Sunday, 26 July 2020

Zooming to a brave new world

I have been fairly quiet of late because I have set up my own film production company. In the space of two terms, I have transformed by study into a film studio. I have even bought a new shiny laptop to cope with the space age CGI and demands of increasing audiences on multiple platforms. I have been making video after video for students.

Terrible experiences can create good things. One of the things the lockdown experience has taught me is how we can save ourselves some work in the long run. I have used the time in lockdown to save myself time later in the year.

When the length of lockdown expanded, I had to revise my plan. I had to decide on how to adapt. I also had to think of the future situations.  The result has made me revise how I do some fundamental things and how I use things. All this is done with nothing fancy. I make a PowerPoint. I record the audio and then convert it to a video. Then, upload to YouTube.

The current situation will have a positive impact on how we teach from now on. It has made me think about how we use videos and YouTube effectively. 

Year 10 was my priority in the lockdown. Therefore, I tried to think what was best for them. For them, I decided on the poetry. We had six poems left. So, I decided to make a video for each of the poems. Now, I couldn’t just read poem and ask for students responses to the text. Instead, I had to think of a structure to the video. This is the one I used:

[1] Introduce, if necessary, background information for understanding the poem. What is a dramatic monologue? What was the general populace’s opinion of war in WW1?
[2] Get students to think of the idea at the heart of the poem. What is the reality of war? This was to get them thinking of their opinion, before I unleashed the poem on them. A01
[3] Read the poem and show the poem.
[4] Revisit the idea and compare their view of the idea with the writer’s view.
[5] Discuss some of the key images in the poem. A painting. A statue of Neptune taming a wild seahorse. A mule. A02
[6] Explore four key choices in the language. A simple case of present them as quotations and get students to pause the video before I explained them. A02
[7] Explore something about the choices of form and structure. A02.
[8] Discuss the possible messages in the poem and the writer’s reasons. A03
[9] Connections with other poems
[10] Finally, a quick quiz on key bit on the poems. I used my 9 questions I use for each of the poems. These questions are repeated again and again as students go through the year.

Now, it isn’t a normal way I’d go through a poem and, yes, it is quite rigid. But, it gives them a starting point with their understanding of the poem. We will revisit the poem in the classroom later, but at the moment students will feel they know some ideas (A01),  some interesting things about how it is written (A02) and some things about why it was written (A03) that way.  There’s a clear structure of ideas, choices and messages. The kind of way I’d like students to think and write about poems. 
Start with the ideas first and leave language choice as a secondary focus.

After watching the video, students had to complete a multiple choice quiz based on the video and their understanding of the poem.

I have not hidden my jealousy of Maths and their Mr Hegarty. That’s why I used the time to make videos for all the named poems, following this format. I now have a resource I can use again and again with students.
[1] Students missing lessons.
[2] Student not attending schools.
[3] Students moving to a school in Year 11.
[4] Students forgetting the content of the poem.  

We know that the next few years are going to be unsettled but having clear systems to support the learning in lesson. Although English is largely a recursive subject, it is problematic when a student misses a lesson where a poem or an important part of a text is covered. We now have a direction for students. If you don’t know the poem, then go to the YouTube Channel.

Staff have MCQ so they can test if the students have watched the video and made notes.

The videos will form an important part of the revision process.

For KS3 we made students complete some creative writing on a regular basis. They were writing part of the story each week. From this, I taught students some concepts like allusion.

We know that there are concepts we regularly visit in English. What if as a department you agreed on way to teach a concept? What if you had a five minute video explaining a concept? As a teacher, you could pull that video up as revision or as a way to teach. You then have that shared language across a department. The teacher is saved the work and endless repetition but there’s some consistency in how concepts are taught. The teacher can then build on the video and build a lesson around it.

What if a teacher noticed there was a problem with students discussing pathetic fallacy? There was large amount of misunderstandings about pathetic fallacy. Say the teacher had access to a number of videos that addressed different concepts. Select, play, discuss. Back to the work.

A lot of my time planning is spent thinking about introducing or teaching concepts. What if you had a video explaining antithesis which included step by step instructions and examples?

Knowledge of Literature
The history of literature can be easily neglected because other things dominate in English. One of the things I have been working on more 5 minute videos, but this time exploring the history of literature and history,

In Year 7, we look at villains in Dickens’s novels. However, it is important that students understand that the way Dickens writes is a reflection of his writing context. Therefore, I have created a video explaining in 5 minutes how Dickens wrote and what impacted his decisions. That video can be used again and again as students study ‘Great Expectations’ in Year 8 and ‘A Christmas Carol’ in Year 10.
This has scope for lots of areas in English. I have just made one on the history of gothic fiction.

The richness of English is great, but how do we know that everybody is ‘on message’ about what to cover. Over time, we might agree on changes and additions, but surely having a bank of readymade videos to explain things quickly and succinctly is much better than a poke in the eye.

One of the really surprising thing in the lockdown was student engagement with our vocabulary work. I’d have a ten minute video of matching words to their definitions. Students would pause the video and write the word and definitions down. At the end, they’d have a MCQ on the words and definitions.

This, as a task, was very low risk, but it was the area where students of all levels of ability engaged. We had some exceptionally success and high results for students who often struggled in English.
This taught me how we undervalue systematic processes in learning. We repeated this process weekly with students and there was very little dipping in numbers. The process was clear, defined and ‘doable’. We are going to do the same next year.

Each term, we have a set number of words we explicitly teach. We are just going to make a video helping students learn those words. We know time is precious, but we also know students aren’t always the best at revising. Therefore, we are going to make a video to help revise and learn those words.

Intervention has been warped out of all sense of understanding and meaning. Largely, it means extra work for the teacher with very little gain. One of the things I have noticed is how intervention can take a number of forms and I think a series of videos explaining how to do something in English is one of them.

We never have enough time. Where can we fit things in? What interventions are you doing for X?
Last year, I ran sessions for students struggling to develop explanations. I ran three after school sessions. Not every student could attend so I had to run another few sessions. What if I recorded those lessons? What if I had a bank of these intervention lessons? I could then direct students to complete them and show me the work. Yes, it would take time, but wouldn’t save us time in the long run.

Parents worry about their child’s progress and we know there are key areas in English where students struggle. What if we address the two together? Make a video for these key areas. Publicise it to parents so they knew how they could help with things. Time saving intervention. The focus can be on making the intervention good rather than just on using up all the teacher's time and good will. 

Be clear, I am using these along side other things. These are there to support and help. Nothing is going to replace the teacher being in the class with the student. The ideas here are largely based on saving teachers time in the long run. Plus, it will allow teachers to do more of the stuff they want to. 

My videos are not for public consumption. Like resources, I don’t actively share. The reason for that is partly because I haven’t got the time to share through email, dropbox and so on. Plus, I have no desire to be the next Mr Bruff. I happy doing what I am doing.

Back to the film studio. Our next film is 'Teachers Assembled'.  A Geography teacher, a Maths teacher, a Science teacher (not Barbara) and an English teacher fight a common enemy.

Thanks for reading,


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