending on the grade they awarded it.

 
1.       Cough. Cough. Sorry, I am struggling to say this as – cough, cough – I find it difficult to talk as I have had one lung removed due to cancer.

2.       Smoking is bad. It is the cause of millions of deaths every year.

3.       I know you can’t help it, but smoking is terrible and it makes you stink.

4.       £5000 is exactly how much money you waste on smoking each year.

5.       I am going to teach you about the dangers of smoking. In this article, I will give you the reasons as to why you shouldn’t smoke.

6.       Imagine you are on a date. Your date arrives. In the distance, they look gorgeous and worth the hours it has taken you to get ready. As they get closer, you notice something – a smell. The scent of an ashtray.

 
At this stage, I don’t go for the A* examples, as I find it works better if you start with an achievable introduction for most and then build up to the A* quality. However, I got some students that say ‘I am going to teach you’ introduction is the best one, and then I probed this further and found that students liked the directness of it. Eventually, we got to the point about engaging the reader.  Mostly, students prefer the first and last one as they show a more creative approach. Depending on the time, I might do some quick analysis of the lines. Which techniques have been used?

LAST IMPRESSIONS

I then got students to look at some possible conclusions to the same task.  

1.       So, if you want to be another statistic on a long and ever expanding list, then carry on smoking.

2.       Finally, the reasons for not smoking are clear – it is bad; it causes cancer; it stunts your growth; it costs a lot of money.

3.       Act now and stub it out or expect to be ash quicker than you think.

4.       Smoking costs. Smoking Smells. Smoking kills.

5.       To conclude, smoking is very bad, so to save your life, do something now. 

I repeated the activity I used before of ranking and analysing lines, or I got students to match up the conclusions with the writers of the introductions. Which writer wrote which conclusion? This makes for some interesting group or paired work. We then recapped the features of a good introduction and conclusion.  Hopefully, students come up with something like this:

Conclusions:

·Make the reader think 

·Leave a lasting thought or idea or question

·Try to make the reader remember something about it

·Link to the opening in some way

 
After this I got students to rewrite an introduction of a writing task they have previously written. This time, however, I stressed to them the importance of engaging a reader and being creative. Cue eight to ten minutes of scribbling. If any finish before the allotted time, they have to write the opening line of their conclusion, but it must be linked to their introduction somehow. If they haven't got a piece of written work, I give them this average introduction for a magazine persuading teenagers the benefits of healthy eating:








Recently, when I did this activity with a class, the students produced some excellent and creative approaches. I had students adopting a voice, using lyrics from a song, creating a call-to-arms war speech, writing a response to a Daily Mail letter and many more. Now, I could have taught students to do this, yet I don’t think it would have really stretched their creativity and playfulness. I loved the problem solving aspect of this kind of writing. How can I make this ‘dull as dish water’ writing task engaging and creative? Some get it quickly; others get it when they see the photocopied examples. And, failing that, they can adopt some of the approaches used in the examples. After all, all the best writers beg, steal or borrow.
 

Gifted and Talent Students

To step up the writing to a higher level, I focus on parody. Usually, I show an example from ‘The Simpsons’ to give students the idea of what parody is and the overall effect of its use. Then, I play a nice little game of 'name the source of a quote'. Obviously, this works best with top sets, but I have adapted it for other sets too by using song titles. I find that the A* students need to demonstrate a much wider understand of texts and the world around them than their peers.


Using parody in your writing to get an A*
 
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a bright student in possession of wit and a pen must be in want of an A*.

 

 

 

 
Line
Who? What? Where?
1
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.
 
2
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Jane Austen.
 
3
One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
 
4
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
 
5
I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too.
 
6
I stand before you today, the representative of a family in grief, in a country in mourning, before a world in shock.
 
7
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
 
8
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
 
9
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."
 
10
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest.
 
11
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
 
12
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
 
 
13
To be, or not to be: that is the question
 
 
14
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him
 
 
15
Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such fun
And the dish ran away with the spoon!
 
16
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 
Students then attempt to use one of these famous quotes in their writing for comic effect. It is quite a challenging task, but I think it adds something original to their writing that separates them from other students.

As an extension task, I get the class to suggest some new quotes to add to this list. Or, I get them to write down as many as they can remember from the sheet.

Finally…

This week I applied for the ‘Coordinator of Literacy Across the Curriculum ’ role and I was faced with writing an application letter.  That opening sentence stumped me. Do I go for the clich├ęd ‘In this letter I am writing…’ or do I go for something creative and original? What do you think I did? I went for the safe option and presented myself in the traditional manner, and it pained me. I so wanted to be creative:

Dear Headteacher,

I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble male; but I have the heart of a giant and I am a giant of Literacy too...

 
Only time will tell if playing the safe option worked. However, if I was writing for an examiner, I would be sure to be creative. I would want to be remembered as the breath of fresh air in a pile of predictable and mundane writing. I’d want to be the one remembered for putting a smile on the examiner’s face. I’d want to be the one that impressed the examiner. Failing all that, I just want to be the one he remembers.

 

Thanks

Xris32

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Reading War or The Battle Against Distractions


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...

There seems to be a lot of talk about reading this week. It has been on the news. The first talk at a conference I attended was on reading and, this week, at a parents’ evening I spent a lot of my time talking about reading.  In fact, for the past three parents’ evenings I have been suggesting the same thing with lots of lovely parents. This is what I have suggested they do:

Each day, get your son/daughter to read for ten to fifteen minutes. However, the reading should be done at the kitchen table and the parents should set their cooker or microwave timer for ten minutes and the student must read for that time. They cannot leave the table. They cannot have music on. They cannot have a laptop or a mobile phone on the table. They must read a book. The parent, whilst cooking, can monitor the reading and ask them questions about it afterwards.

This is a complete change of perspective on my part. I usually float in the ‘liberal lefty’ camp, yet for this aspect only, I am clearly on the ‘far-right extremist’ training camp. On this issue I am the Jack Bauer in 24; I AM NOT GOING TO STOP UNTIL I GET THE RESULTS I WANT. Sorry, for shouting, but that is usually how Jack Bauer speaks. Anyway, I have spent a long time hoping that teenagers would find a love of reading through my enthusiasm, exposure to excellent books, and pure and simple osmosis. However, this works for a few, but I think, sadly, it hasn’t worked for most and it hasn’t worked for all. 

Product DetailsHow did I find a love of reading? I wish I could say that I had an English teacher who inspired me and gave me a novel that I still treasure to this day, but sadly I don’t have that experience. I have talked about enjoying studying a book, but the spark that turned me into a ‘reader’ was a funny one. My first reading experience I remember is Mrs. Glasson reading ‘The Enchanted Wood’ by Enid Blyton. I loved the experience, because I got to hold a teddy bear, with dungarees, as the story was read to us. Then, the rest of primary school was a dry patch in reading. I read one or two books about Greek mythology and on birds. The RSPB kind and not the other kind. Yet, I read very little else.  

At secondary school things got a little better. I found out in Year 7 that there were novels of Doctor Who stories I hadn’t seen. Then, over a three year period, I bought hundreds of these books. They were simple, straight-forward prose, but I bloody loved them.  As I got older my interest waned a bit and I read less and less.

Product DetailsAt the age of 18 I went on holiday with some friends. I had an accident and knocked myself out.  The next night I decided to sit and read, while the others went out. On the journey to Ibiza, I had picked up a magazine with a free copy of a novel. The novel was ‘The Philosophical Investigation’ by Phillip Kerr. From that moment on, I devoured books on a weekly basis and I keep doing that to this day. I read, read and read some more. I got on to the classics soon enough and grew to love D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Iain Banks, Ian McEwan, Susan Hill, Sarah Waters and many more. But what sparked that interest in reading wasn’t really a teacher, or a worthy literary text (sorry, Kerr), it was a dull, boring, nothing to do situation. Books sell themselves. People just need to read them and give them time.  ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a superb novel, but you could easily lose interest based on the opening.

Do we have the right environments for students to enjoy reading? Everything in modern life is designed to entertain, grab, hold and keep you coming back for more. Life seems to be punctuated now with the phrase, “Stay tuned as in the next five minutes we will see what the secret to becoming rich is.” Even this week I struggled to read a book one night because there was an interesting conversation on Twitter, and I wanted to see how it progressed. Anyway, students sit down at the end of the school day and what have they got to relax and entertain them?

·         MP3 player

·         A kindle – other ebook readers are available

·         An iPad

·         An iPhone or a smart phone

·         PS3 or a DS

·         A laptop

·         TV

·         DVDs

·         A board game

·         A book

Now, if I was in room with all of these, I would struggle to jump to a book. Is it any wonder that our students rarely read a home? Is there any wonder why students fail to be interested in reading? All of these items on the list scream for attention. Look how interesting we are! A book in that line-up is the one that is silent, modest and unassuming. It hides. 

Growing up for me was very hard in comparison. I had four channels to watch on TV. Usually, the best programmes had finished by five o’clock, and then it was the news. I didn’t fancy watching ‘World in Action’ which was on later. Maybe I should play on the computer instead. I would then wait ages for the tape to spool information to the graphically challenged computer. Often, it would fail and you would have to start the whole process again. Maybe I should listen to music instead. I’d listen to my Walkman, which would quickly run out of charge as it ate batteries up like a gorilla eats bananas. Finally, I would read a book. Adopts Hovis advert voice-over:  In my day, I would be left with lots of free time and not much to do, so I would read to fill my time.


Today students don’t have the time or the space to enjoy reading. They do, and, can enjoy reading. Ask any English teacher what one of the key guns in their behaviour arsenal is? Usually, they will say reading. You can hear a pin drop when a novel is read in class. It can settle a class easily. For DT it is the danger element of equipment that could slice your hand off. For PE it is the joy of playing a game. For English it is reading a book.
 

It could be argued that students today are reading in a different way. Reading Tweets, Facebook and other things on a screen is still reading. English teachers need to get used to the new situation. This is the modern world, so get used to it. However, I don’t think the novel is dead yet. Parents are always telling me how they love reading and they are disappointed by their son’s / daughter’s lack of interest. There’s my army. I have the parents onside. They want them to read more. I want them to read more. We just need to get the students to read more. We need to find ways to light the blue touch paper and stand back as the student enjoys reading.   

Films

The film industry is our biggest ally. They make often excellent versions of books. Thankfully, they love making a series or a trilogy.  And, thankfully, there is usually a gap of two or three years between parts in a trilogy. The gap is the perfect opportunity to get students hooked. Harry Potter’s success snowballed between films and books. More and more people got hooked. Get students interested in a book through the film adaptations. For decades now there have been film tie-in books. Get them reading through films. Did you like the ‘Hunger Games’?Yes, well there are two more books, which you will love. Or, would your rather wait a year for the next part in the cinema?Embedded image permalink

Product DetailsAlso, the film industry loves hype. It loves creating the new best thing. Oh, look everyone else is reading that book. Gosh, reading has got like that now. The hype of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ got me interested in the book. Sadly, the book is not my cup of tea, or remotely interesting. Like most people, I wanted to know why everybody was raving about it. Let’s, as teachers, create and build on that kind of hype and build it about other books. Let’s try and pick the next best thing and rave and rave about it and talk to students openly in class who have read said book.  Get students interested through ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ . A book I think is going to be a big thing – I could get this wrong – is by Joseph Delaney (an ex-English teacher)and it is called ‘The Spook’s Apprentice’. I have read the series and it is creepy, boy and girl friendly and a good yarn. Plus, there is a film being filmed now. Start the hype now!

Waterstone's
Toys ‘R Us was my version of Heaven as a child. The only thing it missed was fluffy clouds. However, I think my new version of Heaven is Waterstone's. The teenage fiction section is fabulous now. Compare things to the 90s book shops and you’ll know what I mean. Even Tescos is better for teenage fiction than most book shops in the 90s. There are hundreds of appealing books that are crafted and decorated to interest a student. Parents ask me for a reading list and I am struggling more and more to provide one as there are so many new books. The list I gave last year is a bit outdated. Get a teenager to a shop and get them to pick a book that interests them. Get them to read the blurbs. Get them to read the first lines. Teenagers hate being told what to do most of the time. That is why it is better to get them to make the choices, rather than thrust a book in their direction and insist in them reading it. I loved it as a teenager, so you will love it too. Umm, I don't think so, Dad.

Product DetailsFor boys, I tend to direct them to ‘Cirque Du Freak’ by Darren Shan.  It is old now, but I have read it with numerous boys and they have loved it. It is pacey and has lots of grim stuff and short chapters.

 

Non-fiction
The non-fiction world is much more varied than the fiction one at times. I would argue students would connect better with reading if we placed a greater emphasis on these kinds of whole texts in schools. It is always about reading a story. Reading some fiction that isn’t real and relatable to that student’s experience. It is purely escapism. Non-fiction is more relevant than fiction. It is about real things, real people and real information.  Look at this biography of a celebrity you like. Isn’t it interesting how they felt the same way you do about school when they were a teenager?

So you love cars, read a book about cars. In my teenage years, I got interested in reading about famous haunted landmarks. It was a niche area of books, but I devoured them. Now on reading lists produced by other departments, I have yet to see a selection about real ghost sightings, yet it had me interested. Could the fact that majority of English teachers are ‘literature’ teachers at heart be a drawback in getting students to read? I love literature, so you will love it. Personally, I adore Charles Dickens, but I would never recommend his books to students. I would rather they read full stop. Some engage in literature and some don’t.

Plus, put a novel and One Direction biography before a student. I bet their hand will rush to the biography.

Product Details
 

My daughters have just started reading the lovely ‘Biff and Chip’ books. They are excited by the books. They love them, but I can imagine ten years down the line when they will turn their noses up at books. Then I will lock them in a room and wait and wait until they admit to reading and engaging in reading. I have my battle plan ready.

I organise a lot of reading activities in my school. I run a ‘Readathon’, shadow the Carnegie CILIP Book Award for students, shadow the Man Booker Prize (current shortlist is quite depressing) with adults and many more things to promote reading. Often, the readers will read and the reading-phobic stay phobic about reading. I create the opportunities for reading, but maybe, just maybe, something a little bit drastic is needed. I am not suggesting ‘waterboarding’ or any other techniques of torture, but maybe we switch things off for students and get them to focus on one thing and learn to enjoy it.

It isn’t always our place to enthuse people about reading; I think books do that for us. I think it is our place to make reading happen.

Xris32

P.S. Here are just a few books that I recommend teachers to read, because they are bloody good.
  • 'A Monster Calls' by Patrick Ness
  • 'Revolver' by Marcus Sedgewick
  • 'Across the Nightingale Floor' by Lian Hearn
  • 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness - and the whole series
  • 'The Dead of Winter' by Christopher Priestly
  • 'Mortal Engine' by Phillip Reeve
 
 
 
 
Book images are from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/  

Sunday, 11 November 2012

My adventures on the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo

This isn’t going to be one of those blogs where somebody explains what ‘SOLO Taxonomy’ is. There are much better places and books for that. This is about my reflections on using SOLO in the classroom. Now, I am like most people, when something is introduced. “It’s called ‘fire’, you say?” I stare perturbed at the stick aflame with this magical red and yellow stuff: “Are you sure it isn’t the work of the Devil? ”

I have been there and got the t-shirt for a lot of new things introduced in teaching. There rarely is a month go by when something new is introduced or dragged back from the murky depth of the past. Originally, SOLO Taxonomy seemed to have been one of these things and has been mentioned as the new best thing. Thankfully, it is not.

I took me a good few weeks to get my head around the concept. Sadly, I had no Obi Wan Kenobi or Yoda to guide me in the ways of SOLO. Like most new things, they have to trickle through your brain like coffee through a percolator. It takes time. It needs to find links, connections and infuse the original thought with some new ones along the way. Finally, you have a brewed piece of thought that will be a good kick-start to any lesson. I finally attempted it and failed, and then tried it again. Here are some of the things I experimented with:

Poetry
I love poetry, but I am a bit uneasy about the idea of examining a student’s response to an unseen poem in an exam. Poetry can be a bit like art. You sometimes get it. You sometimes don’t. Sometimes you love it. Sometimes you hate it.  Usually, in art galleries there is lots of standing around looking at it and just thinking about the art and what the artist is commenting on. It is a complex thing. Sadly, we don’t seem to build this thinking and reflecting stage that art needs.  Some of the best discussions about a play have been on the way back from the theatre, or after watching a film. We, my friends, argued and disagreed for ages, but it was a whole lot of reflection that helped us to understand, or not, a text.  How can we expect a student to understand a poem in 5-10 minutes?

Therefore, I have always struggled with the idea of getting students to write about a poem they have never seen before.  Bill, you have 10 minutes to read the poem and then plan what you are going to say. What crazy stuff! Poetry needs time to be appreciated, to breathe, and to be understood and 10 minutes in not enough. Anyway, back to SOLO: 

I decided to use SOLO as a way to approach unseen poetry. I read up on stuff and I spent a week thinking about what to do. This is what I came up with.

 
STAGE 1: Pre-structural or ‘I haven’t a clue?’
I gave the students the following questions:

What impressions of old people does James Berry show us in the poem?

How does he create those impressions?

 
Any ideas, folks? A tumbleweed spun its way across the classroom and a church bell started ringing outside.

STAGE 2: Uni-structural or ‘I might have an idea’
I then gave students an A3 sheet of a small poem. It was copied four times on the sheet and that was important to the lesson. The poem ‘Seeing Granny’ by James Berry (I would provide a copy of the poem here, but I haven't got one to hand) is great for this as it is so short, yet very effective. We came up with some ideas in response to the question.

The students read the poem and came up with some initial ideas. This was written up on the board.

 
STAGE 3: Multi-structural or ‘I have got a few ideas on this topic’   

The next stage was staggered. The students were told to imagine that looking at a poem involves some x-raying, looking deeper into the text than you would normally do. I introduced the idea that you need to look at the poem on different settings and different levels of intensity.  It is probably best to demonstrate the different levels of intensity.

 
X-RAY 1 - LAYER 1: Looking at how the poem is written

 
·What do you notice about how it is written?

·What is the most effective word?

·What patterns do you notice in the words?

·What is repeated?

·How is it presented on the page?

 

 X-RAY 2 - LAYER 2: Looking at how we react towards the poem

 
·What feelings do you have when you read the poem?

·Where in the poem do your feelings change?

·Do your feelings differ at the start and end of the poem?

·What questions does the poem raise?

 

X-RAY 3 - LAYER 3: Surface Meaning 


·What is the poem about?

·Who is speaking?

·What different ideas does the voice have of the subject?

 

 

X-RAY 4 - LAYER 4: Deeper Meaning


·What is the poem teaching us?

·What is the writer try to get us to see / understand / realise?

 
Each stage was timed to about 5 minutes. Each group took the poem and highlighted a copy of the poem based on the level of x-raying. After each five minutes, the groups would feedback what they noticed.  I would mark things down on the whiteboard. None of the discussions were focused on developing and extending ideas. All discussion was based on what we found or thought.

 
Halfway through the lesson, students had four copies of the poem with four different sets of annotation for each one. Now, I decided on the above order of things because I wanted to draw out the initial things students see or notice about a poem. I feel that sometimes these are lost if we go straight to the jugular – the meaning of the poem. Everything becomes clouded and linked to the meaning. Students forget that they ‘disliked’ the opening or how the word ‘she’ is repeated all the time. I found that this way allowed students to make their own opinion about a poem before the teacher appeared and informed them of the 'correct' view. Everybody explored the poem rather than just a select few.

 
STAGE 4: Relational or ‘look how these link together’
We then talked about some of the ideas in the poem. We would talk about ideas we had noticed in the text. At this stage, some students would progress automatically to the next few stages.  However, to make this more effective, I dragged out the hexagons. I’ve tried this with two ways since and both work. One way is to have students write down ideas on separate hexagons and try to link them that way. Another way is to have an A3 sheet with a grid of hexagons and students start with one hexagon. They write an idea found during the x-raying. Then, in the next hexagon they write a different point from a different aspect or x-ray. They would continue this until the grid was finished. Both ways produced similar results in that students were able to make connections.

There were some excellent connections between the use of the pronoun 'she' to the general embarrassment of the granny kissing them. Because they are embarrassed by her, they dare not mention her name as the poem does.

 

STAGE 5: Extended abstract or  ‘the penny drops’
Finally, we returned back to the questions and then answered them either as a class on the board, or in their exercise books. Before doing that, the students evaluated which idea would be the best for answering the question.



And finally 

Now, I found using SOLO in this very effective in terms of lesson planning, and, obviously, students identifying how the learning is happening in the classroom. I have always had issues with the idea of a ‘three-part lesson’ as it doesn’t reflect an average lesson for me. A normal lesson might consist of: a puzzle or question as students come in; objectives; starter; explanation; task; plenary; feedback; task to develop and extend learning from the first task; plenary; tidy up; plenary as they leave.  Your average teacher would laugh in the face of a ‘three-part lesson’ as you cannot simplify the process of teaching in such a reductive way. I have three parts to gluing: give the glue stick out; students glue work in; collect glue sticks in. I think SOLO Taxonomy is a great tool for planning and structuring a lesson, as it helps you to plan the different stages of learning. It is like the American TV’s idea of a ‘story arc’. Each part or episode connects to the big baddie at the end of the story – the learning.

I have often used Bloom’s Taxonomy in the same way. You start with easy questions in the start and then end with the difficult question. This stacking up of the building progression has helped me in several lessons. I have found structuring a lesson around Bloom’s Taxonomy particularly useful with looking at non-fiction texts. 

A typical Bloom’s structured lesson might go something like this:

Starter: Find three facts and three opinions from an article.

Task 1: Compare those facts and opinions to three from another article. How are they different?

Task 2: Explain which article has the most effective facts and opinions.

Task 3: Create three new facts and opinions to go into the original article. However, they must change the desired effect of the original facts or opinions. For example: shock changed to sympathy.

Plenary: Create three new facts and opinions for an imaginary text. For example: a persuasive leaflet for the Society of Less Homework.   

Obviously, there would be a lot more fluff, I mean teaching, going on between these, but often I would structure tasks around good old Bloom’s Taxonomy. The level of challenge would increase as the lesson went on and I would be able to take into account ‘the zone of proximal difference’ within the lesson. Plus, it meant that I would always have an easy and engaging start to the lesson. Bloom’s Taxonomy has its flaws and it has some drawbacks, but I have found it quite helpful in organising the tasks or the learning in a lesson.  

Since using SOLO with poetry, I have applied it to ‘Of Mice and Men’ and produced some great results. The level of understanding is vastly improved through the use of SOLO. Before, I would be waiting for the penny to drop and students see a pattern or connection. This way there is a greater chance of the penny to drop and students can see how they are learning things.

Finally, the saddest thing is I sold all my Star Wars figures, including the Millennium Falcon, for 50p each. If only, in my teenage years, I had progressed to the Extended Abstract stage. I might have realised the bigger significance of these small figures and my personal favourite Han Solo.  

Thanks for reading and a bit thanks to Twitterville for directing me and introducing SOLO to me,

Xris32

 
P.S. I was going to call this blog ‘SOLO Love’, but then I realised the implications of a title like that as I imagine the 'extended abstract' thinkers will have done as well.