Following a TeachMeet in January on FOSIL, Joe, one of our Lead Practitioners, came to me with some very interesting ideas about using FOSIL as a tool for thinking with, in a much broader sense than ‘traditional’ inquiries. He could see the potential for using the Cycle to help students to take a more structured approach to essay writing prep, as well as to exam questions where they needed to analyze sources. He also had a particular interest in creating resources to facilitate student-directed differentiation and reflection, and to develop understanding of the higher level assessment objectives in Politics – particularly Analysis and Evaluation. It has been and continues to be a fascinating and fruitful collaboration, both in terms of the resources themselves but perhaps more importantly the way it has challenged and expanded our understanding of the Cycle and its potential applications.
Joe – perhaps you can give us your perspective on the collaboration and what we have achieved so far?
I will upload examples of the resources to our Resources section as they are completed and post links here.
As is abundantly clear from the array of topics under this Inquiry and resource design forum, FOSIL is a highly effective tool for approaching any inquiry. But what I wondered was whether I could take the thought process and structure of the FOSIL cycle and overlay it onto the assessment objectives in A Level Politics as part of essay planning and Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time (DIRT)? I discovered a skills gap in my student cohort when it came to AO2 Analysis and AO3 Evaluation. My students do not seem to engage enough with the rigours of higher-order thinking, something the linear external exams now rely on so heavily; assessment is not a matter of memorising facts but of critiquing, explaining and justifying arguments. What Jenny and I have worked on over the last few months are (so far!) three essay planning wraps that aim to guide students through the cognitive stages of essay writing in a methodical, ‘FOSILised’ way. Therefore, students work through the Connect, Wonder and Investigate stages on the front of their wrap (unpicking the essay question, accessing prior knowledge, thinking about possible skills and knowledge gaps), before tackling the substantial Construct stage in the centre of the wrap (a comprehensive and clear essay planning map). Of course, the Express stage is the writing of the essay itself. The final page of the wrap focuses on Reflect, asking students to mark their own work and justify their self-assessment. Gone are the days of students being set an essay and handing in only the finished article (with no evidence of the thought-process behind it). Instead, students complete the wrap before they even write their essay and hand in both pieces to be marked. Not only is the content of the wraps effective as a scaffold for students, it is also presented in a visually-pleasing format, involving clear colour themes and signposting for each stage, which I believe is essential for the overloaded teenage brain
Jenny’s work on our essay wraps has revolutionised the way I now approach essay writing and assessment. I’m so glad I embarked upon this line of thought and am excited to see where FOSIL can take us next. The evolving nature of our work means that I am now even trying to revamp my own Politics DIRT wrap using Jenny’s incarnations as my guide. I hope to do a Lesson Study into the impact of our FOSIL wraps in the Summer term and will report back with my findings.
Following Form 6 mock exams, I am now planning to place our FOSIL Politics essay planning wraps at the heart of my interventions for students. I have already set the next source-based 30 mark essay on Referenda, and have insisted that students use two of the planning wraps that Jenny and I have worked on in order to fully consider the process required for success. As is evident from their mock exam performance, many students require a framework in which to develop their arguments more fully. My hope and expectation is that these FOSIL wraps will be just that. We’ll know much more next week.
Having just run my first full cycle of the essay wrap being used for Form 6 Politics students (an essay on the democratic nature of referenda) , I have a couple of interesting thoughts on the further development of the resource;
1. Could we rethink (merge) the Connect and Wonder stages of the wrap so it resembles a brainstorming page with two different colours?
2. I need to rephrase the connective phrases within the central planner itself, to closer resemble the A -level Assessment Objectives
Though we are in the middle of our A Level Politics inquiry into Pressure Groups, I wanted to post a quick update on my collaboration with Jenny on FOSIL-ising essay planning. We still have some tinkering to do on the Connect, Wonder and Investigate stages of the essay wraps, and I need to recalibrate the wording and signposting I use.
Nevertheless, a throwaway student remark last week, about these FOSIL essay wraps, reminded me how valuable our collaboration thus far has been. An able student, who unapologetically has their ‘own way of learning’, said (through gritted teeth) “I don’t like it, but it works”. Fine by me! It is not the first time that resources that I have helped to create have been greeted with such ‘praise’. I have previously utilised the SOLO Taxonomy to produce planning maps for GCSE History. My most able students, who already seemed to have all of the necessary ingredients for success, put up substantial resistance to my new resources. But they understood the process it took them through, and utilised it to great effect.
Sometimes eating your vegetables isn’t the most pleasant aspect of the meal (though I have to say, FOSIL resources all look and taste delicious). If even the most sceptical students can see value in the structure provided by FOSIL wraps, then we are having a positive impact on their mindset and learning habits. The whole premise of the FOSIL cycle is that it becomes, after early scaffolding and modelling, second nature to the students. If we have to firmly nudge students into making good use of the amazing resources at their disposal to begin with, by, for example, marking not only the essay, but the entire FOSIL cycle of the wrap, then so be it. To produce effective metacognition amongst my students, I have to teach them how to do it in the first place.
And this brings me back to the value of FOSIL collaboration again; the FOSIL cycle and subject-specific assessment objectives complement each other – you just need to carve out that small piece of time in your term to get your heads together.
I have finally posted the essay wraps in the resources section. Because they don’t apply to a particular inquiry that has a defined start time, they are the kind of resource that we are constantly working on, and I kept waiting for the “final version” to post. Since they are likely to continue to evolve, however, I thought it might be more useful just to share a current version. I know Joe has been working on developing them further over the summer, so will share the new versions in due course. Seeing how a resource evolves as it is used and refined is often very useful.
The UK and Global Politics wrap is more up-to-date than the Political Ideas one because that is the one that saw the most use. I haven’t updated Political Ideas because I know Joe was planning some updates of his own, so the front and back of that reflect the previous version of UK and Global Politics. You will see, for example, that the cover page gives more space to Connect and Wonder and less to Investigate because we realised that there was less to record for the Investigate stage when writing an essay because it generally mostly involved using class notes and textbooks. The back page is also less busy – we stripped out anything we thought was unlikely to be read!
Following Joe’s “eating your vegetables” approach in post #1426 above, in 2019 we wrote a post entitled “Broccoli” about our Politics essay wraps for Oakham School’s “Beyond the Classroom” teaching and learning blog. Recently that blog has disappeared in a revamp of the school’s website but we wanted to preseve the post, so I have reproduced it in full below:
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 complement on our resource design. And though it missed the point that the FOSIL wraps are aesthetically stunning, it got to the heart of their real purpose; to provide a clear structure 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. Though 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), we know that what we have produced offers a simple, well-signposted and easily-revisable framework for assessment. The collaboration between a FOSIL specialist and a subject specialist is what made this possible.
One of the premises 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, marking 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 too in exam success.
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-specific exam that only a subject specialist can provide gives us vital tools that we can use to support both teachers and students in other subjects using 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, 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’re actually starting to really enjoy it!