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Making a Mark

Updated: May 20, 2020

Whether you've had a look at QWERTY® and want to see how it could work in practice, or your child has just been set a homework project and you're wondering where on earth to start, then this is the blog for you.

This week our daughter's school (St Albans High School for Girls) is having a 'creativity week' inspired by 'The Dot' by Peter H Reynolds, which has the message:"Just make a mark and see where it takes you." They will use that message for a lot of the learning they will be doing right across the curriculum from fun maths activities to a graffiti workshop.

Book cover of The Dot
(c) Peter H Reynolds published by Walker Books

Another cross-curricular theme is 'India'. Her year group has been working on that topic for a little while. They've used it in subjects like geography, RE (with an outing to a Hindu temple happening in a couple of weeks) and English.

Her Year 4 teachers have brought those two elements together for this weekend's homework, where our daughter had to "conduct some research into someone from India who has left their mark on the world", which they'll then use to do some biographical writing during the week.

Given the size of the Indian sub-continent and the incredibly rich history it has, this isn't exactly an easy question to answer. Where exactly would you start? Luckily, QWERTY® is there to point us in the right direction.

The beauty of the QWERTY® technique is that it is so flexible and can be used multiple times within the same project to enhance creativity fully.

Let's use our daughter's homework as a practical example. The first thing she had to do was work out who she was going to research. Millions of Indians over thousands of years... which one would she pick?

First, set the Question: Who are we going to research? Is there anything that has to be included? Yes, someone who made a mark on the world. Is there anything that shouldn't be included? Only that it doesn't have to be a living Indian.

Wonder is her next stage. This is where she has to consider as many possibilities as she can, without setting limits. This allows her creativity full rein. There's plenty of time to be 'critical' in later stages. If a Learner is struggling for ideas, they can use the Forget-Me-Not MORE Inspiration to suggest where they can look for inspiration.

Graphic of MORE acronym (Memory, Observation, Research, Enquiry)
A helpful mnemonic at the Wonder stage, to help identify places to look for ideas

M is for Memory - Kerensa had a think about what she knew already about India - was there anything there that could suggest someone? She remembered the Taj Mahal, as India's most famous landmark - would its builder be worthy of research? She also recalled using 'The Peacock' by Harindranath Chattopadhyay as part of her first LAMDA exam - at that time, she researched the poet who wrote it to find out how to pronounce his name and found out that he was a famous Anglo-Indian poet and screenwriter. Buddha had been covered in RE in one of her previous classes and she remembered that he was Indian. Perhaps he would make a good research topic.

O is for Observation - is there anything she can see around her that could give her ideas to include. A quick look at our bookshelves uncovered some books on India, including one on 'Great Moghuls'.

Books about India on a bookshelf
Is there anything around you that can suggest ideas or avenues to explore?

R is for Research - obviously, she could have a read at some of the books from above, but she could also hit the internet, so long as she chose her keywords wisely. Famous Indians were largely modern individuals but included people like Vinod Khosla (one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, which came up with the Java computer language used throughout the world) and A R Rahman, a musician, composer and director nicknamed 'Mozart of Madras' who has featured in the Times 100 list of the world's most influential people. Historic Indians, on the other hand, brought up website after website on American Indians, not those on the subcontinent from India's rich past.

E is for Enquire - ask for suggestions, or use the knowledge that other people have to get you started. With a degree in (and lifelong love for) history, her father was an obvious place to start. He knew that it was an early Indian mathematician who wrote about the concept of zero (Mummy did a quick web search on Indian mathematician + zero to find that he was called Brahmagupta). He also suggested the Indian king, Ashoka. From his memories of travelling around India, he also came up with Nek Chand, a roads inspector and self-taught artist, who created the Rock Garden in Chandigarh, the second most visited site in India after the Taj Mahal. The school had also suggested a list of possible subjects, for people who were struggling with ideas.

Example of homework
Kerensa's list of possible personalities

We now move on to the Explore stage, where she will consider all the ideas she has come up with and sort them into real possibilities or things for the discard pile. The ACES Forget-Me-Not can remind her to Assess, Construct, Enhance and Select. In this case, where she is looking for a single individual, the Construct and Enhance will be of less use than if she were trying to devise a creative plan for something and could combine ideas together or add something to an idea to make it more interesting. She can still Assess which ones might be of real interest for this project and select the ones that appeal. So, for instance, she might consider the list of names the school provided (Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, CV Raman) and discount them quickly, as too many other people might choose one of them, and she wants to do something different. As she's not particularly sporty, she might take Sachin Tendulkar and Mansour Bahrami off her list, too.

She doesn't need to write a new list of viable possibilities (no need to waste time doing unnecessary writing), but can simply highlight the shortlist in some way: ticks against possible personalities, crosses against the ones she doesn't want; different coloured highlighters; annotations. It's whatever works for the Learner, really.

Annotated handwritten homework list
Marking your existing list saves you a lot of rewriting. You could just as easily highlight your preferred options.

Next comes Rank, which does exactly what it says on the tin. She has to look at her shortlist and decide which ones appeal more than others. She picked her top three - Ashoka, because of his promotion of non-violence; Nek Chand, because she liked the images she looked at of the Rock Garden and the idea of making something from nothing (or out of rubbish); Brahmagupta, particularly for his work on zero. Before they wrote the figure zero, some cultures used a dot, which would fit particularly well with the creative theme the school have this week.

Handwritten ranked list on lined paper
Again, no need to rewrite - just number the relevant items to denote their ranking

Target - the person has been chosen, so now she just needs to do her research. That, of course, might involve another QWERTY® to work out what to include in her research.

YaY! - the evaluate and review section is vital to the whole process. When she starts putting her plan into action (in this case, researching Brahmagupta), if she finds that she can't discover enough facts or interesting material about him, she could go to her Plan B of Nek Chand instead.

Okay, so now we've completed our QWERTY®, that's us done, aren't we? Well, no, not really. QWERTY® has given our Learner an interesting list of possibilities for her research, from which she's picked one. She now needs to go through the process again, with a different question to complete the homework. This is the Reading for Information stage, which still has QWERTY® at its core. Just to reassure you, this process doesn't need to take a long time. QWERTY® is there to add some scaffolding to the thinking process, to make it easier - not to drag it out.

Our QWERTY® Question has changed. Instead of 'Who are we going to research?' it has become 'How did Brahmagupta make his mark?' The original instructions from the school said to include where they came from (to tie in with the Indian geography they have been doing) and information that is 'interesting and worth reading about'.

Handwritten notes on a white pad
We have our Question and are Wondering about what to include in the research

In the Wonder stage, Kerensa came up with a list of things that she might want to find out about Brahmagupta. She also thought about where she would find information about Brahmagupta. MORE Inspiration could help her here, too. Brahmagupta is new to her, but she does remember that Mummy and Daddy said he had something to do with Zero, so maybe that would help her with strong keywords when she comes to the Research stage (e.g. she could put in zero as well as Brahmagupta to find relevant websites).

Observation helps her spot some books on Mathematics on the family bookshelves. Might they have information about Brahmagupta and zero? Axes to Grind (a Forget-Me-Not you may have read about in Reading for Information) helped her decide which level of book she might want to check for information. The Maths in Minutes, which looked as if it would give some basic information (good for a quick result), was her first target. Sadly, it only referred to Indian mathematicians in the most general terms when looking at the entry for zero.

Two maths non-fiction books and a bookshelf
Observation: spotting some books that might help. Axes to Grind: are you looking for deep information on a subject or some surface understanding?

The Mathematics:From the Birth of Numbers was a much more complex book. It was another #researchfail. Not only was it in far more depth than was needed for this homework topic, but it also didn't give any extra information about Brahmaguptra. What it did give, which Kerensa found fascinating, was how different numbers were represented in early cultures. She was all set to copy out the table when we played the Keep on Track card. That Forget-Me-Not is there to remind Learners not to get sidetracked by information they don't need, no matter how interesting they may find it. It reminds them to go back to the question - focus on exactly what is required, not a related issue.

Picture of railroad tracks and arrows
Don't get sidetracked! Remember the question!

Research - with the scaffolding firmly in place, Kerensa could now do a lot of the research independently.

Enquire - she asked (Mummy and Daddy in this instance) if there were any more keywords that would be useful or information that was pertinent to her search.

Kerensa went back to her original Wonder list, which she annotated with asterisks at the Explore stage, to remind herself of the topics for which she wanted answers.

She didn't Rank the things on her list, as she felt ALL the starred items should be included. The Target stage was where she got on and did her research. Yay! reminded her to evaluate the information she was coming up with: should it be included or not? Had she got enough information or should she continue researching? She could use the Forget-Me-Not More or Move to help her here. Should she put in more information about a category she already has e.g. mathematics or move to a different topic e.g. astronomy.

Arrows representing the More or Move Forget-Me-Not
Do you need more about this element or should you move on to something different?

Once she had plenty of information on Brahmagupta that was her homework done, as the plan was to use the research for some biographical writing during the week. However, if presenting the research had been part of the remit, Kerensa could have done a further QWERTY® to decide how best to do that. Should it be a poster, a slideshow, a document or a verbal presentation? What illustrations should she use, if any? Would she use all the information she had come up with or just a selection? Would it be an informative 'just the facts, ma'am' list with bullet points, rich prose or a more anecdotal approach? All of those could be decided using our staged thinking technique.

It's unlikely that your child would have to do exactly the same homework described above, but we hope it does give you a clear outline of how you could approach a research task or project to get a rich and interesting result.

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