I think we all feel ‘imposter syndrome’ at times – I know I do. However, as we often tell the students, feeling like we are out of our comfort zones (and sometimes out of our depth) is actually a really good sign that we are stretching ourselves. If it feels too easy, it probably is! This year I have been privileged to work on a year-long collaboration with Joe Sanders, one of our lead practitioners, which has stretched both of us to achieve more than we ever could have done alone. Joe and I have recently written about this collaboration on Oakham School’s Teaching and Learning Blog and because it is so relevant to this discussion I have reproduced the article in full below, with Joe’s permission:
Natural detoxification, improved digestion, keeping you regular. These are the main benefits of eating broccoli. Nothing to do with actually liking it. Perhaps they’ve never properly tried it, gulping it down and moving onto the roast potatoes as quickly as possible, failing to appreciate its versatility, vibrancy and taste. Children and adults around the world try to hide their little trees under the half-chewed Yorkshire pudding or tough bit of beef left at the side of their plate. Though, in the end, all that matters is that they eat their broccoli, we can’t help feeling they are missing out.
A Form 6 Politics student recently provided us with our own broccoli moment, when they stated, greeted with one of our FOSIL essay wraps in Politics, “I don’t like it, but it works”. The ever-enthusiastic refrain of students when we spend a bit of time creating resources for them. But we didn’t mind (well, we did a bit). Their motive for this comment, far from malevolent, was to pay us a compliment on our resource design. And though it missed the fact that the FOSIL wraps are aesthetically stunning, it got to the heart of their real purpose; to provide a clear structure for constructing understanding in a subject by using the FOSIL cycle.
We knew that our broccoli looked and tasted great, but from its inception, its main job was to get results. The academic demands of the three assessment objectives in A-level Politics were taking their toll on some students, who were suffering from issues such as surface-level application of evidence and a lack of analysis. From a subject-specialist point of view, something needed to be done to provide a structure that would illicit higher order thinking across each assessment objective. Added to this was a curiosity on both sides over how we could intertwine the specific needs of an exam specification with the FOSIL cycle which, in many people’s opinion, was only useful for inquiry.
What we discovered, however, was that the metacognition required for A-level examination success was actually crying out for a framework such as FOSIL. Each stage of FOSIL is closely linked to the thought process students should be going through as they prepare and plan for essay-writing. We are always tweaking aspects of our FOSIL wraps to fit the needs of the students (a little more Connect and Wonder, a little less Investigate in this case), but we know that what we have produced offers a simple, well-signposted and easily-revisable framework to prepare for assessment. The collaboration between a FOSIL specialist and a subject specialist is what made this possible.
One premise of the FOSIL cycle is that it becomes, after early scaffolding and modelling, second nature to the students and the explicit resource can drop away. If we have to firmly nudge students into making good use of the amazing resources at their disposal to begin with, by, for example, assessing not only the essay, but the entire FOSIL cycle of the wrap, then so be it. To produce effective metacognition amongst students, we have to teach them how to do it in the first place. Over time, this becomes self-regulated learning and students begin to the follow the FOSIL cycle without thinking about it explicitly. Much like broccoli’s roles in building strong, healthy bones, heart and immune system and in preventing cancer, internalising FOSIL helps to build strong, healthy thinking habits and defences against panic under pressure. A much younger student, prone to panic when asked to give presentations, observed that “when I use FOSIL I am confident that I know what I am talking about”. Confidence plays a huge role in exam success too.
But what about staff? Can we just ignore the positive effects of collaboration between FOSIL experts and subject specialists, like we do with our broccoli? For us, what began as curiosity and a reaction to academic concerns, has now morphed into a longer-term collaboration into more broccoli-based resources, with prep investigation sheets and an entire pressure group inquiry project, culminating in debates and exhibitions of students’ own creations. This, of course, sounds like a big job, a burden on your time. I can guarantee, it is the opposite. Through a little investment of time, specialism and experimentation, teachers are left with quality resources that are ready to use year-in, year-out. For librarians, the insight into preparing students for a subject exam that only a subject specialist can provide gives us important tools that we can use to support both teachers and students in other subjects who need similar skills. Librarians have a vital role as knowledge brokers, helping different elements of the school community to connect and share their expertise – and this only happens through collaboration and relationship. Most importantly, as a result of this collaboration we both have a deeper understanding of the role of FOSIL as a tool for thinking with, and have both become far more creative and reflective in our resource design.
In our case, the broccoli has provided lasting benefits to students and staff alike – and we’ve actually discovered we really enjoy it after all!