For this week’s Teaching and Learning briefing I was asked to present on ‘Challenge in Sixth Form Lessons’ which I tried to narrow down to ‘Visual Learning’. What did I mean by ‘Visual Learning’? Well, let me try to explain. I started by stating the premise that in general Sixth Form students want to be treated like adults and they, like most learners, will give less time to a task or activity if they do not find it engaging or understand its purpose.
I started by explaining that in A Level English Literature we teach Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection Feminine Gospels. Because this collection is all about female experiences, it is useful for students to understand the seminal changes that took place in the 20th and 21st centuries that have contributed to many modern female experiences and liberties, for instance, the suffragette movement. A fun way of getting students to engage with the experience of the suffragettes was to get them to play a ‘Corpse Talk: Grave Matters’ board game called ‘Suffragette: The Board Game’. The game has been cleverly and wittily devised to get students to reflect on the hardships experienced by the suffragettes. For example, one square reads, ‘Heckle some anti-suffragette politicians. You’re promoting the cause. Go to jail!’ while another more positive square reads, ‘You took part in a suffragette march. March forward three spaces!’ After giving students time to play the board game, I asked them to explain what they learned about how the suffragettes were treated, how they were seen by others, how little support they had, how they gained support, and whether more squares had bad luck than good luck and why this perhaps reflected the treatment of the suffragettes. While they played the game during the session I asked staff to think about:
- What a suffragette is
- The types of experiences that females went through to get the vote
- How you are meant to feel while playing the game
- In what ways women felt oppressed
- Why the movement was important – what its purpose/goal was, who stood in its way and why.
- Whether the idea of luck while playing is relevant to the treatment of the suffragettes
Shortly afterwards in the session I talked about how sometimes I try to get creative and visual with the homework I set for sixth form students. The most interesting one has to be ‘The Real Housewives of Mississippi, 1960s Edition’ where students had to do a key scene enactment followed by turn-to-camera style mockumentary interviews (in the style of TV shows like The Office and Modern Family) acting as characters from The Help. The purpose of this was to get students to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the characters, theme and context and to have fun doing so. In this particular case, I got them to achieve this goal by becoming the characters. Truthfully the results ranged from disastrous slapstick chaos to hilarious asides through to scenes that were genuinely thoughtful and insightful. Additionally, when teaching Streetcar it’s important students understand the setting, New Orleans. One of my first homework tasks set was to create a pamphlet on New Orleans. The parameters I set were that students should demonstrate an understanding of the following key words: The New South (or the post-war South), The Beat Generation and Women in the 1940s. The results were excellent, as captured in the image below.
This way the staff, like the students who I’d played this game with the year before, learned about the suffragettes, had fun doing so, and actually engaged with (on a miniscule scale albeit) some of the frustration felt by the cause – especially when locked up in jail or told to miss a go for challenging the government! At these moments it was great to hear that universal teenager exasperated sigh that indicates things aren’t going their way as they engaged with the plight of women a hundred years ago! It is worth admitting that a board game lesson might take a little extra preparation and planning time, depending on how much of a perfectionist you are, including the challenge of gathering up a box of dice; that said, it can take the same time as a well-planned lesson but is often more stimulating and easier to get students on side with. I planned my questions in advance, but I could just have easily have typed them up and printed them off for students to complete as they played the game. If you’re feeling extra creative you might insert a 5×5 table into word and even make your own board game on the topic you want the students to engage with! Typically the squares state a fact, tell players to move forward, tell students to miss a go, tell them to go to jail (usually centre of the board) or to roll again. Once you’ve done this, get it printed A3 and laminate! It might sound like a lot but it isn’t usually too difficult to get your sixth formers to focus when you tell them they’re playing a game that lesson, so it pays off in the long-term.
In short, I try to be as inventive as possible when setting homework for sixth form students to avoid the dredge and monotony that can sometimes be tempting to set because the students are a little older. I encourage you to do the same, see the results and share your ideas and your results in the comments section below!
Last but not least I set the teachers’ minds racing early in the morning by getting them to try to crack a cryptogram! I used (and highly recommend) Discovery Education’s cryptogram maker to make our school’s Code of Conduct into a difficult code to be cracked, thus introducing an element of competition into a task where I wanted them to think about what it was they were actually reading and talking about. Admittedly, I think the website doesn’t yet autogenerate an answer sheet so it’s worth adding that you may want to crack the code yourself before setting the students off to do so! Nevertheless, you know a task like this is a huge success when you have teachers frantically trying to recite the Code of Conduct at pace to solve the cryptogram first! I think a cryptogram is a great way to get students reciting harder passages or key bits of information or reading a source you need them to that is perhaps a little less exciting to read.