Immersive Learning: Deeper Teaching

Just because we are teaching, it doesn’t mean they are learning…

Immersive Learning

How can we maximise the learning in our lessons?

I learn best when I am completely engrossed, or immersed in a subject. By ‘best’ I mean with speed, depth of understanding and creating a long-term change. This ‘change’ could be in perceptions, level of confidence, skills, or even just the ability to retain knowledge. This is what many teachers would truly define as ‘progress’. So how can we use Immersive Learning to increase engagement and deepen understanding for our students?

Simple.

Remove as many external distractions as possible. Replace them with a wide variety of ways for the student to engage with the content, no matter which way they turn. This is what ‘Immersive Learning’ is and it can truly accelerate the progress of your students. Let’s see how it works!

Question: How do we implement ‘Immersive Learning’ for our students?

To really develop a student’s understanding of a topic, they need to be fully ‘immersed’. Let’s compare two French students – one who studies only in the classroom and one who goes to France for a month during the summer. Who do you think will develop a greater understanding of the nuances of language use? Who will pick up variations in language use between sub-cultures, genders, etc? Who will have a better ‘working knowledge’ of the language and be able to creatively play with words? Of course, it will be the student who has been completely immersed in the culture. Perhaps more crucially, they will realise that they must learn very quickly how the language operates. The stakes are raised if students depend on learning the language to order their food!

Ok, but what if I can’t take all my students to France?

Obviously, you can’t always take your students out of the classroom. The good news is that you can completely immerse students in any setting, providing you plan for it. Take Religious Studies, for example. If you are teaching about a religion that students are not familiar with, then there is no better way to develop a deeper understanding than to get them to celebrate a festival, simulate a place of worship or mix with people belonging to that religion.

I find that watching a film or a documentary can be a good ‘gateway’ exercise to this – but it must never be a stand-alone task. The reason? Your students might mistake the scripted and staged scenes that they see on screen with real-life! Any use of media, whether fiction or non-fiction, must be followed up with analytical and evaluative exercises. They should compare perceptions created by the media with real life in a community. Remember, the whole point of Immersive Learning is to encourage a deeper understanding, not to give a superficial understanding. But I digress. The takeaway here is that Immersive Learning is possible in ALL subjects.

Immersive Learning
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Here are three Immersive Learning strategies to get you started…

1. CSI-style problem-solving activity

Set up your classroom so that when the students enter, they immediately have to make sense of a situation, they are directed to solve a problem and there are clearly defined success criteria. For example, in a Science lesson, students could enter the lab to discover that an explosion has happened. There could be a variety of materials nearby (either real or not real – just stay safe!) that may or may not have contributed to the explosion. Students must use their knowledge of those materials to decide upon the most likely cause.

You don’t have to rely on prior learning, as you could also have information about the materials ready for the students to discover. Make the materials as interesting as possible help ensure the students become as engrossed as possible. Don’t just use information sheets. Try using YouTube videos on iPads (you could even upload your own!). I’ve found that this works brilliantly for students at all ages. Personally, I favour a Flipped Learning approach in order to immerse students quickly, as they will have studied some material in preparation for the lesson, allowing more challenging concepts and skills to be taught in class.

2. Simulate a celebration event

Teaching students about the importance of the Seder meal in Judaism can be livened up by actually holding a Seder meal in the classroom. Organise for the students to each contribute something to the meal. Have them design their own special plate to use, showing relevant symbolism or aspects of the Passover story. To increase engagement further, have someone from the Jewish community, be they a Rabbi or a lay-person, to help celebrate the meal and discuss its importance to Jews. Students will certainly remember this event for far longer than if they had simply done some paper-based tasks on the topic.

3. Contribute to a real-life campaign

Last week in my blog post Homework: What’s the Point?, I mentioned that I recently challenged students to create a viral video. Many of them created such fantastic content, that when it was shared via social media they created quite a stir! They loved contributing to a campaign (in their case it was on the ethics of animal testing). However, the students also developed an incredibly deep awareness of the issues, as well as a wide variety of people’s reactions and perceptions. The students were challenged to re-evaluate their own positions on the issue, as it had become a ‘real’ part of their life, rather than simply a theoretical task. Immersive Learning had a profound impact on the students that day.

Two more tips!

Parental engagement

This can have a massive effect on the depth of the immersion. Have parents contribute to your lessons, by engaging them to interact with your students as part of a homework task. Students could be challenged to debate with their parents on a given topic and record their conclusions. At the start of term, parents could even be given a list of activities to do or places to visit, that would complement the learning that takes place in school.

Make the common theme in a lesson sequence more obvious to students

Try to move away from stand-alone lessons and instead move towards a sequence of ‘joined-up’ lessons, so that students can better understand the links between the various topics. If the students can see the common theme running through a scheme of work, they will be more likely to feel ‘immersed’ and will be less likely to forget the reasons why they are studying a given idea.

Ok, so what now?

These tried and tested Immersive Learning methods have been proven to be extremely effective. They challenge students, encourage creativity and build cross-curricular links. Your challenge this week is to take one of these methods and try it. You’ll be surprised at how incredibly effective they are.

As usual, let me know how it goes!

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Raising Achievement Using Teamwork

Raising Achievement

Question: What do the most successful performers in ANY industry have in common?

Answer: Teamwork.

No man is an island. Not only that but in a world where  teachers connect with each other 24/7 over email, social media, etc, we no longer work in isolation. This week’s blog post is something I’ve been considering for a while now. We work in teams, so how do we make the best use of our colleagues in order to raise achievement?

What does a successful team look like?

If you want to see what phenomenal teamwork looks like, just watch a pit crew in a Formula 1 race. Teams in education are no different and the most successful all have the same essential attributes:

  • Every member has a pre-defined job
  • They all do their jobs extremely well
  • They trust each other
  • They hold each other accountable
  • They hold themselves accountable

Now ask yourself: do the above points accurately describe the teams you belong to? If not, then what can you do to improve your team and to raise achievement?

Teamwork

Five simple ways to improve your team and raise achievement:

1. Know your job

It’s crucial that you know exactly what you are personally responsible for and what others are personally responsible for. Without knowing this, how could you begin to raise achievement? If you are unsure then a useful exercise is to sketch out a hierarchy (most if not all schools are hierarchical), showing the different levels of responsibility of team members from the very top to the very bottom. That way, it will be much easier to hold yourself and others accountable for the whole range of responsibilities. Once all the jobs are defined, you can begin to collaborate more effectively.

2. Actively work with each other

When designing a scheme of work, or contacting a student’s parents or planning a trip, do we actively involve others in the process? Not only is it useful to share workload when completing complex tasks, you will also benefit from colleagues’ experiences too. In their roles, they may well have encountered similar issues to the one you are busy solving. I always find it helps to see things from a different perspective – it also pays dividends to learn from other people’s mistakes!

3. When analysing your own performance, focus on the important details

It’s very easy when things don’t go to plan, that we can make excuses. Studies show that this happens even more often when others are observing – some people just don’t like to take responsibility for things that THEY could have done differently. For instance, a particular cohort of students may have a real issue with completing homework on time and to a good standard. Is this a behaviour issue? is it their organisation skills? Is there a knowledge deficit? Do they lack engagement with their subject? It’s vital to determine the correct cause of the issue, or else you will waste energy trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, whilst the real problem keeps rumbling on.

4. When holding others accountable, ask the right questions

The same studies that show our unwillingness to hold ourselves responsible also show that we prefer to blame others. Teachers MUST hold each other accountable. Without this, we won’t be able to maintain and drive up standards. However, this can be done in a positive, developmental way, or it can become punitive and lead to decreased motivation. When asking colleagues to evaluate their own performance, ask questions that generate practical and useful answers. Framing ‘problems’ as ‘opportunities to develop specific teaching methods’ is another proven strategy. Another popular one is the ‘feedback sandwich’ – give one piece of positive feedback, then one way to improve and then another positive. Remind colleagues that they have more good points than bad, but don’t shy away from being totally honest. Over the long term, it’s important to make sure that colleagues feel supported and encouraged. Even teachers who are completely honest in their self-evaluation won’t feel motivated to fix problems if they feel their positive attributes aren’t valued.

5. Keep in regular contact with each other

This one is my own particular failing (hence why I put it at the end!) but it makes a huge difference when I get it right. Far too easily we can become engrossed in a never-ending checklist of day-to-day tasks. It’s important, now and again, to let others know what you are up to. Also to engage them in a conversation about how they could participate, or how you could help them. In my own experience, it prevents problems down the line, where I’ve ended up duplicating the work a colleague had already done, or where I could have offered help before a problem reared its head. One very short email every week or so is all it takes and the shorter it is, the better!

Success

Call to action!

The best teachers will always act on advice, even if they only focus on one tiny snippet at a time. Don’t get left behind! Take one small step from those outlined above and spend no more than five minutes on it TODAY. You know fine well if you leave it until tomorrow then it will never get done. Be outstanding and raise achievement NOW!

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Future Leaders – How to Prepare Them

Leadership

Why do I need to know the difference between Plato and Aristotle? I’m not going to be a philosopher!”

Thus began my Friday afternoon a few months ago. A group of A Level students was finalising some revision for their final exam on Philosophy of Religion. They had been learning the content for months by this point and had no problem with the main points. However, now that the exams were almost upon them, the students were beginning to feel frustrated, scared and annoyed by the fact that they hadn’t quite mastered everything quite yet. Time was running out. Fear and frustration are commonplace amongst students and it often leads them to ask why they are studying the subject in the first place. I replied to them that I was teaching future leaders the skills they would need to change the world. Only I’ve thought more about it since then and there’s an issue: we don’t know what the future will look like, so how can we possibly prepare for it?

How do we prepare students to work in future industries?

When students reach a certain point, they choose a range of subjects to continue learning. This is either because they enjoy them, or because they see those subjects as valuable in helping them get a job in the future. But how do we guide our students to make good choices for the future when we haven’t a clue about industries that don’t exist yet? Not only that, but what if students pick subjects related to one industry, but then after a few years of employment they want to move out of that industry? Many people have been left high and dry due to a lack of alternative career paths related to their education and skills. We need to move away from that.

Below I’ve given the five areas that we teachers should focus on, in combination with high-quality subject content, so that our students are prepared for a variety of opportunities that will come their way in the future:

  1. Critical thinking skills
  2. Problem-solving skills
  3. Teamwork
  4. Project management
  5. Self-directed learning

Critical Thinking Mind

Critical Thinking Skills

Making wise choices does not come naturally to many students. They have neither the skills, the experience nor the patience, in many cases, to truly examine an issue in depth. This is a quality that is earned through practice, so we should try to give students as many opportunities to practice as we can. I find that beginning a lesson with an open question, such as “Assess how far…”, “To what extent does…” and revisiting the question every 10-15 minutes from a new angle, helps students to develop their critical thinking skills. Top tip – get students used to making a case for a viewpoint. Then have them argue in defence of it whilst other students pick holes in their arguments. They will love it and it will prepare them well for resolving conflicts in the future- a very useful skill.

Problem-Solving Skills

All successful leaders have problem-solving skills. That is how they succeed – they identify a problem that someone has and they provide a solution. Within their own organisations, they will encounter problems too, be it with processes, products or people. In lessons, I try to simulate scenarios where solving a problem is the main success criteria for the activity. It could be done as a role play, as a Dragon’s Den episode, etc – whatever works for your subject!

Teamwork

Most employees work in teams to complete goals. They usually have individually defined roles within their teams, but in order to work effectively, they must collaborate. This was a prominent feature of a previous post of mine – There’s no “I” in iPad. I build collaboration into most of my lessons in some way, shape or form. The crucial thing to remember is that each individual must know what their own role is and why they are collaborating. This is as opposed to working individually. Understanding the value of collaboration will only serve to help students adopt it willingly.

The Future

Project Management

A key feature of managerial positions in most companies and for independent entrepreneurs is the ability to manage projects effectively. But this isn’t usually a key feature of most curriculums so if we want our students to succeed further up the career ladder, then we should at the very least lay the foundations for them whilst they are with us. Tip: Set students projects that require a number of simultaneous tasks to be completed using a range of resources. This will help simulate the world they will enter in the future. Adding complexity to project management is also a particularly useful tool for challenging the most-able students in your classroom.

Self-Directed Learning

Learning doesn’t finish when you leave school. However, you typically won’t have someone around to teach you what you need to know once you’ve left. This is why it’s vitally important to be taught, whilst at school, the value of and some methods of independent, self-directed study. I try to implement self-directed study for each of my classes at least once a term. This is usually on something beyond their typical homework tasks. Examples have included:

  • learn from scratch how to create a movie trailer on an iPad
  • find a good YouTube video that teaches you about Asimov’s laws of robotics and assess what makes the video “good”
  • use www.thestudentroom.com to create a list of the best revision sites for studying and revising for your AS Religious Ethics paper. Use one of the sites to create a mini-revision guide for a topic of your choice.

I’ll be posting soon on how and why I think education systems require a revolution, to keep pace with an ever-changing world. I’d love your thoughts on this.

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