We’ve had an amazing couple of weeks at school where as a staff community, we have all been part of ‘Operation Challenge-All-Areas’. This has led to some cracking learning conversations both in lessons and beyond with a plethora of ideas being shared daily throughout an always-buzzing school. Our Challenge-All-Areas approach is a way to communicate our determination to our students that they must:
Invest as much as possible in every aspect of their school day
they get as much as they possibly can in return.
We discussed how students’ work is often only ever seen by one person: their teacher. Not only that, when the work is submitted it is within a familiar, comfortable and established ‘expert-novice’ relationship. Where peer assessment is regular, it can often occur once the work is well underway or even as part of the final editing and checking stage. As such, any opportunity to show work to someone other than a subject or class teacher or a familiar peer is incidental and it certainly isn’t something that is explicitly planned for and worked towards in a deliberate way. As such, it misses an opportunity: to create a ‘Learning Event’.
Contrast this instead with the emotional, intellectual and logistical preparation required for an art exhibition, a dance, drama or music performance. Here, the expectations are high from the outset as every participant knows that the final outcome will be seen by an unknown, unfamiliar and potentially hard-to-please-audience. This means that everybody knows that they had better provide a quality experience. Similarly, the preparation required for a school netball tournament or a county cup final, where the stakes are already high in terms of achieving a win or a loss, but even more than this, is the knowledge that the performance will be seen and scrutinised by others…so, again, every team member knows that they had better put in a good performance. This means getting the preparation right, using training to make any adjustments and refinements they need and make sure they are absolutely focused ahead of the moment the first whistle blows.
How differently we all behave and apply ourselves when we know, from the outset, that what we will do will be seen, scrutinised and consumed by others (just think of any presentation or interview scenario). Our frailties, any short-cuts or lack of planning are only a breath away from exposure when we face an audience. So much of our energy goes into making sure those frailties are eradicated as far as humanly possible.
These conversations led us to consider whether we could use the idea of an audience to drive up expectations, raise aspirations and make it clear, from the start, that this work is destined to be viewed by others. All of this also brings into play one of current action research questions: “How do we prepare our students for linear exams?”.
Using the lovely tool of VideoScribe (@videoscribetv) aka the presentation tool for introverts and quiet leaders (!), here are nine ideas for creating an audience of more than one SO THAT you can communicate high expectations from the outset. It is a great way to celebrate and evaluate student work. It involves all students, members of staff, parents and carers in critiquing and engaging in learning throughout the school.
This work follows our most recent INSET day, where staff inspired each other with ideas and approaches showing different ways to provide CHALLENGE. This included taking intellectual risks, supporting students to develop their own learning toolkits and asking every student to reflect on success criteria in answer to a pre-submission question, ‘Is it good enough?’
So the last two weeks have given us the opportunity to be really explicit about our expectations, overt about quality criteria for tasks and deliberate in communicating our desire for students to experience the best possible learning outcomes in every part of the school day.
Operation Challenge-All-Areas starts first thing in the morning. We aim to share a ‘good morning’ with every student on the gate (challenge to connect), design higher order question sequences in lessons (challenge to go deeper) and require students to use quality criteria for themselves to refine, edit and polish work before they hand it in (challenge to meet their own high expectations).
One thing is certain, Operation Challenge-All-Areas is here to stay.