The first lesson for my EPQ students was to be a brief introduction to what the course was, why they were doing it and what it would involve. Once this information had been passed on, I felt that it would be a good idea for them to spend some time completing a task that would model a little of what the course might offer them.
I decided that I would use the August riots as a starting point for them to investigate and research sources of opinions, reportage and evidence for the various causes of the riots. This would be a current topic of interest, that they would all have an opinion on and would generate some debate and enthusiasm for the task and the course in general. After considering as a class the perspective that the riots were caused by young criminals in gangs , they were then split into groups and asked to find further possible causes, most of which were brainstormed as a class, and quoted evidence to support each cause. This would get them to research and present different perspectives on an issue, many of which they might not necessarily agree with.
The lesson presentation
The document below is the task sheet to support pupils:
From reading about others’ experience of running EPQ, I did not want to front-load the teaching of the various skills using a “theoretical” practice project in the first six weeks, and had decided that I would teach the necessary skills through the year, as required by pupils for the stage of the project that they were. However, this was the first lesson with the group and I was keen to generate a level of interest from the pupils for the sort of work they would be doing for the EPQ course so I felt that I needed to present them with a task that they could engage with straight away.
Using the riots as a hook, and the basis for a short introductory task, was successful, I feel. All pupils had an opinion, and contributed in some way both at the class discussion stage, and within their groups and group presentations. They had the opportunity to use some recommended websites to read different opinions and reports on the riots, and the groups made some progress in presenting these in a powerpoint and interpreting their evidence by commenting on their evidence/quotes.
If I were to deliver this again, I would give a lot more time for the research stage, and probably extend the lesson to cover a second triple lesson. Some pupils struggled with reading the sources and interpreting the evidence to present to the class. I would allow time for a group activity in which we consider a source together, analysing and picking out key quotations, then discussing how we would interpret the author’s opinion against the evidence they have used to support this. A task like this would then model the process of close reading so that, when they came to look for evidence as a group, they had all practiced the skill.
I would also allow for more time at the group research stage, possibly structuring the task by giving each person in a group a particular source to start with. This would then help to ensure all pupils in each group were contributing to the research and presentation work, giving me time to support groups one-by-one in putting evidence together in the form of a powerpoint.
The main lesson I learned from the opening lesson that pupils need activities structured broken down into very small steps in order to support their learning. While some pupils were able to tap into their independent learning skills and throw themselves into the task, others struggled with the task and the time-scale given. This has fed into my subsequent planning, and I take as much care as possible to address skills and tasks slowly, providing as many mini-steps to build up to bigger, more independent tasks.