By Sunny Gunessee
Further to my last post summarising my work investigating the flipped classroom approach, more questions have been raised about how to make best use of available time. There is a net gain in available lesson time as a result of students completing their reading outside of class. Resulting in there being a requirement of not just making use of checking understanding activities such as ‘guess who’s coming to dinner’, with greater importance being attached to extending application of knowledge. Cue…hexagons, board pens and videotape…(well mobile phones).
Students within my Y12/Y13 classes have become more comfortable and familiar with remembering the names of specific sociologists and the theories they belong to, which is great as this improves their AO1 (knowledge and understanding) and AO2 (application). However, the tricky situation of AO3 (analysis and evaluation) has now reared its ugly head. The activity begins with a standard essay exam questions; in previous times, I would have stood at the front of the room and proceeded to ‘plan’ an essay with the class. However, the biggest problem with this at A Level is that it creates myth in sixth formers heads that there is only one way to approach an exam question.
Instead I show students three/four different approaches to the essay ranging from the easy ‘here’s four arguments’, to the standard for and against, to slightly more difficult prioritising arguments and to even more sophisticated ways such as assessing the impact of research based on how the study was conducted to question methodological issues. This straight away allows students to understand essay questions can be framed in multiple ways and therefore there is no wrong approach (sociology is great sometimes!). On a side note this helps to create a much more pleasurable experience for you as a marker as you’re not reading the same essay 10-20 times. To challenge students, you can give them time to work in pairs and come up with at least two/three ways to approach the question before you show them potential structures.
To start with pass out the hexagons, students can work in pairs, threes or fours; anymore then you will inevitably get students social loafing. I would recommend pairs or threes. Each hexagon has a one thing written on it, which links to the flipped classroom reading completed prior to the lesson, supported by further discussion within the classroom. This could include the name of sociologists, strengths and weaknesses of certain research, key concepts, examples, blank ones (get the students to come up with their own), statistics, etc. At this point the students are then given an allotted amount of time (I give my class 15 minutes) to construct 4-6 groupings of hexagons to represent each potential paragraph within their essay. Essentially students begin to construct their own essays plans, whilst this gives you the time to circulate and add depth to their understanding through effective questioning. Whilst the students are sorting their groups, ensure they have a board pen so they can briefly add description of hexagons which link together. The volume of discussion from students is focused to the task and it ensures engagement and high levels of effort. To make this part of the task more challenging, I have now started giving Y13 blank hexagons and they must fill a minimum of 20-30 hexagons with one ‘thing’ on each one which they will then use to plan their essays. Another interesting twist on this, which I haven’t tried yet is to have hexagons based on three different colours AO1, AO2 and AO3 this will get students to think about how much of each do they need in their paragraphs.
Once students have completed the hexagon groupings, ensure students get the chance to reflect on what they have completed and looked at others. At this point I usually get them to take pictures of what they have just done (this will come in later), this is also a good chance for students to realise whilst everyone has had the same question, it can be approached in multiple ways. You could use solo taxonomy to develop students ability to work at an evaluative level, which is great if your trying to improve AO3 as an essay skill.
Now you have three options as far as I see it:
- You can get students to wipe everything off the tables and then produce one excellent paragraph based on what they have done.
- Attempt the whole essay in timed conditions.
- Set the essay as a homework.
The fact they have taken pictures on their phone gives them the scaffolding of a plan, which most importantly they have created and you have quality assured whilst circulating. This is ultimately up to you! I prefer to get them to do one excellent paragraph before they leave the classroom, to put into practice what they have done. This is then followed by a heads and tails task; flip a coin if it lands on heads they have three different coloured highlighters to identify the AO1, AO2, AO3 within their paragraph; tails they must circle 5 non-subject specific key terms and rewrite the sentence to improve the literacy of the paragraph. Either way the student is reflecting on the effectiveness of the paragraph.
Again, this is an excellent activity if you’re trying to get high order skills out of students, one which would be fantastic in any Humanities or English setting. I imagine it would also lend itself well to other subjects, I would love to hear from you if you’re from a subject outside of Hums or English sharing how you have tried this. Until next time happy teaching and learning!