In the 1970’s it was a firm family favourite. ‘Brucie’ would take centre stage and unsuspecting contestants would watch specialists demonstrate their craft – anything from using a potter’s wheel to a sausage machine. It wasn’t difficult to predict the outcome, but the comedy value certainly brightened up a drizzly, dark winter evening.
You may be thinking what this blast from the past TV has to do with a classroom of today? Stick with me; for I believe as a metaphor, it has a lot to do with modelling, transferring and building schema without the constraints of a primetime TV slot. It comes as no surprise that the contestants on the show were challenged in their approaches to the task. Brief modelling, brief explanation (with added Brucie low level disruption causing a lack of coherence) and a visual representation of crafting the object using implicit and natural expertise – the contestants were bound to produce an object far from the expert result. No knowledge or limited personal experience in such areas perhaps illustrates that such things are a limited part of (or are not a part of) the schema of the contestants. Think forward to the overarching outcomes of a scheme – how do we ensure that the knowledge for long haul learning is coherent and captures the key principals of memory whilst transferring teacher schemata in order to build the schemata of our students? I could present a complex theoretical approach to the latter question, there is so much interesting thought and research out there – but there is a danger that teaching can be seen as complex. I don’t think it is, and neither do I think it should be.
I need my students to build schemata on the content of the set texts I teach in English Literature. If this is to be successful, I need to think about how to begin transferring my knowledge around concepts in a systematic way. In other words, I need to be aware that I am building the schemata of my students through transferring my own. I reflected on schemata and how they are a part of a progressive scheme of work in my last blog here A tapestry of knowledge part 2. Unlike the Generation Game, where a lack of time to exchange and build knowledge expertise was the purpose, a teacher has to consider how to construct cognition in order that any problems that a student may encounter can be categorised according to the moves required to solve them. As Skemp (1979) concludes, “our conceptual structures are a major factor of our progress”. If students are to make progress, then they need a clear network of connected concepts to be able to build their learning toolkit. The strength of the links in that network not only depends on the subject knowledge of the teacher, but also their consideration of how their knowledge can be translated into forms that are easily understood by students. This is where my current thinking has been focused in my lessons this half term.
If I think of a football, I think of this:
And I also think of this:
Experiences of the above has mentally linked these three images in my schema, where they become a concept – a mental grouping of similar things, events and people. I use this concept to remember and understand what football is, what it means and what group it belongs to – which I have mentally categorised as ‘sport’. Around this concept, I have a large network of ideas, which can be termed as complex schema. Think of how may ideas you can link to the game of football from football boots to booking a player, a manager to a midfielder and each of those ideas will have other information linked to them based on prior knowledge grown from experience.
When considering what content knowledge to teach my students, consideration is placed on the concepts that they already know and how I can facilitate in supporting students to access prior knowledge and integrate it with incoming information. In order to do this, I model my thinking. I start with real life situations and then apply that knowledge to the curricular content I wish to teach.
The Quiz Element
My Y10 classes have been working hard to grow their knowledge of the play Macbeth. At the start of the scheme of work, I wanted my students to use prior experience to connect to the knowledge I wanted them to know. I began with the picture below and quizzed my students to draw out prior knowledge on which the new information could be integrated.
In the initial stages, I wanted my students to think of this:
I began by asking questions about their ideas of a warrior, drawing out ideas such as brave, ruthless, battle and weapon. They drew on prior knowledge of Vikings and knights and battles seen via media on the news. It led to an interesting discussion on stereotypes, where some students had assigned schema to particular traits of people. This led to a timely discussion around emotions and morals and an unfolding realisation that not all members of a said group possess these traits. This became more apparent when encountering Macbeth in an extract. I introduced the students to the key quotation “smoked a bloody execution”. It was at this stage that I modelled my thinking around the concept of the character of Macbeth, taking care to reflect back to the prior knowledge students had shared in order to demonstrate a new way of thinking. I modelled my thoughts, verbalising my reasons as to why I was making the connections – exposing the implicit and natural expertise and sharing a rich conceptual view of a warrior. Once I’d modelled my thinking, the students repeated the same activity using the key quotation “as sparrows are to eagles or the hare is to the lion”. With a focus on the use of imagery, the concept of a warrior was further grown. From the outset of the activity, I made it clear to the students that I was modelling my thinking in order to grow theirs. The connections they made showed the gap between their conceptions of a warrior and the idea of teacher modelling was being bridged. In facilitating the acquisition of new knowledge and extending student knowledge to new territories, my Y10 students can confidently explode quotations ‘live’ under the visualizer and verbalise why they are making the connections, drawing on their growing knowledge of the play as a whole.
‘Conveyor Belt’ Recall
Coffee machine, decanter, alarm clock and cuddly toy! It all depended on how photographic your memory was – or so I believe. In the reality of the classroom, sometimes you’re unlucky and don’t even get change to grab a coffee, but time should always be found to strengthen the links that connect schema around a concept. Recalling information from the last lesson to the six lessons before has strengthened the recalling of information of my students – it certainly has benefited them in the frequent reviewing of material and their critical awareness. However, I have also exposed them to different strategies to review such material – dual coding, exploding a quotation, using trigger words – to name three examples. I think it is important for students to evaluate what works for them. I also think it is an important strategy for them to have in their self-regulation toolkit. It supports student resilience and reflection and has the potential to see the growth of the novice using the aforementioned words as an expectation that trips off the tongue, to the expert who can verbalise what strategies they use that makes them resilient and reflective.
Five weeks on, what started as a single picture of a knight is now a pictorial timeline of events which is used as a stimulus for recall. Attached to the timeline is a wealth of teacher modelling, student explanation and the evidence that the once Y10 Macbeth novice is now becoming a Y10 Macbeth expert. Reflective student comments have included the layering of knowledge and learning from peers modelling their thinking. What if I didn’t think about how to facilitate the acquisition of new knowledge? What if I didn’t model my thinking or use recall strategies to strengthen schemata linked to concepts? It would affect how my students stored things in their brain. Focused attention is key. Now, where did I put my car keys . . . ?
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