Ann McGuire, Baskerville School, Birmingham
This project involved five Birmingham schools: one primary for hearing impaired, two all-age special schools, one secondary autistic specific school and one small group of students from a mainstream secondary boys’ school (44 students in all). We wanted to make Global Learning especially meaningful and practical to our cohort of students and to have an experience where we could learn from each other as teachers. To do this, we organised a joint student activity day: ‘Us , Our City, Our World’.
The aim of the day was to gather students together to think and talk/communicate about four main questions:
- What do we like about our city and our world?
- What do we dislike?
- What would we change?
- How can we change it?
Students were asked to prepare images of their local environment or from the city centre, which portrayed a wide range of scenes, and these were displayed. Rather than seeing global learning as something brought from the ‘outside in’ to learners, we wanted to work from the ‘inside out’, starting with them and their experience of the world, and then extending the boundaries of that experience.
The day started with an exercise designed to get the students working together in two teams (and allowing some students to take leadership roles) to explore the extensive grounds at Baskerville School, which hosted the event. They completed an environmental quiz which would hone their observational skills in preparation for the display challenge. Even with heavy rain and sleet, the students rose to the occasion and enthusiastically looked for clues, helping each other and communicating within groups which was really gratifying for the staff to witness, especially for the students who often struggled with self-confidence.
Once dry and warm, each school then visited each other’s displays, and were asked to think about two pertinent questions and record observations on post its:
- What are we finding out about our city?
- Does anything surprise us about it (what is different)?
Lots of energetic debate ensued within and between the groups as students were free to voice their own opinions (symbolled support material was available). A lively feedback session demonstrated students had not only engaged but were impassioned about certain aspects of our city.
After lunch (and more socialising) the students were asked to take two stickers (denoting a thumbs up for a “like” and a thumbs down for “dislike”) and choose a photographs for each.
A whole group discussion took place, based on the sticker responses:
- Things we would like to keep (or maybe have more of)
- Things we would like to change
- Things we can do to make those changes happen
There was a general consensus that what was most liked were green spaces; rivers lakes etc. (But Asda got quite a lot of support as a source of chocolate etc.!) Common dislikes included a prison, litter and graffiti.
Changes that had already been noticed largely included new developments in Birmingham like the new library and New Street Station.
When the question of what you would like to change was considered, answers largely centred on the environment; less crime/pollution/traffic/rubbish/plastic waste/graffiti and more green space. What was really exciting is how different students came forward with suggestions for other groups, for example, tips were swopped about eco-committees, and heated debate was had about graffiti as an art form.
Feedback from staff and students was very positive and encouraging – evaluation sheets demonstrated students felt they could have a sense of agency over their surroundings and could work to improve things. Benefits to students included: improved knowledge (e.g. learning about change and getting different perspectives on our city); improved competencies (e.g. learning to talk in front of a large audience and being listened to, and improved critical thinking skills); and shared values (e.g. different views are accepted and all are valid). In terms of boosting self-confidence and self-esteem, students responded that, for example: “It was great that my voice was listened to and I could contribute”; “I am proud I was there”. Social interaction between groups gave many students a unique opportunity to meet other young people in a safe environment where the emphasis was on co-operative working, breaking down social isolation.
For teachers, benefits included: building confidence when teaching Global Learning; changing perspectives; getting away from a ‘charity mind set’; learning from others; and adapting best practice.
Recommendations to other professionals would include:
- Don’t be frightened of work on Global Learning issues with young people with additional needs.
- It is really important to have spaces for young people to meet together to discuss their lives and their world.
- Having opportunities for peer support and leadership are hugely valuable.
- Given suitable opportunities, young people will rise to the occasion, show confidence and show that they value diversity (of people and perspectives).
- Don’t underestimate young people with additional needs.
- Mentored learning seems to be an effective approach.
These conclusions confirmed the findings in a recent research project carried out in Baskerville School for the Global Learning Programme – England (Ballin et al, 2018), which suggested a small improvement in mental health and wellbeing for those students undertaking Global Learning in a variety of subjects and approaches.
Our activity day adopted many of the same features, for example: learning outside the classroom; enabling participation and promoting a sense of agency; engaging positively with self, identity and culture; reducing anxiety and addressing misapprehensions about the world; and engaging and motivating through affective learning… ”that fun thing.”
The day was important on many levels because it afforded a space to the valuable, not just the measurable.
Ann McGuire is faculty leader of the Rural Dimension at Baskerville School, Birmingham, a special school for students aged 11 to 19 with autistic spectrum disorders. The project was run in partnership with Tide~ global learning, and supported through the Global Learning Programme-England.
Ballin, B., McGuire, A. and Murphy, L. (2018) Towards an understanding of the contribution of global learning to the wellbeing and mental health of young people with special educational needs. England: Global Learning Programme.
This article was written in 2018.