This blog post looks at the ongoing development of cognition in a Year 6 class. This third post is an exploration of “responsive” teaching in LTE with a particular focus on when to provide opportunities for social construction and group size.
Responsive Teaching: Lesson Three: The Black Hole.
The Black Hole is a Future Shorts Film and can be reviewed via: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5_Msrdg3Hk
LTE offers cycles of social construction for pupils in groups to form ideas and develop their thinking together before the teacher mediates and helps to construct feedback and deepen understanding. In this third lesson, there are 5 prescribed moments when the teacher asks pupils to work in groups:
- During Concrete Preparation: when pupils consider what a black hole is and what they might infer about the film from the title credits.
- Social construction 1: when the pupils read closely the opening 23 seconds and consider what we learn about the man, followed by watching the film in its entirety and tracking how their feelings towards the man changes and why.
- Cognitive conflict: when they consider: who is to blame and at what point is the man trapped.
- Social construction 2: when pupils ponder the message of the film.
- Metacognition: when pupils reflect upon and evaluate their thinking, knowledge gained and consider how they might apply this in the future.
However, a LTE teacher seeks to be responsive to pupils’ needs and will identify when they need to return to their groups to further their understanding, consider thinking that appears to be beyond the reach of the majority of the class, summarise the dialogue, correct misconceptions and consider alternatives to name but a few. Asking pupils to work in groups is not just prescribed; it is a flexible tool that is deployed as and when it is needed.
As an example, in this lesson, when feeding back in Social Construction 1, a line of enquiry emerged regarding what time of day it was in the film. A pupil argued it was morning, while a number of others felt it was night. The discussion could have taken place between just those who were ready to respond and had picked up on this detail, but this would have divorced the discussion from the majority who hadn’t considered the time of day and certainly hadn’t considered whether or not it was significant. I invited the pupils to return to their groups to consider this point while watching the opening of the film again.
Pupils were, in effect, critically evaluating two ideas that had been suggested and also seeing if they could find further support for either stance. Returning to their groups involved all pupils rather than those who were immediately ready to respond. In feedback, pupils were able to provide further evidence that it would appear to be night time: the empty office, lighting, the dishevelled appearance and attire of the man, the time on the clock and were able to use this to consider its significance.
Once teachers realise the importance of providing pupils with opportunities to construct meaning for themselves in groups, they begin to consider the practical implications. When training teachers we are often asked:
How do you decide upon the groups?
How many in a group?
We see these as line of enquiries for teachers and will ask them to consider this for themselves in their early explorations with LTE and feedback on our second visit. It is important in training programmes that we provide scaffolds for teachers, for example, carefully constructed lesson plans, while also enabling teachers to explore pedagogical issues. Thoughtful pupils will evolve from thoughtful teachers. It is also important to stress we are not seeking a homogenous approach to teaching but rather teachers who are making the best choice in their settings to develop their pupils’ thinking.
For the first two lessons at Pakeman, pupils worked in mixed ability groups of 6. This was the group size they usually worked in and one I tend to favour as it tends to provide a sufficient range of ideas and also makes it easier to plot possible sequences for group feedback. In the first two lessons, I made one alteration to the groups. The groups were spread across 3 tables likes so:
This seems a common layout for group work in classrooms. However, it would seem from the layout the groupwork pupils are engaged in would involve writing with the emphasis on space between pupils and a space to work. LTE requires pupils to discuss and collaborate and has no or little writing. I prefer the pupils to be physically close together and the group enclosed. Therefore, I changed the layout so pupils were grouped around one table making it easier to converse and listen to one another.
However, recently I revisited the British International School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where LTE is thriving to provide a second wave of training. They tended to group their pupils in threes or fours and I was impressed with the active learning of all pupils in their groups. I decided to try a hybrid of the 2 in the latest lesson in Pakeman, sitting pupils in groups of three. However, by pushing the tables together they could be quickly combined into a group of six:
The 2 teachers observing felt it had a significant impact on the engagement of all pupils. The initial grouping of three ensured all pupils were heard and involved especially as I would select who would start their group talk. However, the close proximity to another group of three provided the flexibility to place them into a six to interrogate differing ideas or for more extended periods of analysis and enquiry. Indeed, pupils seemed to intuitively bridge out to a bigger group when they felt they had resolution on an initial idea and would like to air it with a new audience.
So three lessons in we’re moving towards a more responsive classroom. One shaped by the thoughts of pupils with the teacher mediating in subtle and explicit ways but always seeking to be responsive.