2: Two approaches to co-construction

At both Walney and Thomas Tallis Learning Away partnerships, a learning community model that empowers young people as learners through student voice is embedded in the schools’ planning methodologies.

The Critical Skills Model of co-construction is common practice within the Walney schools so their Learning Away residentials offered them the opportunity to extend their understanding of these approaches, testing them beyond the classroom to evaluate impact on learner engagement.  Thomas Tallis staff used the Mango Model to develop purposeful talk in the classroom by transforming the initial training for staff leading residentials into whole school INSET.

The two models have common core principles:

  • Learning takes place within a democratic learning community.
  • Learning is set within a real context and so is purposeful.
  • Roles are allocated to facilitate learning.
  • Young people are provided with the skills to lead learning.
  • Young people make key learning decisions.
  • Debriefing the learning deepens young people’s understanding.

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The mango trees in African villages, which are often used as central meeting places for the whole community, inspire the Mango model.  The Thomas Tallis partnership used the democratic Mango template of ‘home, council and community’ to shape the planning and delivery of school council activities as well as residentials.  Young people work together in these groups to discuss and agree decisions and engage in deep reflection, which enables the student voice to be heard in parallel with that of adults.

  • Home Groups: students are split into smaller groups of five or six to discuss a particular issue or decision. One or two young people from this home group will represent the views and decisions of their home group. This discussion can take 20-30 minutes.
  • Council Group: student representatives from each home group come together to agree a decision about the issue or question in hand. This group is facilitated by one adult coach. The decisions of the Council Group are final.
  • Community Group: the whole community comes together to reflect on the outcomes of the previous decision. Potential actions resulting from these outcomes can be debated in home groups before discussing them as a community, with the Council Group then deciding the next steps.

Within these three groups, activities and tasks might be broad (for example, identifying a bigger picture or overarching purpose) or specific (for example, agreeing a budget).  There is also time built in to enable semi-structured ‘down-time’ for adults and young people during the residentials themselves.

Like the Critical Skills approach, the Mango model works best when all stakeholders are involved – students, staff, parents and vitally, the residential venue or provider.  This collaborative approach to co-construction represents best practice and best value.

More information about the Mango model can be found at Mango CIC.

The Critical Skills Programme began as a response to concerns about the effectiveness of education in preparing young people for today’s working world.  At the heart of this approach is the creation of a classroom community where all members work and learn together within boundaries, following guidelines agreed by their group.  Many ‘tools’ are taught and used to support learning, encourage positive communication and ensure understanding and a feeling of security.

A cross-curricular approach to learning within the model is provided through stimulating learning opportunities, carefully planned to meet the requirements of the curriculum and develop critical life skills. Learning is given real purpose as children utilise their skills and team abilities to develop knowledge and problem solve.

Children learn to work in varied teams recognising their own and each other’s strengths, preferred learning styles and natural roles. They learn to take on other roles as required, knowing which are needed in any given task for their team to be successful – importantly, they also become aware of who in the team can help support them.  Job roles in the team include:

  • ideas
  • process
  • product
  • people
  • timekeepers
  • facilitators
  • artists

Learning tasks are ‘chunked’ at the outset to ensure everyone – students and staff – understands what is required and can manage a realistic workload.  Success criteria are set and agreed by the group and a time deadline is given.  Academic objectives and learning skills objectives are agreed and made explicit.

Time deadlines are used to motivate, create pace and to model the importance of learning how to use time effectively; the Walney partnership schools use the Plan – Do – Review cycle, which young people are already familiar with from the classroom.  Often, Review will include teams presenting their work to others and receiving carefully considered and constructive feedback.

Teams are encouraged to be self-evaluative with regard to their product and their teamwork, asking questions such as:

  • Which things would you do again, which would you change and why?
  • Which strategies worked for your team, which would you need to re think next time?

Through this approach to learning, children recognise that they all have skills to offer their team and that the team’s end product is enhanced because of the debate around contrasting ideas and approaches.  Through the Critical Thinking approach, young people experience and become highly skilled in true collaborative working.

CO-CONSTRUCTION BEFORE THE RESIDENTIAL

Thomas Tallis Secondary School visits Margaret MacMillan House in Wrotham annually.  The school uses the Mango model to enable young people, staff and the venue team to work together to create high-quality learning outside the classroom experiences.  Young people use the ‘home, council, community’ structure to plan their residential, whilst focusing on clear aims and objectives.  The schools then liaise closely with the venue’s team to ensure that the requirements can be met.  Pre-visit activities include:

  • training for school and residential centre staff in understanding and facilitation of the Mango model
  • visits to the residential centre for a tour and discussion between the young people and venue team
  • as a result of the visits, agreement of clear tasks to discuss in home groups plus focussed discussions in these groups to plan the residential
  • discussion and then decision-making at council meetings
  • evaluation of council meeting decisions at a community meeting
  • meetings between school and residential centre staff to discuss the young people’s plans.

CO-CONSTRUCTION DURING THE RESIDENTIAL

The structure of the residential follows the Mango model, with home groups, a council and whole community meetings.  Importantly, the venue team are part of this model throughout and are expected to contribute to the reflection, discussion and decision-making.  Dialogue between all parties is vital, as is the flexibility to be able to adapt the activities or provision should the whole community feel it’s necessary.

Adults’ attitudes during the residential are crucial to its success; prior training helps both school and centre staff understand the practicalities of the Mango process.  The adult role (both school staff and venue staff) is to facilitate discussion and debate, not do ‘to’ the students.  Where feasible, this approach can be carried across to the residential activities themselves, with young people helping to prepare and facilitate sessions as well as participating in them.

Downtime for young people is also important, allowing them to reflect more informally with their friends and socialise between planned activities.

More information about how Thomas Tallis School uses the Mango Model can be found in this case study.

CO-CONSTRUCTION WITH THE RESIDENTIAL PROVIDER

Charlton Park Academy, an 11-19 school for children with special educational needs, uses the Mango model with providers of residential experiences.  Some of the young people have complex needs and require a variety of equipment in order to participate fully; therefore close collaboration with the provider is vital to ensure that the needs of all young people can be met.  Over time, a good working relationship developed with Woodlarks Campsite. The relationship began with a tour of the site to ensure it was suitable; planning time was built into this initial visit, allowing both school and provider to ask questions and debate issues at an early stage. This visit ensured that the site was indeed appropriate and allowed school and provider to begin the relationship as equals.  The relationship is now so strong that older students from Charlton Park Academy, even those with complex needs, are able to participate in work experience at Woodlarks Campsite.

Charlton Park Academy and Woodlarks Campsite offer these best practice tips:

  • Visit the residential location for a tour and discussion; allow plenty of time for this and take at least one other co-constructor with you. Alternative perspectives are key.
  • Discuss the school’s aims and objectives for the residential and exchange ideas with the centre. Keep the discussion going in the run-up to the residential and during it.
  • Discuss resourcing with the centre – do they have equipment or materials that you could borrow?
  • Parents are partners in co-construction too; they will have questions and opinions about the residential experience and the activities on offer. If possible, arrange a trip to the residential location to help ease their concerns, and provide a Q&A opportunity (or written Q&As).
  • Organise staff training at the centre for both school and centre staff in order to build a shared vision and approach for the residential.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of school and centre staff, making the most of skills and enthusiasms; be open to the idea of school staff leading activities when at the centre – for example an art-based or meditation session.
  • During the residential, keep an open dialogue going with the provider, with both sides flexible enough to make changes where appropriate.
  • Respond to young people’ needs. Continuing the co-construction model (e.g. home, council and community) throughout the residential will help deal with issues before they become difficult.
  • Create and use residential planning templates, alongside young people. Browse the Resources Library to see the templates and best practice guides the Learning Away schools have created, including a ‘bigger picture’ template and a budget plan
  • Meet after the residential to evaluate shared outcomes; this could include an invitation for the residential provider to join a post-residential meeting with all co-constructors, back in school.
  • Discuss other ways of maximising the outcomes of the residential – for example, day trips, centre staff leading activities at school or using the centre as a work experience provider.

The Walney partnership schools use the Critical Skills approach to tackle KS2 – 3 transition issues through the vehicle of action research; students and teachers are co-researchers, examining the quality of transition together.  Feedback indicates that

  • Young people value being co-designers of educational experiences.
  • Co-construction alters relationships between young people and teachers in a positive way.
  • Action research outcomes are strengthened because young people’s own experiences help them capture their key issues as they move between KS2 and KS3.

Evaluation of the Year 2 ‘Camp Junior 2 Senior’ residential, which involved young people as co-constructors, clearly demonstrated that their level of engagement in the residential itself deepened.  Young people saw improvements in their ability to work effectively in teams, take responsibility for ‘real’ issues and to problem-solve quickly and successfully; they also recognised that supporting one another to develop these skills was a crucial part of co-construction.  These outcomes influenced the design of key evaluation questions for the next camp, which enabled co-constructors to dig deeper, asking:

  • What is it specifically about learning outside the classroom in a residential setting that alters pupil/teacher relationships?
  • What is it specifically about co-construction that increases learner engagement?
  • How can we embed the approach into the way our school operates?

The schools were keen that the culture of their Learning Away experience further enabled the development of learner voice throughout the young person’s school life.  They feel It is essential that the co-construction model remains central to Learning Away experiences, ensuring clear processes for involving learners in decision-making rather than simply informing them of decisions that are ‘out of their hands’.

The Walney partnership schools developed a number of resources to enable young people to personalise their experiences at camp, and to subsequently use their experiences to help plan the camp for the following year’s Year 6 students:

  • Flag Challenge – a collaborative activity to create a flag design for each tent.
  • Poster challenge – an evaluation activity to tailor the experience.
  • Bead strings – a co-constructed system to record children’s skill development over the camp and leave them with something to remind them about what they had achieved. This slideshow shows the bead system in action.

More information about how the Walney partnership schools use the Critical Skills approach to plan and deliver their transition residentials can be found in this case study.