Using theory in practice: overlaps and practical applications


You have been asked at short notice to cover a class for a colleague. The session is an English class in which the learners have to devise a news bulletin from several (provided) news stories. Part of the task they are being set is to summarise key information from each of the sources they have been given, to sequence the running order of the news bulletin in order of importance of the stories, bearing in mind what the pupils might or might not know of television news already. The summative task at the end of the session is for each group to perform their news bulleting in a way devised by them to the rest of the class, with each bulletin running for no longer than two minutes.

There is a lesson plan in place, but apart from the bare bones of information given above (as well as the pre-prepared news stories) there is little information  

However, you know this class, and have a working idea of each pupil's abilities and preferences to draw upon.

Task: how might you devise a sequence for the class which articulates a range of learning theories into its design, and is able to have the summative assessment completed? You have agreed to have the news bulletins recorded on camera for the class teacher to review and grade, and for follow-up work on this in the next session with the same class, in which they will watch their bulletins back. There are enough learners for 5 groups of 5 pupils per group. The session is intended to last an hour. 

Have an attempt at this task before reading on.

Task response: In situations like this, then it is often wise to draw on Gagne's conditions of learning, to have a ready-built lesson framework in mind, which will also have the benefit of supporting multiple learning theories in action. Gagne reminds us to get learner attention and then to focus it on aims and objectives for the session, to stimulate prior recall, and then to contextualise the fresh learning to this context (Gagne et al, 2014).

This is the lesson opening, and draws on behaviourist ideas in setting the group and having them focused on the lesson, through positive reinforcement of classroom standards.    

I might then draw on class members for the contextualisation; soliciting this from them and then reconfirming it brings us into the pupils' world, and makes the learning and its contexts meaningful to them rather than being imposed on them. Steiner and Montessori are acknowledged here. This should take no more than 10 minutes. 

In groups, put the pupils to work in summarising and sequencing the news stories. Let them be creative; applying their own spin on the news, creating TV channels and intended audiences, choosing newsreaders and the like. There are cognitive and social constructivist ideas at work here; teamwork and collaboration, and also previous contextual knowledge about television, the news, and storytelling. This section should be no more than 30 minutes, with the teacher facilitating and scaffolding as appropriate throughout this time, and ensuring that the learners work fast as they have limited time resources. Remind them that this is how real news production works; a daily rush to get ready for a set broadcast time.   

Depending on the kinds of news bulletins created, there are opportunities for creative expression, for critical observations to be made (perhaps even to the extent which Freire and similar critical theorists might like to hear), and for pupils' perceptions on the word to be evidenced by the selection, ordering and presentation of the news.

With 5 groups, each presenting for 2 minutes, allow 20 minutes for filming the news segments. This allows for some set-up and turnaround time. Have class members time the presentations as well as film them on the provided equipment; ownership of the task is important for meaning-making.

The class should be fast and fun, and there should be room at the very end for a short plenary with the pupils: what worked, what did not. Remember to focus on the real-word contexts of news production, and on the critical decisions made in presentation and in story terms by the pupils. Remind them that the tapes will be reviewed in the next session. 

Inside a single hour and one long activity with a presentation element at the end, there has been reference made organically to almost all of the learning theories addressed in this module. Opportunities to use their strengths will crop up naturally throughout teaching and learning; part of the challenge is to be able to recognise them and to exploit your knowledge of them so that their insights and strengths may be used in turn to enhance and make meaningful the pupil experience, perception, and achievement within the session.

To what extent was your response to the task like the one given above? In what ways did it differ? In reflecting on the version of the lesson that you created, which learning theories did you draw upon, and which did you not invoke? Why did you make the decisions that you made? On reflection, are you happy with your choices, and would the session have been a successful one if completed following your lesson plan?    

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