• Art History - Research

    Thinking aims

    To see if, by taking a different approach to how I used the thinking tools,I could increase the room for thinking, and fit the that I am applying tasks closer to the three steps of the framework. My aim was really to see if I could produce better results with the students by introducing thinking tools only when they really needed them.

    Lesson Organization

    This was a Grade Nine lesson, (14 years old) and part of a unit on Art History I have just started teaching. The summative task for this unit is for students to produce a power point for younger students. I had already given them a short lecture on the changes in Western Art since the Renaissance, focusing mostly on the 20th century and linking them to changes in society. I now want them to research individually on the topic they will present. I started by asking the students to write the algorithm for researching constructivism. They were immediately stuck. With a bit of encouragement most of them managed to write three or four steps. They then had to swap algorithms with their neighbour and see if they could complete the task. After this, they were to try again, and all of them managed many more steps. The next stage was for them to cut out all their steps and in small groups put together the steps they felt belonged together and then give a generic name for this group. Once they had done this, and were feeling pretty confident, I then introduced a new limitation, no google or other generic search engine was to be used. They were all stuck again. I ended the lesson with getting them to consider the steps that would belong to a new grouping - How to select the relevant information to make notes about.


    I was very pleased with the way the lesson worked out. Normally I start by assuming what the students know and giving them sorting tasks to start constructing an algorithm. By asking them to start by creating the algorithm, it allowed me to see if they actually knew how to do this already (if they did I wouldn`t have to teach it) and where I would in future lessons have to introduce the thinking tools to help them in the areas where they were stuck. I also felt it succeed because they found the task difficult and as new limitations were added they kept getting stuck. The groupings for the steps were good and included things such as turning on the computer, investigation, reflection and writing. I also heard them discussing important elements of conducting research like "where would note taking go?" and "what about books?". I was quite horrified by their approach to researching an unknown topic, not one of them thought to ask the teacher for an explanation or definition, the first port of call for all of them is wikipedia or google.

    I am now planning to continue this by creating thinking tasks related to the new stage I introduced and on the basics of constructivism.

  • Bruegel - Hunters in the Snow

    The image of Bruegel`s hunters in the snow can be found here.

    Below are the questions used to encourage thinking in the responses.

    Pieter Bruegel the elder – Hunters in the snow


    1. What are some of the ways that the artist shows us this is a cold day?

    2. This painting has a sense of stillness about it, but the artist also shows that some things are moving. Can you name them and describe how we know they are moving?

    3. The fact that some things in this painting seem near and some things seem far away gives the painting a sense of depth. How does the artist show that some things are far away?

    4. What is the mood of this painting? How does the artist use colour to create this mood?

    5. How does the artist show texture in the fur on the dogs?

  • Creating a written thinking task in Art

    Lesson aim and thinking aim

    I could see that some students had difficulty in writing about pieces of art, and that the information and guidance I had given them was still not enough. I wanted to see if I could use step one of the framework to design a task that would allow for thinking to take place.


    I started by thinking about what I wanted the students to learn and where they were having difficulties (sub-step one). I want them to be able to analyze pieces of art and to be able to do this they need to understand how the artist has used the elements of art to achieve certain effects. I them moved onto sub-step two (think of a task and list the possible answers) I decided on the painting "Hunters in the snow" by Bruegal, and listed what the students were liable to say if I asked them to write about this work. They would most likely produce biographical information on the artist, or go onto the internet and cut and paste existing information. So moving onto sub-step three (change the task so that typical answers are no longer acceptable) I devised a set of questions where the students would have to look at the picture carefully in order to be able to answer them.


    I was pleased with the final task as there was no way the answers would be easily attainable to the students. Partially this was because most questions didn`t just have one right answer. I started with some questions from the book "Come play with me" which looks at children in art and then developed more than focused purely on how the elements of art had been used.

    I have never thought about just using step one alone before and have always tried to use the whole framework to devise units of work rather than individual tasks. I am not sure if the students need a thinking tool to solve this task, but I think I need to look at different models than just ENV. Or maybe it is ENV they need as they have to identify the different elements and explain how they have been used i.e what values have they been assigned, in order to answer the questions.

  • Making role cards for a speaking exercise

    Warm-up. To get into the mood of English and setting the scene for the role play situation a video about travelling agencies is shown. After the watching there is a short reflection on the main issues of the news item.

    The next step is to ask the Students if they want to play a role play – a conversation between a customer and a travel agent. Everybody is eager to do it.

    Challenge 1. Let’s do the role play!

    I choose two volunteers and they start a dialogue. After the first sentences

     – Hello!- Hello! –I want to travel to France. –Well, how do you want to travel? –Well, it doesn’ t matter, the main thing – cheap. -Ok, do you want to travel with stops? –Well... 

    ...here, after less than 30 seconds the conversation stopped. So, the Students agreed that the role play failed.

    The question raises – what do we need for a successful role play? Some of the Students suggest – a role card where there is some information to speak about.

    Challenge 2. Students are divided into two groups and one group is asked to write role cards for a customer and the second group is asked to write  role cards for the travel agent. After five minutes the work is done.

    I choose one from six suggested role cards for the customer and one from six suggested role cards for the travel agent and two volunteers start the role play.

    The Students are given a short time to get acquinted with the role card and the conversation starts. This time it lasts almost a minute but there a lot of  breaks and pauses in the conversation and the students are not very satisfied with the information contained and they agree that the style of the role card – just points mentioned, e.g. want to go on honeymoon, somewhere warm, in May, etc. – does not help to get the idea of the character they are playing and it’s hard to use their imagination to catch the mood of the role play.

    At this moment there is a 10 minutes break and the students have a short rest.

    When the students return from the break I give them two reading tasks where they have to match the described persons with offered travel packages and the described persons with different hotels. After ten minutes the tasks are done and the answers checked.

    The next step is to evaluate the descriptions given in the task and students come to a conclusion that their style is better for role cards as the ones they made.

    The students are asked to sit in two groups – those who wrote customer cards and those who wrote travel agents’ cards and each group has to put together all the information of their descriptions and compare them with the reading task descriptions and are asked to and find the features which could help to write a good role card. As I know that this is an upper intermediate level group and we have already done done groupin tasks I suggest them to discuss the features and come to parameters.

    After ten minutes each group calls out the parameters and I get the following list.

    The last task – based on the parameters I wrote down on the Interactive board the students are asked to write the second version of a role card, this time they have to stay in the groups and with some discussion within the group to check that they choose to describe different places to offer as travel agents and different personalities to describe as customers.

    Here are the descriptions (...it will be added later)  I got and we  are going to test them next lesson.

    I have to remind once more that this was the upper-intermediate group and I am really anxious to see what the lower intermediate group is going to develop within these task framework...


  • Medieval Mysteries

    By using thinking skills in the initial stages of my art units I hope to deepen the students understanding of the topic studied which in turn would allow them to create art work that is not merely skills focused, but demonstrates this understanding. By breaking things (topics/artworks/ideas) into different features and elements it will also make it easier to teach the students analytical skills which are a requirement of the course that I teach. (International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme)


  • Mosaics - second lesson

    This week I had the second lesson, with this class, where we worked on developing our descriptive algorithm. Anticipating their reluctance to work in a discussion setting, I explained that we would be working together for about 30 mins and then they would get to do some practical work.

    I had written out all the descriptions from last week and cut them into pieces. I had also put down white circles on the table, on some of them I had written parameters and some were blank. The parameters I had written were expression, subject, and number of colours. We started to sort our descriptions onto the circles and of course quickly found out that we needed more parameters. They really liked doing this and ALL wanted a turn at writing on the circles. We then discovered that what we had was a Venn diagram with all the circles overlapping with each other.(which then led to a discussion about what they remembered about Venn diagrams from before and who had been in the class then. and who hadn`t..) We tried to then break down these overlaps into new parameters, but I became very unsure as to where we should go with these. When background overlaps with shape, is the new circle called background shapes? or Pattern? and isn`t pattern also a parameter. At this point a drummer started playing right outside the classroom, and all the boys immediately started to join in on air drums, so I decided that this was a good time to stop and do some practical work.

    Later we tried to turn our list of parameters into a creative algorithm, and here I know I have gone wrong and jumped a few steps ahead. But... it is a starting point and by looking at it the students could see that they needed to change the colours they were making to make sure that they had several shades of each colour. As under our colour paramter we had chosen several shades of the same colour.

    So I am a bit stuck about how to get this back on track, and still getting mixed up with parameters and values.

  • Mosaics with grade six

    This lesson was the first in a trying to get the class to produce a descriptive algorithm that would later be developed into a creative algorithm.

    The class was divided into groups of three and each group was given the same image to work with. This is the image I selected

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/mosaics_gallery_04.shtml This part of the lesson went well and the students were engaged and keen.

    Each group had to list as many ways to describe it as possible, I gave them about 10 minutes to complete this task. They then all had to stand up and one group at a time to read out one description, until all the descriptions were used up. Once the groups had no more descriptions left they had to sit down. The last group left standing was the winner. This is wher things started to go horribly wrong...

    This is a class that find group work challenging, and are not good at being respectful towards each other when it is not their turn. So instead of using 10 minutes on this second part we used almost 30 minutes. They found it hard to sit and listen, they were accusing each other of cheating, sitting when they were meant to stand and so on. In retrospect this was probably not the best class to work with for this project.

    At the end of the lesson we ended up with a list of 54 descriptions, and had a short talk about which ones could be grouped together and why. Already at this point I began to feel unsure as to which of the descriptions were parameters and which were values.

  • Mosaics with grade six

    The last two lessons the class have been busy creating their final mosaics. I typed up our creation algorithm and distributed it to the class. I asked them to check that what they had done so far fitted with this and make any alterations. I have decided to use it for evaluation of the final work, and to try Edgar`s suggestion of getting then to create a mosaic from an image using our algorithm. There isn`t class next week so it will be at least two weeks before I can progress further with this.

  • Propaganda part 2

    Teaching aim - to teach students how to identify what has to be present for a poster to be a propaganda poster

    Thinking aim - To identify what parameters are constant in posters and what the variables for a regular poster and propaganda poster would look like. To create the initial steps for a descriptive algorithm.

    These two aims are closely entwined, actually I think the thinking aim is the tool I will use to achieve the teaching aim.

    Lesson outline


    We started by spreading out the circular sheets we had created last time and in twos or threes, students decided which parameters (or even which of the values) were constant, and wrote these on a list.

  • Reflection on Mosaic unit

    Overall aim:To see if I could use thinking tools to help students to plan and create a roman mosaic

    Thinking Aim:Totry and identify the parameters that make up a mosaic and specifically a Roman mosaic. To then decide on the values of these parameters and produce an algorithm that would help students understand the steps necessary to create a successful mosaic.

  • Roman mosaics and global warming

    I am just about to embark on new units of work with all my classes, and am wondering how to use the ENV routine. In response to your question last time Alexander, I don`t think that I did focus on this clearly enough last time and so am trying to think about how to incorporate it better this time.

    As with the last unit of work, in the first couple of lessons I want the students to understand what are the characteristics are of mosaics (g6) and to find out what they know about global warming (g7) at the start of the units of work.

  • Roman mosaics and global warming (version 2)

    In the first version of this I wrote that technology seemed to be against me this week (no colour printers working, dvd`s not being recognised) and now I managed to saved that version without categorizing it, so it has gone off to live somewhere in cyber-space, and here I am re-writing my reflection.

  • Sorting Mosaics


    We did our sorting task this week. The students worked in groups of three, and each group had 10 images. First they were to sort the images into two groups, using any reasoning they wanted. We shared the categories they had selected as a whole class. We then had a mini competition to see which group could come up with the most categories for dividing the images. The group with the most came up with 15 different ways to sort the pile into two. The different categories were very interesting although were all at the level of has and doesn`t have. ie has a snake body or doesn`t, is a hybrid or isn`t, my favourite category was " has angry eyes".

    Once we had finished this I then asked the students to exclude one image in turn from the group. They struggled a little with understanding the instructions, some excluded one image then a second from the group and so on until they only had one remaining. This was towards the end of the lesson, and they are not the most concentrated group of kids, although of course I may not have been very clear in my instructions....


    By doing the different possible categories before the "odd man out", it gave the students a variety of ideas for how they could define the parameter for exclusion. It was also very interesting to observe how the students contributed to the groups. Some of the students who I would define as the "brightest" really struggled beyond one or two categories and some of the ones that I wasn`t expecting too much of really surprised me and came up with many and varied categories. I wonder if it is linked in any way to language. Next time with this group I might see if there is a difference between those who have three or more languages and the others.

  • Starting TA with Class 3 beginners: 6 Keeping TA going (only just)

     KEEPING TA GOING (only just!)                JANUARY 2014

    These comments follow on from the posts on Lessons 1 and 2 and Reflections on Starting TA with Class 3 beginners.
    The Christmas holidays came just after we’d finished doing these lessons, so it wasn’t possible to carry them on smoothly – however, this is the sort of thing which always comes up. After Christmas I felt I had to move forward with the book more quickly as they’d have to have a test in the middle of February. The next chapter in the book was about sports, which didn’t lend  itself immediately to carrying on the same type of theme, so I decided just to try to keep our ‘describing’ lessons in the pupils’ minds and do other things meantime.

    How I tried to make sure they wouldn’t forget our ‘describing’ and the idea of parameters
    At least once a week I took 5 – 10 minutes of a lesson to do one of the following:-
    acting out the new vocabulary we’d learned for describing and asking what the parameters were ( they didn’t all remember words like ‘shape’, but they’d remembered the idea well).
    playing the game where I say a word and they say the parameter – we also played it with one of them coming to the front, and with one saying a parameter and seeing who was the first to shout out a value.
    - I made colourful ‘posters’ for the wall with SHAPE, COLOUR, TYPE OF FOOD and SIZE on them, and made words to stick on the posters. They were given a word each and had to stick it in the right place. This was a very quick exercise which kept the words and parameters in mind. I thought it would be too easy, but every time there were mistakes which they pointed out to each other, reminding each other of what the words meant and of what they were supposed to do.
    One or two pupils described a food and the others had to guess, and sometimes we played the password game, but very quickly, without writing anything up or reflecting on what they’d said.

    Some thoughts on reflection - English learning notebooks
    I hadn’t actually had time to give notebooks for reflection to two of the groups, so in the end I gave them later and their first reflection was not on TA work, but on their first vocabulary test. This vocabulary test was very traditional, based on learning a list of words from the course book. I still haven’t managed to get away from such tests which do seem to make pupils apply themselves to remembering words, but for how long…? Anyway, my question was, ‘How did you learn the words for your test?’ and I asked them to give detailed answers. As they’re not used to thinking about this kind of thing at all it took them a while to get started, but eventually they wrote a fair amount. Before their next vocabulary test I showed them a summary of the first reflections they’d written and asked if they could think of a different way of learning for the next test, and then I’d ask them about it and they could give each other good ideas as to how we could learn words better. When I did this they almost all wrote that they learned the same way as last time.

    I know we should have tried out some alternative ways of learning together first, but I thought I’d see if they came up with anything themselves. Many said they didn’t try a new way because the first way worked well, and of course they’re right – there was no need for change. What I have to do is to change the test, and to think of ways of having them use the vocabulary more. So this learner reflection hasn’t really gone anywhere, except that I’m more aware that there’s no point in reflecting if there’s nothing to reflect on!  There had been no challenge with any clear aim, at least from the pupils’ point of view, involved in the task, so things remained the same. However, it’s a step towards them thinking about their own learning and learning strategies and getting used to reflecting on what they’re doing. It also helps me a lot to read their reflections as we don’t have so much time to actually discuss these things together.

  • Starting TA with Class 3 beginners: 9 Chump continuation and reflections

    This post continues from 'Starting TA with Class 3 beginners: 8 The Chump Problem'. Below I describe how I planned to continue these lessons by introducing a new challenge where the learners are forced to think more quickly about which are the relevant parameters for this particular situation. The aims and basic situation are still the same as those described in the previous post.

    STEP 1: New context and challenge
    Whiz comes to the kiosk, but the shopkeeper has just put up the Closed sign. (I thought we could actually have a make-believe kiosk and sign, or a sign for each pair – maybe they could put the closed sign around their necks, for fun!) Anyway, the shopkeeper is keen to go home, and now along comes Whiz asking for his chump, so the shopkeeper is a bit impatient and says, ‘Quick!’, and ,’Sorry, I STILL don’t understand!’, and generally makes impatient noises, so Whiz really has to think about how he can describe the food in as few sentences as possible, having to find the defining feature of each food as quickly as possible.
    STEP 2: Building the stairs
    At this point we can look at the passports and see that in many cases they don’t help here, so how can we show the defining feature for each food? Should we circle the best parameters for each…? What suggestions do they have? Can we just adapt the model (chart/passport/ENV) we have, or do we need a new model altogether? They could think about this in groups to see what they come up with.
    STEP 3: Reflecting / testing the model
    Here I thought we could have a kind of game, ‘The Chump Challenge’. In 3’s the pupils could act out the situation. One pupil will be the shopkeeper, one Whiz and one a competition official writing out the sentences suggested by Whiz, and counting them. He or she will then give them to the judge (me, or another pupil?) and we’ll count the sentences, but will also give extra points to any ‘superclues’, which say it all in a nutshell. We’ll look together at the sentences and results and decide on the points to be awarded.  The idea is that the pupils get used to finding the most relevant clues in a particular situation, at first using their models, and this can later be transferred to other situations, in which they might need to adapt their models further. The models they have probably won’t help them much at all in finding the defining features of foods.

    There had been too long a gap since our previous ‘thinking’ lessons, although I had kept the ideas of parameters and describing alive through various short activities every now and then. I felt this fitted into the book quite well, but now we’ll only have time to read the actual café conversation from the book very quickly. However, it should be very easy for them after what we’ve done.

    I think the content aims of the lesson were met as the pupils used food vocabulary and the shopping conversation in different contexts and repeatedly, through the chump problem. They also all started using ‘Pardon?’ and ‘I don’t understand’ a lot, which is good – simple, but very necessary, phrases for a beginner.
    I didn’t actually get very far with the thinking aims – only as far as them getting stuck and starting to revise the chart/ model/ENV (I’m not sure what to call it), but I think the whole idea of the ‘chump’ word has potential, though I maybe need to adapt how I use it. At times I felt I was labouring the point with the class. It has to be simple to understand and carry out.

    All three classes I tried this out with seemed to waken up at the idea of Whiz going to the kiosk and they liked the word Chump. All three were also keen to work with the chart, and though we’d agreed beforehand there wouldn’t be homework, some of them wanted to work on it at home, and they were in no hurry to leave the class when the bell rang. I need to remember to keep variety within the lesson more for this age group.

    It’s a pity I won’t be able to carry out the plan I outlined above (as the holidays are starting), but maybe in the autumn we can continue in the same vein with a topic other than food (so it doesn’t get boring). We could have the same kind of situation and conversation for example in a pet shop.

    I didn’t manage in the end to do nearly as many thinking lessons as I’d planned after Christmas, and I realise now that I have to have them planned as maybe a 6-week block in order to really get somewhere with them and not feel I don’t have time. Maybe I can look at next year’s book and see if I can somehow fit this kind of thing in. We can continue with yes/no, riddles and other challenges to reinforce the idea of using ENV, making strong questions and sentences, and building and adapting thinking models. At the same time I have to keep them reflecting on their own learning. Although this year I've felt I have a clearer idea of how to integrate TA into my teaching, it's still very difficult to keep the momentum up, and I'm guessing this will take time, as I gradually move into new ways of working and the pupils get used to it too.

  • Visual Art - Propaganda Grade 8

    This is the first time I had seen this class in a month, so I have had to modify my aims for this unit of work on propaganda quite considerably.

    My overall aim is to create a descriptive algorithm and a creative algorithm for Propaganda posters.

    My aim for this first lesson was for them to identify values that the Propaganda posters had through a sorting task, and then identify the parameter to which these belonged.

    I had selected images form second world war propaganda from a variety of counties, which in groups of three they were to sort in as many different ways as possible. Each group then had to read out their categories until all the categories had been called out and their was a winning group. We then wrote out the values and grouped them together on circles, which were our different parameters.

    This was so much more successful than my attempts to work with the younger age group. This is partially due to the maturity of the group but also because they have worked with ENV in science and are open to discussions about whether something is a parameter or a value. From the list of values I could see that they had identified all the main aspects that I had hoped they would see, for example exaggeration, contrast, manipulation, as well as the more obvious things like use of flags and weapons

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