Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rethinking my thinking

I've had a few setbacks at work this week which left me feeling quite negative. This was topped off by finding that I had been unsuccessful in my application for the Google Teaching Academy. However it was this last event which has turned round my mood and got me into a much better frame of mind with a new project in my sights. While disappointed, I was unsurprised not to get a place as I'd been unhappy with my video which I'd procrastinated on and then rushed at the last minute. So I watched several successful and unsuccessful video applications to gain pointers for next time. What struck me from almost all of them was the innovation and passion for learning that they displayed. Reflecting on my own practice I think I've become too bogged down in the day to day issues which are the reality of working in a struggling school (which has recently gone into special measures). In the terms of the rather corny homily about filling a jar first with big stones, then pebbles and finally sand to see whether it is full, my time has become filled with the pebbles and sand with no room for the big ideas any more.

So this afternoon I'm making time for some deeper thinking about what I'm trying to achieve and this blog post is part of organising my thoughts for a project I want to get stuck into. My school runs something call iLearn which consists of 6 lessons a fortnight for years 7 and 8. It consists of RS, PHSE and ICT and the aim is to develop independent learning and teamwork skills:- 

As the subject leader for ICT my first concern was that by including ICT in the mix the majority of students had all their KS3 lessons delivered by non-specialists (with year 9 being the start of KS4 / OCR Nationals). This has been limiting the complexity of the lessons that we can deliver. Given the move towards a more computing focused curriculum this is becoming even more of an issue. It also meant that I was delivering RS and PHSE lessons which is not something I felt equipped for.

I think there is a real need to improve independent learning skills and promote deeper learning. Schools are under such pressure to deliver results that it becomes more and more tempting to spoon feed students rather than let them discover the answers for themselves. Many year 7s arrive at secondary school after a year focused on SATs and are already becoming passive, rather than active learners. League table pressure in secondary schools accelerates this so that by the time they get to year 11 many seem incapable of independent work and expect to be told exactly what to do and how for each task. 

iLearn is trying to address this but I feel it needs to be more radical. I'd like to develop more of a Project Based Learning approach which is technology enabled but not technology dominated. Each subject (or better still combinations of subjects) could supply essential questions which could be developed into projects to deepen learning of a particular topic. It would give time to the sort of learning that can only normally be tackled on our infrequent enrichment days and would allow students to join up some of the disparate secondary subjects. It would also improve digital literacy skills which has been a theme I keep coming back to. Typing this I know it is what primaries are so good at but which in many secondary schools we seem to have no time to do. I also know that some secondary schools are already doing this with varying degrees of success. So I need to get researching and thinking and planning to get these vague, half formed ideas into a workable proposal. 

As part of my research today I cam across this video

I need to develop my slow hunch and make the time and space to do so. 

Finally an appeal for help. Have you implemented a similar project? Where should I start? What pitfalls do I need to avoid? What difference has this approach made? All comments gratefully received.