'Now what I want you to do,' said the teacher to her Year 11 SHP group revising for GCSE, 'is to select any person that made a really important contribution to the development of medicine. We'll have groups of three telling us why their selected person was so important: what his/her impact was; how it was achieved; under what influences; against what obstacles (and how they were overcome); and how lasting his/her influence has been.
'By the start of next lesson you need to have sorted yourselves into groups, selected your person and worked out your strategy. Use your existing knowledge but see if you can find out more. It would be a bonus if you had already begun your extra research. You then have two lessons and your own time to research and organise your presentation - any format - before you present it to us in the following lesson.'
This sounds like one of those sloppy 'Go away and do your own thing' activities that lead to heavy reliance on unthinking copying, time-wasting and lack of clarity and conviction about outcomes. But this is different. Students come to the next lesson with clear plans for action. Their roles in their mixed-ability groups are defined. They set about their work systematically. By the end of the following week they deliver their presentations with confident incisiveness. There is a wide range of the usual formats - role-play, posters or OHTs with commentary, PowerPoint presentations. Everyone has addressed all of the issues; all the presentations are well planned and executed.
Why is this different? In part, because the department's groundwork in this mixed comprehensive school over five years has led the students towards this knowledge of what is expected of them. Teachers have equipped pupils with the required research and presentation skills, while teaching them to work with increasing independence in order to achieve