Tuesday, 29 January 2013

GAT Teaching Strategies

Another day, another step towards world domination... Well, outstanding teaching, at any rate. What? I can dream.

There was a CPD session run after school tonight focusing on the teaching of Gifted, Able & Talented (GAT) students. The session resulted in a really positive buzz in the room and I've come away with lots of ideas and a renewed desire to challenge all of my students.

The feedback I often get is that there needs to be more independence, more challenge, more risks, improved questioning etc. All the things that will begin pushing my teaching up towards the outstanding bracket. This CPD session tonight allowed me to think more broadly about how I can implement this. It also gave me some ideas on how to get the kids up and out of their seats more. I really must shake the idea that they all need to be sat down for there to be order.

The speaker focused his discussion on six 'cornerstones' of GAT teaching:

1. Thinking Skills

This focused on the idea of improving the students' ability to THINK for themselves, as opposed to just retaining and regurgitating information. The ability to memorise facts does not have many real-world applications; the ability to think for yourself does. We discussed the idea of it being okay to be wrong and how the thinking process is more important than getting it right. He cited DeBono's Thinking Hats as a key part of this cornerstone as it allows the individual learner to explore an idea from a comfortable thinking style whilst also allowing the teacher to facilitate their learning by encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone.

2. Creativity

If you haven't done already, check out Ken Robinson's TED speech here:

His basic argument is that, as we age, creativity has a less and less important impetus placed upon it. He's right. The argument being that creativity and literacy should be given an equal billing within the curriculum. The speaker tonight said that Robinson doesn't argue for creativity to be viewed as more important but, rather, like a bath, the two should be "mixed together with a few colourful ducks thrown in too." I enjoyed that analogy. Creativity does not need to just be about painting or drawing, it's about the ability to think of new ideas. We don't think of great scientific minds as being 'creative' per se, but without their ability to think outside of the box and ask creative questions, we wouldn't have advanced anywhere near as far as we have. Ergo, creativity MUST be given more value within our lessons.

3. Intelligence

GAT students must have some level of intelligence: it goes without saying. However, the speaker tonight discussed the different types of intelligence and discussed Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (PGCE flashback, anyone?). Gardner states that there are 8.5 types of intelligence: logical-mathematical, spatial, linguistic, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential (which is the half). The argument being that we all bring different strengths to the table: a talented sportsman is more than just a fit individual; he is also able to interpret a playing field, read a situation, second guess his opponent etc. which all require a certain type of intelligence. Where is it written that intelligence must be represented by performance in a written test?

4. Mindset

It is suggested that 47% of us believe that our intelligence and ability is fixed and unable to be altered. 43% disagree and believe that anyone can improve their level of intelligence or success through active development. The former demographic are referred to as a 'fixed mindset' with the latter being known as a 'growth mindset.' Worryingly, this mindset is thought to be established by the age of three (!) through the expectations laid out by our parents. The advice to teachers is to praise students for their level of effort, rather than their intelligence. By praising achievement or intelligence, we are effectively limiting their success potential whilst also establishing the idea that if they don't get the next task correct then they have failed completely. By praising effort, it encourages someone to always try their best and to develop resilience.

5. Enquiry

The key word here is 'facilitate.' Students should develop a love of learning, a desire to ask questions, a naturally inquisitive approach to life. Questions are always the best starting point for discovering something new or stumbling upon a potentially revolutionary idea. If nobody had asked 'Why don't we fly off into the sky?' then we wouldn't understand gravity; if nobody had said 'Hey, why can't women be educated and given a crack at the whip too?' then I probably wouldn't be writing this blog now. Questioning things is how society evolves and if we don't nurture that idea in students then society will cease to develop and we will be stuck in a world without hover cars and stuff. Nobody wants that.

6. Character

I found myself immediately linking this last cornerstone to the ideas behind SEAL and PLTS: Paul Tough argues that certain aspects of a child's character will naturally allow them to improve their achievement and level of engagement with learning and thinking. These traits are hardly groundbreaking ideas: perseverance, conscientiousness, optimism, curiosity, and self-discipline. Combined, these traits allow a student to learn and achieve their potential. We've all used the 'but last week you did it brilliantly so you CAN do it' party line with students but this takes that to its extreme. It's important that we develop these traits in students to enable all of the above to have an impact at all. In a way, this links to the earlier discussion of mindset too: if we can 'break' their programming and encourage them to realise that they CAN grow then we're on to a winner.

In short, the discussion was excellent and there were a whole host of activity ideas too which I'll try in the coming weeks and feedback on.

Just to finish up, I wanted to show off my new favourite thing to use: colourful boxes (which I did make myself: thanks a lot, GCSE Graphics) as a plenary to assess their learning in the lesson. It's hardly groundbreaking but it's new to me and the kids seem to like it a lot too:

This was from a Year 10 lesson this morning that went to smoothly. I love those lessons... Nobody put their post-it note in the red box!

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