"It is a good divine that follows his own instructions; I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching."
Portia, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene II.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sailing in a new direction, enlarging the world...

Workshop 3 Iain McGilchrist, John McGlashan College –
Co-constructing a negotiated understanding

I am looking forward to this workshop. I went to Iain’s workshop in Christchurch a couple of years ago, when he did “Thinking outside the triangle,” which was great. I always enjoy his posts on English Online too.  Am sitting here with @paulineHendog – interestingly she remarked that when she first met Iain she was surprised that he was so young. I laughed because I had thought the same thing – the tone of world-weary cynicism in his postings made me expect someone older ;-) !

Iain told us that the workshop was basically looking at the question: What can you do in your classroom that might make your job easier? [Sounds good to me.]

Up and down lessons

When he first started teaching, Iain would do a lot of chalk and talk – he wrote a lot of stuff UP on the board, and then students wrote it DOWN.  Then he got smart and did this using OHPs and powerpoint.

He commented that up and down is easy to manage because you could get a lot done in that 20 minutes while the students were just writing that down.

Powering Down

Referring to talks on TED talk by people like Ted Robinson, Iain talks about how students ‘power down’ when they get to school because it is less interesting and important than the rest of their life. So how do we get that student engagement?

One way could be to co-construct resources and understandings, using discussion.

Co-Constructing Resources and Understandings

Iain gives us an example of beginning a novel study, providing the following information on a ppt slide:

Eugene Onegin

·      Alexander Pushkin
·      Context
·      Significance
·      Adaptations: film, opera…
·      Byronic Heroes
·      The Superfluous Man

He told us that it is a novel in verse, sonnets, 389 stanzas. The character of Eugene Onegin is a good example of a Byronic hero – the superfluous man.

Step one, asked the class what they knew:

·      Alexander Pushkin 1799-1837 died at the age of 38, tragically – he found out his wife was having an affair, challenged the guy to a duel and was shot.

Iain then allocated the tasks of Vocabulary and Syllable Man whose jobs were to record and explain interesting words which come up in the course of the co-construction, and sent the rest of us off to find out about Byronic heroes, the poem itself, Pushkin etc. Students to post a link and brief description on the facebook page. Iain points out that facebook works for him, but you could use other platforms, such as Moodle, Knowledgenet (eg. using the Forum function), Wikis etc.

For this to work at your school you either need BYOD or access to the computer room – something which is often problematic. My own experience of trying something similar with Google Docs was a bit frustrating as bits of what students wrote disappeared into the ether or were transposed into some other part of the document from where they were entered. Admittedly, it still beat doing all the notes myself and was infinitely preferable from the learning point of view in terms of active student engagement.

I’ve been looking up stuff about Byronic heroes but have been distracted by the text itself – here’s a sample:


     Idle again by dedication,
     oppressed by emptiness of soul,
     he strove to achieve the appropriation
     of other's thought -- a splendid goal;
     with shelves of books deployed for action,
     he read, and read -- no satisfaction:
     here's boredom, madness or pretence,
     here there's no conscience, here no sense;
     they're all chained up in different fetters,
     the ancients have gone stiff and cold,
     the moderns rage against the old.
     He'd given up girls -- now gave up letters,
     and hid the bookshelf's dusty stack
     in taffeta of mourning black.

I love it. “Idle again by dedication” and “He’d given up girls”  - yeah right.  But anyway I have decided it’s a Must Read…

Go here to see the facebook page we made on Eugene Onegin (if you aren’t blocked by Campus Watchdog that is…).

You could do this in the computer room in one period, and then come back to it several times over a few weeks to test students’ understandings and decide whether they still agree with what they posted earlier.

Homework could be to go through and look at what everyone has posted and to comment on what you agree/disagree etc.

Syllable Man told us to check out http://visuwords.com/ - this site is awesome for vocabulary – go and see!!!

Iain went on to show us something one of his classes had done on Romantic Poetry. He gave them the table of contents and they had to build the document. He gave them an example – cut and paste, put in the URL to acknowledge source, add bullet point comments. He told them “maximum one page.”  Fabulous results, and they only had an hour to do it.


·      Remember purpose and audience
·      Remember your purposes – keep an academic voice – formal language
·      Be supportive
·      Reinforce other people’s ideas “Furthermore…”
·      Challenge other people’s ideas “Alternatively…”
·      Include specific details
·      “Like” other comments if you agree

Summary from Iain: there’s stacks of stuff on Eugene Onegin there that I didn’t have to go and find!

Co-constructing discussion

Tools to draw people, get opinions and voices and keep discussion going:
Warn the quiet ones that you want to hear from them. Before they contribute, does anyone want to start?  Sam, I’ll be picking on you soon. I’ll come back to you in 2 minutes, so collect your thoughts and get ready to speak.
That’s a great idea. Who can support that idea? Who can develop that idea further? Who agrees/disagrees? I’ll ask you to build a case to support/refute that idea.

Iain uses a digital voice recorder (USB) to record the discussion – provides a record of the discussion, which can be posted for students to access.

Giving students starters, eg:
·      This language technique is effective because…
·      This is significant because…
·      This helps achieve the author’s purpose because…
·      Moreover…
·      Furthermore..
·      Additionally…
·      Alternatively…

Teacher’s role is to summarise the points of view and progress of the debate, or students can take turns to do this.

Iain played us a recording of a class discussion – obviously some great teaching of language techniques had been going on in his classroom!  Students also had a clear model of how to construct a response – “ the poet uses <technique> to show/to make the reader feel… <effect>  - way to go Iain!!

Fabulous workshop! Has enthused me to go back and try to get that Y13 class talking, and to get those Y11s and 12s co-constructing their revision notes. I also withdraw and apologise re the “world-weary cynicism” comment. Iain is a totally positive dynamo!! 

Thanks so much for the great inspiration and ideas, Iain.

No comments:

Post a Comment