In the weeks leading up to half-term, we successfully saw each of the Year 9 classes as planned and so carried out this inquiry seven times. It never ceases to amaze me that in doing the same lesson with seven groups of 13 year olds can lead to such different experiences and outcomes. In part this is because we refine the inquiry as we go through it, get quicker at delivering it as we learn which parts are going to take that bit longer than planned, or even which elements can be left out altogether – either because we are covering skills they already know, or because we find they are not actually needed in order for pupils to complete the task. Partly it is relation to the setting of the classes, which in turn affects set sizes; to how long it takes all members of the class to find the correct room; to whether enough computers in the room are working properly to accommodate everyone. This year, the main factor turned out to be whether or not the pupils had managed, under the circumstances, the required background reading and so had an understanding of what we were talking about. We learned as we went along, getting the English teachers on board to encourage or require the reading of the article just before their lesson with us, even providing paper copies of it to one class the day before. Once they knew the background, engagement improved, contributions increased and the written work became far more considered. It was clear which class had been asked to read the E. M. Forster short story, as well as the article from The Day, and which class contained not one single pupil who had managed to even read the article.
While not every class reached the point of producing responses to the question using their beautifully set-up academic writing documents, another advantage of the structure used is that we have evidence of their thinking anyway – on the worksheet above, or a version of it as it too was tweaked as we went along – and the thinking stage is the one we are really interested in them having wrestled with in this inquiry.