My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Drafting work and Portfolio books- An Update post.

As a prelude to this post it will be worth reading Nick Dennis succinct blog post An Ethic of Excellence- in opposition to “quickfixes”, which coincidentally is kind of the point here. This post is a reflection to my learning goals set at the start of this academic year.#

I must confess to sense growing well being when considering the impact of Portfolio books. The majority of students now understand their purpose which is a vast improvement from our first attempts at using them. This has presented two major obstacles to overcome. 
Firstly, the hard wired nature of completing “schooling” tasks. That is to say that once complete students believe they are finished. This is unsurprising as most of what they do at school is precisely this. Task done, teacher ticks and on we move – the relentless factory model of education at its most pernicious. Thankfully this cycle is easy to break, although whether it remains broken is a different question.
Secondly, and this is entirely based on the student experience of the above, is that students genuinely do not understand what their best is, since they have rarely had an opportunity to demonstrate it. Surely that’s a teachers job, but the delivery model again occludes.
So, what I have learned so far is the importance of culture. All of my year 7 and 8’s have so far written up one practical piece of work, identified and stressed as “work to be proud” of. Obviously, some students grasp this straight away others remain ignorant, bu,t the culture remains expectant of excellence through hard work and the drafting of work. Each write up has began in lesson time ensuring a shared structure and success criteria for these piece of work and then have been completed as a home learning task. This has then been followed up through a whole class critique of one or two students work to refine and exemplify what excellence could look like. The students have then again been given (a little) class time and a home learning task to improve their work. Again care has been taken to mention that their portfolio work, with that multiple drafts of improving work, is another way to demonstrate successful learning and another way to value their hard work.

A problem encountered.

 If you know a redraft is coming how do you put all your effort in when you know you’re going to do it again. I have no answer to this yet, but I hope the portfolio book will help at least place some expectation upon these tasks. This renders task selection ( and design) essential. I am sure some of my students have encountered this sentiment and have expressed it verbally as well as in sub-par work. They have said things like “will we have to re-do this?” which I have taken care and time to challenge in a positive way. My response has always been to distinguish between redoing and drafting. Redoing implies copying out neater like cutting the lawn, while drafting infers improving and learning. It is a fine distinction, particularly for students, but what is at the heart is the establishment of a critiquing and drafting culture.

So far all students have improved their work in at least two features of their work. Some have made huge leaps in their work. It may be easy to detract from these improvements and claim its due to teacher influence or help from peers and therefore not reproducible by students in their everyday work. But, this is not a quick fix, teaching for its better part is not a set of tricks, tools or gimmicks. It’s about trustful relationships where challenge and expectation can over time develop not only good scientists (in this case) but also a vibrant work ethic and aspiration. At the very least these students now have a model of, if not excellent work, at least good (or for some improving ) work in their books. Its ownership and it’s a starting point.

The recurring power o critiques.

Through all my experience of running critiques with students one thing has continued to surprise me, and that is how much these discussion remain about learning science ( content knowledge). This in itself is a massive selling point for the selection certain tasks at regular intervals throughout the year to critique and redraft. It allows you to revisit and develop understanding of the content that your subject values. It forces students to question what they understand and what they don’t and give opportunity for them to communicate this in several ways. It’s teaching.

The next steps will be more evident after the next student task. Year 7 have began writing up a long term experiment on plant growth, so different content knowledge but the scientific thinking utilised in design, carrying out and analysing experiments remains constant. After the initial discussion of the success criteria, I can already see the improvement, and I’m suitably expectant of work approaching their best. Year 8, is a little more problematic as their next task is an extended writing one, so the similarities are less specific and therefore the transfer I am hoping for is more cultural. We will see if this happens.