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Projecting October 21, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, Teaching Idea.
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Our Year 11 students are drawing their AQA Level 2 Projects to a close, so as they write their reflections I thought it might be an opportune moment to ask them about their experiences.  I spent a few minutes with the eight or so who kindly volunteered their time; the audio interviews can be found on the SHS ‘Look Who’s Talking’ blog, but here I’ll try to provide a synopsis.

…after a short taster:

As might be expected, some settled on a topic quite quickly, already having an idea in mind. Others needed a little more prompting, but the sources from which they drew their inspiration were varied and included books; their supervisors; lessons and subjects; news and magazine articles and the arts.

During the course of their studies they enjoyed the sense of freedom the Project provided, whether in being able to follow a subject about which they were passionate, being able to work in a way and at a pace that suited them, being able to delve more deeply into a topic than was usually possible or having a choice about the way they could present what they had learned. Even writing an essay became more fulfilling since it was on a topic about which they cared and they had carte blanche in the contents and format. Although presenting to an audience caused some measure of stress and induced nervousness in some, having the chance to share your findings proved particularly rewarding, as did working with a teacher on a ‘more equal footing.’ Several reaching the end when the sense of achievement became palpable since it represented the culmination of so much effort over such a sustained period.

This was summed up succinctly by one interviewee as

…to be your own boss and learn what you wanted to learn freely and not have to stick with the curriculum.

Certain aspects of their study came to them less easily and proved tough to overcome, like time-management, the apparent mountain of work, making sense of an abundance of information and overcoming issues with lack of motivation. Yet the interviewees recognised that meeting these challenges provides benefits they would carry forward either into the next years of their education or across into other subjects they’re currently studying. They had become more committed to managing their time, working to deadlines and had become more self-disciplined. They noted how much better they had become at constructing an essay in other subjects and  that the strategies they used to form an argument had improved. Their self-confidence, patience and persistence had all been boosted, reassuring them of their capability to work independently.

Although no questions in the interview asked how technology had been employed in their Projects, several comments suggested how integral it had been to their success, yet made no song and dance about it. To the students, it was just one of the tools they used and so perhaps provides evidence for the degree to which technologies are increasingly embedded? The Internet clearly played a big part, providing access to information (and people!) they might otherwise not have been able to access so readily. However this was often done using more sophisticated techniques than are commonly employed e.g. Google Scholar, Google Books, using advanced search terms and searching YouTube. It’s all very well to bemoan the ease with which students have access to information through the Internet, but if that information is not available in their school or public libraries, then the Internet might indeed be the only option available.

In thinking what we might learn from these observations, I wonder to what extent the outcomes can be extrapolated to our other students and their studies? Those who signed up for the Project are largely well-motivated, capable learners who clearly rose to the challenges they faced; would all students be capable of doing so? Would they want to?

If there is sufficient value in what Project students learned and gained in terms of skill development, then perhaps it is worth relinquishing some of the time we spend on content coverage and give it over to extended project work and passion-based learning? However we need to know the costs as well as the benefits of learning in this way, so we’re better placed to be able to make those kinds of judgements. Although the Level 2 Project is not “Project-based Learning” in the strictest sense, some of the research emerging in this area might begin to inform our deliberations:

Using real-life problems to motivate students, challenging them to think deeply about meaningful content, and enabling them to work collaboratively are practices that yield benefits for all students.

It’s at a Premium January 4, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, research.
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The Pupil Premium is one way in which the Government is attempting to address educational inequality.

We know a good education is the key to improving young people’s life chances, to enable them to progress into adulthood with the skills and confidence for success. The Pupil Premium will provide schools with the resources with which to address inequalities in the system and raise the attainment of those pupils from low income families.

I was having a look through the Pupil Premium Toolkit, commissioned by the Sutton Trust, which seeks to guide “teachers and schools on how best to use the Pupil Premium to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.” By reviewing educational research, the toolkit compares different strategies used to improve pupil attainment (Assessment for Learning, One-to-one tutoring etc); exploring impact, cost and the strength of the evidence. You’ll see from either the online version or the downloadable PDF, that the information on each intervention is presented first in a summary, then subsequently in more detailed form.

I got to wondering which approaches might be most cost-effective in terms of greatest gain per £ – not a difficult calculation to do and mere moments of effort to produce a spreadsheet. But then I thought how we might also factor in the strength of the evidence; after all would it be wise to spend money on an approach producing a high attainment gain per £ if the evidence which suggested that approach isn’t quite so robust?

Which all led me to this bubble chart:

Approaches to learning chart

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/6636953349/

Gain in attainment on the horizontal axis, cost on the vertical and width of bubble indicating the strength of the research which produced the findings. So the sweet spot is the bottom right-hand quadrant where we get high gains for low (moderate?) cost. And what do we see? Providing effective feedback, meta-cognitive strategies, peer tutoring and homework (?!) all figure prominently. Sadly, ICT only produces moderate gains and at a high cost … but there’s a whole other post could come from that!

Does that reflect your day-to-day experience though?

Kindle. Noun … or verb? November 2, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Teaching Idea, Tools.
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cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/6306848571/

Amazon’s recent release of new versions of the Kindle finally tipped me over the edge and I shelled out £89 for the Kindle 4.

Having never Kindled before, I was going to write a detailed review … but of course, that’s ground that has been well ploughed elsewhere (T3, Reviews eBook Readers & TechRadar).

The Amazon Kindle 4 (aka Kindle 4th Gen, Kindle Touchless or just plain Kindle) was announced as a sidenote to the colour Kindle Fire and touch-enabled Kindle Touch. But in many ways it was the most significant of the three, because of its extraordinary price. (TechRadar)

And those who know me well will know how important the last two words there are to me! (Even if we here in the UK are being stung in comparison with our cousins across the Pond!)

So what is there to add? Well after just a week’s use, let’s move past the functions and features and look at what this pocket-sized wonder has done for me. I read books and it let’s me do that very effectively, though it also lets me add highlights, bookmarks, clippings and notes. Further still I can share some of those annotations with the wider world and can check out what others are ‘posting.’ Given that in addition to sharing notes with the public at large, you can also ‘follow’ people of your choosing. That set me wondering if there was any mileage in Language Arts or Librarian colleagues being able to have students ‘share’ their reading experiences with one another? Of course that can be done in class or through a book club, but surely the asynchronous opportunities present an affordance not available from paper-based media?

Perhaps surprisingly though, reading books was not my first consideration in getting a Kindle. It was more about the chance to read journal articles, research papers and even blog posts at a time and place to suit. Getting PDFs onto the Kindle couldn’t be easier really. I can either plug it into the computer with the USB cable (supplied) and drag and drop the files into a folder on the device, or rather interestingly I can email them direct to my Kindle account, which then synchs those files. To get blog posts across, I have been using an online service called SENDtoREADER (registration required, but free) which provides a one-click bookmarklet to send any web page direct to the Kindle – easy-peasy!

So barely a week in and I’m loving the ease of use, from both the reader and user perspectives … and there’s still plenty more to explore!

Dusty, dank and dead …. or vibrant and alive? October 23, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research.
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In a quick comment on OurExtendedStudies wiki, Catriona congratulated me on completing my dissertation and asked about ‘publishing’ which set me thinking.

I guess there are two kinds of publishing:

  1. formal, in academic journals and
  2. informal, making your research available to the world at large through the media which have become available through the WWW.
library shelves

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Ron Wiecki: http://flickr.com/photos/rwphoto/3300437997/

Then there’s also (well OK, three kinds!) the bit inbetween. I don’t know about your course, but we’re required to have our dissertations bound, so they can be shelved in the University stacks. Never to see the light of day again? Oh, and it costs somewhere between £10 & £20 to have this done … for which we have to stump up the cost. Now remind me, what were our tuition fees for?

In addition my tutor wants another two copies, for which I also have to pay. So that’s about £50 to put my thoughts into print so they can spend their days languishing on bookshelves gathering dust.

Why in heavens name are we clinging on to the traditional notion of recording knowledge in this way? What are the odds of someone, some day pulling my work off the stacks and reading through it? What might they learn, agree with or contest? And more importantly, how will I know? And how will what they think feed back into developing and reshaping the knowledge I formulated?

So I also published my dissertation online using a Google site which cost nothing and brings with it several advantages:

  1. it’s easily amended so if I do spot any typos I or my tutor didn’t pick up, they’re easily corrected. Or indeed if any links change, I can update them.
  2. Links can be ‘live’ so a reader can jump straight in if an outbound reference takes their fancy.
  3. If anyone does visit the work, I’ll know from the site stats.
  4. If someone disagrees with what I proposed, can offer alternative explanations or observations or can suggest extensions to the ideas, then they’re easily able to do that through the comments … and I get the chance to reply! Dialogue. Constructivist learning even?

So OK, I guess I’m prepared to accept a printed copy on a library shelf, but why aren’t Universities also providing electronic repositories to celebrate and share the knowledge their students are developing? Another form of Open Access perhaps?

… or has it already begun? SHERPA and Virginia Tech are just two of the initiatives; hope we can look forward to more.

Levelling up? …. perhaps not. March 12, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, TELIC.
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I’m at the point in the research for my dissertation where I’m starting to raise some of the initial codes from pupil feedback to conceptual codes. These initial codes are ‘in vivo’ codes i.e. they are not my interepetations of situations or comments that participants made, they arose from the comments themselves.  My next task is to try to ascribe meaning to what these codes are telling me.  One way to do that is to create lots of sticky notes, pop them on a wall and begin to juggle them around into different configurations until conceptual categories begin to emerge.  Actually since this is a study following a social constructivist grounded theory approach, it might be more appropriate to say that I’m working with those codes to help them tell their story and that of those who produced them.

click on the image to visit the full version

I thought using LinoIt might provide a more efficient way of storing my changing thoughts, adding to them and allow categorising in different ways. (They also might be less likely to get blown off the wall when I open a window!)  Not surprisingly, there’s also a LinoIt app which allows me to download my walls onto my iPod Touch and view and think about them whilst I’m out and about.

Well what have I come up with so far?  My first impressions are that pupils don’t seem to think about learning consciously; there’s little evidence of metacognition. When charged to do so through these interviews, using photographs as stimulus material, they tend to associate learning with other activities i.e. it happens as a result of doing something else … reading, making notes, listening, discussing etc. They also feel they are engaged in those processes whilst involved in a range of tasks which can be practical, physical, interactive etc.  There’s also some recognition of activities which support the learning process and somehow supplement the primary activity.

I wonder to what extent this is indicative of the way we do things in school. We may say we’re going to learn about the different styles of WWI poets for example and then go on to undertake a sequence of activities which will allow our students to do just that.  But maybe we then get so involved in comparing and contrasting, and all the other elements of language and literature, that the act of learning is forgotten; consigned to the ‘Learning to learn’ lessons they had two years ago in Y7.  So when the students are asked to describe the learning they see going on in photographs, they simply see the activities they associate with learning.  There’s no idea what was going on whilst they were ‘discussing’ that resulted in some change or other … or perhaps I simply haven’t dug that deep in the interviews as yet?

The next step for me is to produce a similar pinboard with the codes *I* produced from the interviews, rather than the in vivo codes of the participants. Will I see similar patterns? Am I seeing these things because of my preconceptions?  My grounded theory approach will require me to take these initial concepts back to the data and explore the degree of fit, bearing in mind those concerns. I’ll also be comparing the two sets of codes and whether the conceptual codes apply equally across them all – these are elements of the constant comparative process.  My next interviews will be focused on testing these emergent ideas, exploring their boundaries and seeing whether what hasn’t been said is simply because I haven’t asked the right questions, we don’t have the images to hang explanations on or that my notions of what is missing simply shouldn’t be there anyway.