Accelerated Learning is possibly the most over-used buzzword knocking around education circles at the moment, so hopefully I will attempt to shed a little light on
1) what exactly Accelerated Learning is (and isn’t)
2) how much it can spur creativity in teaching History
First of all Accelerated Learning is essentially a brand name. This is why when you type ‘Accelerated Learning’ into Google you end up with 2.4 million websites most of which are trying to sell you training/videos/magic wands and so on. However this is not to say that the ideas the brand is based on aren’t fantastic, or that some of the trainers and their material aren’t brilliant too – we had a whole day Inset by Alistair Smith two years ago and he was inspiring. In fact it pretty much kicked off a mini-revolution, both in my History team and across the whole school!
So what is this Accelerated Learning malarkey all about? Well, it’s about using the way the brain/humans learn to help us get the most out of all our students. It is not about making them learn faster, or putting them through exams early. The name is misleading in this respect, and at times causes confusion/resentment – so much so that at Rush Croft we have renamed it ‘Smart Learning’.
Underpinning this is the idea that we all learn in slightly different ways – that we all have different preferred learning styles. Thus the talk of Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic learners – many learn/remember through pictures & sounds and especially movement/touch as well as just words. From Boys to EAL students via G&T students – in fact all of out students! People like Howard Gardner developed the idea of Multiple Intelligences, that we do not just learn in different ways, but that there is no one fixed idea of intelligence – from people skills to number skills. Add on to this Mind-mapping from Tony Buzan, Brain Gym, colour, music, positive visualisation and always having water available to keep the brain hydrated and you are getting close to what Accelerated Learning is about. It also makes learning good fun – and a positive emotional experience will of course reinforce the memory!
At the end of the day all these ideas can be summed up as simply good, imaginative practice. And even a quick glance at some of the threads on this website will throw up hundreds of examples of these very ideas in use – from Ian Dawson’s Active Learning to using music in lessons! We are doing it already, and Accelerated Learning really just ties it all together.
However there are some aspects I feel are worth looking at initially in more detail, before I pause in case people have comments/questions:
> The Learning Cycle
> Learning to Learn
> Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs)
The Learning Cycle
This is a structure to lesson planning, which we use in the following way:
. Starter activity/Bell work – short activities as soon as the students arrive through the doors. These can be hooks, mini-reviews, sorting activities – anything.
. Big Picture – how the lesson fits into the enquiry/scheme of work, to put the individual lesson into some sort of ongoing context
. Input – the new information the students will need
. Activity(ies) – what the students will do to process the information. Short review s are helpful here (eg hold up 5 fingers if you feel confident, 1 if you’re baffled)
. Demonstration – how the students feedback their new learning (including paired/group discussion, self-assessment, Q/As using a koosh ball to stimulate nerve endings, rhymes, mindmaps)
. Review/Plenary/Next lesson – reinforce the lesson, and to start framing ideas/make links about the next lesson before they arrive
The lesson cycle has evolved a little to fit our school’s particular needs, and Alistair Smith seems to have recently reduced it to four parts, but it is a key structure underpinning our lessons. Having our lesson plans this way, with reminders to use a range of activities to meet learners needs, frames and supports the planning as well as the learning – it takes away thinking about what should come next. This learning cycle is important, and we make our students aware of it too. The KS3 strategy 3-part lesson also fits neatly into it, which is handy!
Learning to Learn
This is a course we deliver to year 8 students, 1 period a week for 1 ½ terms, which teaches them how the brain works, how to revise, to use mind maps, etc. The idea being that the students think about the process of learning, so should be more effective at doing it. They certainly seem to enjoy it – year 8s who have a range of revision techniques at their fingertips that they don’t forget is wonderful! - and they do take discussions about their learning very seriously. We also introduce them to the ‘smarts’ – Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in student speak.
Gardner has 8 Intelligences, which we have renamed thusly:
Linguistic intelligence = Word smart
Visual-spatial = Picture smart
Bodily-kinaesthetic = Body smart
Musical = Music smart
Inter-personal = People smart
Intra-personal = Self smart
Logical-mathematical =Number smart
Naturalist = Nature smart
Whenever we do an activity that touches on one of these smarts we highlight it to the students – eg those students who are people smart light up when we do group work, which pays dividends in terms of motivation when they come to the written work. Students’ strengths in different smarts can be harnessed for Historical understanding!
We also have ‘smart weeks’ where all staff incorporate as many activities using one particular smart as possible into their lessons. During music smart week History teachers used rhyme/rhythm for difficult spellings (our MFL colleagues use this routinely – clapping out new words rhythm), music linked to the lesson (egg Suffragette City by David Bowie for Protests – there’s many more on this thread) or to set an atmosphere (world war II songs), poem/rap plenaries and so on.
Interactive Whiteboards to support learning
Interactive Whiteboards are incredibly effective at supporting these Accelerated Learning ideas. Colour. Sound. Interactivity. Video. Learning disguised as fun. These are all available at your fingertips if ICT is provided and used properly/with vision. Penalty Shootout combines all these!
For us History teachers it means oral sources can be used, video clips are at our fingertips, visual sources can be used in all their glory rather than badly copied OHTs, colours can be used to reinforce concepts (eg if teaching N Ireland, Unionist always in orange, Nationalist in green), the internet can be demonstrated and used, sorting activities, Inspiration software, lines of decision/agreement, etc. It brings History alive visually/sonically, and motivation levels rocket. And whilst it was not impossible to do this before, now all the resources are in one place and their quality is much higher. As I am not the tidiest/best organised teacher on the planet having them stored on computer is particularly useful!
In reality it took a trip to Cramlington school in Northumberland to open my eyes to just how useful a tool IWBs can be. There I saw classrooms with IWBs, decent sound and lots of support for staff – dedicated IT bods who had digitised all videos, converted lesson ideas into IT activities/slides – and groups of teachers given time to research, try out & evaluate new ideas. If you can get your school to pay for it it really is worth the trip! Seeing Ben Walsh’s workshop at the SHP conference was also an eye opener.
I’ll pause here for now, but have practical ideas to try out coming up on:
Anything else that might be useful!
Of course none of this happened overnight – it’s been 18 months of continuing development so far. It has meant lots of teamwork – both with my History team, and with the ‘Learning Group’ - trying new ideas out (even when you’re uncertain), sharing failures and successes and of course sharing all our resources. Oh and lots of patience with frustrating computers! There have been plenty of frustrations with colleagues who baulked at the idea of changing long-set practise too – especially when we started implementing Accelerated Learning across the whole school. We’ve stolen ideas from pretty much anyone and everyone, in the name of raising attainment of course, and along the way it’s been the most creative & rewarding time of my teaching career.
PS As for letting the students bring bottles of water into lessons, this is just common sense really. The nerves in the brain need water to work – a dehydrated student will be performing way below par! When we first started with this particular reform (!) we all had concerns about the students being responsible enough but that seems ridiculous now. On hot summers days in particular (which seem so far away now!) I can’t believe we ever said no.
Oh and if you want to find out more about Alistair Smith, this is his website: www.alite.co.uk They do a neat free newsletter each month. Finally, more details on Cramlington can be found here:
Edited by donald cumming, 01 December 2004 - 06:34 PM.