Excuse the anecdotal nature of this post but as yet I’m not sure how else to present it! For those of you who were at #PedagooLondon don’t actually search for me via ‘Jenny’ on Google…God knows what you’ll get! So…
Monster Masterchef is a short term project which was undertaken by my year 8s last half term. The class range from high level 4s to low level 6s in their reading and writing assessments. The idea was to find a way to engage them in detailed language analysis whilst completing an extended homework project. All too often and hideously these projects involve students using their time to do ‘research’ followed by even more useless ‘presentations’. I hoped to think of a project I could set my students which meant they had to make something: to be creative, motivated and engaged learners who improve their skills along the way. I had a quick word with Pete Jones (@pekabelo) who knowing my love for tea and cake mentioned food! Monster Masterchef was created – much like the Monster in Frankenstein on a dark and stormy night…
My worry when teaching close language analysis is the one dimensional way in which pupils, particularly younger pupils, put characters into either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ boxes. The first impression is often where their analysis remains and I was at a loss as to how to impress upon the pupils that the characters have a depth and challenge to them which is often missed. In their previous reading assessment we studied Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah. Whilst writing about these characters it was clear they hadn’t grasped the complexity of their personalities or appreciated the way in which the writer developed them. There may have been a number of reasons for this but I am determined they will appreciate the way in which Mary Shelley demonstrates the development and the complexity of human nature through her characters in the Pullman play adaptation of Frankenstein.
Monster Masterchef is very simple. It is a short term project to get to know a character from the play Frankenstein a little better (hence: monster). This is whilst we study the play inside and out during our lessons leading to a courtroom style speaking and listening assessment. Pupils had to create a list of ingredients, write a recipe, design a cake and explain and justify the choices they had made. The ingredients could be real or abstract ideas as long as they were explained well.
Pupils had 3 weeks worth of homework (along with smaller homeworks as well) and 1 lesson in which to retrieve specific quotations from the text that they would like to use in their project.
To begin the project pupils were told the following:
Monster Masterchef is a learning opportunity to see how well we can understand a character’s personality and role in the play. As we read we will discover and discuss the different characteristics of a character and in one lesson we will work out which ‘ingredients’ are needed to make each character. We are going to make cakes for our characters!
This thinking will really help us to see all sides of the character and improve our final assessment speaking and listening task. We will begin to understand how complicated each character is and, hopefully, remember to look beyond the surface/icing!
I began by introducing the idea and the mark scheme for the Masterchef competition. This was used to judge the recipe choices, the design and most importantly the explanation and justification for the ingredients, colours, shapes and textures they had used. The mark scheme is loosely based on SOLO levels. Character level 1 involves pupils explaining ‘some’ ideas. This is reflecting a unistructural level of thinking about the character. As the levels increase so do the requirements for their explanations and designs. To reach character level 4 pupils had to be able to relate their ideas directly to the text through analysis of quotations but also provide a unique design and a sophisticated explanation which demonstrated understanding of each character’s complexities. By using abstract ingredients, and thinking carefully about the verbs used to introduce them, pupils showed their deep understanding of character. SOLO was used to structure the mark scheme because of its progressive and succinct nature.
Pupils were taught the conventions of a recipe last term, so we quickly recapped the use of imperative verbs, the use of weights and amounts and the structure of a recipe before they were sent on their way. In the lessons we carried on reading and performing the play along with various other tasks in the Frankenstein booklet (again in the Dropbox folder below – and yes it looks like a booklet of activities but it isn’t/is at the same time. All ‘activities’ have been thought through in terms of their learning and I haven’t used them all because sometimes they just didn’t look like they would work!).
We had a single lesson where pupils completed a recipe plan and lesson (all links to resources will be at the bottom of the post). It asks pupils to identify their first impressions language belonging to or describing their character so they could extrapolate from this any personality features – in other words their ingredients.
Pupils went away and completed their projects. As we worked through the play, we talked about what ingredients we could be adding every time a character interacted with another character, experienced a new emotion or varied their use of language. Talking about characteristics in terms of ingredients forced pupils to think about how much of each ingredient should be used. Did the Monster have more or less revenge in him than sadness? Did Cleveral have more loyalty in him than cowardice? It was a great way to begin discussions.
The biggest motivator for this project was the Cake day when the projects were due in. Conveniently this was Valentines’ Day so at least everyone (me) got a cake type present too! I decided to put the Cake Day at the end of the project because I knew pupils would be able to focus and justify their decisions having already done so in their work. Moreover, they knew that their work had to be good enough to enjoy this reward. This was the extrinsic motivator. The cake day comprised of each pupil having a number of fairy cakes to decorate with all sorts of goodies – which in an English classroom is no mean feat! Unfortunately, there were no technology rooms available at this time so we made our own! The Technology department were a great help in providing trays, bowls, spoons, rolling pins and a temporary sink!
Once pupils handed in their completed projects they were raring to go. As the afternoon crept in, I became extremely worried this was a hideous mistake and my walls would end up covered in bright green icing. Using banquet roll to protect the tables we all set off with a clear set of instructions to decorate our character cakes!
The results were brilliant: each pupil on task.
They were mindfully choosing colours and decorations for their cake. They worked together as a team – you could hear them suggesting ideas to one another and complimenting each others’ work. No one (apart from me!) ate a thing until the end of the day! Once the cakes were completed pupils placed them on the banquet roll and as experts now at explaining and justifying their choices they annotated their cakes. Each decision was justified and related back to the text. Some could even remember quotations from their project and used them to annotate. I was overwhelmingly pleased with the success of the lesson and would urge anyone to plan carefully and do something similar in the future.
Below are some images of the cake day:
Pupils received certificates for best design, best explanation, best teamwork and most unique design on the day! It was wonderful to hear one pupil say “I’ve never won a certificate before”!
Four lessons and over two weeks later from Cake Day and we are still working with our characters and their ingredients. After the cake day I marked and returned their projects using the feedback sheets. Each project was given a level and a comment on their explanations with a question about the content and their learning. Pupils then went on to answer the question: ‘How does the author and playwright present the character of……. in Frankenstein?’.
Some of the initial pieces of writing produced after the Cake Day by this class shows the improvement in their understanding. They can see that characters are not one dimensional and are made up of many things. They can remember and relate the quotations to their points and can analyse the quotations and ‘ingredients’ of a character in a number of ways. Of course this writing could have been created without the cake task but I believe it has created a memorable learning experience for pupils to stick their ideas to. When I asked them to answer this question their heads went down and they just wrote. They knew what they had to do and had the knowledge to do it whisked into their recent memories! The pieces are far from perfect but for initial response to the question I am extremely pleased.
Pupils were extremely excited and motivated by the Cake day. Throughout the project (whether our lesson had anything to do with cake or not!) they were motivated to learn. The motivation was both intrinsic and extrinsic. During the period of doing the project they became intrinsically motivated to do and present their best work. One parent commented at Thursday’s parents’ evening that their twins (both in the class) “didn’t want to come down for tea because they were working so hard”. Another commented that their son was “bouncing” when they came home that day. Although I have to admit that was probably all the sugar…
The fabulous Nina Jackson (@musicmind on Twitter) has coined the phrase I + E = M. When I heard this equation explained I instantly understood what had happened during this project. Whether intentional or not pupils were intrinsically and extrinsically motivated; this cannot help but lead to motivated learners. Which, as Nina says, makes them “Motivated putty in your hands”. I cannot wait to read Nina’s next book which will explain this theory further.
This is a class which, until now, has not seen all pupils hand in good quality homework on time. I always seemed to be chasing them for the next piece or spending my break time with them! It contains many pupils who like, and seek out, distractions. Their focus here was clearly motivated both internally and through the final outcome. I know this because they are still motivated.
I would encourage any one to try a Masterchef style task with anything that can be explained or needs to be broken down into small steps. I know some people have experimented with Masterchef in both Geography and Science now (Mitosis Masterchef is the next big thing I am sure!). We all had a lot of fun doing it and as one pupil said when I asked about how helpful the task was “I don’t mean to be rude Miss…but it was better learning ‘cos it was fun.”!
All documents are here in Dropbox Folder: Monster Masterchef