This blog post looks at the ongoing development of cognition in a Year 6 class in their second LTE lesson of the year and the impact of multiple rereading of a text.
Let’s Think in English Lesson 2: Voices in the Park
You’ll recall from the previous blog post I had started teaching fortnightly LTE lessons to a Year 6 class at Pakeman School in Islington. Their first lesson was “Voices in the Park”, an oddity for LTE as it’s a two-part lesson. In lesson one, pupils developed their understanding of the four voices by studying one voice in their group and then seeking to clarify the relationship between the voices.
The second part of the lesson starts with a recap. I asked the two teachers (Rebecca, the class teacher and Harry the parallel class teacher) to read the voices to the class. I asked Harry to read the male voices: Charlie and Smudge’s Dad and Rebecca to read the female voices Smudge and Charlie’s Mum. This was a deliberate mediation as I thought it would assist pupils in identifying one of the main markers of the characters: gender.
You may recall from the previous blog post, the pupils’ understanding of character took time to form in the last lesson as they shifted between voices and characters. One might fear that starting again, two weeks later, pupils may have forgotten previous characteristics. However after each reading the groups were given approximately. one minute to discuss what they learnt about the characters. Their responses were succinct and thoughtful. Gone was the confusion of the previous lesson, instead they recalled their previous expositions and added to them.
This was in part a result of greater attentiveness to their own group discussions, giving them all an opportunity to clarify misconceptions. I had begun the lesson asking them: “When you talk, who are you talking to?” Hands shot up and their immediate response was to me. When I challenged them on this, they made the distinction they were talking to each other in the group but to me when feeding back. At this point, I suggested to them this was only part true; their audience included me but primarily was their peers.
In the concrete preparation stage of the lesson, I had purposely selected reluctant contributors from the previous lesson, as I wanted to include them as early as possible in the learning and felt this early recap would be the best time for them to contribute with some confidence. Again, I had emphasised the expectation that any individual in a group could be expected to provide feedback from their group. However, I think we also underestimate the cognitive challenge of summarising a group discussion. It is a worthwhile activity in itself. Encouragingly, the pupils who were reluctant to contribute last time were more forthcoming this lesson. Some of their responses were simplistic: often focusing on only one characteristic. However, it was encouraging to have this contribution and invite others within the group to build upon it.
Next came a surprise. Up to this point the pupils had only dealt with the text. As we concluded concrete preparation, I shared the image of the four characters on the board and asked the pupils to identify them. Immediately, the energy within the room surged and the pupils broke into the busy chatter and gesticulation of high engagement. Again, I requested they lower their hands during feedback and listen to the points being raised. Pupils intuitively referenced the text as they identified the character. Not just that, they could link the image with moments in the plot. For example, in the image below of Smudge on the see-saw, they identified the textual reference:
“We played on the see-saw, he didn’t say much, but later on he was a bit more friendly”.
The actual illustration had included Charles on the see-saw too but it had been cropped just to show Smudge. The pupils, without prompting, explained Charles would be at the other end of the see-saw and explained he would be looking shy. They were visualising the omission in the illustration. The illustrations’ role was to trigger rereadings of the text cementing pupils’ understanding of the story and characterisation.
Next came the cognitive challenge, I explained to the pupils that Anthony Browne, when publishing the book had selected a particular order for the voices and we agreed this was unlikely to be by chance. I asked the pupils to consider in their groups: Which voice did they think would be the best one to end the story with?
In the lesson plan we designed, the actual cognitive challenge is set out as below:
“Does it matter what order the voices are revealed within the story?
What order do you think the voices should appear in the story?
Which voice would you choose to end with and why?”
I’m a great believer that if you ask the right question, it requires learners to ask many other questions for themselves; like Matroyshka dolls the right conceptual question contains many smaller questions. From posing one question: “Which voice would be the best to end with?”, the pupils explored the other unmentioned questions too as they decided on the order of all four voices and discussed why they should be in such an order.
When taking feedback, however, I kept the spotlight on which voice would make the best ending as it kept discussions focused and afforded an opportunity for critical evaluation. Three groups had opted for Smudge to end the story (Browne’s choice) while two groups opted for Smudge’s Dad. I decided to take feedback from the groups who opted for Smudge Dad’s first as listening to their group discussion, their argument seemed less convincing but their reasons need airing. The main thrust of the groups’ arguments was the Dad’s account implied they made it home and therefore brings a finality to the text: “Then it was time to go. Smudge cheered me up. She chatted happily to me all the way home”.
The argument for Smudge’s account was more wide-ranging. Firstly, groups argued Smudge’s account was the only one that referred to all 4 characters and would therefore help readers to draw events together. Other groups argued Smudge’s account was more “complete” as it included what happened after they returned home as she made her Dad a cup of tea. However, one pupil’s response inspired a thoughtful exchange on the significance of ending the account with Smudge placing Charlie’s flower in water rather than the tea. The reference to the significance of the flower rang true to the class and they began to explore why the flowers were important. This led quickly to a reference it “represents” the friendship between the characters and overall the class unanimously came to the decision this was the best ending.
As we drew to the close of over 2 hours of discussion, co-construction and analysis, the pupils read the text as intended by Browne with picture and text. They were truly excited to see the text in its entirety, spontaneously breaking into conversation and frequently identified the symbolic quality of the illustrations. As Smudge’s account ended the story there were clinch fists of self-congratulations as many realised their prediction proved true.
I ended the lesson by posing an unscripted question: “Which account do you think is most important and why?” and gave pupils a flexible minute to consider this alone. Before taking feedback I asked for a show of hands so pupils were committed to their argument and not initially swayed by others. There were a range of responses with different pupils able to make a coherent argument for each character. The lesson concluded with pupils having a shared understanding of the text yet able to hold differing opinions.
There is much to consider over the two lessons regarding the pupils’ development but one thought occurred regarding the power of rereading and slow reveal. Pupils’ reading of the text is staggered throughout the lessons as more and more of the whole text is revealed in stages. The reading sequence is:
- Pupils in groups read one voice.
- Pupils listen to the teacher re-reading the voice they studied and read the other 3 voices for the first time.
- Pupils read (or skim) the four voices to consider who is happiest.
- Lesson 2 starts with re-reading of the four voices.
- Pupils read (or skim) text to decide which voice would make the best ending.
- Pupils read text with illustrations (watch animation).
So in total 6 directed readings but this doesn’t include individual pupil readings as they dipped in and out of the text constructing and following arguments. While such slow reveal readings would not be possible or desirable always they certainly add an in-depth study and it was noticeable how pupils’ engagement with the text increased as the number of readings increased. The slow reveal of the text seems to give pupils’ cognition a chance to keep apace of the reading and their understanding. It also makes them more aware of writer choices, as they consider choices such as portrayal of character and ordering of the text. I’ll return to both re-reading and slow reveal in coming blogs.
Next lesson we’re changing focus to a LTE lesson on the FutureShort Film “The Black Hole”. I’m counting down the days already.