At the end of the summer term I wrote a blog post about Minimally Invasive Education – the idea essentially being that you provide students with the tools to learn, but step back and let them do the learning for themselves.
This year I’ve been trying to put that idea into action with my three Y8 classes.
I see each class once a week and have now had 3 lessons with each.
In the first lesson I provided a slideshow of some images I had edited and pointed students to the VLE where there was a collection of large, high quality images and a link to tutorials I had created around each image. I was obliged to give them a boy/girl seating plan but told them that they could help each other and move around the room as necessary, but that I would not give them any help otherwise.
Some students clearly found this liberating and enjoyed having the freedom, but many found it difficult to cope without direct intervention from the teacher. Students would moan that they were ‘stuck’ rather than actively seeking a solution – and this is a pretty good demonstration of why I am doing what I’m doing in the first place.
At KS3, ICT is an almost entirely skills based subject. It’s entirely possible for students to get by for 3 years by pressing the correct button when told to, and some students have learned that figuring out which button to press is an entirely pointless exercise when the teacher will just tell them anyway. Rather than remembering the solution for next time, students can simply ask again. This isn’t as efficient, but when every job lasts one hour regardless of the amount of work completed, that is not necessarily a problem.
For the second lesson I started out by discussing with students where they could find help since I’m refusing to give them any answers. Suggestions included each other, my tutorials, the Internet, the online help and by looking through the menus and onscreen options. This exercise helped some students who were starting to get the idea, but there were still others who remained fixated on asking the teacher for help.
While some students had clicked by this point and were exploring the tutorials and other sources for ideas, many were drifting somewhat aimlessly, either playing with just the paintbrush tools or frustratingly making the same mistakes and not finding any way forward. For the 2nd and 3rd classes I produced a checklist of skills I wanted the students to learn, breaking it down into Basic, Intermediate and Advanced techniques. I made sure that the students knew they could use the checklist however they saw fit – following it in order, picking and choosing which tasks to complete or ignoring it completely. Some students chose to use it, many did not.
It was interesting to note that students were still sat in their seating plan. Some would move across the room to discuss ideas or seek help, but would immediately return to their computer again. It was fascinating to see simple but effective techniques such as selective colour or magic wand and adjusting hue & saturation to change hair colour spread across the room.
Given the seating plan situation I decided to turn off half of the machines in the room before each lesson, and removed the power cables just to make doubly sure. As students came in I told them to sit anywhere they wanted temporarily, explained the situation and allowed them to arrange themselves around the room. Although this was perceived as a further step away from traditional classroom rules, I had deliberately never stopped anyone from moving anywhere in the classroom in the previous two lessons. It was more explicit this way, though, and i did talk to a few individuals and see how they felt being forced to work together might improve their opportunities for learning during the lesson.
This third week was when I started to get a bit more concerned about some of the students’ rates of progress. Being in a Mac suite the kids have access to PhotoBooth, a simple app that takes a photo using the webcam and lets you apply filters that bypass all of that ‘learning how to actually do stuff’. Some students, especially now they were in self-defined groups, wanted to spend all of their time taking silly photos of themselves.
Minimally invasive education should (I think) mean that I step back and allow students to work through this phase. That’s a very risky strategy, though, and after another half hour of this I really felt I had to intervene, and so I tried asking students what the objective of the lesson were (learn new image editing skills and learn about how to solve problems and pick up those new skills without just being told). Some of the students acknowledged that playing with PhotoBooth wasn’t hitting either of those and said they would grab a couple more photos and then try some editing. Others persisted and eventually I had to ban specific groups from using PhotoBooth for the remainder of the lesson.
So far the students have, on the whole, responded well to my experiment. I’ve already seen a change in attitude from many students and they are willing and eager to help each other and share ideas. There remains a hard core of more apathetic students who are making little progress and are either struggling with basic tasks or drifting aimlessly without any real direction. These are the students I need to be supporting, but I’m loathe to jump in and intervene as this goes against everything I’m trying to achieve.
I am considering some form of badge system as championed by the likes of Doug Belshaw and Chris Allan, although that will take a bit of implementation to get right. I’m also considering setting some specific targets for students who are not choosing to use my tutorials (which on its own is fine) and are not making progress otherwise.
I did manage to convince one group of girls that instead of using a web-based wizard type image editing tool they could try comparing it with a tool such as Fireworks or Photoshop and see which one is easier, which is more powerful, which is more fun, etc. I was particularly heartened when they got quite frustrated that they couldn’t rotate a picture inside a photo frame in the web-based app as hopefully they’ll be able to figure this out in one of the installed programs.
My final thought for now is that with the recent installation of GIMP (I had initially left it out as working in X11 can be frustrating, but there is now a native Mac version of GIMP 2.8) students are really enjoying the fact they can get the same professional software for free at home and they find GIMP more appealing in terms of the colour scheme and icons.
My plan is to complete 8 lessons of minimally invasive learning, followed by a 2 week assessment after the half term break. The first lesson will be a ‘test’ with a series of tasks to perform, and the second lesson (with maybe a third) will be to create a portfolio of work using a range of techniques.
My immediate challenge is to add something new at the start of each lesson so that students are doing something more than just ‘turning up and getting on with it’. There is an argument that this is not always a bad strategy and certainly there are times at KS4 and KS5 where just getting on with it and allowing time to get things done is important, but those students who are drifting now will only drift more without some motivation or support of some kind. The difficulty is identifying strategies to get this done that don’t involve me telling them what to do!
I’ll be back with another update in a few weeks, and in the meantime I’ll continue to tweet about my MIE lessons and ask for help and ideas there!