I’m currently on a mission to make all my lessons much more practical and so, last week, I invested in some reusable “magic” post-it notes. I was amazed by the power they have to engage students. I used them with a small group of 16 year 9 LAS with a 40% EAL ratio and an even higher SEN ratio. We’re currently reading Heroes and had got to the point where Larry had committed the rape.
The lesson after, as a starter activity, I decided we would speculate where Larry may have gone after the rape (a big deal is made of the gossip in the town the following day about his disappearance). I gave everybody – including myself and the TA – a magic post-it on which to write a possible destination. These ranged from Majorca to the local army base and from England to Mexico to Africa. Once we had written the destination, everyone had to stick their magic post-it to the whiteboard in a horizontal line and also make sure they had a good reason for choosing that destination. Finally we all lined up facing the whiteboard so that the really good part of the activity could begin.
The aim of the activity was to put the horizontal line-up into a vertical ranking of likelihood using the power of argument. Anybody could move any post-it to any position on the hierarchy, but they would have to be able to justify the move and position and could only move one each time they went up to the board. Only one person was allowed to move at any one time and there was no specific order of turn-taking.
What was truly amazing and also quite humbling to watch was the sheer focus and engagement of the class. They were totally focused on ensuring that their own version of the hierarchy would be the one we finished up with, but realised that they could only do this by using ever more intricate and persuasive arguments. Some of the arguments were really surprising. One student had seen Mr Nice and therefore made the link that fugitives often end up living in Majorca. Another student argued that he would have ended up on the Costa del Sol for similar reasons. Mexico was another strong contender due to its sharing a border with the US (there was a lot of application of geographical knowledge, and those with weaker multistructural geographical knowledge asked if they could get their planners out and use their world atlases to help them. Of course I agreed; anything to facilitate the discussion).
Suddenly, these nervous and often inarticulate students were turned into passionate, argumentative and active participants. Strangely, none of them were trying to ensure that their own destination was the one left at the top but, rather, the one that they preferred. And what had been intended as a quick 10 minute starter turned into a constructive, deeply focused discussion that led many of these students who are perceived to be particularly weak in English working at the relational, and occasionally even extended abstract, level of SOLO taxonomy. Needless to say I’m looking forward to using them again this week.