Classroom as a Crime Scene

I recently had my final observation for my GTP course from the external observer at my University. I spent many a day during half term (minus those the Queen gave us off), sorting out folders upon folders of paperwork ready for the day when my long suffering university tutor would have to read through them. Had I realised she would read through them in quite as much detail I may not have chucked everything in and may have been a little more selective!

Throughout the week I was much more worried about these ‘pieces of paper’ than the content of my observed lesson, and it took me quite a few days ‘not panicking’ before I began to panic about the fact I wasn’t panicking about teaching.

Before I reached the ‘panicking about not panicking stage’ (probably relational) I had planned a large amount of my lesson. It didn’t quite come to me in a dream, but it wasn’t far off. I decided to use the shallow veil of a ‘CSI investigation’ to turn my evidence finiding lesson into something a bit more fun. I have been teaching Macbeth to my low-middle ability year 9s and they had been absolutely brilliant with every aspect up until now; despite all the initial groans when declaring our inevitable war on Shakespeare. I had been really surprised by how well they retained information about the plot and context. We enjoyed a number of good lessons; one lesson where they became the witches (when they all exclaimed they’d heard ‘hubble bubble’ before but didn’t know it was ‘that guy Shakespeare’), followed by another lesson discussing stereotypes of 16th century women, and finally by completing two lessons closely analysing scenes 1.5 and 1.7.

Our focus was Lady Macbeth and my observation lesson fell on the day I was planning to start looking at Act 2 Scene 2. This was the final scene we had to closely analyse before the assessment. After reading about HOT SOLO Define maps in Pam Hook and Julie Mills’ SOLO guide my lesson came to me. I read the line ‘by moving ideas and vocabulary in and out of the relevant box according to their relevance to the main idea, students also understand that defining involves sorting for relevance.’. I began to merge together this idea of ‘relevance’ and CSI. After planning and sending my lesson off to the wonderful (much more wiser and experienced version of myself) Lisa Jane Ashes to gain her guidance and clarify my ideas the lesson went as follows…

Firstly, pupils were asked to work out the lesson’s theme by identifying words relating to an investigation. They got there pretty quickly but it was nice to know they are also into middle aged daytime TV such as ‘Midsommer Murders’! Amongst others the words ‘police’, ‘crime’, ‘murder mystery’ and finally ‘CSI’ were shouted out. This starter was merely to get them in the spirit of the lesson and a rouse to explain to them their role which was to find the best possible evidence that could be used to prove Lady Macbeth’s guilt. Their forthcoming essay asks them to provide and explain evidence which supports the idea that ‘Lady Macbeth is also guilty of the murder of Duncan’. I then showed them the learning objectives and asked them to identify the key skill and subject words.

1) To explore Shakespeare’s use of language through researching evidence files

2) To be able to extract the best evidence to prove that Lady Macbeth is guilty

My students are used to doing this so it didn’t take 2 minutes – I find it really focuses their thoughts on the LO and doesn’t waste time – see old post on LO if you care why I do this. Next, we watched the CCTV evidence that had been found (made up!) by the detectives (me)! They had to listen carefully and decide what type of evidence was the best. I asked: ‘What is the best evidence to prove she is guilty?’ Cue answers including; ‘blood on her hands’, ‘the daggers’, a few blank faces and one brilliant answer about how she used the word ‘us’. I questioned this answer further but the girl who said it just got stuck and could not explain how ‘us’ proved Lady Macbeth’s guilt. This range of answers and detail was exactly what I wanted/ expected. They knew the plot and context and had some ideas as to how she had shown her guilt but could not provide a detailed answer yet. They showed me they were at the unistructural to multistructural stage to start with.

Quickly, I moved the lesson on to their main task of reading and looking through the evidence to find the best possible pieces. They had quotations showing Lady Macbeth’s actions and her use of language. They were also provided with images of the objects – poison and daggers. To extend the most able, and support the least, I provided each pair with 2 x magnifying glasses and 1 x lightbulb.

At any time in the lesson (after attempting the task) they could swap these cards (lightbulbs or magnifying glasses) for either more evidence (extension sheets focusing on her attitude to Macbeth) or some more clues (glossary of language and closer analysis sheet). This proved a great way to differentiate as it gave them an opportunity to assess their own learning. I was most impressed when the pupils who I would normally provide a lot of scaffolding for, were determined to go it alone for as long as possible: they worked hard to explain the evidence. The extension sheets also meant the most able felt they were really being challenge and had more options to choose from. The whole class’ task was to read the evidence, discuss it and make sure they knew what it meant. Many of them wrote explanations or more modern translations in the opposite column.

After 15 minutes playing detective, reading, understanding, translating and putting into context the quotations I asked them to choose their 3 best pieces of evidence to prove Lady Macbeth’s guilt. They quickly did this and then had to consolidate and prove their learning by writing a paragraph about how each piece of evidence was the best and why it was chosen. They did this by writing answers to different levels of complexity (or in SOLO terms depth). They had a choice whether to simply explain or explain and relate. With a bit of nudging the majority went on to explain why it was the best and why it was better than other pieces of evidence. This really made them focus on the key words and I was extremely happy when the girl who had original quoted ‘A little water clears us of this deed’ (2.2) managed to explain why Shakespeare had used the word ‘us’ (Not the one below but that one gives it a go – ignore spellings!). They had definitely reached a relational level of thinking and had begun comparing and arguing over each other’s ideas. They had almost all chosen different pieces of evidence – proving that as long as they could justify it their answer was correct.

Whilst some students finished writing I asked the rest to write their 3 pieces of evidence onto hexagons for use next lesson; I explained we would begin relating these ideas to bigger themes within the play. The last part of the lesson wrapped up all of the lesson’s ideas and aims. I asked: “Who has the best evidence to show she is guilty?”. This question led to answers which were totally focused on language and often on one particular word. Gone were the answers about objects and timings. The evidence they had found was simply syntax. The best thing was they didn’t even seem to realise what they had done as the challenge to find the evidence and therefore be the best investigator had taken over.

The outcome of this lesson was simple; a written paragraph. But their progress was great; they could now explore, evaluate and relate quotations of a complex nature and were able to justify their choices to me verbally and in a written format. The lesson may not seem that challenging but they proved their learning to me in a number of ways and I was extremely pleased with the fact that every single pupil, even those who don’t often write a lot, seemed to have engaged and participated with the task and were keen to show me what they had done. This was by no way an ingenious lesson or a lesson that deserved what my lovely observer gave it as there were many things missing. Yet for me it was great as I forgot I was being watched as I was too busy watching my student’s make a rather good episode of CSI.

All the resources can be found on http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Macbeth-Act-2-Scene-2-CSI-Lesson-6256346/ and the lesson itself is on Prezi under the clever title: Lady Macbeth

Hexagons lesson is to be written up next…they made some great, wild and imaginative links! Thanks to Lisa and everyone for their support that week – I know I moaned (virtually!) a lot!

It should probably be said that I’ve only ever really watched CSI under duress and have never, I don’t think, watched a whole episode. I am of course indebted to it and the person that made me watch it for a lot of things; including this idea. Grissom wouldn’t be impressed.

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