Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Ying and Yang of the Question Grid

I have been a fan of @JOHNSAYERS question grid for sometime. Not only is it making me phrase my questions in lessons much better, it is enabling pupils to develop their own questioning skills. What's not to like, or indeed love?!

I began using it with my genial guinea pigs that are the Year 13 Language and Literature group and have gradually introduced it to my KS3 classes.  The KS4 class, my 'snake-wrangling' Year 10s had been swerved a little, because I was not sure how best to use it with that class, and after this post, you'll know I'm still not sure! As people tell me, 'God loves a trier.'

This is a more warts than all post than most because I shall reveal the epic failure of my attempt to use it with the year 10 class, followed by a far more successful use with my Year 8 group before they began to read 'Face' by Benjamin Zephaniah.

Year 10 and the Ying of the Question Grid or For God's Sake, don't to this:

We are studying Romeo and Juliet for the WJEC Poetry and Shakespeare Controlled Assessment  which to use a bloomin' Gove-ism, is really rather rigorous. The CA focus is on family relationships so, with a boy heavy class I have decided to focus on Romeo, Lord Montague and Friar Lawrence in more street speak I am asking, 'Who's the daddy?' - Montague or Lawrence? We have done plentiful work, exploring father son relationships in the real world, film and television and now The Bard, a backwards slip down a timeline if you will.

Furthermore, before Easter, I really felt, through a huge amount of blood sweat and tears, I'd had this group sussed at last as they were really beginning to develop some higher level responses in lessons, alongside a much more positive attitude to learning. 'Oh I am fortune's fool!' I now cry, two weeks roaming free at Easter and we are back to square one.  It really has been horrifically difficult to be with them in a classroom since the start of term!

So, brimming with confidence I had planned lessons based on the class I saw before Easter, not the one that arrived back to me afterwards. #errornumber1

Here is what I put in the question grid for them to have a go at using:

My intention was to arouse their curiosity about the character's actions and behaviour through writing their own questions about the first words, spoken by Friar Lawrence in Act 3 Scene 3 of 'Romeo and Juliet'.  It would also enable them to consider the language and write questions about it that we can use in later lessons.  It was also about building their confidence by removing me from the role of inquisitor, and placing that idea at their feet, giving them more autonomy in the lesson.  How to use the grid to create questions was modeled with the class.  The idea came from a discussion with @hgaldinoshea and I thought, 'Cunning' must give it a go!

Oh but it DID back fire spectatularly. I saw the sort of behaviours in that lesson that you have nightmares about as PGCE student and an NQT.  They were totally disengaged, often defient, argumentative, rude, disriuptive and frankly, this would have fallen off the bottom of the Ofsted lesson grading scale.  I sat down, drained and disappointed at the end of the lesson. It was a car crash. 

Where had else had I gone wrong?
  • They needed introducing to John's grid in a less 'high stakes' situation perhaps not involving language but using images instead
  • The task made them feel vulnerable as learners and children, they felt they couldn't do it, so demonstrated as such through their behaviour
  • I could have led them to where I wanted to be in more 'bite size' chunks
  • There were so many that were not even trying to co-operate, my energy was sapped out of me part way through the lesson, leaving me less able to keep my head and my calm
  • I should have just abandoned it and had a plan B handy that would have achieved the same aims.
  • It was the wrong task for the wrong group, well at least in this moment in time!
  • I had not tried the quote in the grid idea before with more amiable students - always useful as it irons out glitches and builds your confidence with a new technique.
How to pull it all back?
  • Friday we had a lesson that did directly deal with their behaviour, reminding them of their responsbilities as learners, rules and consequencs
  • I also admitted that I need to change how I teach them so they feel like they are learning and making progress.
  • The Head of Year came into support.
  • Some previous CA marks were handed back and they were chuffed, as some of them should be, with their marks (note not grades....) 
  • We managed to finish on a high.
Lesson learned Miss. Nelson, lesson learned.

The Yang of the Question grid or When 'Phew!' it works!

This time it was used with a Year 8 class who had used it in a prior pre-reading lesson (for 'Face') where they were shown pictures of Katie Piper and The Elephant Man and had to use the question grid to write questions as one of these people, to the other. This was to get them thinking, on their own terms, about facial disfigurement. It was fascinating as one lad physically recoiled from the photographs; while others were enormously empathic. 

So, this time, I showed them the grid again but with the book cover in:

The aim was similar to the car crash Year 10 lesson plus I had more explicitly asked them to hypothesise about the content of the novel via the grid and the book cover.  I only needed to do a short re-cap of how to use the grid.

The lesson start was aided and abetted by Jim Smith's Meta-Starters from 'The Lazy Teacher's Handbook because they were asked to reflect on when they've had to generate questions before, from any lesson.

Oh it was lovely!  The class initially focused on the layout of the book design and wrote their questions based on that.  But, as a little more time was given, pupils began to write questions using the 'Why might...' stem to start hypothesising about the content of the book and what has happened to the person without a face on the cover.  

Here is an example of a pupil's work from this lesson (note the literacy peer marking):

This pupil is a total gem. One of those kids, that when you meet their parent's, it's all you can do NOT to say, 'Thank you so much for consumating your marriage and producing your child.'

Why was this not a car crash?
  • I have done lots of work with this class generating questions in previous lessons
  • The meta-starter enabled them to realise they were on familiar territory
  • The previous lesson had piqued their interest in the subject matter
  • The class were 'on side' and co-operative, even last lesson of the day!
  • The purpose of the work was clear to them
  • They have had a good experience reading novels with me in the past
  • To paraphrase @LearningSpy - the stuff below the water mark of the ice-berg allowed the tip, the bit above the water, the lesson, to be successful.

The novel was produced in the last 20 minutes of the lessson and the enthusiasm for it was so very noticable. They even requested to read out different character parts like we had done so before with Louis Sachar's 'Holes'.  They policed each other to be quiet so we could read more of the book. The opening of the book is fabulously witty. We laughed a lot.

A pupil walked past me at the end of the lesson, and said, 'It is really fun to share reading a book together.' 

Soooooo much more important to us teachers than the big sticks of data, league tables and Ofsted inspections. It is what feeds the teacher soul. More please!