The Student Strike for Climate

On Friday thousands of students across the UK left their lessons to take part in demonstrations demanding action to tackle climate change.

I currently teach part time in Oxfordshire and the protest in Oxford had one of the highest turnouts, with the media reporting an estimated 2,000 young people rallying to the protest in the city centre. I’m not in school on Fridays, it’s one of the days I work in the education team at the Bodleian Libraries, so I went along in my lunch break to see how the demonstration was going.

In common, I suspect, with many teachers, I felt some internal conflict over this student strike for climate. On the one hand I find it extremely encouraging, indeed inspiring, that young people should be taking a leading role in this crucial issue; on the other there are, of course, difficulties in condoning time out of school and missed lessons, especially in the run-up to GCSE and A Level exams. How many students would be genuinely concerned and actively engaged in tackling climate change and how many just taking an easy opportunity to bunk off on a Friday afternoon?

The headteacher of my school made a very reasoned response when approached by students about the strike; not authorising their absence but celebrating their desire to speak out and prompting them to think beyond attendance at an event arranged for them, to organising practical action in their own time. He commented on the strike in the newsletter Take Me Home and also included the Students’ eloquent letter to their local MP.

I was very impressed by the demonstration itself. Before reaching the venue in Oxford’s Bonn Square I encountered a march along Cornmarket (pictured above), with banners flying and some well-coordinated chants. This got the message across in a forceful but good-humoured way and was certainly getting a lot of interest from the public.

The main protest in Bonn Square was still in full voice, with impassioned speeches, music, chanted slogans and banners. It was the latter that really impressed me. Although there were a few of the inevitable printed placards from Socialist Worker (say what you like about Trotskyists, they know how to run a printing press), most banners were individual and imaginative hand-made, labours of love. My particular favourites were “Think or Swim” accompanied by a picture of Westminster flooded by rising sea levels, “The Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?” and, with a nod to the Green Party, “We’ll listen to UCAS when you listen to LUCAS”. I do hope the creators find a way to work their banners into their art portfolios.

The vast majority of people were actively engaged. Yes, there were a few kids in town who were out of school but didn’t seem to be connecting with events in any way, but nothing like the numbers of opportunists some commentators had predicted.

In education we tend to be judged on outcomes. I can’t think of a better outcome from schools’ work on citizenship and Fundamental British Values (not to mention the science input on the greenhouse effect and climate change) than that students stand up for what they believe in and attempt to effect change by engaging in the democratic processes of a free society, including petitioning elected representatives and making peaceful public protest. The alternative is for the youth of our nation to be disengaged and at best apathetic, at worst disillusioned and disconnected from the rest of society.

Friday’s protest made a point. Maybe the protest could have been at the weekend, but I think we all know that would have gained less coverage and prompted less debate. Let’s hope we can all now move from protest to effective action because our young people are right: whatever our age, the climate clock is ticking and there is no planet b.

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Adventures in Whole Class Feedback: Planning for Feedback

I have been interested in the claims made for whole class feedback for some while, but have had some reservations. I have always seen formative assessment as a central element of teaching and learning, and providing written (as well as verbal) feedback as crucial to helping children understand what they have done well and what they need to do to improve further. I also quite like marking and enjoy both the immediate reaction of children to seeing their hard work appreciated, and their longer term journey of progress over time.

Nevertheless, while I may like marking, I don’t always like the time it takes. As I write the same comment on the fourteenth piece of work from a class, I find myself thinking that this probably wasn’t the best use of my time. As Anthony Radice wrote in this post Whole Class Feedback: A Winner All Round, it’s important for teachers to consider what else we could be doing with the time we spend in close marking like this, and whether other activities, such as planning or creating resources, might be more useful in helping pupils make progress.

With all this in mind, I agreed with my line manager that development of whole class feedback would be an objective for my performance review this year. I’ll be developing my practice in class and feeding back to the departmental team.

When and what to mark

I have decided to focus on year 8 as I have three mixed ability computing classes in this year group.

There are several types of task that these classes do:

  1. Work in class which will be directed to an element of a unit, for example editing sound files in a unit on podcasts, or the use of subroutines in a unit on algorithms.
  2. Half-termly Homework. In computing pupils choose a task for each half of each term. This is an individual project they work on for several weeks. Examples include designing a website on a theme, or designing a revision resource for a topic. Pupils work on different tasks.
  3. Discrete homework. These are shorter homework tasks, taking a few minutes, for example reinforcing key vocabulary, or a quiz on PEGI game ratings. They are set one lesson for completion by the next. The tasks may be differentiated, but everyone is doing the same thing.

I think some of this work lends itself more to whole class feedback. In class we are usually all working towards the same goals. It’s easy for me to pick up on good examples and also to spot errors or misconceptions. In class it makes sense to give verbal feedback to the class (as well as taking opportunities to talk to individuals. The written feedback is for myself: picking up on what happens in the lesson to better inform my teaching.

Pupils put a lot of work into the half-termly homework and I think they deserve some individual feedback from me. What I’m aiming to work on is making that feedback truly individual. Rather than repeating comments on common themes, though, I intend to note these and address them as feedback to the class.

The discrete homework tasks are usually self-marking tasks such as quizzes, so my focus is usually in picking up on what the scores mean, such as a misunderstanding of a particular concept. Often I will revisit this on teaching, rather than give specific feedback on the homework, but I’ll see if doing so is more effective.

So, that sets the scene for what I plan to do:

  • Continue to use verbal in-lesson feedback as I do already, but keep better track myself of how it informs my teaching.
  • Restrict individual feedback for the truly individual elements of homework projects and add whole class feedback of common learning points.
  • Give whole class feedback a try for discrete tasks, where previously I might have just revisited the learning in the course of a lesson.

I’ll make sure to feedback how We get on!

Image: publicdomainpictures.net