Mr Kellaway discovers the ‘hidden lives of learners’ as he spends a day with Sixth Former Annie

Mr Kellaway discovers the ‘hidden lives of learners’ as he spends a day with Sixth Former Annie

21 March 2023

Mr Chris Kellaway, Director of Empowered Learning

Each half term, a group of Woldingham staff, led by Dr Dixon, meets to discuss education research and how it can be applied in our own teaching. This half term, we met to discuss Graham Nuthall’s seminal study The Hidden Lives of Learners. Nuthall examined the experiences of students in the classroom and how we can (or cannot) observe whether learning is happening. For example, how do we really know if someone is paying attention? This is a good question to ask next time you are in a big business meeting, but obviously very pertinent to us as classroom teachers. A good summary of the text can be found here. My key takeaway was the need for a student to encounter a complete set of information on at least three occasions to understand a concept.​ Nuthall argues that "If we are to understand how teaching relates to learning, we have to begin at the closest point to that learning; and that is students’ experience”.  This is what I am attempting to do by spending a day in the life of a student each term. You can read about my Year 10 experience last term here.

This term I followed Lower Sixth Former Annie for a day, which started at the top of the auditorium with a whole-school assembly run by Upper Sixth students about their Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition. It was great to learn how our older students faced and overcame challenges by working together. It rather put my Bronze DofE effort some 20 or so years ago to shame.

After assembly, we had a chat with Annie’s friend Anna in the the Main House coffee bar before Annie prepared her work for her next lesson, economics. One of the things Annie likes about the Sixth Form is the independence given to students, and it was great to see her taking responsibility for her studies. This was also evident in a host of her peers who I found working in Berwick (the Lower Sixth house) and the Wilson Room later that day.

 We then headed to her economics lesson with Ms James, where Annie was one of seven students. The small group allowed everyone to contribute to the topic “externalities and the true cost of a product”. Economics, a Sixth Form-only subject, has its room laid out in a horseshoe shape to enhance discussion and give the lesson a more seminar-style feel.

At break, we were back into a busy Sixth Form coffee bar, with a lovely hubbub of chatter. It was great to see everyone in deep discussion (and also gave me a chance to pester some Upper Sixth students for their theology essays…). Next, we headed for a geography lesson in Marden, via Berwick, where Annie dropped off some books. Our Sacred Heart goal of ‘community’ was clear to see as Annie waited for the other members of her class to walk to Marden together. They were warmly greeted by Mr Lock, who ensured they were set up with the right resources to independently build up notes on their case study on revitalising Liverpool. It was striking to see the four of them working quietly in a relaxed manner, occasionally collaborating to progress the task.

We stayed in Marden for Miss Banton’s Spanish class, where Annie and her three friends tested my year of study of the language as a 12 year old, as the whole lesson was in Spanish. I experienced more of the relaxed nature of the Sixth Form, with Miss Banton laying on biscuits (she is a far kinder teacher than me), yet the lesson was full of energy. It finished with a Blooket vocab game I participated in, and they took delight in my inability, as I came, unsurprisingly, last. It was a fun and engaging way to finish the lesson, whilst being an effective method for testing their understanding of Spanish vocabulary.

With only three students in this class, four in geography and seven in economics, I was left thinking as we headed off to lunch that the small class sizes and easy collaboration between these friends, aligned with the enthusiasm of my colleagues, will surely see them thrive through the A Level course.

Lunchtime offers a variety of clubs for the Sixth Form. Annie runs Economics Club and Geography Club, but as neither took place this particular lunchtime, Annie spent the rest of the lunch break and her next study period in Berwick working on her EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) on ‘Sexism in Advertising’, ready for a meeting with her supervisor, Mrs Nollet, the following day.

Annie’s last lesson of the day was the Sophia programme, Woldingham’s bespoke Sixth Form course designed to develop critical thinking, conversation and seminar skills that will help students at university and in the world of work. Led by Mr Peachey, this took place in the History of Art classroom. Sitting around an oval table worked well for a discursive discussion on ‘what is music?’ a highlight of which was the discussion of 4”33 by John Cage. All students were invited to contribute and have their voice heard.

My day with Annie gave me a real flavour of what a Woldingham Sixth Form education is about: challenging yourself to contribute, making the most of the opportunities here (such as the variety of societies and EPQ) and having fun with your friends, in and outside the classroom.

I really understood the variety of life as a Sixth Former and how the small class sizes really aid learning. We have a Sixth Form classroom in theology but I’m looking forward to booking the seminar room for a Harkness* session when our new Sixth Form Centre is built. It was also easy to envisage how much the new Sixth Form Centre will add to Sixth Form life at Woldingham to make the experience even better for the students. With a new cafe, library and more opportunities for them to collaborate and work together to thrive, I can’t wait to see how it enhances our community.

* ‘Harkness’ teaching is based on round-the-table discussion between students, in which peer-to-peer dialogue is emphasised.

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