Posted on: Tuesday 5 March 2019
Posted in: Videos and Conversations
So You Think You Can Sing and Dance
I was so incredibly proud of our Middle and Senior School leaders last week as they presented our new look Music and Drama House competition. It was a risk to change this event, and we did so in consultation with the student leaders and Heads of House, with the clear intention to bring the event back to a simpler format which would allow the girls to drive the event themselves. The results were wonderful, and I am incredibly proud of our House Captains who embraced the challenge, called on their own leadership teams, sought out talent from within their Houses and energised every girl to actively contribute. In the rehearsals I saw girls working together with a clear purpose, an amazing sense of House spirit and lots of good humour.
On the day the performances were impressive, professional, joyous, creative and energetic. A video can never do justice to a live event, but we are pleased to share a short highlights reel of the girls’ performances. Click here to view.
It was clear to me that every House (and indeed every girl) was a winner. From where I was sitting, I saw beaming faces from girls who I know struggle from time to time. I saw active involvement from girls who are often on the fringes of things. I saw every girl working together with her peers to present the very best song or dance they could bring. Above all, I saw girls use their gifts and talents in ways that brought to life our student leaders’ motto: “Unique and United”. It was completely student-driven and student-led, and the girls showed us how capable they really are. My congratulations go to every House and every girl.
Rigour in Learning
Last week Mr Boyle, our Head of Learning and Teaching, shared a thought-provoking article with our teaching staff. I am sure many of our parents would benefit from the insights it contains, even though it is written for teachers. I will attach the first part of the article for you here. In the development of our strategic plan, we have identified rigour in learning as a key component of focus for St Hilda’s. There is often confusion over the meaning of the word rigour (and indeed the spelling) so this article reinforces and helps to explain our intentions and our focus. I hope you will enjoy it.
Dr Julie Wilson Reynolds
How to challenge your students with their thinking
I have had a lot of conversations in my career where it is offered that the solution to the problem of challenging students is simply to add more rigor. It is as though a teacher could go to the spice rack and hunt amongst the dill and the cayenne pepper to find a bottle of rigor that can simply be shaken on the class and the problem will be solved.
The major problem of simply adding rigor to the classroom is that there are a fair share of teachers who do not know what rigor actually is. They equate rigor with being harder. And how do you make the class harder? The easiest way is by giving students more things to do and less time to do them. This, my friend, is not rigor. In fact, many students resent just being given more, especially if it is the same work. The idea of rigor is to provide different work that is going to challenge students. And where is the best place to challenge a student? With their thinking.
This narrative follows into the assessment of students. How do you have rigorous assessments? By asking harder questions. But again, this is not rigor. You could ask a student to provide the name of the US Ambassador to China. It is not common knowledge that this would be Terry Branstad, but it is still just knowledge. There lies the problem. Just like giving more of the same work, asking questions that are all knowledge-based questions are not going to challenge students’ thinking no matter how difficult the question is.
To provide an example of different types of thinking, a teacher could ask this question: “What is your favorite book and why?” Students will not have to struggle to figure out what book is their favorite. They may have to think a little harder to determine the why of their choice. A lot of times students know they like something, they just cannot point to what exactly they liked about it. By having them break it down and analyze what elements of the book they enjoyed will access a higher level of thinking.
Some would argue such a question is not hard. Some students could talk at length about their favorite book and why they love it so much. It is not a stretch for them to share their opinion. But this is definitely rigorous. Why is it rigorous? Because the level of thinking you are asking students to access is much higher.
It all comes down to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom divided the types of thinking students do into six levels.
Many classrooms sit firmly ensconced in the apply, understand, and remember section of the taxonomy. This means that a majority of the time students are accessing the lower levels of their thinking in order to complete the task being asked of them. This does not mean what they are doing is not hard, what it does mean is it probably is not rigorous.
In order to be rigorous, students need to be in the top half of Bloom’s chart. They need to either be analyzing, evaluating, or creating in order to access their high levels of thinking. The question becomes, how much of this is being done in the classroom? Not just your projects or performance assessments. How much higher level thinking is being asked of students on a pencil to paper test? How much of it is being done in the questions teachers ask? How much of it is being displayed in the daily work students produce to show mastery?
Does this mean every activity or lesson should be higher level thinking only? No, the lower levels of thinking have their place in the classroom. These act as the building blocks to higher thinking. Without this basic knowledge, it would be difficult to think critically because you would not have the background knowledge needed to do so. The problem comes in that many teachers stop at this lower level rather than pushing students into the higher ones.
The ratio of high to lower level thinking students are doing in class should be about 50/50. That means half of the thinking being required of students is at the analyzing, evaluation, or creating levels.
This fundamental change in your classroom of reflecting on the level of thinking your work requires of students can immediately increase the rigor of your classroom. Some teachers might balk at this prospect because it is too hard. Keep in mind, raising the rigor in your classroom means raising the rigor on your teaching, but just like your students will be better learners, you will be a better teacher.