Monday, 21 November 2011

Extending learners learning

I've questioned my judgement today.  One of my BTEC classes have been writing up a task about three contrasting businesses, which covers one of their pass criteria for the course - they've been working on this for several sessions.

I decided (with plenty of forethought) that I would get them to extend this work by getting them to do a presentation in pairs or threes, comparing one business from one learner with a contrasting business from their partner. I asked them to create a simple, fairly informal 5 or 10 minute presentation, explaining the key differences between their chosen organisations.

On introducing the idea, I was immediately met with great resistance.  Several of the learners asked if this was merit criteria, and I told them it wasn't.  They wanted to know why they had to do the presentations, and said that they thought it was completely pointless.

I was rather taken aback by this outburst.  After initially responding by telling them that they had to do it because I had told them so (it's hard to leave your parenting one-liners at the door sometimes!), I thought about my reasons for asking them to complete the task in this way.  One of my key reasons is that I'm conscious of the fact that all too often they cut and paste bits of information from the internet, without really absorbing it and analysing it.  By standing up in front of their peers, they will have had to do at least some form of evaluation and comparison, and I felt that this would help them to develop their critical thinking skills.  This wasn't about criteria, this was about developing their ability to analyse and explain their views.

Towards the end of the lesson I explained these reasons more clearly, but sadly the students complained to their course tutor, and it was me that felt like I was in the wrong when I went back to the staff room later that day.

What most upset me was not the students' reluctance to take their learning further than just ticking the pass criteria off one by one, sad though this is.  What really upset me was that I ended up feeling like I had to defend my choice of activities to another member of staff - never a comfortable position to be in.

Writing this up gives me the confidence to say that I do think this is a worthwhile activity for my learners.  Perhaps the fact that they'll have to think a bit harder is the reason why they're resistant.  I don't want them to leave my class at the end of the year with a score card of tick boxes, I want them to be able to get a job, to be confident that they know what they're talking about, and to be able to reason and justify their actions with their colleagues.  Isn't that what teaching is all about?

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