Archive for June, 2016

The 360 Degree Challenge and the Radically Enriched Curriculum at Northampton High

24 Jun

img_0884lr Cara Flanagan in Psychology Review comments that ‘it is not high self-esteem that brings about good academic performance’, rather ‘it is the belief that you can acquire the necessary skills to be successful’. This sums up much of current thinking about how students can develop resourcefulness, responsibility and independence and avoid the pitfalls of a fixed mindset by developing a range of positive learning styles and dispositions.

 

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In fact, these ideas are not a particularly new concept, in his seminal 1976 work Teaching Thinking, Edward de Bono explains that thinking and learning is about ‘knowing how to deal with situations […] planning, decision-making, looking at evidence, guessing, creativity’ as much as it is about ‘exploring experience and applying knowledge’. At Northampton High we want to support all this by fostering our students’ ability to devise and control their own learning. We aim to enhance their understanding of what drives and motivates them, for example, through our 360 Degree Me programme, which encourages them to look at themselves from all angles, as learners and individuals with distinct ambitions and potential.

 

 

 

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Last year’s 360 Me Day proved effective in altering the students’ perceptions about what is really important to them personally, so this year we wanted to go a step further and challenge them to take responsibility for managing the learning experience for themselves. The result has been our 360 Challenge Day to take place in July at Wicksteed Park in Kettering, a charitable trust whose cultural and historic significance in the area offers rich educational possibilities for this project.

 

 

 

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Lead organiser and Head of Biology Russell Attwood says, ‘the focus of the day will be developing the attributes that are so important for school and life in general, such as resilience, teamwork, independence, planning, time management and leadership’. Students will be working autonomously in the Park on thematic projects that they have chosen themselves, in small groups from the same House. Each group will have pupils from across Key Stage 3 which will give them the challenge of collaborating with others and Year 9 students will be given the responsibility of taking the lead and supporting the younger girls. In the weeks leading up to the project each group has been given time to plan every aspect of their day: from what they need to wear and bring with them, what and where to eat, to how they will find the information for their projects and ultimately their presentations to the rest of the House.

 

 

guy-claxtonWhat would we like the students to gain from their experiences at Wicksteed Park? I would say that character and grit would appear fairly high up on the list of hoped-for advantages, along with a deeper sense of how they learn to adapt and cooperate. In terms of outcomes, we do not expect every project to be an outright triumph in terms of preparation or execution, but for learning to be really successful, according to Professor Guy Claxton, there needs to be an element of ‘uncertainty and experimentation; having a go, seeing what happens and gradually improving’. This process is essential for personal growth and develops character, which is hugely important in helping students achieve self-reliance in their learning.

 

A single day of challenge, albeit as part of an ongoing commitment across the school to the education of the individual student via the 360 degree philosophy, will not suffice to embed the ‘crucial attitudes and capabilities’  Claxton refers to. For this reason, we have looked to develop our wider curriculum to help create a more creative and self-reliant community of life-long learners in our school. To do this we have subtly adjusted the timetable, without having to change the overall timings of the day, through what we call the Radically Enriched Curriculum (REC). This new REC period after lunch has allowed us to reposition PSHE lessons and opens a new window for co-curricular activities where we can stretch and challenge student outlook and ambition. The timing also allows for a community of learners within the staff, with regular slots for peer-led training, discussion groups and working parties. As an important side effect, we have also been able to match up the Junior and Senior School timetables more efficiently, which we hope will lead to even more opportunities for innovative cross-phase and transition activities.

 

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Leona Heimfeld, Stretch, Challenge and Creativity Coordinator, comments that her personal challenge ‘is to stretch the students beyond their own expectations’. She explains that this involves building ‘complexity of character, developing skills not easily learned in the curriculum-based classroom: the thrill of collaboration, the social responsibility of group work, physical and vocal self-confidence, the power of creativity and imaginative spontaneity’. The programme is geared towards providing a series of unique projects that mesh in with students’ ambitions for the future and links with our careers programme, Inspiring Futures. There is also a hugely important role for pastoral wellbeing in Leona’s opinion: ‘My studies have shown that creative projects offer much needed opportunities for de-stressing, with time to daydream and ponder reflectively’.

 

Essentially, by approaching this from a whole-school standpoint we give students and teachers opportunities to work together as equals. Assessment is not an agenda item within REC, so the focus is entirely on what is important to the educational process within a cooperative, flexible and yet individualised framework. We believe this will deepen the students’ enjoyment of learning through an appreciation, or ideally, a love of difficulty and challenge, a readiness to experiment and a real understanding of how to criticise and improve their work without being self-critical or negative about their potential for success. The idea of silencing the inner critic was a hot topic at this year’s Girls’ Day School Trust Conference where outgoing Chief Executive, Helen Fraser, called on students to release their ‘inner cheerleader’ instead. Likewise, for teachers, this approach is designed to encourage them to review their whole attitude to pedagogy beyond the REC programme, increasing student freedoms and allowing them to make as many decisions as possible to shape their own learning experiences.

 

tanya-byronProfessor Tanya Byron, writing in the foreword to Claxton and Lucas’s book Educating Ruby: What our children really need to learn, comments that we need to rethink our school systems ‘to help our children get ready for the challenges and opportunities they will face’. At Northampton High we take this role very seriously; we do encourage our students to take the 360 degree view and, in fact, this is the approach we expect everyone in the school to take when it comes to intellectual self-image. To paraphrase Professor Claxton himself, we are not in the business of ‘grinding out results’, we are an open-minded community of learners and we wish to be a mill of aspiration, individuality and creativity. These are the attributes that will get our children ready for the future.

 

 

Henry Rickman

Deputy Head

 

References

Flanagan, Cara; in Psychology Review, Volume 1.3, February 2006

de Bono, Edward; Teaching Thinking, Penguin, 1976

Claxton, Guy; in Creative Teaching and Learning, Volume 6.2, May 2016

Claxton, Guy and Lucas, Bill; Educating Ruby: What our children really need to learn, Crown House Publishing, 2015

 

Keep Calm and Carry On Reading

13 Jun

p1220942When I was at school reading came under the banner of  a ” good thing” and other than the set texts in English lessons we were left pretty much to our own devices. Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st Century and things have changed in many ways. One of the most striking changes has been the expansion in books produced for children and young adults; the range, number and quality available today for the average young person would have delighted the teenage me. From fantasy stories to dystopian fiction, historical fiction, adventure, crime and thrillers, as well as titles which deal with many of the issues which young people face today, the choice is pretty much endless.

 

What has also become clearer is how much of a “good thing” reading actually is.

 

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Young people who enjoy reading very much are three times as likely to read above the level expected for their age compared with young people who do not enjoy reading at all (34.9% vs. 10.7%). Similarly, young people who read outside class daily are five times as likely to read above the expected level for their age compared with young people who never read outside class.  The National Literacy Trust

 

It seems obvious that if you enjoy something you will improve and the more you practice the better you become.

 

Whilst having a wide choice of material is a positive position to be in, the challenge within a school environment is to encourage progression, both in the type of material the girls read and in terms of complexity of language. At Northampton High School we have our own reading scheme to encourage and support girls in their reading but like many schools we also try and vary the reading opportunities available.

 

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are the UK’s oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards. Often described by authors and illustrators as ‘the one they want to win’ – they are the gold standard in children’s literature.’www.carnegiegreenaway.co.uk

 

 

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Shadowing the Carnegie Award on an annual basis is one of the ways in which we provide a varied reading diet for our keen readers.  Mrs Halstead (English Teacher), a group of hugely enthusiastic girls and I began meeting on Monday mornings after Easter. The eight book shortlist this year being one of the strongest we have seen and our aim to choose the winner. The girls award marks out of ten for plot, characterisation and style for each book and we then total all marks awarded at the end of the process to discover who are our winner is. Our recent track record is a good one, having chosen “The Bunker Diary” by Kevin Brooks as the winner two years ago and “Buffalo Soldier” by Tanya Landman correctly last year. The skill being in awarding marks objectively regardless of our personal preference, though sometimes our favourite has taken the main prize!

 

The girls have been impressive in these sessions, last year taking part in a streamed debate with other Girls’ Day School Trust schools. The girls prepared well and their confidence visibly grew as the session went on, defending and supporting their views in an effective manner.

 

These are some of the comments we have had so far about the shortlisted books this year:

 

the-lie-treeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge: comments on the plot – “It takes a while to get going but once it started I couldn’t put it down!”

 

 

one  One by Sarah Crossan: comments on style – “I don’t think that she should have written it in verse. It made it difficult to read and didn’t add anything to the story. She didn’t create mood very well, I thought it too light and easy in places for the themes”

 

 

 

 

 

five-children Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders: comments on characterisation – “Amazing” Comments on the plot – “gentle and composed on such a harsh topic”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake: comments on the plot – “The plot in the real world was fine however I felt that it kept being interrupted by the fantasy line which damaged the flow”

Find out more about the shortlisted books at http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/shadowing.php

 

The award winner will be announced on Monday 20th June so we plenty of reading time still left, but at the moment (late May) Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders is a definite contender!  The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge won the overall Costa Award last year and should be strong competition though, so we will have to wait until the end of June to see if we pick the winner again!

All short listed books are available to borrow from the School Library.

 

Ms Anne Buxton, Librarian