The other day I was perusing Youtube, as one does, when I came upon a clip by Yeasayer. It was Take Away Show produced by La Blogotheque, a live performance recorded on the fly on the streets of France. Instead of the plethora of instruments that usually fill out their sound – guitars, drums, synthesisers, samplers – it was cut back to basics: voices, a few beer bottles and some simple woodwind. Although this was a step away from the original, it was interesting what remained. The melody, the rhythm, the form, the feel, the essential essence of the song. There was something raw, intimate and real about it that grabbed your attention.
This all got me thinking, imagine if education were like this. No schools, no classrooms, no fancy touchscreens, no scripts, just pop up installations, with a basic plan, at the point of need. Learning and support for the problem at hand. Similar to what Mel Cashen posed with her question, what if food vans were schools? Of course they are not and education seems inextricably linked to classrooms, but there is something in the question. Something about capturing the essence of learning. What is important right now in the context I am in. This thought of capturing the moment reminded me a little of what I have been doing with numeracy intervention this semester.
I started this year using Marian Smalls ‘Gap Closing’ program to support students flagged as struggling with numeracy. The basis of this was a diagnostic tool which then identified areas for growth. Once completed, students would work through various activities to fill in the gaps. Although the program works in theory, it was hampered in practise by two limitations: student absences and the time allocated. After one semester, students had only managed to work through an eighth of the program. In addition to this, they were becoming progressively restless and disengaged with the tasks. Something had to change.
After some reflection and feedback from the students, it was suggested that one of the issues was that what was occurring in intervention often had little connection with what was actually happening back in the classroom. They still felt like they were struggling. In addition to this, although the diagnostics provided areas for improvement, they did not encourage student self-reflection and empowerment within the process. I therefore decided to change tact and focused on creating an environment where students reflected on their learning as a group and worked together to identify problems and errors. For as John Hattie has suggested, one of the key reasons for success is that teachers know every lesson and every day where a student starts.
An issue with this change was that there were no pre-defined tasks. As I focused on the students who were present, this limited my ability of predictive planning. Instead I entered each session armed with a tub of random resources, paper, a whiteboard and my iPad. After beginning with a starter designed to get students engaged into learning and open to risk, I would then pose two questions in a T-chart: what have you learnt and what have you found difficult? Although I had a fair idea where the students were at, different classes were always at different stages, so ‘going off the planner’ was always difficult. After working together to brainstorm ideas, these ideas would then be organised into clear topics and students would place themselves based on their own point of need. For each topic I would come up with a learning intention and discuss who as a small group we would work through the problem.
Some groups would talk together and work on identifying what the problem actually was, others would grapple a task I had designated for them. More often than not though, we would reflect by actually recording our findings. Using Adobe Voice, students would verbalise their learning. For example, one week one group came up with different strategies for working out 24-hour time, while another week a group went through and defined the different angles. The powerful action in all of this was that these videos were then shared back to the class and celebrated on the big screen. Not only were they recognised by their peers, but their work was being celebrated. Not only was there a significant increase student engagement with numeracy, but they were also excited by learning. On a side, it is an important reminder that even one device in a room can make a different.
So what about you, have you ever run an intervention program? What did you do? How did you focus on each student each week? I would love to know, for together we are always made better.
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