A motivation and reward discussion in class

In a recent discussion with my fourth years (15-16 year olds) we touched on the issue of why we choose to do what we do and what we hope to get back for doing it. It was in the context of a lesson where we were considering the motivations the people caught up in the current migration flux of people from Syria, Afghanistan and North Africa. I wanted to get the pupils to think for a moment about what circumstances might cause them to want to relocate to a different country.

travel

For my groups of fifteen year olds the idea of going to live in a different country because it offers a better paid job is an apparently very easy and obvious step to make. What is perhaps more interesting is to see how they almost believe they simply have a right to pursue such a route. Whether they accept it as a right for others is often somewhat less clear.

The immigration related discussion is of course a complex and heavily charged one. But a lighter exchange also took place when I reminded the class that I too was an immigrant having moved from the UK to the Netherlands back in the nineties. “What was your motivation for coming here sir?”.  I think most of them actually already knew, but teenagers normally like to hear a bit of personal biography from their teachers.  Initially I said that I came to the Netherlands because I liked Dutch art so much, but not surprisingly, they didn’t believe me, so I set about recounting the love story that did bring me this way. It’s a nice story to tell how my wife and I met, but it does also illustrate well how as a student you can temporarily be abroad, meet someone, and all of a sudden the route of life can take a sharp bend and you too, as I found, can be caught up in your own immigration story. I know for sure that when my wife travelled to England, in her early twenties, for her university placement he wasn’t anticipating coming back with a new relationship that was going to have such far reaching effects!

These pupils sit on the cusp of great changes in their lives. In two years many will be on the point of also setting off on the journey through a university education. If we return for a moment to that initial question of what motivates us to do what we do. The financial angle is always the first one that pupils name, they all want to be wealthy and own big houses and nice cars. But I would always ask them to consider other motivations and rewards they might hope for, and can offer a few of my own. One such reward is the very possibility to be able to talk with them about these sort of issues. By doing so you hope to open their eyes a little to different perspectives on the adult world that they, in the not too distant future, will be stepping into. It is so enjoyable and rewarding to engage with them in this way. They are all entering a period of a number of years of transition.

I was all too reminded of this earlier this week when I waved my own son (aged 18) off on a post exams adventure with two friends through Scandinavia and on to Saint Petersburg.  He will learn so much from this three-week journey. As a parent this isn’t always easy when you are used to being close at hand to offer help and advice when needed.

I really shouldn’t complain though, how out of touch am I with the group of young travelers?  They’ve been away for five days, we’ve engaged text messages, photos have been posted on Facebook and I can see exactly what the weather is like where they are. I made a similar trip nearly thirty years ago with two friends. We set off around Europe and in three weeks I don’t think I contacted my parents once, we just turned up again one day. Sorry mum and dad, I’m feeling increasingly guilty about that this week!

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Contentious Quotations – a CLIL assignment

Stimulating a point of view is important in an art lesson. I guess I would often say that in a way having a point of view or and opinion is almost as important as the opinion itself. In this regard maybe my subject area is a little different to many others, being in absolute agreement with the ‘right answer’ is not normally the main aim in the art room.

But even in the ‘hard’ science areas there is room for discussion and opinion, certainly when exploring a new area or theme and when you are trying your best as a teacher to unlock pupils’ prior knowledge and intuitions. This can be done in a number of ways in the classroom, a group discussion, a brainstorming session on the board or individually or something as simple as providing pupils with key terminology and asking them in a group to discuss what they think the words might mean.

The following activity is designed to:

  • Allow space for diverse opinions from everyone in the group
  • Encourage an awareness that different people have different ideas that can be expressed in different styles and terminology
  • Encourage an awareness and analysis of others opinions be they from their peers or ‘experts’ and accept their validity
  • Encourage the viewing of a subject from multiple standpoints
  • Encourage an understanding of differences in standpoint and why it happens and why it might actually be useful
  • Encourage the understanding that the context of a statement might be important. The when, the how and the why behind the statement
  • Stimulate verbal engagement

guernica

How it works

The instructions below are for how this assignment might work in my art lesson, but by switching the artwork image for a different sort of image, diagram or film with different subject matter the basic principle should work across most subject areas.

Select the artwork. For the purpose of this example let us use the example of Picasso’s Guernica. If you’re not sure about the history and importance of this artwork take a quick look at some background information here.

  • At random hand out a sheet of paper to each pupil in the class. On each sheet the image of the artwork (Picasso’s Guernica in this case) is at the top and one of the numbered quotations below underneath it. (I should add that the ‘quotations’ used are fictitious ones that you the teacher should formulate in order to take the lines of thought of the pupils into desirable areas)
  1. “the Spanish town of Guernica was bombed by the German Condor Legion on Monday 26 April 1937. 3000 bombs were dropped killing more than 1600 people”
  2. “In this work we can see that Picasso was experimenting in the way he was painting, but there are definitely still Cubist influences”
  3. “After standing in the queue at he museum in Madrid I was finally able to get in, I was shocked to see just how big the work actually was”
  4. “Everything about this artwork is focused on destruction, the broken bodies, buildings and spirit of the people is clearly what the artist has focused on. There is just one small sign of hope….”
  5. “For me the real problem with this art work is how unrealistic it is. I get that it is about destruction and death, but I don’t get why the artist has painted it in such a basic way”
  6. “This image is absolutely at home in the UN headquarters in New York, it is exactly the sort of place that this image should be hung so that everyone can see what it is about”
  • Ask the pupils to think entirely for themselves (and without discussion) about the image and the quotation. They need to focus on their reaction to the statement. Do they agree or disagree with it, why that might be? What sort of person might have made the statement and why do they think that? When do they think that it was made and under what circumstances? Plus other comments they have, reminds me of…. Etc.
  • Encourage the pupils to look up words that they don’t know or facts or content in the quotation that they don’t understand.
  • When the written reactions are complete ask those with quotation number one to go and sit together, quotation two form another group, and so on. Within the group ask the group to explain their thoughts to one another and discuss the reactions, observations and thoughts that each had. Whilst doing is ask the pupils to discuss their observations and then to write down the areas of agreement and where the differences lie.
  • Subsequently ask a spokesperson from each group to present the quotation and the groups thoughts to the class as a whole.
  • The discussion phase can then be broadened out a step further by allowing the discourse to become class wide, with individual standpoints that they can articulate to the class.

The overall benefit of this structure is that it allows you the teacher to steer the engagement with the lesson material into desired areas though careful choice of the ‘quotations’ that you present to the class. However it requires the pupils to do the work in these areas as they engage with, and reflect on the different perspectives that can be taken in relation to a single subject.

The results of the assignment could easily be taken further and used as the basis for a more extensive written exercise relating to the theme.

A chance to talk with colleagues…..an educational luxury

The fact that I haven’t posted anything for a month tells me something very clearly, I’m working my way through a very busy period. Weeks are flying by towards Christmas and schedules are packed with countless activities, preparation, planning, plus of course simply giving lessons. Most people who work in education will recognize this.

matisse quote

We encourage our pupils to reflect on their activities, to learn from their successes and failures, but as a teacher there often seems so little time to step back and think about what we are doing, and even less time to do this with colleagues of our own subject area.

The value of such an opportunity was made clear a week ago by an annual meeting I chair of art teachers, teaching in bilingual education in the Netherlands. On the agenda, with the twenty-five other art educators present were three main points:

  1. CLIL – the bilingual teachers educational mainstay of Content and Language Integrated Learning; that is to say, how do you teach the content of your subject whilst simultaneously teaching a second language (English in my case).  As coordinator I am expected to throw some good CLIL practices into the group.
  2. Digitalization in the art room
  3. Resources – Where do we draw our ideas and inspiration when developing new material

I’ve been doing these meetings for a few years now and find it a tricky balance to strike between leading the meeting and trying to get discussion going (between a group of teachers who don’t really know one another). I prepared some material but went into the meeting hoping that the others present would be open and willing to contribute.

Was I nervous? Well maybe just a little bit, but I certainly didn’t need to have been, what a fantastic meeting we had. Three hours flew by. What a luxury three hours of open and constructive discussion felt. So often I sit in meetings crammed onto the end of the school day with colleagues who are worn out and, let’s be honest, wanting to head home to get on with some marking, pick the children up from school, do the groceries….etc. But this occasion was different, rarely have I sat in on a discussion session with such a group of people wanting to participate, share and learn….all together.

I left the meeting feeling invigorated and enthusiastic. It was three hours of pure subject content and there is perhaps a lesson for all in education. There is a time and a place for meetings concerning planning and organization, that’s important stuff. But don’t let it dominate every meeting….it is the love of the content that brought many of us to education in the first place and it is engaging with content that recharges our batteries.