A poem is just like a square…
What can you me tell about this square? This was the question that awaited my Year 11 class on Monday. After critiquing their practice exams on the literature poems, it became apparent that they all avoided the topic of poetic structure like the plague. I wanted them to see that poetic forms, like squares, have simple recognisable structures; just as a square is recognised for its four equal sides and right angles, a sonnet can be recognised by its fourteen lines, ten syllables per line and regular rhyme scheme. The idea was, they would tell me that the square has these simple, easily recognisable features and that would lead perfectly to the idea that they could discuss poetry structures just as easily.
However, this class are high flyers. They are used to being presented with extended abstract questions and devising interesting and elaborate answers to blow my mind. Answers such as, “The empty space within this square represents the knowledge that we are about to gain throughout this lesson.” Began to roll out. Although these answers were given due recognition and I was very proud of them for their ‘out of the box’ thinking, we had to take it back a notch to get my metaphor. This led one student to ask, “What if, because you have taught us to be extended abstract thinkers, other people see our answers as wrong?” Good question!
The Importance of Multistructural at Every Level
This class often already have the multistructural knowledge required to tackle much of the requirements of the AQA Language course. In Year 10, we spent a huge amount of time gathering our multistructural knowledge of language, techniques, writing forms, reading papers and so on, now that we are in Year 11, we tend to start straight in at relational. However, now that we have begun the Literature course, this has changed. You can’t relate knowledge unless you have the knowledge to relate. If pupils do not understand poetic form, they are unable to relate it to poetry. Similarly, if pupils cannot relate knowledge of poetic form to poetry, they cannot create extended abstract ideas about it.
This realisation that they had begun to forget the importance of the multistructural phase led to the creation of the following lesson. Pupils needed to recognise that they were learning new things. They needed to take ownership over their new knowledge and see it building for themselves.
The Set Up
On pupils’ desks awaiting them was lots of information about poetic form (lazily cut and paste from the net; Jim would be proud) such as types of poem and their features, glossaries of structural techniques and contextual information on our poems. Pupils were placed into groups of three, all with the same printed information; the names of different structural features were on the board. I told them that each person in the group must become responsible for being the expert on just one of the named features. Each group member must ‘own’ a different feature from the others. They were then given a short amount of time to prepare their expert knowledge by sifting through the information and finding what was relevant to their feature.
Each One Teach One
Pupils were given a short amount of time to teach their expert knowledge to each other. The group members were (I’d like to say systematically but it got messy) rotated around so that they had the opportunity to teach their knowledge to as many class members as possible. There is nothing different or new about peer teaching; the difference in this lesson was that every time that the penny dropped and they actually learned something new, they had to recognise that happening and write their new learning onto a slip of paper to deposit in our multistructural box.
Search For Meaning
The multistructural box is usually full of information separated into unistructural chunks that I have created to support their learning. Now pupils were creating their own learning resource. They were recognising that they had learned new information, stopping to digest it and write it down in their own language. As they deposited their knowledge, I checked it for misconceptions and was able assist were necessary. This information will be collated and given back to them for revision.
The conversations overheard left me delighted, “Ah, is that was that is?” and “Oh, I get it now.” Wanting to share this with the class, I told them at the end of the lesson that I had been so proud to hear their learning as it was happening. They were recognising their own learning as it happened. One pupil, renowned for ‘not getting it,’ stopped me to ask if it had been her I’d heard having a learning moment. I hadn’t actually heard her say the words but I had seen her deposit her learning in the box and could see how proud she was of herself so knew it to be true.
To reflect, pupils were once again asked to discuss the shape of a square. Their answers had now evolved to things like, “You can easily recognise a square if you know what conventions it is supposed to contain. That’s the same as poetry.” They recognised the point in my metaphor and now saw poetic structure in a far simpler, more structured light. Further proof that they ‘got it’ came from their excellent exam responses, which were now at a relational and extended abstract level when discussing poetic form.
This lesson was followed up with a mirror lesson, this time with the focus upon language devices. As pupils were quite confident with language devices, I asked them to aim higher this time. More time was given over to teaching each other and now pupils not only came up with unistructural information about language devices, putting their learning into the multistructural box for later collation and checks for learning, but also deposited new learning which took place when they related the devices to poems, even better, when they evaluated the poet’s deeper meaning when using these devices. This information is going to make an amazing revision resource…made by them!
It is great to be able to think relationally and to be creative with your responses but no matter how good you get, you can never stop underestimating the importance of multistructural. There’s always more to learn.