Sunday, 24 March 2019

#LW2019 - Goosebump Learning



This is my presentation from this year's Language World conference (#LW2019) which finished yesterday.  My PowerPoint was a series of images and so posting it here would not be a great deal of use to you if you weren't there 'live'.  Read on to find out what "goosebump learning" is!

It’s well known that when a piece of music particularly moves you, you get goosebumps and your hair stands on end.  But have you ever had this happen to you in the classroom, and with language learning rather than music?  Sometimes in the classroom we get a strong reaction from the learning that is taking place, and that manifests itself in goosebumps. 

The dictionary says that goosebumps are “caused by cold, fear or excitement”.  Well in most classrooms it’s unlikely to be because of cold, as many are heated to tropical temperatures, and hopefully it is never a result of fear.  It can be, though, a result of our thrill at seeing the learning go just right. 


We can explain this state in other ways too.  This reaction can occur “when the stars align” – when all the conditions are correct.  I think we can all agree that these reactions are quite rare, but are they in fact unexpected and nearly impossible?  Are they down to pure luck or is it something we can control and/or nurture?

Engineering this kind of reaction for the teacher, and indeed for the students, can be seen as some sort of alchemy – “a process that is so effective that it seems like magic”, apparently.  Let’s think about what we need to do, what we need to put in place in order to maximise our chances of the learning being this good.

Our students’ success, achievement and obvious enjoyment is what gives us goosebumps.  Their learning can be affected by the weather, by the time of day, by what’s happened in the corridor before the lesson, by there being an R in the month….   The culture of the languages classroom is very important.  They need to feel “emotionally secure and psychologically safe” (Paul Ginnis)  Is the languages classroom a place where children feel safe to have a go, to make mistakes and to learn from them?  Is it a place where their peers will be supportive of their attempts?

This poster from bsmall publishing, free to download from their website, illustrates some of the things that we want the learners to be able to do in our classrooms without running the risk of ridicule or getting told off by other students or from the teacher.  Two of the articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child state that children have the right to be educated and have the right to express themselves freely, including in the classroom.  It’s worth laying the foundations, I think, by looking at the rights and responsibilities resources that are used by Rights Respecting Schools:
  • everyone in school has the right to learn, to be safe and to be happy.  Therefore, it’s everyone’s responsibility to listen to respect others’ views and opinions, to show them respect and to be polite and helpful to all in the room, including adults.  It’s learners’ responsibility to behave in a mature and sensible way. 
  • Children also have the right to be educated and they therefore have the responsibility to learn as much as they can and to help others to learn.
  •  All children have the right to make mistakes and the responsibility to learn from them.

This is the sort of culture that we want in our classrooms, where students feel that they can have a go, safe in the knowledge that they will be supported and not ridiculed by their peers, and that the teacher will acknowledge their efforts and support them to improve.

Part of learners’ feeling comfortable in the classroom is for them to be comfortable and supported where they are sitting. In the primary sector, the seating plan is often pre-determined by the class teacher, and usually comprises ability tables.  If you have the freedom to decide your own seating plan, what should you be taking into account?  The seating pattern you choose contributes to the atmosphere of the classroom.  Rows suggest a controlled environment where interaction is perhaps not encouraged, while a U shape, for example, indicates more of a feeling of equality between the teacher and the students, and promotes discussion and interaction.  Grouped tables are like little communities for the learner to operate in and gives them that safe area.

In an ideal world, and this is something that we talked about in my Local Authority about 20 years ago, language classrooms would have American-style seats with integral tables, which could be moved around and re-arranged very easily.  With our traditional tables and chairs things are usually a bit trickier.

We need to strike the balance between discipline issues and the need for facilitating pair and group work.  We don’t want anyone to have their back to the main focus of the lesson, which is usually the whiteboard area.  Once we’ve decided on the table pattern, do we seat according to ability or in a mixed-ability pattern?  Even a set class is going to have a range of ability within it, of course.  According to research by Montana State university, mixed-ability seating shows a huge attainment increase for the lower ability, with no detriment to the higher ability.  This type of seating encourages peer to peer learning, where students reinforce their own learning by helping and supporting others.  Rachel Hawkes advocates mixed seating where students have a partner of a different ability with whom to work in a pair next to them, and then they turn round to interact again with a different partner.

I’m a big fan of the Itchy Feet cartoons, and love this one - View from the top - because of its depiction of language learning as a mountain to be climbed.  You climb one slope and celebrate having achieved something, but then there is revealed yet another climb.  And we never stop climbing, however adept we are.  In order for students to have a successful climb to whatever the arrival point may be that we have planned for them, we need to have some routines in place so that students know what to expect and what they’ll need to do at each step along the way.  This often involves careful use of the target language.  Do we always introduce the same activity in the same way so that students know exactly what they need to do?  Do we habitually colour-code words or clusters of words to provide a secure shorthand to students?  Do we use actions to aid understanding and to maximise student involvement?  Do we, and indeed should we, begin each lesson in the same way to breed familiarity, to make students feel secure before they start?  Should we have an activity for students to do the moment they arrive in the room, before the lesson has officially begun, to settle them and get them in the right frame of mind?

If we are going to reach that magical goosebumps stage of learning, something else that we need to do is to ensure that the learning is built up in small, manageable, scaffolded steps.  Students will lack confidence and understanding if we go in too high too soon.  We want them to feel secure and supported as they gradually build up the language to the top of the slope that you have planned.  We also want to build learner confidence by getting them to do things, to have those interactions with others that will help them to practise what they are learning, to support their peers and to learn from each other.


So we’ve talked about some of things that we can do to encourage goosebump learning, to maximise our chances of it happening.  Allow me to share with you some of my recent and not so recent goosebump moments.  While I was preparing this, I was racking my brain trying to think of things from teaching years past, those moments that made me feel really pleased and happy to be a teacher.  I have a feeling that a lot of them have been lost in the ether.  We should make a record of our goosebump moments, I think, as proof to ourselves in the dark days that yes - we can do this!  That’s one thing that social media and LiPS (Languages in Primary Schools Facebook group) in particular is great for – for sharing and celebrating our successes.
  • In 1997 I met for the first time a Year 7 Spanish group, who I ended up teaching all the way through to Year 9.  I also taught a lot of them for GCSE.  When they were in Year 9, at the turn of the century, I was part of a working group in the Local Authority about Thinking Skills, and it became part of the KS3 Strategy.  We developed a number of Thinking Skills materials in the Local Authority.  This is a mystery activity where students have to use the clues they are given to find the answer to the big question.  In this case, it’s “who is Sofía’s best friend?”.  The class worked in groups of four or five and first of all worked through some scaffolding activities to support them when they came to read and understand the clues and work out their answer to the big question.
    The point of thinking skills activities is that there is rarely a clear cut correct answer.  There can be multiple correct answers, but students have to be able to explain and justify their choice.  With this mystery there were four friends to choose from, and two of them were more suitable than the other two.  Towards the end of the lesson, most groups had fed back about their choice and the reason behind their choice, and finally we came to the group of four girls sitting near the front.  There ensued a stand-up argument between two pairs in the group “THEY think it’s this one but WE think it’s that one” complete with quoting from the text and justifications left, right and centre.  They were so involved in the learning.
    There must have been more from my secondary days, but I can’t remember any specific examples apart from individual GCSE speaking exams.
  • The next is the story of a girl currently in one of my Year 6 classes.  In Year 1 and Year 2 the only time she ever spoke to me was answering her name in the register.  She didn’t join in with singing, usually didn’t take part in the speaking, and shook her head quietly if I asked her if she wanted to have a go at an activity that involved choosing something for the class.  When Year 3 started, she was still very quiet.  Then after the first term the children started working in pairs on dialogues using language that we had learned so far in Year 3, namely saying hello and goodbye, saying and asking their name and saying how you feel.  We video the resulting work and the children choose a puppet to do the speaking for them.  She was working with her best friend, and when I videoed their work, there was this great big voice making the puppet speak.  It was a real breakthrough and she has never looked back.
  • A couple of years ago I did my French flag unit with my two Year 2 French classes.  It involves putting together sentences which describe the colours and shapes on flags, and uses actions to aid memory and to assist with understanding.  It always works well (in both languages) and the children enjoy practising some unseen flags and then making and describing their own.  One of the girls described her flag brilliantly for the rest of the class, and then, completely unexpected for me, got up in the show and tell assembly and did it for the rest of the school later that same week.
  • This is the numbers song that Year 1 learn pretty early on, and we use it as the musical accompaniment to various games like pass the parcel.  One day last term I was practising it with my current Year 1 and they sang it very well.  Because in hymn practice the same morning we had been practising a round, I suggested to the children that we try to sing the numbers song as a round in two parts.  We split the class into two and they sung it perfectly as a round, first time.  Proper goosebump moment!  We then tried to record it five times, but it didn’t work again.  One of those alchemy moments!
  • In one of my schools the children have only been learning Spanish for two years, having done French before that.  To move the Year 6s on quickly I’ve created a unit about animals to introduce gender, singular and plural, and some adjectival agreement.  We read Los limones no son rojos, and I used its format as a basis for this sentence-building activity.  The idea is that they work in pairs to create grammatically correct sentences using the word cards given.  There are lots of correct answers, but the answers have to be grammatically correct, in particular the adjectival agreement.  There was total immersion in the activity, great learning conversations.
  • This is from the Ofsted report of one of my schools, from November last year, when the school moved from Good to Outstanding:

    The curriculum is used innovatively to explore cultural methods of addressing and dispelling fears where appropriate. For example, some pupils were intrigued by the ‘worry dolls’ they made while learning about Spanish cultures. Pupils’ welfare needs are high on everyone’s agenda.

    The two inspectors spent two days in school, looking at every aspect of the curriculum.  I still don’t know which child it was who mentioned to the HMI the worry dolls that we make in Year 2, but they will get a special reward when I find out!  The children are always very interested in the concept of worry dolls, which we look at as part of our Guatemala project.  We make one to put in the Guatemala bag which we also make, and the children do take them home and use them.  Year 5 and Year 6 often tell me that they still have theirs and that they still use it.  Goosebumps for the way that Spanish crosses the curriculum and something pretty deep happens.
  • And finally the one that was the inspiration for this presentation.  Year 4, September, days of the week.  Some speaking and listening with an often tricky class, and somehow it just all went right.  All focussed, all engaged, all taking part.  It hasn’t happened since with them, and I spend the odd idle moment wondering what it was that made the stars align on that day!


These are some activities that have always been successful for me, and that you might like to try, to see if you get goosebumps!
·         - Tarsia
·         - Trash or Treasure
·         - focussed dictation
·         - which card?
·         - pointing game
·         - flicking game
·         - Trapdoor
·         - 5 in a row
·         - Battleships
·         - writing frames
·         - word mats
·         - Kagan Rally Table


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