Over the past few weeks my Level 2 Viewing and Presenting class have been studying The Matrix(1999) directed by the Wachowskis. Students who choose to do Viewing and Presenting are typically students who find reading and writing a challenge so choose an option which focuses more on the visual aspects of English. This film study is an external standard so they will be sitting an exam at the end of the year.
We viewed the film and then discussed the 2 main settings, the Matrix and the Real World. I did this to try and help the class understand the difference between what was real and what was computer generated. The class then completed a timeline of events from the film. I introduced an activity matrix to help students engage and undestand the various aspects of the film and provided an interactive ibook study guide for them to refer to. I created a planning document for students to keep a log of what they worked on each period.
One of the themes in The Matrix is Fate vs Free Will. The computer programmed world of the Matrix is linked to Fate because everything is preplanned as it is a computer programme. The Real World is linked to Free Will because there are choices about the outcome of the future. I wanted my students to have free will when studying this film, choice about what activities they did and when they did them. The outcome was also their choice!
My intention was also to reduce the amount of time I spent at the front of the classroom and have my students create digital artifacts to demonstrate their understanding of the key aspects of the film. Their work would be published on their blogs.
After 3 weeks on this unit, of which most of the class seemed to be happy and engaged, I introduced an essay and gave the class the option of working on their essay in class or continuing on their matrix activities. I gave due dates for both but they had the choice of what they would work on. I did this so that I could be available to help with the essay in class time as it was their first literature essay for the year.
After 3 weeks of checking their blogs, alarm bells began ringing. There was very little of their matrix work published. In class I had been roaming the class, asking if anyone needed help and giving it where needed. However, most didn’t seem to have completed anything fully. I asked them to begin posting their artifacts so that I could give them feedback but still very little work was posted. After the essay due date I checked theIr blogs again and only one third of the class had posted their essays. After threats of letters home and being kept in at lunch several more essays were posted but there were still 7 outstanding essays. I realised that social learning was a failure in this class. There was too much choice and not enough structure.
Where to next?
After much reflection, I made a few changes but I was still really keen to avoid chalk and talk so had to think creatively about how to move forward. This is what I tried:
1. I found some YouTube clips which analysed the themes, characters and symbolism in The Matrix. We watched these as a class and then had a class discussion after viewing.
My colleague, Mel Brown, found some research which found that students are more likely to absorb information from a visual presentation than from simply listening to a teacher talking and I found that this was true. My students have repeated some of the video information back to me in later discussions. They also became more confident in completing their matrix activities. An article in Psychology Today supports this theory.
2. I created several Kahoot quizzes to test information given in the iBook study guide. The winner of each quiz received a chocolate bar. I reminded the class that I would be testing them on info from the study guide so that they could prepare but I don’t think many did.
John Kleeman, a British software assessment writer, has researched the benefits of quizzes and explains it in his blog post, he emphasies the importance of feedback also.
Kahoot is great because you can see how many people got each question correct and then use this data to inform a later discussion or area to revise. Check out this post from Sam Gibson to find out more. The class really enjoyed the Kahoots and it did help their learning. As I was checking with a student what he was working on, I questioned whether he was familiar with the themes in the film and he replied that knew them because he learnt them from the Kahoot quiz.
3. I spent more time with small groups of students discussing ideas and also helping them get started on activities. A couple of students commented that the activities were too hard and that they weren’t smart enough. They complained that they had to think too much!
I had a conversation with one group and explained that in the past I had simply got students to copy notes from the whiteboard but that this method did not help them undertsand the content even though it may help them remember it. One student commmented that she liked copying notes but it was boring and that the way that we were learning was more interesting because if she didn’t know something she could look it up and find out for herself.
4. I sent letters home informing the parents of those who have not been producing the required amount of work. Those parents will also be emailed just before our parent evening next term and invited to attend.
5. I gave the class a goal each period which was to publish at least one artifact. If they did not publish, I needed to see where they were up to and discuss when the artifact would be published.
These measures did result in an improvement in work ethic and helped me to realise that students who find the work challenging do need more structure. In the study guide there are Keynote presentations embedded with structured activities that I had initially planned to do before deciding to flip the class. I will do these instead of the learning matrix next time if I have a similar type of class as most of my students couldn’t cope with Free Will. Those students who are self motivated will have the option of working through the activities at their own pace as it is still important to differentiate and not let the ‘tail wag the dog’.
When I was on duty with a more experienced colleague we discussed the issue and she helped me to realise that it is great to have high expectations but it is also good to be realistic. A helpful way to go forward is to expect the work to be done and to expect students to work to their full potential. But sometimes, as some wise soul said, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.