The Golden Lesson: Take A Risk

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Have you ever tried a golden lesson?

Golden lessons are lessons where you take risks. These are the lessons where you do something differently and give something new a go to see what happens.

Risk-taking is hugely important when we teach because this is how we find out what works and what doesn’t. It also sends a message to pupils that we aren’t afraid to make mistakes and learn in the process.

Will Ord explains beautifully what golden lessons are all about in the following video

He suggests that golden lessons are good for inviting an observer into a lesson to look at the risk you are taking and then inviting their feedback on that particular element so that it is “a coaching experience rather than a verdict.”

What risks you decide to take don’t have to be a whole-lesson coup but just one part of it lasting perhaps only a few minutes. But, if you wanted, you could try a whole new approach and way of being and experiment with  it.

Worth The Risk

If we want children to learn and take risks in their own learning journey then teachers have to model this professional risk taking behaviour. This communicates to children that we are open to extending and challenging our work. The Golden Lesson can therefore be used as a tool for modelling how we can be brave and take calculated risks.

Every school is a learning organisation where everyone that makes up the school community is willing to try something new and do something differently. When we try new ways of working then we grow even if that something doesn’t work to plan, we still grow: these are golden learning opportunities.

The Golden Lesson idea is a simple one to incorporate and you could try this weekly and share your experiences as a staff informally and formally to discuss impact and experiences.

What A Mistake

Risk-taking will inevitably involve some mistakes and some failures and this gives us the chance to discuss with pupils what progress is, what it looks like, smells like and feels like. In their Pocketbook Growth Mindset, Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon encourage us to model mistakes and to talk openly about what doesn’t pan out,

If you’re felling brave you can even talk about mistakes made during the current lesson. This can lead to a whole-class growth mindset in which you and your pupils work together as one, sharing the learning load.

They say that is we tap into the ‘mistakes are brilliant’ way of thinking and normalise mistake-making then we can inspire pupils to think big, feed their creativity and redefine progress.

Purple Progress

Pupils might have quite a fixed idea about what progress actually resembles and Will Ord encourages us to dig deeper and talk about the concept so we can appreciate that sometimes being confused is actually a sign of progress.

In the book Best of the Best: Progress edited by Isabella Wallace and Leak Kirkman, Will says,

Establish an ethos in your classroom where ‘daring to get stuck’ or ‘stepping into the realm of confusion’ is acknowledged to be the beginning of learning, not the end of it!

He reminds us that when things do ‘go wrong’ in a lesson whether as teachers or students, it is easy to lose sight of our achievements but without taking a risk in the first place then our ships would never leave the harbour.

Safe learning means we stay stuck in the harbour, perhaps anchored to the same spot and ways of doing things. We can’t experience new horizons and purple patches of progress without moving. Will recommends that mid-way through a lesson or at the final whistle, we ask pupils to stand next to one of five posters placed around the room that best describes the type of progress they think the have made:

  1. More facts
  2. More questions
  3. More perspectives
  4. More ideas
  5. More confused

Pupils then have to describe why they have chosen the poster and what they feel about their learning.

Golden Opportunities

Embracing the idea of risk-taking within a golden lesson is part and parcel of having a growth mindset and changing habits. We are all guilty of teaching some lessons in the same way and can easily get tunnel-visioned and cut off from different strategies and approaches.

But living and breathing a growth mindset can help us transmit a similar way of thinking within students so that they develop and move out of their comfort zones too.

It also helps pupils to see that progress isn’t always about moving up a ladder as there might not be a ladder to climb in the first place. Progress comes in all shapes and sizes and that learning is a risky but ultimately profitable business.

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