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How my Learning Partners Project with my Year 7 Tutor Group
Promoted the Culture of Citizenship
Amongst the Pupils.

Emma Kirby, Hanham High School, Bristol

The DfES website explains that the role of Citizenship is to provide pupils with the “knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to play and effective role in society at local, national and international level”. The websites continues with the information that “the report of the Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in schools identified three inter-related components that should run through all education for Citizenship, the three components being Social and Moral Responsibility, Community Involvement and Political Literacy”.

The Learning Partners project particularly focused on the Social and Moral Responsibility component which is defined as “pupils learning - from the very beginning – self-confidence and socially and morally responsible behaviour both in and beyond the classroom, towards those in authority and towards each other”. The project was based on Rights and Responsibilities. The right of every pupil to have an education and learn whilst in the classroom and the responsibility of every pupil to allow others in the class to receive that education and not disrupt others learning. It also took the Responsibility aspect a stage further and looked at every pupil’s responsibility to help others to learn. I also took into consideration the wider implications of the project and how it could be related to broader, real-life situations. The project was intended to foster a sense of caring about someone else and helping them to better themselves and to progress. In the world of work, obviously there is the importance of teamwork and working together to achieve goals and set and meet targets.

I set up the project after only 4 weeks of the new school year in my NQT year at Hanham High School, Bristol. The pupils were in Year 7 and new to the school. They had come from at least 5 different Primary schools and didn’t know each other very well. They were taught together as a tutor group for the whole of the first year and I felt that they would benefit from some support from myself and each other as they started to settle into secondary school. During my PGCE course the previous year at Bath University, we had a talk from Moira Laidlaw who was then working at Oldfield School for Girls in Bath. She talked about a similar project that she had run with one of her English classes. Although the pupils at Hanham High School are very different to the pupils at Oldfield I felt that I could adapt the project in some way to suit my pupils.

I was not only their tutor but I would also be their French teacher for 5 one-hour lessons a fortnight for which the pupils would have a seating plan. I considered allowing the pupils to choose their own partners and it is something that I would consider in the future if the project was to be repeated either with the same class or a different one. However, at the time and considering they had only been in the school for one month I made the decision to pair them up with the person sitting next to them.

According to the DfES website, “pupils develop skills enquiry, communication, participation and responsible action through learning about and becoming informed and interested citizens”. We had already attempted to set some subject specific and general targets during a tutor period which the pupils found very difficult. Therefore, I felt that maybe it would be good for the pupils to focus on someone else’s leaning and to have their partner focus on theirs and that in turn they may begin to think about their own learning and to develop skills for setting themselves targets. I hoped that the project would develop some skills in the pupils that could then be transferred to other subjects where target setting was appropriate. Bearing in mind, the Citizenship philosophy of participation, critical thinking, communication, negotiation and accommodation the class and I spent approximately 40 minutes of a Tutor period setting up the project and talking about the reasons behind it. I wanted the ideas to come from the pupils themselves although I obviously had some ideas that I hoped I could draw out of them. I began with asking “Who can help you learn?” to which I had answers including myself, my friends / classmates, teachers and parents. Then I asked them to focus particularly on themselves and their classmates and to think about the question “How can I / my classmates help me to learn?.” Answers ranged from study strategies e.g. test me on my vocabulary to strategies to help control behaviour e.g. tell me to stop talking when the teacher is talking. I videoed the session with the pupils and they seemed very enthusiastic about the project. Obviously the pupils didn’t sit next to the same person in every lesson so the project could only apply to their French lessons. For the first 2 weeks I asked the pupils to concentrate on their partner’s strengths and things that they did well in class. I felt that this would create a good feeling amongst pupils and build confidence. Pupils made notes in their Learning Partners booklets that I made. Then over the next 2 weeks, pupils were asked to look at what their partner could improve on and what they could do differently to help them learn better. Many of the targets were based on behaviour but for some of the more challenging boys in the tutor group their misbehaviour is a barrier to their learning. Pupils, in negotiation with their partner, had to decide on their partner’s targets and provide ideas on how they could help their partner to achieve these targets.

After a couple of weeks, I felt that the pupils were finding it hard to gauge whether or not pupils had met targets. We had a class discussion and the pupils told me that they find it hard to remember what their targets are as they don’t have their Learning Partner books open every lesson. They also felt that it was a lot of work to write about their partners’ progress for each and furthermore that three targets was too many and that targets were not being reviewed regularly enough. As a class they decided the following;

1) to have one target for a period of two weeks only

2) to develop a grading system 1 – 3 for whether or not targets were met each lesson but they also felt that it was important to have an A – C effort grade because they felt that sometimes a lot of effort had been made even though the target may not have been met.

3) Finally, the pupils wanted the Learning Partners booklet on their desk during every French lesson to remind them of their target. This was the only amendment to the project to unfortunately couldn’t be accommodated because the Head of Department did not want the project to happen during French lessons and having the books on the table would not have been allowed. I could refer to the targets during lessons but all writing up of targets and feedback had to be done during our 15 minute morning registration time and occasionally for 10 minutes during out fortnightly tutor lessons.

After implementing suggestions 1 and 2, the pupils found the managing and assessing of targets much more manageable and found that the project belonged more to them as they were having a real input into the running of the project. Towards the end of the project I asked for volunteers to meet at lunchtime to discuss the project. The discussion group also produced a questionnaire that was handed to all pupils in the class to ask for their feedback on the project. The group then met again and discussed possible ways of improving the project is it was to be repeated in the future. If the project was to be repeated in the future I would like to look further at follow-up work to gauge the long-term impact on students’ learning in terms of academic and social development.

I found the project a huge learning curve myself and although I believed in involving pupils in decisions about their own learning I didn’t realise the extent to which it could be done and to what success. It has made me look at the way in which I teach in a different light and although I teach and extremely time-restricted curriculum I do try to involve pupils where possible. I realise that the more they feel they own an activity the more motivated they are likely to be.

 

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