Open thinking, closed questioning: philosophy in the classroom
When is a question closed and when is a question open? I’ve attended several insets over the years on this topic and still don’t know the answer. Perhaps it’s because I’m a Maths teacher and most of my questions are closed! What’s the answer? 2? Moving on then…We had a discussion which centred around 4 questions. All we had to do was say which was closed and which was open? Easy, right? Well, try it yourself before reading on:
- Do you like apricot jam?
- What can you tell me about Paris?
- What is the mind?
- Is the mind the same as the brain?
Of course it depends on who is asking the question and who is giving the answer, but we decided to focus on two things. Firstly, is it grammatically closed? Secondly is it conceptually closed? The answers are below:
- This question is grammatically closed and conceptually closed, although if you are an apricot jam enthusiast (and I’m not) you could argue that you could talk about this topic for 10 minutes. Someone actually tried!
- Conceptually closed and grammatically open – this means the opportunity is there to answer fully but conceptually it is a closed question. The answer could be ‘nothing’.
- Conceptually open and grammatically open – this question is asking for a detailed explanation and everyone can contribute as it’s a topic everyone can familiarise themselves with and have an opinion on
- It was argued that this question was conceptually open but grammatically closed. This question is asking for a yes or no answer but actually it’s possible to give a very detailed response.
I have to say I’m none the wiser with regards to questioning but this is certainly an argument that can be continued!
Black Box Thinking – Achieving high performance
This was fascinating. Matthew Syed, who penned David Beckham’s recent biography amongst others, talked about Black Box thinking. If a plane crashes, the black box recorder is analysed and mistakes that happen to cause the crash are investigated. The likelihood of this same error happening twice is unlikely. Matthew likened this philosophy to the NHS. Hospitals that report the most mistakes make the least number of mistakes overall. This is because these mistakes are analysed and corrections are made to minimise the likelihood of these mistakes happening again. Hospitals that report the least number of mistakes make more errors as they are not tackled. But how does this apply to teaching? For me, it’s an issue of allowing time for yourself to reflect on best practice. If you reflect on your own teaching often enough, you’ll end up making fewer mistakes in the long run and ultimately become a better teacher. I’ve been teaching for ten years and actually I’m guilty of this. I don’t reflect on my own teaching anymore, and I should! My new target is to spend 5 minutes, once every week, to reflect on a lesson and analyse what could have gone better.
Confident Teachers and Confident Students
Confidence has to be just right. Over confidence is damaging and not enough confidence is damaging. Teachers have to get this right. This can be applied to teaching using the Goldilocks principle. The Goldilocks principle states that in a given sample, there may be entities belonging to extremes, but there will always be an entity belonging to the average. Or in other words, in a sample, there will always be a U-shaped distribution. When the effects of the principle are observed, it is known as the Goldilocks effect.
The Goldilocks principle is derived from a children’s story “The Three Bears” in which a little girl named Goldilocks finds a house owned by three bears. Each bear has its own preference of food and beds. After testing all three examples of both items, Goldilocks determines that one of them is always too much in one extreme (too hot or too large), one is too much in the opposite extreme (too cold or too small), and one is “just right”. The correct amount of confidence applied in the classroom instils confidence in pupils. Definitely something to think about here!
Preparing bright students for a rapidly changing world of work
‘Brexit’ was certainly the hot topic within this talk, as was a discussion of the need for young people to maximise their education in an increasingly uncertain world. They will need to embrace the idea that they will have a ‘portfolio career’, as they are very unlikely to have a job for life. Five ‘Mega Trends’ were also defined which will undoubtedly have an impact on our students’ lives:
- A shift in global economic power from Europe to the East
- Demographic and social change
- Urbanisation with a massive growth in cities
- Climate change and resource scarcity
- Fast paced technological developments
As a result, our students need to become tech savvy, innovative and entrepreneurial. They also need to have highly developed soft skills and be flexible in their approach to their careers. It was argued that these attributes can be fostered in school through increased links with business and the setting of real world business and societal problems for our students to tackle. We can all play a part in developing these, both within lessons and tutor time, and well as within the extra-curricular activities that we run.
The Curriculum Conundrum – Embracing the academic
Summer Turner argued that teachers are spending too much time is spent on a ‘stock cupboard’ approach to teaching and that we should all be putting more energy put in to ‘what’ we teach rather than ‘how’ we teach it. She states that the curriculum must be central to our approach and that pedagogy must come second to this, particularly as most teachers enter the profession to share their love of their subject, rather than to create card sorts or living graphs. One of her key arguments is that we should be mapping our curriculums back from A Level to create engaging programmes of study and assessment. Her approach to curriculum design and assessment can be seen below and can be found in her upcoming book ‘Secondary Curriculum and Assessment Design’:
- Academic Purpose
- Big ideas/threshold concepts
Great Education Secretaries: The History
In a brilliantly engaging talk, Laura McInerney provided a potted history of the people who have held the top job in education. As a historian, I was intrigued by the way in which she had used Excel to help her to create a clear analysis of the attributes of past Education Secretaries – this is something I will be looking to bring in to my lessons when assessing the characteristics of historical figures. Her website is certainly worth a look, whether you are looking for pedagogical ideas or even just for interest:
Secret to unleashing great Teaching – Tom Sherrington
Is there a Secret? Tom Sherrington discussed many aspects to underpin the world of ‘great teaching’. One aspect of this, was to sit down and take a little development reflection time every day. Creating a small blog, whether it be personal key notes or a type of web journal/online blog. It is a key focus that teachers are encouraged to ‘take risks’ and develop ‘new strategies’ in every day teaching, but what about reflecting on them? What if trying out one strategy or risk element isn’t as unsuccessful or didn’t go to plan as one hoped? Refection time is essential and powerful, if we take ‘time out’ and have a look at our strengths and areas of weakness in our teaching and learn from the outcomes. It is said we ‘best learn from making mistakes’ – referring back to this type of ‘growth mind set’ . A little development time, every day, on each lesson, may have a greater impact than we think. We expect our pupils’ to learn best from their errors and mistakes, so why can’t teachers?
Black box: Achieving high performance- Matthew Syed
The powerful tool of ‘growth mind-set’. Matthew Syed was undoubtedly an inspiring role model, captivating and fascinating when discussing how to use this model of the ‘growth mind set’- not only from a personal mind-set- but applying this as a teacher, and how to influence the pupils in front of us. This model not only has the ability to boost self-esteem, but has the ability to raise achievement and attainment of our pupils further, ‘to unless their great potential’ if used in the right context. Great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and are fascinated with the process of learning. It is essential that we incorporate bits of the growth mind-set and concepts of this in every lesson. To attempt to find the ‘fixed’ mind set students, tap into them and change attitudes and concepts. I feel inspired to dig deeper, research and read books/articles to release the power of this model on the pupils sat in front of me.
What benefits can introverts bring to school leadership? – Iesha small
Listening to Iesha small discussing of what positive aspects ‘introverts’ can bring to the world of Teaching, and learning that being an ‘introvert’ and being a teacher is actually ‘okay’- Introverts can actually thrive in Teaching and leadership, they bring different characteristics to the world of teaching. One of their many traits is being able to really listen thoroughly to a pupils view and taking time to reflect rather than making hasty decisions. Being an ‘introvert’ and being a teacher was once thought not to have any room in teaching, but is now celebrated. Iesha was inspiring at delivering this ‘blue sky thinking’ aspect of teaching and really delivered an interesting seminar of how an ‘introvert ‘can use their unique personal traits to my advantage, and learn to love the roller coaster ride of Teaching.
Turning failure into success
I really enjoyed the talk by Matthew Syed (Black Box Thinking) because it explained how well we can learn from our own mistakes, and to build in a range of new techniques and employ new tactics to improve performance. He used the example of a Black Box as they help us to avoid future air crashes and to actively encourage increased, and safer, performance or progress. Adopting a Growth Mind set and actively learning from mistakes breeds tenacity and a “can-do” attitude. Instead of giving up, you encourage yourself and others to be more resilient and to do better next time. You can constantly refine each part of the teaching / learning process to further maximise performance. In MFL especially you can only really make sustained progress by making mistakes and then by learning the correct patterns, spellings and grammar. A wide variety of techniques, used by the whole team, will help to improve everyone’s performance. We should see failure not as the end point, but as an opportunity to learn.
Nature v Nurture
Everyone can get better at something if they keep working at it. If you think that you succeed solely through talent or potential, without hard work, then you will not necessarily get that far. Hard work and real effort, on the part of both pupils and teachers, should not be embarrassing. Hard work unlocks potential more effectively, and sticking with a challenging task will reap benefits. Simply saying that you can’t do it because you don’t have the talent or skill is an excuse. Increased effort will need to further success in every field.
Seizing every opportunity
From the “Preparing bright students for a rapidly changing world” talk I gained some useful insights from speakers from industry and academia. Employers are becoming less interested in just where people go to university but more importantly in terms of their skill base and personality. The speaker from Oxford mentioned the Student Consultancy programme which allowed university students to work with local industry. One of the business consultants mentioned the Mini-MBA which they have used with 6th Form pupils in local schools. Both projects give pupils the chance to work outside the comfort zone of their own schools to focus on solving real-life business challenges. I would be very interested in seeing how far we could adopt these, or similar, programmes at Kennet. Every opportunity, be it EPQ or MOOCs, trips, work experience or voluntary work, the chance to learn something new or different, should be seized upon. All these opportunities build confidence and skills which are invaluable for pupils’ future careers.
There were so many interesting sessions on offer. I was interested in sessions relating to social changes and the mental health of young people. Continue Reading
Are students ready for the jobs of tomorrow?
As my tutor group have matured (well, some of them) and been encouraged to think seriously about their futures I have developed a deeper interest in careers advice and guidance. The cluelessness of some of them has been alarming and some individuals need a lot of encouragement over the next year. Therefore the title of this talk caught my eye. The main focus was on what the future will look like. Research such as ‘Future State’ by KPMG and ‘Megatrends’ by Ernst and Young suggests that there are five key things young people should be prepared for. Continue Reading
This year I took a group of colleagues along to the Education Festival with me. I’ve asked them to write about their three ‘takeaway points’. Over the next week I’ll be sharing what they learned.
1. Making every lesson count – Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby
In ‘Making Every Lesson Count’, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby suggested that going back to ‘the basics’ could support the quality of teaching and learning in classrooms. They suggested, whilst current initiatives have value, in their school lesson planning and evaluation focus on three key areas: challenge, explanations and feedback. How often do we make these a priority in our own planning? Continue Reading