How can you create an exciting series of citizenship lessons that will develop knowledge and understanding amongst your key stage 3 students? Catherine Johnson discusses her successes

The eight millennium development goals (MDGs) were established by the United Nations in 2000. They set out a plan of action to improve global social justice – by eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.

At Cheslyn Hay Sport and Community High School, we identified the eight MDGs as the perfect starting point and context to support our learners in developing their knowledge and understanding of global citizenship issues. However, MDGs are not something you often hear Year 8 discussing. So, how can you create an exciting series of lessons on this topic that will develop knowledge and understanding, encourage development of the key attributes of successful learners, incorporate a range of assessment for learning strategies, and motivate and engage pupils, increasing their commitment to learning?

Here are a few suggestions which, after careful planning and preparation, will allow you to be ‘lazy but great’ (I’m not certain who first said this, but it is the way ahead!) in the classroom, while watching your learners have fun working hard.

The task
The class was divided into eight groups, with each one allocated a different MDG. The groups had to contribute to a class campaign advertising the MDGs. Learners were allowed three lessons in which to complete the campaign. During the fourth and fifth lessons the class would then assess the quality of another teaching group’s campaign, give feedback against success criteria shared with learners at the start of the series of lessons, and judge their own progress in developing the attributes of successful learners. The critical point is that lesson objectives shared with the class throughout the series focused on both developing understanding of the MDGs and developing those attributes common to successful learners.

What follows is a step-by-step guide to creating your own version.

Step one: defining your objectives
Firstly, identify your ‘knowledge and understanding’ objectives – including a ‘because’ for your ‘big picture’. Linking to the ‘big picture’ – the knowledge and ideas that have shaped our world – helps pupils to gain a better understanding about why they might be learning something. For example:

  • we want to develop a greater understanding of the problems in less-developed countries
  • we want to develop a greater understanding of the ways in which the MDGs aim to improve life for people in less-developed countries… because to develop as responsible citizens, it is important to realise that we are part of a global community where many are not as fortunate as us.

Secondly, identify your personal learning and thinking skills (PLTS) objectives (possibly via the concept of the 5Rs or any other ‘language for learning’ appropriate for your context) – again including a ‘because’ linked to the outside world. This helps to create a ‘wiifm’ (what’s in it for me?) appeal: linking success in the activity to the learner’s future success. Using the language of the 5Rs (our chosen ones were: responsibility, resilience, reflectiveness, reasoning and resourcefulness) means that, after a little consideration, most learners can easily understand the terms. For example:

  • we want to develop our team working skills and 5Rs… because future employers want workers who can collaborate to produce results, stick at a project to achieve results and sort their problems out.

Thirdly, establish your success criteria – both content- and PLTS-related – to share with the learners. This will motivate them by encouraging reflection and enabling assessment of learning. For example:

  • we will know we are successful if we’ve produced a campaign that meets the requirements of the task
  • we will be able to identify when and how we have developed our 5Rs and be able to set targets for next time.

Step two: designing the task

Decide on the length of time you will allocate to the task – you need enough lessons to allow for development without learners losing focus. If you can, create a time-bound and competitive element with other teaching groups, to add another dimension to the task.

It might be time to remind yourself about the eight types of intelligence – people smart, number smart, music smart, nature smart, word smart, self smart, picture smart, body smart. Making reference to these in the task will ensure you allow for visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles and recognise individual strengths, so as to engage the full range of learners. Don’t be too prescriptive in your directions, but give learners the opportunity to be creative (in its broadest sense); this allows the most able to stretch themselves. Letting learners create their own task increases a sense of responsibility, ownership and self-esteem.

Decide how you would like to group the learners – maybe take some of them out of their comfort zones, to develop their resilience. You may want to avoid fuss by telling learners about the team make-up in advance. Emphasise that developing resilience is an important part of success in the adult world and that successful teams are made up of different types of people.

Make it clear in your verbal instructions that when working as a team, learners need to decide which tasks they are to do and who is going to do them. Choice gives a sense of control and helps learners to become task-motivated rather than ego-motivated. By asking teams to make these decisions it encourages team members to develop responsibility towards the task.

Draw up a planning sheet that learners have to fill in as the task progresses, so that you can keep of track of who is doing what. Make sure that there is a space for names to be attached to tasks and for team reflection at the end of each lesson. Committing names to paper helps to develop a sense of responsibility. Providing space for meta-cognition enables learners to see where they are developing the PLTS or 5R skills, which are transferable and relevant. This will help them identify their strengths and raise self-esteem.

Step three: resourcing your task
Provide a starter pack of information about each of the MDGs. Oxfam is a good starting point. Its resource pack includes colour posters about each of the goals, which provide a quick and easy way into the issues. A quick Google search will enable students to begin their own research and show reasoning in their selection of sites. Be aware that some of the MDGs are more accessible to learners than others, so careful allocation of particular goals to particular groups will enable differentiation.

If you are using computers, consider limiting their use to only a few group members at a time. This will help develop reasoning skills, as learners have to make the case within the group for using them. It will also encourage learners to use computers efficiently and with a sense of purpose, rather than spending a long time gathering information that may not be used. In a similar vein, think about making some cards that learners can use to ‘buy’ your help. Issue only a few per team – once they have been used up, then that’s it. This encourages reflection and resourcefulness – attributes that can be linked to success in the adult world.

Step four: creating a buzz
Sort out some music and visual imagery related to the content and to the notion of teamwork, to create a ‘feelgood’ atmosphere when learners arrive for the lesson. Create a starter activity that likewise links to your content and the broader idea of successful teams – show a picture of a successful team and ask learners to identify its key characteristics, to build up a list of behaviours to which they should aspire. Getting learners to articulate the characteristics of a ‘winning’ team helps to establish a positive image in their minds. You can then draw on these characteristics when discussing progress with them.

Find a fun way of choosing team captains for the lesson. Decide whether you want to keep the same captains throughout the series of lessons, or rotate the role. Giving all learners a chance to be captain over a period of lessons spreads the sense of responsibility and, for those who are more at home taking a back seat, an opportunity to develop resilience. Sort out some captains’ armbands, badges or other method to identify your team captains. This reinforces their status and responsibility, which encourages commitment to the task. During the lesson, have regular ‘progress updates’ with your captains so you know what is happening and can support them if they are leading a difficult group.

Step five: assess the learning
Once the work is under way, you are in a good position to observe learners developing their 5Rs. Conversations with them during this process should boost meta-cognition – for instance, helping learners realise that sticking at the task when things are going wrong develops their resilience. This is a powerful way to support groups and encourage them to focus on the task. But be careful not to do the job for them: the team captains may need your support in developing strategies about how to get their groups performing, but they need to be the ones leading the process.

At the end of the task, learners can use their assessment criteria to evaluate each team’s work; or, if you are doing this as part of a whole year-group activity, then find a partner form and get learners to leave some written feedback about the strengths and ‘even better ifs…’ of their work. How about scoring groups and giving a prize? If this is a whole-year group project, the top teams could receive prizes for their campaigns, while teachers could identify individuals who have best demonstrated the PLTS or 5Rs.

Using the language of the PLTS or 5Rs when giving feedback to learners is a lot more meaningful than commenting on ‘effort’. Learners can see how their behaviour links to their future success. A meaningful and high-profile prize, such as learner’s names being read out in assembly, and perhaps being given a non-uniform day, will demonstrate the significance the school is placing on developing successful learner attributes, and help to reinforce the message.

Step six: consolidation
Learners should be given the opportunity to reflect on how they have developed their attributes over the course of lessons; so, in your planning, allow time to have a review session. Asking learners to colour-code statements about their contribution to the task and then draw conclusions about their performance is one way to do this. Learners will also need to be supported in setting themselves targets for the next time. Your observations during the task should help you to engage with learners at an individual level. Over the series of lessons, as you gain a better idea of each young person’s needs and strengths, this should enable you to deliver a personalised learning experience to help develop the desired attributes of a successful learner, team member and responsible global citizen.

And a final tip…
Take a risk and step back if there is falling-out within teams. Let them move from ‘storming’ to ‘performing’. This encourages learners to take responsibility, show resilience, develop a team ethos and commitment to the task. Out of chaos will come calm, focused work – and you will be ‘lazy and great’ watching it!

Find out more

  • ‘Change the World in Eight Steps’

Catherine Johnson is responsible for Key Stage 3 Citizenship at Cheslyn Hay Sport and Community High School, Walsall

With many thanks to Jon Harris for his support and contribution in the development of the series of lessons.