In my previous post I talked about how I am attempting to create a community of learners in my classrooms. This post describes a 'self-study' lesson I designed to build this community whilst developing independent study skills.
Yesterday, I asked students to carry out some pre-reading, and told them they would be asked to solve some challenging problems today (without any teacher telling) with any remaining problems to be completed for homework. In tomorrow's lesson we will discuss any partial understandings they might have.
Apart from 4 students who are re-sitting AS Maths, they had not studied the topic (cubic and reciprocal graphs) before.
Before they started the problems, I talked about the importance of understanding in any sharing of knowledge: "You have a responsibility to yourself to make sure you understand, and a responsibility to help others understand."
Only 8 out of the 21 students did the pre-reading. Although I was disappointed with this, I made the decision not to take a punitive stance. In one sense I want to build trust with these students; I want them to choose to complete homework. Also, pre-reading is relatively novel for these students; once they start to realise the benefits that this kind of preparation has within the community, I hope that they will start to take it more seriously. I will of course monitor this closely; if the same students continually choose not to prepare for lessons, I may have to take more punitive action.
There are positive and negative aspects to pre-reading. In this class, 4 students have already studied AS Maths; pre-reading allows the other students the opportunity to level the playing field. However, it may lead to increased inequality for those who do not have a propensity for homework.
As students started on the task, they began to self-organise. Some students started working through examples in the textbook, others started on the questions straight away. It would make sense to assume that those who went straight to the questions were those who had completed the pre-reading, although it was difficult to work out if this was indeed the case.
Nearly all students started working in groups of their own volition, discussing the problems with others - often in large groups of 4 or 5 - whilst a minority started working on their own. Is this because they prefer to work on their own, or are there deeper societal reasons for their reticence to work with others?
While the students progressed with the problems, I monitored them closely; it is crucial that I spend this time collecting as much information about the students as possible. Who is working with who? What are the groups talking about and doing exactly? What are the partial understandings that we will have to address next lesson?
I tell the students that they should not ask me for help during this lesson. This is a perfect opportunity to allow students to make sense of their learning, to direct them towards each other and build community, to develop independent study skills. Next lesson, we will 'complete' any partial understandings; when it comes time for 'teacher telling', it will hopefully have more relevance for the learners.
The lesson was a success both in mathematical terms - they completed some very difficult problems within one hour of non-teaching - and with regard to the development of our community.
Here are some student comments on the lesson:
Here is a sample of these comments:
Q2. Did you work with others, or on your own? Why?
- Both... we were checking our answers and explaining to each other how we got the answers
- I worked with others because I can learn new methods
- Others because they have different ideas which are helpful
- I prefer to work on my own in Maths
- I worked with my group after I read the book in the lesson to learn more about the topic
- With each other because I like sharing opinions and methods and revising our answers together
- It would be a lot easier to understand what another person has learned and learn from there
- On my own for most of it - I like a challenge
The majority - but not all - of the students are choosing to work with each other.
Q4. What did you do when you got stuck?
- I read the book again and I asked people around me
- Asked my table mates
- Looked into the book, however it was lacking in information so I have asked others around me
- Switched off
- Asked colleagues
- Revised more
- I read the book and asked the teacher*
Most of the comments included something about asking others, some mentioned using the book and only one student (*) mentioned asking the teacher, an EAL student who worked on his own (see below).
Q5. How do you feel about this way of working?
- It is a perfect way to learn stuff
- Really helpful
- I like it because it is more interactive, it makes me feel motivated
- Better, however would prefer to have been given some information before reading about something I have never seen before
- It was effective because we helped each other
- I enjoy it a lot, and it helps a lot
- A good change
- I think it is beneficial but very distracting
- Very productive/helpful
- Much better than silent individual studies, especially when the subject is new to us
- I don't like it*
There are a number of positive and interesting comments here, and a few interesting negative comments that require further consideration.
In particular, when I asked why the EAL student (*) why he didn't like it, he replied that found it very difficult to understand the information in the book, and he is not comfortable working with others yet. I will need to consider the needs of this student carefully.