Headline hangman – get your pupils discussing today’s news

The chief complaint by pupils about schooling is that it is not relevant. It bears little connection to the “real world” as they experience it. As part of my ongoing series of practical activities to promote “critical thinking” I would recommend the following quick activity to address this in an engaging way.

  • Headline Hangman

Everyone knows Hangman. So, take any headline from the newspaper of the day and play “Headline Hangman”. You draw lines for each letter and separate each word. If pupils guess a letter correctly, enter that letter wherever it appears in the headline. Incorrect guesses lead to the gradual construction of the hangman.

Introduce local rules at your discretion. For example, pupils can’t call out 2 vowels in a row; if more than one pupil calls out a letter at the same time you can add to the hangman; pupils can guess a whole word but if they get it wrong, you can add 2 lines to the hangman etc etc.

  • Benefits

I have always found this game amazingly popular, with children, and adults on courses too. Apart from being quick, its benefits are many.

At word level, children can learn spelling rules or anomalies. If a pupil calls out a letter, you can ask them where they think it goes and why. It becomes quickly apparent those pupils who think strategically.

At sentence and text level, there is always room for discussion about the choice of words, because headlines often contain alliteration or wordplay. After the headline has been guessed, you can invite pupils to see whether they could improve on it, substitute synonyms to make it more or less shouty, more nuanced, less biased or whatever.

  • Real world events

But even more importantly, the language learning is undertaken in the context of real world events. When the headline is guessed, it’s important to show the actual headline from the paper or Internet immediately so that pupils know the material is of the real world and not made up for the classroom. The key is to select something that interests you but this activity lends itself especially well to global events or issues that invite discussion. The very topicality, the fact that the stuff is in the papers today, makes it gripping and relevant.

Obviously, the opportunity also arises to become immersed in media literacy – the nature of truth as perceived through the prism of a report and so on.

In a crowded curriculum, Headline Hangman affords you and your class the opportunity to discuss news stories frequently and you will be surprised at how this can inspire pupils to read about current events. Your discussion about the article can be as long or short as you wish, but regular practice can only enhance speaking and listening skills and the ability of your class to argue and disagree gracefully.

Simple, but effective (The Independent)

I’ve used this game for ages and can’t remember where I stole it from. Apologies, but I would love to hear of any similar games or activities you have to introduce topical events into the fabric of teaching and learning…

Critical thinking – engaging pupils

I was disheartened to read this report in the Guardian that take up rates for critical thinking at A-level is declining. For all sorts of reasons, critical thinking skills are vital to us as individuals and as a society.

  • Why critical thinking is important

The ability to think independently, that is to assess information and evaluate it for accuracy and sense; to make connections; to understand hidden meaning; to unpick false premises and to know how to disagree with courtesy – just some of the armoury we need to cope with and make sense of the tsunami of information we encounter.

But for the health of society, rigorous thinking is itself critical, in order that we don’t become to prey to demagoguery or mob hysteria. Additionally, thinking that is critical and creative has the possibility of looking forward rather than deferring to authority or the mistaken beliefs of the past.

  • Freedom

I like Tagore’s take on this, linking critical thinking to a sense of freedom:      “Our mind does not gain true freedom by acquiring materials for knowledge and possessing other people’s ideas but by forming its own standards of judgement and producing its own thoughts.”

So what practical ideas are there for teaching the mechanics of critical thinking, especially in the earlier years? Over the next weeks I hope to blog on these. First up is this simple but incredibly effective activity.

  • “Odd one out” activity

Choose any 3 objects, the first to hand preferably, and ask pupils to choose, in their mind, the odd one out and to consider why. Take feedback, insisting on explanations. Of course, there is no one correct answer and pupils will quickly realise this as they hear the different answers. 

Example: paper – cup – computer

Answers: Paper because it’s made out of wood                                                                                           Cup because you can drink out of it                                                                                             Computer because it requires electricity

This exercise benefits from repetition because pupils get better at finding different and more interesting reasons why an item is the odd one out. After only a few days you will be amazed at how inventive and creative even small children can be.

This exercise, which you can extend in myriad ways, for instance by setting particular criteria (e.g. thinking about the environment which is the odd one out?) is quick to organise, enjoyed by pupils who like the fact there is no single correct answer and its deceptive simplicity masks important learning.

  • Benefits
  1.  Pupils learn to back up opinions with evidence, the cornerstone of rational thinking.
  2. With practice, pupils become increasingly creative in their thinking.
  3. Pupils acknowledge that different views can be held simultaneously and it’s not threatening.

To avoid a mindset where children only begin to identify differences, it’s worth varying the activity occasionally by asking pupils to find something that connects the items. Perhaps too often children are asked to identify differences, but particularly in the field of human relations it is as important for children to be able to find similarities.

I’d be really interested to find out how you get on with this or if you have similar activities to tell me about.

Inclusion and “Every child matters”…or do some matter more than others?

  • What is inclusion?

For me, inclusion is not simply the toleration of all pupils, but the active provision of opportunities for all to feel good about themselves and to have the chance to flourish, whatever their individual needs and potential barriers to learning might be.

  • Equal moral worth

Let’s start with the premise that all people have equal moral worth, irrespective of colour, gender, ability, ethnicity, religion, age or sexual orientation. People may act better or worse and there are rewards and sanctions for those but the inherent moral worth of each individual remains sacrosanct. Each individual must have the same opportunity to contribute to collective well being and “to participate in the making of decisions that affect them”. (Runnymede Trust, 2000)

  • Principle of difference

Secondly, according to Lord Bhikhu Parekh’s Runnymede Trust report cited above, there exists the principle of difference. Since  individuals have different needs , equal treatment means that relevant account has to be taken of the differences. When equality insists on uniformity of treatment that results in injustice and inequality. (Osler,2005). It is misconceived to conclude that African-Caribbean pupils attaining less well in the EBacc  has nothing to do with what is happening in schools. The fundamental principle of inclusive education is the valuing of diversity within the human condition. We abandon the idea that children have to become “normal”. But… “the challenge is to nurture diversity and to foster cohesion and unity” (Osler, 2005). 

  • Recognising racism –
Racism is not simply a moral issue. It serves as a barrier to participation and is therefore anti democratic.  This has profound implications for political engagement and the well being  of our society. The same applies in schools. So, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000) requires schools to be proactive in fostering good race relations, not merely respond to racist incidents as they occur. Anti-racism needs to be linked to democracy, not just multiculturalism.

  • Inclusion in schools

 Reinforced by the Equalities Act (2010), not to mention the Race Relations (Amendment ) Act (2000) , teachers are supported by a raft of legislation that seeks to ensure that no child is left out of the health giving spa waters of our education system. Schools are not just practice for democratic engagement, they should provide its exemplar. As such, the benefits of inclusive practices would encompass the breakdown of prejudice, the flourishing of all individuals and enhanced contribution to collective well being through increased participation of engaged pupils who feel they are valued. It’s not complicated.

  • Why it’s important

The findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in October 2010 were startling and did not paint a picture of an inclusive society, notwithstanding the excellent work that goes on in some organisations. Here are just some of the headlines:

Children aged five whose primary need is related to visual impairment are about half as likely to achieve a good level of development as pupils who do not have special needs.

Pupils with special needs are disproportionately represented in permanent exclusions – nearly three quarters of permanent exclusions involve pupils with some form of special need.

Disabled pupils, particularly those who are learning disabled, are more likely than others to experience bullying.

At age 16, there are significant differences in attainment according to ethnicity, and these vary significantly between England’s nine regions.

Overall, the attainment gap for African- Caribbean pupils was about 11 percentage points in 2009. But in the East Midlands and in Yorkshire it was close to 20 points, and in the North East over 30. There were also large differences between local authorities. The attainment gap in Lambeth, for example,was only four percentage points, whereas in Bristol, Camden, Hackney, Kirklees and Leeds it was at least 20.

Overall, the exclusion rate is 9 in every 10,000 pupils. In the case of pupils from African- Caribbean backgrounds, however, the rate is three times as high – 30 in every 10,000.

Irish Traveller and Gypsy or Roma children are the most likely to be permanently excluded and they are the only groups whose performance has deteriorated sharply in recent years.

Post-18, young people of minority backgrounds attend less prestigious institutions, study lower status subjects, are more likely to drop out, and less likely to attain the highest qualifications.

Women remain less likely than men to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects).

A survey by the NFER of teachers’ perceptions found that almost a half (46 per cent) considered that bullying of pupils seen to be LGB is common, but only one in six (14 per cent) considered that such pupils were supported by their school.

These are of course selective findings and no doubt you would choose different examples but I have tried to show a representative sample. This does not point to an inclusive education system at large. On the contrary, certain individuals and groups are being disproportionately disadvantaged. We ignore this at enormous cost to our social cohesion. 

  • What are we to do?

There are countless examples of excellent practice in schools which provide a counterbalance to the bleak picture above. Essential elements of good practice seem to include clear and positive culture, policies and practices which foster inclusion. Vital as a prerequisite is the need for rigorous assesssment of individuals and groups  to find out where gaps are appearing, why and to set targets. Crucially though, this assessment should not just scrutinise achievement but whole school attitudes and values regarding ethnicity, racism, acceptance of difference, distant localities, sexual orientation, and so on. (Consider using as a template RISC’s excellent “How do we know it’s working?”)

  • Curriculum

Evidence shows that a flexible curriculum serves the goal of inclusion best, in that the individual needs of all learners are catered for. As a former classroom teacher I fully appreciate what a challenge this provides, but the notion implicit in too many curriccula, particularly at Secondary level, that all pupils should learn the same material in the same manner, using the same methods is the antithesis of inclusive practice.  

  • Culture and whole school ethos

The most progressive way to embed inclusive practice in schools is through the whole school ethos – those attitudes and practices that take time and care to foster but which reap huge rewards. Perhaps the key ingredient is to include all individuals and groups in discussions about their own learning and representation within schools. Please also consider which positive images and positive role models walls are represented around your school. Is there a genuine diversity within your displays, in your library, of resources? (Please see my previous post if you think this may be tokenism!) Do any disabled parents come in, not specifically to talk about their disability but to help,say, with ICT? Is diversity accepted as valuable or is it seen as a barrier to children doing well?

  • Barriers
The uncomfortable truth is that the barriers to inclusion stem principally from the adults, teachers, governors and parents alike. Children don’t have prejudices unless adults show them. As the Council for Disabled Children noted: “It is our attitudes and policies, rather than the physical environment, that can be more likely to restrict and impede learners with a disability”. I would suggest the same is true for all groups, but similarly our attitudes and policies can just as powerfully enhance and promote inclusion and collaborative working.

  • Conclusion

As educators we can’t right all of society’s wrongs and inequalities. Teachers should not be punished, or thought less of, if pupils across the board do not fulfill the highest expectations. Poverty remains the chief barrier to all children succeeding and we should not let our politicians forget their responsibilities. Racist, homophobic, disablist attitudes are rife outside the school gates. But, as educators we can ensure that no stone is left unturned to make our schools communities which others view as paradigms – places where the worth of every individual is valued with equal honour. What if society at large emulated that?

This is an enormous, overwhelming topic. I have barely skimmed the surface. Please let me know what your experience has been and what you think.

References:

Osler, A. (2005) Teachers, Human Rights and Diversity                        Runnymede Trust report (2000)

Coles, M. (2008) Every Muslim Child Matters                                                              Insted: Equality and Diversity in Education  (http://www.insted.co.uk/articles.html)                                                                         Knowles, G. (ed)  (2011) Supporting Inclusive Practice

Diversity or tokenism – what images are you using?

  • The future of education

I’ve just attended online the closing keynote address of RSCON3 given by Steve Wheeler, (@timbuckteeth). It was fascinating and inspiring – a discussion on future trends in education with many nuggets of wise counsel, in which he drew on ideas as much from the past (even including Chris Woodhead!) as his ability to see into the future.

Using technology to free up students to move around, using the real world, the outside world for personalised but collaborative learning. The teacher as inspirer, facilitator, curator, collaborator…this all made sense without being dystopian.

  • Choice of images

But…in his entertaining slideshow, with its arresting images, there was not a single picture of someone who was not white – apart from quite a good joke about Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. Not one person from India, or China, Latin America or an African face. Not one person with a disability although there was a great picture of a homeless man intently studying his laptop.

So there are two things here. What message are we sending about the technological (r)evolution? If it is to enable collaborative learning then we have to send a concurrent message of inclusivity, or else we are in danger of creating another version of educational inequity.

Secondly, as educators, we need to consider carefully the images that we portray of our intended audience. In the race forwards to technological progress we may be in danger of forgetting some lessons we gleaned along the way from the field of development education good practice. This is not tokenism…whatever that may be. It is not OK to speak about education for the future without including the diverse population who is being spoken to. This is a matter of courtesy, of addressing every learner as if they mattered, of inclusion, of responsible education. 

  • Who is represented on the walls of your institution?

And by the way, what is depicted on the walls of your school or university or organisation? If “every child matters”, and we take seriously our responsibilities for all our neighbours, is there representation of the diverse nature of our society? If you find this irritating and tokenistic, I ask you to consider whether you would feel the same if you found yourself, or someone like you, not represented? 

Yiddish – a brief introduction to its joys

I really liked this recent post about interesting words not found in English. Getting inside another language is a powerful way to understand that culture – traditions of thinking within it can be unlocked if you look closely. I’ve long been wanting to share some Yiddish terms that already greatly enrich our language. You’ve no doubt heard and may already use some of these: bagel, golem, klutz, schlep, schmaltz, shmooze…

What is particularly wonderful about Yiddish, apart from the delicious sound, is the delight in character traits that reveal such insight into the human condition.

So very much by way of introduction, what about some of these? Much of this is shamelessly stolen from the timeless “Joys of Yiddish” by Leo Rosten…

  • Chutzpah (pronounce “khoots-pah” to rhyme with foots -bar and be as gutterally phlegm filled as you can with that first phoneme)

Meaning brazen effrontery, gall. Cheek is far too anaemic a translation.

If you want to be an effective “schnorrer” (beggar, see below) you need plenty of chutzpah as in:  A schnorrer is invited in to a house by a woman who feels sorry for him. On the table is a pile of dark bread and some delicious challa. “There’s black bread,too”, the woman hinted. “I prefer challa” he replies. “But challa is much more expensive”. “Lady,” as he continued to chew “it’s worth it.”

Modern day examples of chutzpah: Bankers claiming mind numbing bonuses having recklessly and criminally contributed to the collapse of financial markets.

  • Meshuggeh

Basically means crazy, absurd – Somehow it’s the perfect thing to say to pupils when they do that stuff they do…

  • Schlemiel

There are loads of words in Yiddish that  describe with exquisite nuance the person who doesn’t quite measure up…today crudely and less interestingly called a “loser”. The schlemiel is not a ‘shlimazl’ nor a ‘schmendrick’, because he’s at he same time foolish, conjenitally maladjusted, gauche, naive, gullible, clumsy as in: Two schlemiels are drinking tea. In time one looked up and announced portentously: “Life! What is it? Life – is like a fountain!”  The other pondered for a few minutes, the asked “Why?”  The first thought and thought , then sighed, “So OK: life isn’t like a fountain.”

Modern day Schlemiel – Our schools minister ?

  • Nudnick

A particular favourite of mine to describe,at times, my own kids and it works perfectly with pupils… meaning pest, nag, annoyer, more than just a nuisance definitely! As in “Doctor, I’m worried. I keep talking to myself.” “You really don’t need to worry, lots of perfectly healthy people do that.” “But doctor, you don’t know what a nudnick I am!” 

A Phudnick, by the way, is a nudnick with a PhD.

  • Schnorrer

A beggar, but not a fool nor in any way apologetic – high on chutzpah, low on false modesty…as in: “A schnorrer came to the back door on his bi weekly rounds. “I’m sorry,” said the lady of the house, “I don’t have any change in the house. Come back tomorrow.” “Tomorrow,” frowned the schnorrer, “Don’t let it happen again…I’ve lost a fortune this week extending credit.”

Do you have a schnorrer in your circle of friends?

Maybe these are already in your wordbank. What words, of any origin, would you like to see incorporated into daily usage? Please feel free to share your ideas.

Golliwog – If you don’t know, you don’t know

posted by Dan Sanders, co-Director of Edjitraining

I wonder how long it will be before I can say how offended I am by golliwogs and not feel that I have to half apologise and put it down to ‘If you don’t know, you don’t know’. Of course sometimes it’s hard to see what is wrong with something until someone makes it obvious for us. So this is my attempt to make it obvious so people do know and don’t feel such a compulsion to defend the golliwog as if defending a human right.

I know that many see it as just a toy that nostalgically takes them back to their childhood but for some of us those childhood memories it stirs up aren’t all that pleasant. People often tell me that they did not make the link between golliwogs and Black people when they were younger, I knew a lot who did. The kids who said the golly must be my brother or those who stuck golliwog stickers on my lunchbox, and that’s before getting to the nicknames. I have to add that dropping the wog from its name does nothing to reduce how it made/makes me feel. Call it Jim and that would be the word that evokes an ugliness linked to my skin colour.

So is it just about me and my personal baggage, experiences that have blighted my view of a perfectly innocent toy enjoyed by so many? Well there are the experiences of tons of other Black people, who like me see the golliwog as a symbol of how Black people have and are at times seen by society.

It’s not just about perceptions though, it’s about its origins, the reason it is in our lives. Most sources place Florence Upton as the creator of the golliwog which she based on Black minstrels or Black slaves who performed for their masters. This was later transformed into an ironic performance by Black acts that mocked popular stereotypes of the happy, dancing, unintelligent slave. Further ironically this was later adopted by blacked up white performers in the black and white minstrels show. So, the idea that anything that reminds people of slavery and racist stereotypes can be ‘just a toy’ is maybe as ridiculous as the idea that I should apologise for being offended by it.

Equality? The value of a life

post by Mary Young (@maryatedji) – Co Director of Edjitraining, author of the seminal Global Citizenship: The Handbook for Primary Teaching

Just thinking about the situation in South Sudan/North Kenya and how its scant coverage is a clear illustration of the fact that, despite all we say or hope, people’s lives across the globe are simply not valued equally.

Media reports that the situation was about to, ‘become a catastrophe’ seem to have missed the point that it already is one, and in fact has been one for some time for those concerned. This also raises issues about at what point the world’s media becomes (albeit fleetingly) interested in a story…some years ago I remember hearing a CNN reporter justifying not going in to cover a situation as there were, ‘not enough people on the point of death’  for the coverage to be newsworthy at that time.

The figures from the terrorist attacks in the USA as reported in New Internationalist in November 2001 also make the point about inequity…

On September 11th 2001, approx 3000 people were killed in USA: we know the vast majority of their names and much about them.

However, elsewhere on the planet on September 11th 2001 (aggregated figures) approx 2600 children died of measles; 6000 people died of diarrhoea and 24,000 people died of hunger, and those deaths have been repeated each day since. How many of those people’s names are we familiar with?