‘The Tipping Point’ assembly

'The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell' by bennylin0724

This afternoon I did an assembly which several people on Twitter have asked me to write about. I neglected to put my last assembly in my diary, so it was a complete last minute rush. As I told the children this afternoon I wanted to try a bit harder to make up for that. It’s hard to pitch to a hall of children aged from 6 to 11, but I took a risk and tried to engage them with something quite challenging.

I began by showing the hall an old set of weighing scales with two model rhinos on them. I asked some year 2 children to describe what was happening, and they told us they were balanced. I then got out of my pocket a model elephant and asked them to think about what would happen if this ‘huge’ elephant was added to one side. It, of course made the scales tip. I then took the elephant off and asked the children to think about what would happen if instead I put a ‘tiny’ 1 pence onto the scales. I did so, and despite it’s small size the scales also tipped with a suitably dramatic ‘clunk’.

Then I moved on to explain that I was showing them this as I wanted to talk to them about a book I had read over Christmas. As a child and young person I was hugely into novels, and didn’t really read non-fiction. However, recently I have really got into ‘ideas’ books like Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Tipping Point’, as they make me think about new ways of seeing things.

I shared this with the children and discussed the idea of ‘Tipping Points’ which I had just demonstrated. Using photographs to illustrate, I told the story of the New York Subway clean up from the book, where diligent removal of graffiti resulted in a massive reduction in crime and the turnaround of the subway system.

The scales then came out again, and I reiterated the fact that even the smallest things could make such a big difference. I asked the children to think of something small they could do, and described the examples I had seen of children deciding to concentrate on the presentation of their work resulting in big gains in terms of quality of writing and engagement with Maths.

I am not one to place neat presentation on a pedestal, but I have really seen with some children the difference in engagement a little extra work on presentation can have. After working with our TA to improve their handwriting, several of them have started to take a real pride in their work, and this has resulted in increased engagement and therefore real gains in their learning.

I finished by inviting the children to think of one small change they could make, which might be a tipping point for bigger things.

When planning this I thought it was a bit of a risk, but it seemed to go down well and at home time a girl from my old class came to ask me the name of the Gladwell book so she could read it.

Looks like my love of ‘ideas’ might be spreading.

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12 thoughts on “‘The Tipping Point’ assembly”

  1. Great post, it sounded as though your concern that it might fall flat over such a wide age range helped you to focus on a really clear and engaging explanation, relating it clerly back the children’s own experiences.

    Did thinking about how to explain these ideas to the children change your own views of the ideas in the book?

    1. Thanks Jo. I think putting some pressure on like that usually results in really working hard at the message. I’m not sure it did change my thoughts on the book, as I had already thought pretty deeply about it. There’s certainly many levels to think about though, I’d really recommend all his books!

  2. Lovely post Oliver. Thanks for writing it. I really like both the concrete and visual translation of the ideas and the way you’ve encouraged thought about how the children might apply them. Great stuff.

  3. What a great idea for an assembly. It sounds like you made the message of the book absolutely relevant to the children.

    I share your love of “ideas” books. Have you read Freakonomics or The Long Tail yet? (I suspect you have)

  4. A really great idea for an assembly, and it sounds like you absolutely succeeded in making it accessible for the children. You’re spot on in your observation that small changes can lead to big differences in children’s attitude to their learning. Every great journey begins with a single step.

  5. Thank you very much for sharing this. It is always a challenge to make something relevant to such a large age range. Reading this, I was reminded of an ambitious but highly successful assembly that I observed as a trainee teacher while on a teaching practice. In a similar way, it was based on a book aimed more at adults ‘Touching the void’ by Joe Simpson. I remember the silence in the room as the kids were hooked and the conversations about the assembly that spilled into the playground. It was over 15 yrs ago so the other details are a bit fuzzy 🙂
    Great post.

    1. Thank you, that also sounds great. I love the challenge of taking complex but powerful ideas like this and communicating them to different age ranges. The best ideas are relevant to all ages I think.

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