It’s that time of year again! Joe and I have been discussing how we will improve this Pressure Groups inquiry this year, on and off, almost since it finished last summer. In FOSIL terminology, we took our own ‘meta-‘Reflect stage very seriously and used it as a launchpad for (re-)designing our next inquiry.
Of course this year we have the added complication of needing to deliver the whole thing remotely during the coronavirus shutdown, but inquiry actually really lends itself to remote learning and we were pleased to discover that we would only need to make minor adjustments to make it suitable for remote learning through Microsoft Teams (our school’s chosen platform). I’ll come back to that in another post, but I wanted to share the LibGuide we have developed now, partly because I am really excited about it, and partly because it might be of use to other A level Politics teachers (or Librarians supporting them) thinking about how to teach F6 Pressure Groups during school closures. We had been planning to use a LibGuide before coronavirus came along, it is just a bit more comprehensive than it might otherwise have been. Note that resources from our subscription databases (such as the Politics Review articles) will only work for members of our School community, but there are plenty of resources on the guide that are available for free.
As a reminder (because this thread has become quite long), the subject objectives of the inquiry are that students emerge with:
a good understanding of what makes a pressure group successful; and
knowledge of a number of case studies of individual pressure groups that they can use as evidence in exam questions.
The FOSIL skills focus areas are:
evaluating sources (through CRAAP testing);
improving online searching skills; and
developing evaluative skills by bringing together a range of different opinions from different sources to form a conclusion.
Last year students prepared for and debated the motion “This House believes that x is a successful pressure group”, where x was a different, named rights-based pressure group for each pair of students in the class. Then they designed their own new pressure group and explained why they thought it would be successful. The inquiry went well and we were largely happy with it, but there are always improvements that can be made.
This year we are going to keep the debate for rights-based groups, but replace the “own group design” exercise with writing an article that includes a case study of a (named, assigned) different type of group (Trade Unions, Think Tanks, Cyberactivists, Lobbyists and Corporations) as an entry for the Orwell Youth Prize. The theme of the prize this year is “The Future We Want”, so students will need to explain whether and how groups like this feature in the future they want. I will explain in later posts why we have made this change (and in particular why we chose this prize), what we hope to achieve and how we are supporting students (but there is quite a lot of detail on the LibGuide if you are interested).
Really excited about seeing how this goes, and whether the improvements make the differences we expect!
The Pressure Group inquiry could not have come at a better time in our scheme of work this year. With remote learning the modus operandi for the foreseeable future, a guided inquiry is the perfect format for teaching in the Summer Term. Jenny and I have been revisiting this regularly for the past year, constantly updating our reflections and ideas on how to improve on the inquiry for Form 6 this time last year. The main focus would be to reinvent the second stage of the inquiry, which last year took the form of a ‘create your own pressure group’ task, in which students needed to apply the theory and evidence they had gathered during the first stage of the inquiry (investigation and debate on the two sides of ‘success/failure’ of a UK rights-based pressure group). Though this produced some breathtaking student work last year, we were concerned with how much utility it added in terms of exam-knowledge.
After some thought, we decided that the exam board specification called for a greater focus on different types of pressure group, and how they have evolved, particularly as one of the 30 mark essay questions on last year’s paper directly probed this area of the spec. The students will already have delved into rights-based pressure groups and the question of their success, so in the second phase of the inquiry, we would hone in on the democratic nature of the following different types of pressure group:
1. Trade Unions
2. Think Tanks
Jenny came up with the superb idea of an investigative journalism task early on in our reflection process. This would allow the creativity that we were so pleased with last year to remain, but would channel it into a specific aspect of knowledge acquisition for the pressure group topic. As time will be of the essence this term, we are minded to keep this second stage of the inquiry tightly-structured, useful, and student-led. Jenny has worked hard to redraft the frameworks for the student Investigation, Construct, Express and Reflect stages to ensure that students, no matter how good their remote learning access is, have a clear plan for their learning. The students will also have room to breathe in terms of following their own inspiration. All of the aspects we liked last year, such as the creation of a ‘product’, peer noting of the key elements of student work, and a meaningful reflection phase, are revamped into this new Orwell Prize task.
One more note on the remote learning aspect, which we are going to stress-test this year, is how well the debate (stage 1 of the inquiry) will work online, rather than face-to-face. Though stage 2 (sharing investigative journalism articles) should be simple enough online, the debate will be a good test of how classroom activities translate in the ether. My opinion pre-inquiry is that, with the well-structured and slightly-adjusted note-taking frameworks (more on that later, I’m sure) that Jenny has adapted, students will have the requisite structure to participate in the debate both as a debater and an audience-member.
The pressure group inquiry is due to begin during the first week of May.
I have now uploaded the new inquiry journal (which isn’t designed to be issued as a single booklet, but as individual sheets – some of which may be filled in on screen if students prefer, and one of which should be printed on A3). Those familiar with the previous journal will not notice many differences over the first few pages (except that the first page is missing because I didn’t have access to a Word version of that!). The first substantial difference occurs on page 7 of the new journal (page 14 of the old – I have removed a lot of redundant repeat investigative journal pages because students can add these as they need them. I have also removed the CRAAP Testing Rubric because that is available separately and is not specific to this inquiry). Don’t forget that this journal is intended to be viewed in conjunction with our LibGuide , which explains how all the resources are intended to be used.
The first changes students this year will encounter are:
The debate will need to take place on screen due to the Coronavirus school closures here in the UK, which is very different to debating in the classroom. To get things started we have therefore decided to ask students to produce a very short (90 second) opening statement, which they will then have a chance to respond to ‘live’.
We decided that trying to make notes on others’ debates in highly structured sheets placed too high a cognitive load on students last year, and led to lack of detail in notes taken during the debate. This may have contributed to the fact that many then did not then really use evidence from others’ groups in subsequent essays. This year we have decided to reduce cognitive load by using a much looser Cornell-style note-making sheet, which allows students to organise the notes they make after the debate, rather than trying to do it as they are writing (see below for snapshot of page 7 from the new journal). We also decided we were asking for too much peer feedback at this stage and, as a result, it was poor. Peer feedback at this stage will be now done informally via Teams group chat.
I’ll post another time about the substantial changes we made to the second half of the inquiry – and Joe may have comments of his own to add.
Thanks to Jenny for her explanation of the changes, with particular focus being drawn to the Cornell noting-style document she kindly created for student use during each debate. Though the jury is still out (the essay I set at the end of the debates is due in after half term), I believe the new style of student-noting has already generated two key benefits;
1. Students feel they can ‘dump’ their knowledge as messily as they want during the debate in the Investigate section of the sheet, before colour-coding each success criterion after the debate in the Construct column, to aid comparison of the factors for pressure group success.
2. The other, more subtle, benefit of the new noting sheet is the sense of freedom it gives to audience members. There is no longer the sense of guilt for not filling out a particular success criterion. Instead, I have made it clear to students that some pressure group debates might not need to reference a factor (let’s say ‘Membership’) as it is not relevant to their success/failure. The original incarnation of the Express record sheet forced students to shoehorn their debate findings into each criterion regardless of relevance. The new version allows choice and illustrates to students that each pressure group case study offers different evidence.
Having modelled the level of detail I would expect from audience members during the first debate of each group, I left it to students to take responsibility for their notes. It was abundantly clear from the off that the more evidence students gleaned, the better their essays would be.