Tuesday, 19 February 2008

"We're not feeling it!" - students challenging their own work ideas.

Working with some year 9 students on an Internship programme in the Ministry this week has yet again demonstrated that students being allowed to work collaboratively can be really effective. During their three and a half hour visit this week they undertook a real 'start from scratch' design and production task, for public presentation by the Ministry.
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Watching them come up with the approach, challenging each others ideas, setting themselves ever increasing / higher standards, selecting appropriate software, considering how to best incorporate the Ministry 'brand' and then asking our Head of Corporate Communications for his professional design critique prior to completion demonstrated a really mature and professional attitude. They rejected ideas as not being appropriate for the target group involved, or not being sophisticated enough to be a Ministry product and also because "we're not feeling it" about one specific idea.
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Not only did they complete this 'real' task, they also did it within a really aggressive time scale - something which rather alarmed our design professional who admitted it would have taken him much longer!
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Any good teacher already knows that this collaborative approach works really effectively for a range of tasks and projects and can really contribute to raising standards. Individually, by their own admission, these two students would not have come up with anywhere near such a good high quality product. To those who question how each person's contribution is assessed - just watch them work and also look at their 'on line' portfolio and self evaluation blogs - they are incredibly different, record a range of developmental stages and reflect a range of different evaluation skills.
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The students also noted that they clearly understood the objectives, saw the relevence of what they were doing and knew how they were going to be evaluated.
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Why are there some teachers who still do not ever use this approach and really avoid trying it? No idea - it just does not make any sense and I have met these in evey school I have ever worked in (here and the UK)?
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If we are really going to try and transform teaching in all schools, whereever they are, the full range of teaching and student learning techniques really must be identified, developed, trialled, supported, modelled, implemented, evaluated and developed again. People also talk about identifying good practice as being an important aspect but doing that doesn't mean that other staff can actually just watch and then do it - hence the modelling, coaching and supportive approach. (Potentially a subject for a whole new post).
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Still rarely adopted is asking students to get involved in ideas for approaches to learning techniques for specific projects, lessons etc - they can produce really exciting ideas. They DO know and care about their learning and I have seen teachers who use this approach frequently agree that their students have better more sophisticated ideas about how to tackle work than they were expecting.
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The approach that the interns took on the challenge for the Ministry task, and resulting product was, frankly, better than we expected as well... I thought I had high expectations... obviously, in this case they still weren't high enough either!
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The internship programme run by this school, ('Learning Through Internship' - LTI), now in its second year, gives students REAL experience of the work place and has proved extremely successful in motivating a large number of students, giving them ideas about careers, increasing their confidence generally and giving some relevence to achieve success at school - not just because their teacher or parent told them to. (Last year some students formed long term relationships with their employers, with vacation jobs, promises of potential employment and talk of the possibility of support for college / university courses if they maintained their attitude, work ethic and so on).
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There are still those education professionals that think the Grade 9 students are too young for this programme - I totally disagree. One did argue with me with the bizarre comment that it would 'spoil' the extended work experience for Grade 11. Nonsense - what employers will be getting then are more prepared and aware students who will expect ever better quality work placement opportunities. There is clear evidence it the scheme has helped a large number of students really focus - you can't argue with that!
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(For a link to a brief media report on LTI click on: 'Learning Through Internship'.
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