Am I living in a dream world? Keeping up expectations.

I believe devising learning that will engage all pupils is paramount to pupils’ motivation and growth. This can seem like an unachievable task, but we must attempt to engage learners or the growth of our pupils will be stunted and pupils will only learn for the sake of gaining extrinsic rewards. From my experience so far to grow academically pupils need to be intrinsically motivated to learn and rewards limited. From my experience, a carrot’s and stick’s approach to learning creates short-term motivation that results in poor quality outcomes. Something I hear often is, “I finished all my work, can I have a merit.” The majority of the time the work is not of a high standard and the pupil has not taken care in their work as they are not intrinsically motivated by it. As Phil Schlechty says, I am WOW (working on the work). By working on the work I aim to engage all learners even those that struggle across a school in a classroom setting, which seems a unachievable task, but one that must be tackled. In my first term my focus became differentiation. Differentiating schemes of work to engage pupils of a lower ability, therefore enabling all pupils to access the learning without having to dumb it down or lowering my expectations. My challenge became differentiating learning for lower able pupils to access higher order thinking and ways to increase student motivation.

So far, as a teacher, I have discovered learning needs to be broken down, chunk by chunk, as Albert Einstien said, “If you cannot explain something simply, you don’t know it well enough.” I teach with that in mind. If I fail to engage pupils or see progress I ask myself, ‘Why?’ What was so hard about the learning that the pupils failed to access it. Everyone has the ability to learn and it is my job as a teacher to find a way to access pupils learning models to enable them to learn. Some teachers blame the pupils’ ability on why the learning failed, when most of the time it failed because it wasn’t levelled right or engaging enough for the pupil. In school, we do have the task of teaching too many pupils at one time, which means, as a result, many teachers can hit the middle when teaching. I do it myself. We focus on progress for all and end up not stretching the top end or missing the very bottom. To achieve progress for all more time planning is needed and more teacher-teacher and student-teacher collaboration is needed to WOW. Links with other departments for genuine cross-curricula links instead of artificial links that give lip service to the topic i.e.; if science links are in your SOW, should you not be collaborating with science to ensure the learning is accurate. Teachers need to talk to pupils of varying abilities to see how each learner has received the learning that has been taught, as R.D Laing said, “We can see other people”s behaviour, but not their experience.” From my first term as an NQT I have learnt that without pupil’s input into the learning, failure will happen on some level in your classroom.

Design technology is hard for many pupils to access, as the first thing a designer needs to do is analyse something to understand how to improve, design and research what is needed to produce new ideas or improved ideas. Knowledge is needed to design and this is the first level of Blooms Taxonomy, but knowledge isn’t necessary for a designer to be successful. Knowledge can be researched and gained on a need to know basis. Analysis is a vital skill for a designer and is a higher level higher order thinking skill on Blooms Taxonomy. How can learning be broken down to ensure lower ability pupils can reach higher level thinking skills that enable them to think like a designer? Questioning is key. Questioning is a huge part of analysing information and from my experience when questioning, lower ability pupils simply try to scramble for an answer that they think you want to hear. I have learnt that structure is needed, clear scaffolding of questioning and a kinesthetic approach that does not bypass thinking for just hands on doing work. Without thought pupils’ cognitive growth and capabilities are limited and expectations lowered of what the pupils can achieve.

I implemented a SOW for Advertising in my first term and I aimed it at Yr9 and Yr10’s. (Year10_SOW_2014_Advertising (1) and I differentiated the SOW for Yr9’s). The main things I want pupils to learn are Photoshop skills, persuasive language, persuasive techniques and layout skills. My Yr10’s are currently not at the stage they should be in their design skills, as when I started a few months ago at the school the pupils were very behind in their learning, hence a brief crossover for Yr9 and Yr10. The SOW covers core skills that pupils need to start thinking in a designerly way and being able to manipulate imagery at a basic level to achieve better quality outcomes.

The original brief for both years was taken from Ideas Foundation (Based around WW1).

Problem: Older generations who fought in the WW1 are all deceased. WW1 was one of the deadliest conflicts in history and if history is not remembered it could repeat itself.

Brief: Come up with a creative way to ensure that future generations don’t forget about WWI. We are looking for something that The Sun can make people WANT to be involved in, not something they feel like they SHOULD be involved in. We want something that feels modern and relevant.

According to my Yr9 pupils the brief was boring. I thought it was exciting, yet what I think and the pupils think can be two different things. So, I spent the rotation thinking how I could engage the Yr9’s in the project. Eventually responding to the need for pupils to produce more professional outcomes and the fact they are obsessed with using the computer I found an idea online. The idea was based around designing a movie poster (credit to I modified the idea for my Yr9’s and it was a huge success in comparison to the WW1 brief. The pupils were excited about their work. I almost clapped with glee. So I created a new SOW for my Yr9’s centered around CAD and layout skills.

Revised Advertising Brief for Yr9’s.

Problem: A new movie is being released titled ‘The Heart’; a poster and merchandise need to be created to entice consumers to see the movie and to make a profit.

Brief: Showtime Productions wants you to come up with a creative way to promote their new movie titled ‘The Heart.’ The idea should be something that uses persuasive language to persuade people to see the movie; to make a profit for the production company. You will also need to create merchandise that uses smart technology or create an online campaign to attract consumers.

Pupils engaged well with the learning and they were animated in their discussions regarding their plot that they were required to create, which linked to the movie title ‘The Heart.’ Lower able pupils struggled with creating a plot from scratch, so to help pupils’ literacy, to enable them to create a basic story, I researched and created various ways of differentiation for the pupils. This is what I have so far (Ideas adapted from twinkl, a primary teaching resource): Differentiation_worksheets. These worksheets enabled lower ability to make progress. There were still a few pupils who found the task challenging and needed further differentiation, so I gave pupils keywords that make up the body of a good story. The pupils job was to arrange the keywords like; pirate, boat, adventure into a basic plot. Story cubes would also be a good way for visual learners to create a basic plot. I never tried it, but I will next time. Given the opportunity to write the plot to go with the movie ‘The Heart’ the majority of pupils started to become intrinsically motivated towards their work. This motivation I had not seen with the previous Yr9’s when they did their print ad for remembrance of WW1. By giving the pupils the onus to create the plot, the pupils gained ownership of their work and it was theirs to steer in any creative direction they wanted. By WOW I was able to create a SOW for my Yr9’s that had the majority of pupils engaged. It was not perfect, but by simply adapting the SOW to fit the pupils’ interests I made a step in the right direction.

I originally thought, by structuring work to ensure outcomes I was deskilling pupils, but I have learnt that it is about teaching pupils the process of how to think (which higher pupils have more readily, which lower ability pupils lack in) but it is teaching them processes to achieve outcomes. From, my current experience it is evident to me that pupils need processes; ways to be creative and with the right questioning skills you will get creative outcomes.

From, working with lower ability pupils I have come to realize that questioning in the beginning, when learning a new topic, must be structured and closed. Questions must not be open to much interpretation. In the beginning lower ability pupils need certainties. Only when a good level of understanding is grasped, then you can ask open questions that question their current understanding of a concept. Here is an example; I tried teaching lower ability pupils the difference between a title, a headline and a slogan and I quickly realized this was too much too soon. I should have introduced concepts that overlap in their meanings to lower ability pupils chunk by chunk (slowly feed the information), i.e.; that a headline attracts an audience to a poster and a slogan goes with a logo. I should not have introduced them to the idea that a headline can be a slogan, but generally slogans appear with logos; the crossover confused them. The pupils had just grasped what a headline and a title were, to then throw in the point of a slogan was too much for them and in no time they had lost understanding again. They were not ready for what they had learned, to be questioned, as they had only and still were comprehending what a title and a headline were. So, comprehension and closed questions first. Lead pupils to a basic understanding and only when that is clear open the door for their understanding to be questioned and ideas and beliefs reshaped to reach higher order thinking. You may not agree with my musings, but from my experience so far, this is what I have learnt, which may change dramatically again in the next term.

To ensure I get some progression in pupils’ learning with my lower and higher sets, I believe comprehension is key to understanding how to design better, so with lower and higher ability pupils I actively focus on literacy. Pupils must all understand the definition of a word, before they can assimilate information for designing. Pupils’ have a progress log (Example of a progress log: Yr9_Ad_Booklets_LowerAbility andYr9_Ad_Booklets_HigherAbility. These are in the early stages. I am changing it up again for my next rotation) and in the logs there is a keyword section, where pupils must define the word first and then use it in a sentence. For lower ability it is slightly different. Lower ability logs have a keyword section, that requires pupils to read the definition first and then rephrase it in their own words. The log is an idea that I have been honing throughout my training and my first term as an NQT. I believe this method of comprehension will aid pupils to reach higher order thinking and help them communicate their ideas better.

I have learned that processes are key to enable lower and higher ability pupils reach higher expectations, understanding and designerly thinking. A white piece of paper can be scary when given it to create ideas on.

Here are my top 4 ways to aid creativity for lower ability learners (even higher), which in turn can aid motivation as pupils can see their own ideas coming together (my ideas are a work in progress).


I use this method in the initial idea stages and in the developmental stages. I will give pupils a product and tell them to redesign it using the S (S=Simplfy) or M (M=Modify) part of the word. The pupils have to modify or simplify an aspect of the design. For, lower ability this is still a daunting design task and they have no idea where to start, so you need to chunk it down. I have this formula for initial idea generation for lower ability pupils.

Scamper Letter + Keyword = description

  • S (simplify) + aesthetics = by eliminating part of the design.
  • C (combine) + materials = of the card to give it texture.
  • A (adapt) + aesthetics = so the shape is more intriguing.
  • M (modify) + target market.
  • P (put to other uses) + function = so it is more sustainable.
  • E (eliminate) + aesthetics = that are unnecessary.
  • R (reverse) +  design = to add value, so users are intrigued by your product.

Having a bank of keywords you have taught them and they understand is vital so they can use the formula effectively. This should encourage an independence within their learning and aid their creativity at the same time. I am still working on this to work as effectively as it can, so any feedback if you try this method out is invited.

The bank of keywords I would use for the keyword part of the formula are (Graphics led as I teach Graphics); materials, aesthetics, target market, ergonomics, style, function, sustainability, disposal and users and any others you think appropriate. Sustainability can be chunked down to the 6R’s which are; reduce, repair, rethink, recycle, reuse and refuse. A few of these can be used in the formula.

  • Reduce + materials = to stop over packaging
  • Rethink + materials = can it be made from renewable resources
  • Rethink + function = so it is multi-purpose
  • Rethink + disposal = so the product can be re-used
  • Recycle + materials = after use
  • Reuse + materials = after use
  • Refuse + materials = to make the product more sustainable

Keywords: without keywords I find it very hard for lower ability to generate initial ideas that are relevant and creative.

Thought Stems: a list of questions aimed an expanding thinking to higher levels. To encourage thought that enables higher order thinking questions need to be posed to make pupils questions outside their knowledge remit. Thought Stems encourage designerly thinking.

 Year10_Advertising_Lesson03 (1)

Handling Collections: I collect objects and items that I think could improve pupil’s ideas. Handling collections are a collection of items related in some way to a pupils’ brief; carefully selected objects that will inspire pupils. Is this cheating? Aren’t the best designers all inspired by something. Having tangible stimuli for pupils from my experience so far aids ideas development rapidly. I had one pupil and she was designing a menu holder; she created an oversized square box that held crayons at the front. The idea was basic with little innovation. I sat her down and I gave her a Post-It, a Qr code and she started with the formula. She used the Scamper method first, and she modified the size to reduce waste.

  • Modified + size = to reduce waste and Rethink + sustainability = to use less material.

By, using keywords and scamper her idea ended up as a stand that had a QR code focus. She sketched an A5 stand (self-assembly) where a QR code with the company logo next to it dominated the top part of the stand. Below the QR code and the logo was a Post-it note style menu, where customers can pull off the menu when they want one. If customers have a smart phone they are directed to use the QR code that links straight to an online menu. Allot more creative than a box with crayons. I will continue to refine this formula and my bank of words to aid this type of progression where one moment ideas with little innovation were being created and the next ideas that showed designerly thought. This jump from generic to innovation in ideation showed me that with the right facilitation learners can use processes to be innovative and creative.

Pupils need guidance to learn to think like a designer. James Bleach on Twitter is amazing as his ideas aid learners to all develop with a designers mindset and his ideas are perfect for lower ability learners, as his resources are tangible and visual, which enable higher order thinking.

The moral of my first term is that creativity can be taught, but it takes time, failure and experimentation, all of which I will continue to do. A learners’ growth and motivation cannot be gained through making them conform to learning that ill fits their mental model and capability. Learning how to design is not about conformity. I am not going to lie and say I am an outstanding teacher; I aim for good. I am learning and all of this experimenting with SOW’s and trying to engage learners without dumbing the work down has been difficult. I refuse to lower my expectations. My expectations can differ, but I still think all pupils can achieve something similar, as long as I can level the learning right. Only time will tell if I am living in a dream world.


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