I currently find myself teaching not ‘Generation Snowflake’, nor ‘Generation Z’, but the cohort of children that I like to call ‘Generation Cram’.
Literally every teacher I know is against the concept of teaching to the test to fulfil the Dickensian mantra/nightmare that ‘facts alone are wanted in life’. Yet, for a combination of reasons that emerged in the last decade within education (see Gove, reforms, performance-related pay, probably Brexit, etc.), the current secondary school cohort seem to be nursing a particularly bad fact-regurgitation hangover.
I am not for one moment placing any blame upon primary schools for this. The pressure placed upon primary schools, and particularly year six teachers, to achieve ‘impressive SATs results’ notoriously created the unhealthy culture whereby crucial time that should have been dedicated towards the arts, humanities and STEM subjects was redirected to encourage optimum performance in English and Maths SATs. It seems criminal, but if my pay were linked to the performance of the 30 eleven-year-olds in my class, you can bet I’d be increasing their exposure to SATs-style tests at any given opportunity.
In any case, secondary school teachers are just as guilty of this Gradgrindesque approach. I lose count of the times that I say in a single day, “You should approach this exam-style question by…”, or similar. I am not, nor are many others, motivated to do my job solely to help students achieve excellent exam results, but it sure doesn’t hurt when they do. After all, for as long as we exist in a meritocratic society, this is the game we have to play.
Consequently, the mid- to late-teens that I deal with now are, generally, excellent at learning ‘stuff’. They are not so excellent at forming their own opinions or evaluating a range of perspectives about an issue. But this isn’t because they don’t know how to debate, and indeed they’ve often done much progressive work in English about how to construct arguments within a piece of writing. What is lacking is the ability to apply this skill across different subjects.
Therefore, I find that in my fifth year of teaching I am focusing more and more upon helping students become more confident when applying this argumentation experience in a geography-related scenario.
Below are some of the tools I’ve found have proved useful. I would love to hear your feedback about whether you have had similar (or different!) experiences and whether you find any of these ideas useful.
a) Pie chart decision maker – Thanks to @ploguey for this amazing idea. Before writing an essay, students weigh up the possible options by creating a pie chart to consider how much weighting each factor/perspective has in the context of the question. I have found this an absolutely wonderful tool to help students away from that generic conclusions and towards more meaningful assessment.
b) Tug of war decision line – Students are given various pieces of information that they have to place on a ‘tug of war’ line to indicate how far that information agrees or disagrees with a key statement they have been given. This can also be done interactively across the classroom.
c) Thermometer comparisons – Students consider the options available and judge how much they like their idea by shading in the thermometer to give it a hotter or colder temperature, based upon how suitable/preferable they think that solution is.
d) ‘How important?’ line – To help students use appropriate phrases when considering just how important a concept is to the overall phenomenon they are exploring, this scale of importance helps them to categorise and therefore clarify their ideas.
e) Tournament knock-out – This works so well when there are lots of potential solutions but a decision needs to be made about the best overall option. By narrowing down how many ideas students have to compare at once, it makes what can seem like a mammoth task far more manageable.
I hope you find some of these ideas useful!
Please tweet me @EduCaiti if you have any comments, suggestions or feedback about any of the above.