I wanted to share a recent learning and teaching experience I had with a Form II class (aged 13/14) while teaching them about democracy. I wanted to introduce the concepts of direct and representative democracies and in order to do this I thought that I would use Plato’s analogy of the ship. The analogy in itself is not complex to understand, but I wanted to see if real understanding had taken place after my initial exposition about Plato’s writings, basic Q & A and a 1 minute 30 second video clip:
I handed out some text which we read through, highlighting important ideas and underlining words that they did not understand. I asked them how this analogy of the ‘ship of state’ could be likened to their experience at school or perhaps in a club that they attend. I asked them what they thought about Plato’s ideas – the class was divided, but a number came up with the argument that if only intelligent (and possibly also rich) individuals were at the helm of any organisation, they may make decisions that benefit people just like them.
Others disagreed, arguing that only intelligent people had the mental capacity to make important decisions. I followed this up with a link to the Brexit referendum – had the so-called ‘intelligent’ professional decision-makers (MPs) voted on Brexit without asking the people, would the result have been different? We discussed the alarming fact that the day after the Brexit Referendum, the most googled phrase was ‘What is the EU?’ Did this, I asked, suggest that some people make ill-informed decisions? I asked them about the infamous ‘Brexit bus’ which many argued was misleading. The message that adorned the bus told of millions of pounds being diverted to the NHS in the event of the UK leaving the EU. I asked how a state can survive and thrive in the event of misinformation by the so-called elite – the intelligent, expert decision-makers. The class appreciated that this was not a black and white issue. I asked them what Plato would make of the Brexit referendum and they resoundingly responded that he would not have agreed with asking the people in the first place.
I could have moved into a comprehension-based task now, but instead I opted for a strategy known as ‘Sketchnoting’ or visual note taking. I gave each pupil a plain piece of A4 paper and asked them to draw (they could use words also) what they thought Plato’s analogy of the ship of state was about. I asked the pupils to draw their understanding. They appeared delighted at the prospect of not answering comprehension questions during the last period on a Thursday afternoon.
Sketchnoting can be linked to the concept of dual coding which research has found improves retrieval practice. In 2006, designer and author Michael Rohde created the sketchnote method. True Sketchnoting should be undertaken during a speaker’s talk or a lesson, however given the age and mixed ability of my class, I felt that this would work better if the sketching took place immediately after my exposition and Q & A. The key steps of effective sketchnoting are to plan, create and then adjust. This links with the development of the meta-cognitive skills of learners as these steps break down the processes that they need to go through in order to facilitate their learning. I used phrases such as 'planning', 'thinking', 'creative thinking', etc so that they knew the processes with which they were involved.
These were the results of my first foray into assessing the depth of understanding of my pupils using sketchnoting:
And my favourite:
I asked the pupils if they enjoyed the task and I received a resounding 'Yes!'
The pupils were active in the processing of the information with which they had been presented, had to plan how they were going to demonstrate their understanding and then had to tell their neighbour in the room what their picture showed.
The pupils understood that I was assessing their understanding to ascertain whether actual learning had taken place, but they also understood that it was low-stakes and that I was interested to see what they came up with. There was much laughter and ideas being discussed in the room. They were allowed a free creative rein to express themselves as they saw fit. Some used more words than images, some who claimed not to be very good artists understood that artistic ability (or lack thereof) was not the measurement of 'success' in this task. They could draw stick men should they wish. Many drew seas with swirling currents and inclement and stormy weather to demonstrate the difficulties that states face. When I asked the pupils what difficulties states could face, they came up with ideas such as war, civil war, disease, climate change, revolution, terrorism, corruption and many more. I was impressed with the results and evidence of real understanding. I will definitely adopt this active learning and teaching strategy again.
This book by Sylvia Duckworth is also worth a look
This article by Veronica Erb in the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology is also very informative.