Inspired by educationalist Sir Ken Robinson’s recent TED Talks presentation entitled “Bring on the revolution!” I started to think about how his “climate crisis” of human resources might be averted. In his talk Sir Ken suggests that few people really enjoy what they do because individual’s talents and aptitudes are not given an opportunity to rise to the surface and flourish in current educational settings. Student’s strengths as learners are likely to arise in tasks with less structure and where there might be a number of possible ways to approach the task; learning environments Sir Ken would describe as “organic”. Generally students seem to enjoy collaboration and benefit from being able to talk about their learning so the trusty group activity seems a good place to start.
In any collaborative task it is a good idea to make clear the intended goal of the group activity, for example:
- In 10 minutes you need to be able to identify what your group thinks are the 3 biggest influences on the success of a new business
- In 30 minutes you need to be able to carry out a pilot study using the group to your right as your test participants for an investigation to answer the research question in the envelope provided
- In 10 minutes you need to be confident that each member of your group can give an accurate weather forecast in French at the start of next lesson
In an ideal world as teachers we should be able to sit back - I mean circulate of course ;) – while the students draw on a range of skills to complete the task and be able to talk about the process and transfer these skills to other contexts. Wishful thinking…?
People have different strengths but we often focus on the weaknesses. With strengths in mind then, how can a group task be organised enough to be productive but loose enough to give students a variety of real opportunities to draw on their talents and find new strengths?
Here are 2 ideas for consideration:
Idea 1: Try not to over-control the task but build in time to reflect at intervals and circulate round groups to ask students what they are all doing at that current point and how it is contributing to the group’s completion of the task. This will keep the students on task and accountable but will avoid removing the creativity from the way in which a group choose to go about the task and use their time. This reflection could be achieved using a drama technique called “freeze frame” where groups could be asked to listen out for the sound of a camera shutter indicating time to stop or freeze. A member of each group could be asked to step out of the group huddle and summarise what each group member is doing, inviting feedback from other group commentators. This affords an opportunity to highlight the likely diversity in approaches.
Idea 2: Remove at times students from the group for intervals who seem to dominate or look to be the lynch pin to create a little intentional unrest. Students who have strengths in certain areas that were not getting the chance to exercise these skills might be more likely to do so now. Reintroduce the lynch pin but with a secret task to identify a strength of each person in their group that has surprised them. Their time out from the group could be spent in a coaching style conversation with the teacher and other group “lynchpins”. They could also be given a short related task, where they need to collaborate with other strong personalities, to encourage other strengths/talents to be brought to the table.
Providing students frequent opportunities to try new things and approaches, but have a choice in this process, is likely to go some way to ensuring that students recognise their strengths and talents and are able to maximise these. Using activities such as those described here as ways to look out for personal and learning talents and strengths in your students - that might not always show themselves in the classroom - means that future learning opportunities can be designed with individuals strengths in mind and choices can be offered that capitalised these individuals diverse aptitudes.