Durrant and McLoughlin on the thinking classroom

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 - hancockmcdonald.com/blog/archive/201302

Lynn Durrant and Gerard McLoughlin are teacher trainers at International House Barcelona, and the focus of their presentation was on how we can nurture engagement and higher order thinking skills in the classroom. Lynn began with five top tips for creating a better classroom environment: 1. Give students choices; 2. Short and sweet activities eg 2-4 minutes; 3. Plenty of movement; 4. No sense of threat; 5. Plenty of opportunities for success. She went on to discuss how something as basic and simple as the questions a teacher asks can dramatically alter a classroom. She described what she called 'hit and run' questions eg point at a door and say "What's that?". This may effectively diagnose a student's knowledge of that item of vocabulary, but it does not engage any kind of higher order or creative thought. At the other end of the spectrum are questions which are so complex that students can't even get a foothold, eg "Why is there pollution?". As an example of more creative questioning, she gave the scenario of looking at a picture. Instead of the typical "What can you see?", something more like, "What do you think about it?". One strategy for generating this kind of question is the five senses approach. So students are asked to look at the picture and say what they see, but also what they hear and smell etc. This may involve them empathetically imagining themselves to be one of the characters in the picture. Another example of more creative activities was students devising a sales pitch for an object, but with a twist: instead of the object being something of obvious value to a consumer, such as a pair of training shoes, the object would be something pretty hard to sell, such as a brick, or two left shoes.

Gerard devoted his part of the session to something which he regards as centrally important in classroom work: images. He began with a demonstration of how students can be encouraged to interact starting with a picture stimulus. He showed photos of celebrities now and as children. There is a class discussion of how they have changed and what they have achieved. Then students role-play the characters in the pictures, imagining that they were childhood friends who are now being reunited. Gerard went on to talk about how this kind of imaginative approach could also be extended to moving images, which he illustrated with the short Disney film "Paperman". He also recommended Kieran Donaghy's lesson around that film on http://film-english.com/2013/01/31/paperman/ Gerard also recommended activities with a strong feelgood factor, such as telling you partner about the best thing that happened today. He recommended a related website for ideas: http://mybestthingtoday.com/

On the map, I'd locate this talk in the South West, fairly near the centre, because there is an implicit theory of learning here.



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