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.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Self Organsied Learning Environments

I have a dilemma. I only see this class once a fortnight, for one term. What can I do that will teach them some useful science and will complement their main teacher during this SECURE science course. I have the additional restraint of being in a DT room. However, I have began to see these issues as an opportunity rather than a problem, through the use of a S.O.L.E.

The structure of each session, and the content of each lesson can be seen below.

So, I have planned a sequence of parallel lessons, that will provide the content behind the practical work my teaching partner is doing. Each session is designed using the principals of Sugata Mitras S.O.L.E. combined with a rigorous Question  and Answer session toward the end with me, and a debrief upon the classroom culture to close. I see these three things as being interwoven and of equal importance. (Content learned, process of learning, relationships within the school community.)

I start the first session showing the students the TED talk, which they find motivating and fascinating, and is a great way to reinforce an open mind set. In reality, the students get 30 minutes of (apparent) free time to research the answers to the questions. I do make a point of not intervening during this time, with the expectation that in the first session the students will not quite grasp the responsibility aspect, although they have so far proved me wrong. This has given me the freedom to act as their "Granny", praising, listening, marvelling at them! (They are much amused by this, yet appreciative too.) However, they still  have improved during subsequent sessions as these students are testament too, showing that the process is having a positive effect upon their attitudes and learning behaviours. I will endeavour to record the conversation following session one on my next group for comparison.

Although this appears to be a FOFO activity,it is not. It works on two levels. Firstly and most importantly learning happens, even if the research time is limited. The questions are essentially the teacher determining what will be learned, and what the classroom culture will be like.  As Professor Mitra explains the learning happens during the conversations. The emphasis placed upon this in the introductory video helps make the value of these clear  to the students, as does the one device per group structure.

In someways this is a teacher derived activity, carefully crafting the questions that will lead to the content that must be learned. I am sure the new SOLE toolkit will help, as will this post by Ewan McIntosh on information being Googleable and Non Googleable.  SOLE questions should be should be somewhere in between, where the key ideas need to be explored and then applied.

The Question and Answer session is ran using a Random Name Selector, ensure all students are at least thinking about the content. Piggy backing on answers and a free flowing conversation are encouraged, as are agreeing and disagreeing. I also target questions (some fact based, some application of knowledge) and quiet and reluctant students, so that every voice is heard, and to give the message that everyone must learn the content. We must remember that many behaviours traditionally considered off-task were found to be facilitative of learning peer talk, moving around the classroom (Alton -Lee). These two examples are evident in a SOLE classroom, as students from one group "check out" what other groups have found and understand. I have noticed that in the first session this is a competitive venture, but when the ludicrousness of this is highlighted, it subsequently turns into a very collaborative one.

The explicit message here is that you can achieve (answer the questions), but even then, the structure supports students who do not yet feel they have it as a teacher clarification will happen in a later part of the lesson. After one session every student know this. We must also acknowledge that learning is messy. This Nuthall data shows that even in the most structured of teaching leads to seemingly random acts of learning. Oh the irony! I hope you see it.

The second benefit is less measurable. But learning is a skill, it needs practise, feedback and more practise. The debrief section of S.O.L.E. is perfect for this. I think as part of a balance of learning experiences, a regular 30 minutes to learn how you want, with who you want, is an essential ingredient. If the independent practise, much needed by the Direct instruction is to happen effectively students need opportunities to learn this.

As Alton Lee points out while discussing Graham Nuthalls legacy.

"There is now a wide and compelling research literature showing very high diverse learner gains as a result of pedagogical approaches that intensify peer supports and learning community in classrooms. For example, through reciprocal teaching, complex instruction, and productive cooperative group work that integrates metacognitive strategy approaches while ensuring both individual and group accountability. In much talk of educational accountability, the focus tends to be only on the cognitive, but Graham’s recent writing provides a compelling account of the interdependence of the social, cultural and the cognitive and calls for wider accountabilities."

Which is why Self Organising Learning Environments work.


  1. I think that this is a good way to deal with the difficult staffing situation in this group. I don't agree fully with Mitra, and some doubt as to the quality of his research have been raised recently. However, you have created a structured S.O.L.E, allowing students opportunity to practice skills that they are developing in other lessons.

  2. On a science note in one of you slides you ask students to explain why 'reliability' is important. The ASE published a document called 'The language of measurement' which discusses terms to use in investigative school science. One of their recommendations is that 'reliability' is no longer used, instead 'repeatable' and 'reproducible' are preferable. All the awarding organisations (exam boards) have agreed to use the publication and have changed their guidance. Would be worth using terms that kids will use in their future assessments. You can find a sample of LoM here

  3. The link is http://www.gettingpractical.org.uk/documents/LoMsampleJan2010.pdf

  4. Thanks for the science nod on this Carol will ammend all our resources.

    I did read the doubts that have been circulated, although the UK research is as transparent as can be.
    For me its been a way of redressing the balance that our education needs.