Developing Digital Literacy: Part one – Digital Portfolios

With digital technology becoming more prevalent in our schools, we must ensure that it is added to school teaching and learning. Otherwise, why are we using it at all?

Over the last year, I have been working with my team to support teachers in embedding digital literacy into their subjects.

[This has been in conjunction with a range of other elements within the school.]

In term one, staff were encouraged to use core elements set out during our remote learning period and just prior.

Such as:

  • Seesaw (Foundation Stage 1 – Year 4)
  • Google Classroom (Year 5-13)

Being specific has allowed consistency across year groups for teachers and parents to engage with their children’s work and support, especially those at home. As a school, we use these. The same can be seen across other schools, using Microsoft or platforms like Showbie or Edmodo.

In addition to this, we had also been delivering professional development for Google Certified Educator, Apple Teacher and Seesaw ambassadors. This allowed self-paced learning, completing badges and courses enabled staff to see their digital technology skills grow. They were embedding it as they develop and also relevant as they were using it daily.

They were doing small things over time, reflecting on how it changed their workflow and supported students to engage in learning. This works, regardless of hybrid, remote or in school learning. Pacing the development of staff allows time to develop skills meaningfully.

To ensure all staff confidence, quick things like:

  • Survey confidence regularly
  • Asking if staff want to share skills they have learnt, being “champions.”
  • Use colleagues to check in on staff who shared their concerns about digital literacy, support them with informal chats

You can also keep an eye on any admin platforms.

I have found that this is a great way to ensure that staff are confidently using technology.

E.g. on Seesaw you can show consistency across a year group. The work being posted home or comments and feedback. In schools, it can be hard to have one class sending 100s of posts a week and another sending less than 50.

This disparity shows us as teachers that there is a confidence issue, but equally, is anther teacher using it too much? Can co-teaching then be introduced? The teacher posting more can support and guide the year group, showing simple ways to develop the platforms’ use.

Having now embedded digital portfolios and classrooms it improved students ability to be independent, to develop their reflection skills; they are notified when feedback is given, and they have work ready for them when they need to revise. Throughout the school, students develop new skills in using digital technology, from scanning in written work or completing quizzes to typing an assignment and collaborating on documents for a group task.

Even with small changes like embedding a core platform to have all students digital and none digital work is building skills for students which can be developed and adapted over time. Tangible skills are going to be beneficial to them in the future.

Feedback from students this year has been:

  • They know what is expected of them for every task
  • They know how and when things need to be handed in
  • They are able to access and use the feedback given to them in a more meaningful way to in their physical books, notifications make this simpler and help them to be organised
  • They are in control of their own progression, being able to challenge themselves or find additional work to do if they complete tasks before others.

ADAPT – Thrive on the Momentum

The COVID whirlwind is still spiralling for many educators. Education technology has been brought to the forefront of everyone’s minds, so where next and what should we do to ensure that it is meaningful and the best for every child?

Over the last 18 months, schools have been through digital transformations, planned possibly, but equally faster than anticipated. Now schools worldwide are using technology in classrooms to differing degrees, but how do we strike a balance between this being meaningful or being overused and unsupportive of students’ learning outcomes?

From working with on developing digital learning, technology has seen been seen as a gimmick. I, for one, know after delivering over 1000 hours of CPD online to educators in the first lockdown alone that digital learning is now being seen as much more than just the shiny new toy.

We have full attention!

But how do we transition from “surviving” through COVID to “thriving” with learning as our end goal?

And, with so many staff now engaged in the concept of digital learning, we need to keep this momentum going.

We reflect…

Given the task of looking at how well technology and digital literacy have developed in school, I took the opportunity also to change perceptions of how learning walks could be completed in a way which focused on being able to adapt and develop our teaching and learning methods continually.

Without “formal” judgment. But with relevant outcomes to nurture a sense of success for the things which work and we should hold onto, share and develop.

To make the impact and outcomes of digital learning tangible to leadership and stakeholders, I needed to use a visual framework for success. The outcomes could then link to what we can still be improved.

I took insight from the ADAPT model, presented by Oliver Caviglioli and Tom Sherrington in their book Teaching WalkThrus: Five-step guides to instructional coaching. Coaching is vital; we are not judging but supporting one another to achieve our goals.

One of the reasons I chose this model as opposed to the “traditional” learning walk was due to the nature of it being an ongoing concept of ADAPT-ing & Coaching.

I know I feel panic and pressure to perform if someone is coming into my classroom when planned, no matter my experience in some schools for teachers to not receive any feedback. I much prefer an open door, a community of sharing good practice. Not the case in all schools, so I hope this idea can provide some ideas about how to think differently.

What is ADAPT?

Attempt, Develop, Adapt, Practice & Test.

So to begin my review, I looked at the ADAPT model and also looked at the Apple Rubric from the book Elements of learning, something which I have used in several schools to support embedding meaningful digital concepts; I modified the Apple Rubric reducing the criteria’s to three areas,

  • Using digital skills in lessons
  • Students understanding of how to use digital tools
  • Enhancement of the subject

I love a rubric, the use of them in lessons is supportive to our students, guiding them, developing, showing what is expected, so it made sense to have a similar tack when completing a learning walk.

The rubric allowed assessment of how well digital technology has been integrated into the schools teaching and learning. The primary outcome being that students understood what they were being taught and that it was helpful to their learning outcomes, not an add on. From my perspective as well, having completed one 18 months ago, it was interesting to compare the progress of the strategy.

To be able to assess this, the “learning walk” would take the format of the following:

Element One: Staff Survey

Questions designed to encourage personal reflection, allowing recognition of how far they have come in 12 months, considering the weeks and additions in line with the students in front of you, the context of curriculum and new technology or tools available to you.

  • Focusing on one essential subject or lesson, where do you place yourself in the ADAPT model?
  • Considering the same essential subject or lesson, where would you like to be on the ADAPT model next term?
  • How do you rate your confidence in using digital technology?
  • Has digital literacy been added to your curriculum?

To support, I created a document explaining the ADAPT concept to staff, so they could confidently answer the question. They are considering all of the new tools they have been using.

This was important, I find a big barrier to digital teaching and learning is this concept that you must “master” when in reality, digital learning will forever change, so we should always be re-evaluating our practice.

  • Staff confidence in delivering digital learning is now rated 4/5 for 84% of staff
  • Staff feel they are not at “attempt” but continually working around, develop, adapt and practice, using skills they have learnt.
  • 70% of staff said that Digital Literacy was now fully embedded within their subject.

Element Two: Student Surveys

The final element of the process was to speak to our main “stakeholders” the students. Where better to get our feedback about how we as teachers are doing than to ask our students. Asking a range of questions, a few are below;

  • What subjects have you enjoyed the most this term?
  • What piece of work have you used technology with which has been most enjoyable?
  • Do you prefer lessons that involve the use of technology?
  • If you were in charge of digital learning what would you implement?

I love the honesty of students, you find out so much, refreshing and mature when asked direct questions. They feel empowered to be able to support, what did it say?

  • Student enjoys being able to learn new skills to show off their knowledge.
  • Students feel they are more organised since introducing google classroom, they are more in control of revision materials, hand in dates and lesson tasks are clear.
  • Students enjoy having verbal feedback recorded as they can reflect on it again when they complete work.
  • Students feel there is less anxiety towards doing assessments as teachers are completing more quizzes and mini assessments.

The rubric allowed me to assess how well digital technology has been integrated into the schools teaching and learning, the main outcome is that students understood what they were being taught and that it was useful to their learning outcomes.

The rubric was also shared with staff before the learning walk to show what is being looked at. Transparency is key to being able to gain trust and to in turn be able to support staff.

Element Three: Student Portfolios or shared work

One of the things we asked students to do was share their favourite project and tell us why it was so engaging and fun. This was a great way to find out the skills they had learnt and also if they had been able to challenge themselves and their subject and even chose relevant software to complete tasks.

Top skills learnt by students from using digital technology,

Research, Independent learning and Creativity

with students feeling like having digital tools allowed them to blend subjects and learning helping them to achieve more.

How amazing!

So why ADAPT and ask what is going on?

I believe that if we do not acknowledge the achievements and learning which we as teachers have taken on in the last 12 months, then what have we achieved? We risk those staff, who before COVID would have ignored digital technology, simply put down the device, ignoring the impact it has had on reducing their mark load or how their consistent approach to formative assessment has strengthened their understanding of students knowledge gaps.

We must embrace the positive developments which it has had on our working systems, removing the things which we no longer need to waste time on, or those things as restrictions ease can be done in traditional senses.

Embedding digital learning fully, by understanding what is being enjoyed, what can be removed and what can be learnt from is an important step to being able to develop a digital balance. Where digital learning is meaningful and relevant.

Next Steps

    Looking at consistent use of quizzing apps in lessons so students achievement is not based on time or literacy
    Using less technology when it is not necessary (We are currently in a hybrid model) Students recognise that we don’t always need the device to complete tasks, so when this is the case, lets not.
    Ensuring that we don’t always give students an option of digital tool, some are swaying to “easy” when the tools could differentiate and support them to challenge themselves.

So where next?

We can see what is going well and areas to improve, in term three, we will focus as departments to use the rubric when considering using technology as part of a lesson or a project, the beginning stage embedding in the planning. Using all our digital tools to ADAPT and make sure it is worthwhile, relevant and supports learning.

Technology for learning is not a gimmick, we should be making sure it is fit for purpose, it continually develops, so do we. Keep the momentum going by acknowledging how far you have come.

Embedding a Digital Strategy

Beginning a new project at a school can be daunting at any time. Developing ones which are all about change can be full of sharp corners. Here are my top tips for creating a digital strategy in your school

Engage all stakeholders

Regardless of if you have been in a school a while or you are new in a role for digital learning or strategy, it is crucial to ensure that you find everyone’s voice. The best advice I was given was to survey people and find out what they want, need and would like. Getting everyone’s thoughts on what changes are likely to be made will ensure that you have to buy-in from everyone. This is not to say you can please everyone, but it will allow you to have reasonable grounds for the decisions you make moving forwards. With this, I also mean the students, making significant changes to the way students learn, this question should also be opened up to them.

Find out what is necessary and what works: Streamline

All schools will have systems in place for student data like iSams or Engage, but if you are a small school you may not have much else specifically in place which is “necessary” to the workings of the school. For example,

  • Is your VLE fit for purpose?
  • Do you have a school website which has a parent portal?
  • Is it accessed frequently and upto date?
  • Do you use an online portfolio? Or are there more than one in place? If so, why?
  • How many apps are you using? Do they all link to the curriculum? How do they get selected?

Reviewing what is being used is so important, regardless of the size of your school, using similar systems will support not only the ability to train staff confidently to use the platforms but also allow parents to be able to understand and engage in the platform, if they have more than one child in a school, it can be hard to understand why they need to get to grips with viewing so many.

In addition to the larger platforms, making sure that the apps you have are fit for purpose is helpful to being able to get rid of paid apps and free apps which show adverts more that then do teach skills. Review apps in line with the curriculum, is there a new app out there which can help to enhance the project?

  • Have you chosen to use a different phonics style and are the apps you had still relevant to teach those core skills.
  • Could you take students on an adventure by adding in some augmented reality into the lesson?
  • Can an app save teacher time and support formative assessment?

Find innovators

Be excited with those staff in your school who are really enthused about what technology in the classroom can do. They are powerful, supporting and spreading their understanding in ways which you cannot do alone. Some schools call them “digital leaders” or “digital champions” but either way having peers who allow staff to knock on their door for a quick show and tell about the work they are doing is invaluable.

These people are also on the ground with different types of students, primary, secondary, classroom based or specialists so they bring so many different elements into the teaching and learning arena. Things you may not have thought about, things which can be shared that did not work as well, ways to use tech differently.

But most of all, they are a direct peer support, they don’t play with tech every day, they just use simple tools for big outcomes. Removing fear from the concept.

Develop strong links to the curriculum

Once teachers have had time to play around with technology, be it before or after COVID, make sure it is then being linked to the learning happening;

  • What is the app for?
  • Does it enhance the topic or subject?
  • Would the topic or subject be the same without it?
  • Can it help collate results as formative or summative assessment?
  • Can it stretch and challenge?
  • Does it need to be taught as part of the lesson to be used correctly?
  • Is it suitable for the age range?

When embedding a meaningful digital strategy, the steps along the way should be considered, otherwise the project will be undermined. Doubts about its suitability and functionality. A bit of leg work at the beginning will go along way.

Review, reflect and adapt

Do not assume that what is working now will work forever, continually itterate, review, refresh. Technology changes and so should our working practices in the classroom. When trying new things, making people aware that it is ok to change, make errors and for it not to work, we may try ten things with only one or two being successful and kept, but it will be worth trying new things, pushing the boundaries and finding out what fits you and your schools ecosystem.

Remember

In the current educational climate, the last few are so important. Embrace what has been working really well with your staff and students learning. Find ways to share successes. Continually reflect. Technology isnt just for remote teaching, it can have a lasting, positive, impact on education.

If you are looking for inspiration on where to start have a look at the following guides for support:

NetSupport’s guide for developing a digital strategy

– Apple’s Elements of Leadership and their range of books on developing educational technology.

The Digital Strategy: Part Two – Formative Assesment Tools

Those of you who have lead digital strategies in schools pre-covid will know that having a hook that will engage and develop trust in colleagues is fundamental to the strategy’s success.

Needing quick wins is why part two of my strategy is to find formative assessment tools which work for your school.

Here is why:

We already assess, so make it simple. Teaching should not be an uphill struggle.

Every teacher will be assessing students in subjects in a range of ways, likely one is paper-based or requires additional time after to mark. Collating grades can be stored and compared (key especially for subject specialists when a quiz may show anomalies across a whole cohort, as well as a class).

One of the component reasons why we need to do the formative assessment is to be able to make a judgment on our lesson and adapt, going back and filling in knowledge gaps or moving forwards.

We also use it to understand smaller parts of knowledge, broken down into smaller chunks can allow students time to process concepts. What do you already know? What do I want you to understand and apply to a topic or across the curriculum? Answering similar questions across the topic allows students to develop information in their long term memory. Supporting the development of those students.

The benefit to the teacher, you do not need to mark the work. Review it. I love Kahoots ability to inform you across an assessment which questions a group found hard, which students need support? Quizzes, for instance, also allows you to then share the outcomes with parents.

Formative assessment, quickly, can give an understanding of students ability, understanding, knowledge and most important, gaps in both student and class understanding.

And the wonderful thing is, the more informed we are, the better the teaching, the less time lost, the time we gain back from marking work can be put into, well I can think of several areas linking to Teacher-Wellbeing,

but …

we can also allow ourselves time to consider the student in front of us;

why do they not understand?

What is the barrier?

How can we help?

How can we engage?

The students I have reviewed also say that the more we complete short quiz-style tests, the less anxious they become about completing “tests”. They are used to a range of question styles, time frames and limits.

We can stretch and challenge students; we can allow them to reach their potential!

Tips:

  • Don’t use too many different tools in one subject; this can overwhelm, confuse and remove the positives. You need solid data which you can use to inform you.
  • Time-sensitive questions are great for building excitement and engagement, but they are not for everyone. Make sure you do assessments where every child has the time to think. Quickfire questions can cause incorrect answers, students who are less confident readers may struggle, and students often don’t fully take in the question clicking fast and unsure.
  • Try and find a tool that links to your learning portfolios (if you have them); this will make storage of your data much easier if you can “connect” your classroom and import the data into your mark book.

Digital Feedback

By Andi Price @MrAndiPrice

The Future of Teaching – reducing workload and increasing pupil interaction.

Two years ago, I made the unusual, and dare I say radical decision of returning full time to the classroom. I had been a Headteacher, in different schools both in the UK and internationally for the past 13 years. Although I maintained a teaching commitment in all my roles, I became increasing frustrated with not being able to fully implement new strategies for learning I was advocating as a leader. The most effective strategy I felt I was missing out on was the onslaught of learning assisted by technology. Being a semi tech-geek, I had a huge desire to fully embed this into classroom practice and ensure accelerated learning.    

JESS Dubai

When I began at my new school, I was highly encouraged to use ‘Twitter’ as a tool for my own development. After a few months, I can firmly say I had missed out on a considerable amount of CPD prior to not using Twitter. What an endless resource of ideas and celebration of modern education it is. I have become part of many learning communities and regularly share my ideas and classroom practice. I would recommend to any teacher or trainee in joining a PLN. I would go as far to say it has changed my career.   

Back at the start of my career I suppose, like many NQTs, I was just trying to keep my head above water; basically playing the game and not really seeing the worth of extensive written feedback in books. The trend of triple marking, writing a response to a child’s piece of work, the child responding back and so on and so forth. I knew early on in my career; written feedback was going to be something highlighted to be me to improve on by senior leaders, some may say justified. Or was it?

From the beginning of my classroom career, until I would say I became a more experienced and confident practitioner, I knew I would have to back mark over the holiday period to keep up with the regular book scrutinies. This would have definitely impacted on my wellbeing and love for the profession. Even though my written feedback was not as frequent as the intense feedback policy required, my pupils would always make considerable progress. How was this if there was a lack of daily feedback in books?  

Further into in my career I have analysed this more and more. I have come to the conclusion that on the spot, short regular snippets of guidance, encouragement and further enquiry tasks are much more beneficial to the pupils than reams and reams of writing at the end of their work, which in the majority of cases, the students don’t take on board or have a positive impact. What a waste of our precious time that otherwise could be used on much more beneficial tasks for example preparing high quality resources or furthering our subject knowledge. 

Teachers who write reams, and enforce immaculate books might not be the greatest teachers! Unfortunately, I know this outdated accountability judgement process is still very much in existence. Professional practitioners are predominately judged by their books and not by the progress their pupils make. But thank goodness there does seem to be a feedback revolution taking place across the profession.  

My biggest fear going back into the classroom full time was the mile-high pile of books waiting for your attention at the end of each day. The dread of a long writing task. The writer who had written 6 side of drivel that need highlighting with yellow, green and blue highlighters. The buddy mathematician who requires numerous calculations methods corrected. The depressing amount of time spent writing further questions with THAT green pen and then pupils write a one-word answer. We have all been there!

My focus as both a leader and class teacher for the last few years has been how can we turn this immediate, purposeful, diagnostic feedback, we all give in class, so it is accessible, purposeful and can be referred back to time after time especially within the current accountability process climate. Also with an aim of raising the quality of feedback. And no, verbal feedback stamps are not the answer! As Joe Kirby writes:

Feedback is effective when it is timely (not too late after the task), frequent (not too scarce) and acted on (not ignored). Written marking often militates against this.” 

Pragmaticreform.wordpress.com 2015

I can see both sides of the coin, having been senior leadership for many years I totally understand the trepidation and fear that exists in permitting teachers to feedback through digital platforms. It is the ridiculous accountability process we are all exposed to throughout education worldwide that exacerbates this reluctance. So how can we meet in the middle? Less onerous feedback with the same amount of progress evidence. Impossible right? Not at all. 

How to begin with Digital feedback

Firstly, you need to choose a platform, although we have progressed to using a number of platforms, it is always good to start small. My preferred platform of choose is @seesaw. I choose this for its ease of use, parental access and multiple feedback options. Hardware, well surprisingly you do not need much. In fact 1 tablet or a smartphone would suffice. @Seesaw has a very simple procedure for setting up parental access. I have always had 100% take up for all students in my classes (this has been so successful over the years that we as a whole school have adopted it as our one form of communication). Uploading students work is super easy, just take pictures and away you go.

Now that you have students work uploaded, this can now be sorted into categories or folders (i.e. digital exercise books). Press a button and you can now feedback on all your English work for example. Feedback can take three forms. I firstly started typing feedback and students typed back their responses. I know what you are thinking, well this takes longer then writing in exercise books, well not if you are commenting on the same misconception in the majority of work. Copy, paste and adapt. I estimate that I saved around a third of the time I would have done by writing in exercise books. 

Next, I progressed on to verbal feedback, this was probably the most scary part of the procedure. Would students respond? Was the feedback useful/challenging? Would SLT accept this typed of feedback? Funnily enough this proved to be the most successful part of the journey with digital feedback. Student engagement improved 10 fold, SLT observed huge benefits and were witnessing considerable progress.  

Of course this feedback was accessible for scrutinises and inspection purposes. This success prompted the change to the whole school feedback policy and encouraged other staff to try out digital feedback. The whole project then snowballed with the vast majority of teachers adopting, seeing a huge reduction to their workload, parents interacting with their children’s work, praising and in some cases, using further in-depth questioning. And most importantly feedback was purposeful for the students. 

Once typed and verbal feedback has been embedded, you can then try the real game-changer, annotated feedback. This was developed in conjunction with a few of my colleagues who saw the benefit of modelling methods where students had misconceptions in mathematics.

This approach to feedback has been recognised by inspectors as being revolutionary. They commented that the collaborative approach of educators, parents and peers having the ability to view work, comment upon and further question students increased learning dramatically. Digital feedback is a leap of faith for schools however as a profession we are behind, and it is not due to the lack of hardware! I fear that it will not be parents and students that will be the ones that slow this process of moving toward this more accessible, collaborative and workload reducing feedback process. Senior leaders need to trust, trust in practitioners who have always provided quality feedback. Without doubt Digital Feedback is a ‘safer’ option for schools to adopt than ‘Whole Class Feedback’, it is considerably more personalised but still dramatically reduces teacher workload. With teachers’ workload at record levels we must revolutionise our profession before it is too late. Let the revolution begin! 

OLD WAYS WON’T OPEN NEW DOORS

As half term approaches and the usual stresses and strains appear in the school; planning, marking, assessment, targets, tracking, intervention … as well as the normal day to day pastoral issues, which never cease to amaze me, the vast range of things which could fall under this umbrella.  I have had a very reflective week.

Mid-way through this week was CPD, a brilliant training session from The Applied and Behavioral Training Institute,  which made me giggle a little inside at how similar my role in school is to what the trainer in front of us, talking about behaviour management, was trying to tell us.

It was all about strategies, which most of us have been taught during teacher training year, but the refresher and some new tips were helpful in such a busy week.  As it is our role to support our students and to endeavour to keep trying, stay strong when learned habits from individual students continue to return.

So why was this funny? Across the year I deliver CPD, have drop-in sessions for staff and try my best to support them in new technologies, new technologies which I hope will help ease the strains of their role.  I am positive that the digital elements we embed in our curriculum are always meaningful and well used.  But when we first begin to use them, just like behaviour management strategies, we find it hard, we find elements difficult and we are impelled to believe that the best way, is the way we did it before.  Just like behaviour management is hard to keep doing, it can be hard to do new things when there feels like there already is such a lot to do.

Technology has, and always will create things to make our lives easier. That is one of the wonderful things about it.  But, perseverance is key, just like the student in your class who shouts out or needs a little more attention for whatever reason, with continued practice, we can support them to be the best they can be.  Just like with continued use, we can use the right technologies to support our working balance, enhancing engagement of our 21st-century learners whilst utilizing programs and software which take the strain of a job which can be relentless. Let us not switch off because it feels too complicated or hard.

I found a brilliant quote today which said,

“I am yet to have a student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t had professional development on it”

(Unknown)

Teachers are lifelong learners, a trait we should instill in all the students we teach.

Tips:

Nearpod is brilliant for not only engaging learners but also for creating tests which mark themselves.  Using the ‘Quiz’ function you can make an exam or multiple choice test which learners can complete at their own pace.

Showbie, an online paperless classroom.  Being a teacher of a digital subject it is so helpful to be able to collate the work of all of my KS2 classes.  They upload work, images and reflect, from there I am able to give individual feedback to students, personalising their learning. Breaking down lessons into curriculum strands, WALT and WILF’s are there and can be accessed by pupils at any time.  Pre-planning my lessons options is really helpful as well, allowing me to hide elements from classes until they need them.

 

The cornerstone’s of my working Classroom

Many teachers will be in a similar position to me when it comes to working their classroom out and being able to support each child with everything they need.

Today I have felt quite reflective of this fact when I received my update from Grammarly, it seems to help me more than I could ever have imagined.  This wonderful app is on all of my devices. So why is this so important. Well, it is two-fold:

Firstly, I am dyslexic, I struggled a lot as a child to ensure that my work was as it should be, more often than not being told to read “What was on the line and not what I Thought was there”, which is quite hard when everything has a habit of jumping around.  To me, the digital technology which we empower our classrooms with every day holds such importance to all pupils, but perhaps specifically to those who struggle to access everything as easily as our most able pupils. Having a learning difficulty doesn’t mean that our students are not as capable, we just need to support them to be the best they can be, regardless.

Secondly, What I love about Grammarly is how it simply works in the background helping us to correct our spelling and our grammar.  But more than this, unlike our normal spell checking facilities, it tells us what the error is and explains it.  How powerful to a child that without fear of failure they can learn from their device.  Yes, some may say that we are reliant on such things, but in a classroom, it can empower a child to have more confidence in their writing. In everyday life, I hope we can all agree that actually, it is a better way to be also given the reason why it is wrong and not just scroll down a few words, which more often than not are actually inaccurate.

This week I have been taking time in my classroom to ensure that all my students have the correct language settings. We are an international school with 72 different nationalities, we are very proud to be able to support such a wide variety of Nationalities.  Something as simple as Keyboard settings on the iPad can really make a difference to a child.  We ensure that pupils have the following as a core; English (United Kingdom) as we are a British Curriculum school, Arabic, French (France), Emoji (Who can live without it) and then the students Mother Tongue or Native Language. For a child beginning their journey in a new country, this can allow them to be able to use their device to its maximum and be supportive to their learning.  Many pupils are learning English as they go through their day at school, going home and speaking once again in their mother tongue. Allowing them to be able to use their native language and translate elements in non-core lessons helps them to access our curriculum.

My other cornerstone’s include google translateas a teacher I have just prepared some resources for my lessons next week, but knowing my classes have a range of different languages, and that some students are so very new to speaking and reading English, I have translated my document.  I have just changed 10 documents into alternative languages for pupils to be able to clearly access my assessment for next week, it took less than 2 minutes.  The students in my class are so capable, I am in awe that they can pick up a language so quickly, I have no intention of disadvantaging them by giving them a worksheet they cannot access. In the same way, I have my differentiated sheets, different questions to push and pull all my student’s abilities.  My assessments get pinged out to them via AirDrop through AppleClassroomSo no worry about printing or wasting them, I have groups set up within classes, ready to select for AirDropping to them all at the touch of a button.  The best part is none of them think to question if their sheet is different from another’s. Students can have both copies or just one (English and Native).

To allow a child to access and succeed for me overall is the most important part of my teaching.  Pupils all have the google translate app, as students become more confident in their language learning they can look to this for difficult terminology, small sentence translations.  But we shouldn’t in such an advanced digital world have to allow a child to feel isolated from their peers due to languages or learning difficulties. Let’s empower.

Top tips:

  • Add Grammarly to your school’s devices (we use the free version, you can also buy a paid package)
  • Get the google translate app on your devices
  • Utilise Apple Classroom, share documents with specific pupil groups to differentiate your lesson
  • Check your pupils have the keyboards to access their curriculum

The first week back is like spinning sugar

If you have ever seen or tried to spin sugar, you will know it looks tricky and confusing.  The sugar layers over and over again. Like spinning sugar, when we begin in September we have ideas of grandeur which we expect to be instant but it takes time to develop, shape and moulds it to our liking.  Just like the information we receive as teachers at the beginning of the term.

If you are new to a school, the layers of information can feel overwhelming and when you are in the thick of it, it can sometimes feel like it won’t ever make sense, or turn out the way you want or had hoped. There is so much to learn, so many things to take in and most importantly, there are many little faces which stare at you waiting to be inspired by your wisdom.

With this in mind, I thought it would be the perfect time to give my top three apps for helping you navigate yourself in those first few weeks.

(NB: I work in an apple 1:1 device school, so these are tailored to the iPad, although I am sure there are other similar options available on the Android alternatives.) 

Apple Classroomthis brilliant app from Apple allows you to support and navigate your pupils around a meaningful lesson using technology.  In addition, it is a great way of ensuring students are always on task and behaving.  Apple Classroom allows you to navigate (and lock) pupils into apps which are on their devices for them to be able to complete specific tasks.  You can take them to web pages via the app, directing them to websites which you have stored in your favourites, this allows you to find suitable research material, especially for those in the lower year groups or at a primary age. It allows you to control all, or individual iPads ensuring all students are listening and not still using their device when you are expecting them to be listening.  One of my favourite elements, however, is the grouping options. As teachers, we have very mixed ability groups.  I think this is true to almost every school around the world, Apple Classroom allows you easily to separate pupils into groups, where you can then personalise the learning for those pupils and ensure that their needs are being met, the great thing, none of the other pupils even need to know that worksheet or question paper is different. The app also allows airdropping to the whole class in one touch, screen sharing, mirroring without logging in and muting of sound if so required.

In addition to those elements is also gives you a great rundown of the student’s device usage, at the end of the lesson, you can see second by second what they did when they were in your class.

Tip: If you have an apple school management system, lock their Bluetooth on. 

Kahoot

Kahoot is not a new app, however, it is one which at our school we use frequently. Why? because it allows us to capture data snapshots easily.  Students love the challenge of a Kahoot, it engages them all in active learning but also doesn’t humiliate those who are unsure or unlikely to speak out in a hand up exercise. If they get it wrong, they can hide their screen and only you and they know overall scores.

The great thing about Kahoot is you can create your own, edit something already created or even borrow someones if it is suitable for the task.  At our school, we use these for new topics, keyword consolidation, tracking understanding in a lesson and even baseline testing in some subjects where there is no standardised test.  Kahoot happily allows you to download the data for the class and this can influence your next lesson planning, your student tracking or just be a good formative assessment task. Kahoot also allows a “Ghost Mode” so you can do the same Kahoot at the end of the lesson to show progress in their understanding. It frees up teacher time from marking mini tests as it is all completed for you which can be very helpful, especially when you are teaching a range of classes or a range of subjects to one class.

Tip: Give pupils a time limit to log in, ensuring they pupil their correct name (tracking).  You can even allow the first people to be listening to put an emoji at the end of their name to encourage them to get on task as quickly as possible. 

Camera, Camera Roll & Markup Tool. 

I realise that there are three elements to this one, however, I find this is the most useful tool you have on the iPad. It can be a great get to know you activity, you can have conversations about sharing information but as a tool, it can allow you to use something very simple, and free, to create a really interesting and meaningful lesson.

With the updates to the iPads, pupils can now edit and draw or write (text and cursive) onto their iPad.  It could be a photograph of an object, linking to Maths, English, Science or any subject. A stimulus.  Pupils writing words, ideas, comments onto and then sharing with others via AirDrop. This could be placed into their Notes app as a digital workbook of ideas and research.  You might want pupils to photograph their own work, they could share this with another pupil and they comment on the work, allowing collaboration of ideas with their classmates and getting that valuable peer-to-peer assessment and feedback.

Tip: If you teach students to know how to use the Mark-Up tool on their Photos they will be able to use it in all of their other Apple Programmes. Making other lessons and learning easier to manage as they already have the prepared skills. 

My final Tip would be to use the camera to photograph your students in their seating plans.  At the beginning of the year, if you teach lots of new pupils, it can be a great way to get to know your students faster.  If like me you teach upwards for 400 Students it helps to remember those names. We all know knowing their names can make such a difference to your student’s lives.  Feeling empowered, special and remembered, especially if they are new to the school. (NB: I use my school iPad and not a personal device – this is for my classroom management only and I do not share the images.)

I hope that some of these apps and tips can be helpful to you, guiding your spun sugar to create beautifully crafted lessons.

Digital Break Out – The Isles Need YOU!

With everything we do in schools now, there is no better way to get pupils to understand the concepts than to link it back to everyday life.  I am a very hands-on learner.  I really do have to be emersed in the physical making and doing, to understand it.

So with that in mind, I try to ensure that all learning styles are given the opportunity to excel, Differentiation I will save for another blog because every child is not like me.

I currently teach coding to KS2 we touch upon a range of different elements of coding, now we are in our third term my pupils are confidently coding a range of different robotic systems.  All with the topical insight about why that specific system may have been developed. We discuss how @Sphero could be similar to a driverless vehicle, how @Parrot Drones are used in tracking down sources of water, heat and areas which we cannot physically, or safely reach.  We don our space imaginary space suits and blast off to Mars with @LEGOEducationUK, considering why we cannot land on Mars or even why we would want to?

The realistic approach to teaching and learning is key to the development and understanding of each child. We can cover all learning styles when we make it real.  Why do we need to know these things, if there isn’t a credible reason to do so.  With a future of uncertain job structures, our pupils need to learn so many skills to enable them to be adaptable.

Coding is such an amazing way of being able to get them to become more adaptable to ever-changing circumstances. Keeping pupils on their toes, they never know what my classroom may morph into when they step through the door.  What they do know is, I will always be able to link everything they do to a reason and their topic.

So how do we go wider and get the whole school to collaborate under these changing circumstances? Get pupils to see the bigger picture?

Take a look at the link below:

Save the Isles

For a whole afternoon, we had verticle style learning, house teams, with a range of scenarios and pupil ability.  Pupils were pushed out of their comfort zone, using all of their coding and programming knowledge they worked as teams to save stranded villagers on the islands, find sources of water and navigate around areas of natural disaster.  It was wonderful to watch as they discussed and negotiated, using critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I even threw an @Kahoot in there for pupils to keep them on their toes.

The most important part, the pupils enjoyed it.  They understood how their technology, which quite often is taken for granted, really can begin to solve larger problems.

I cannot wait for the next one!

 

They know too much…Or do they?

So, if you have read my blog so far you will know that I am an accidental primary IT and computing teacher. 

When I was first asked to lead the computing department, I had no real idea of what to expect.  It is a growing school [EXCITING], but also one of the main objectives is to be the leading technology school in the UAE [SCARY]. Potentially a very big and important job.

Having always thought of myself as a teacher who used technology.  I am willing to try new devices and apps in my lessons, which would support the learning, I decided it couldn’t hurt to try leading a new area of the curriculum. So over the summer, I immersed myself into books, on my iPad, reading a range of different books from basic curriculum to embedding ICT across the primary curriculum. 

Why? mainly due to my fear that I wouldn’t know how to teach computing in our new digital age, or our fourth industrial revolution (my new favorite term). 

I remember talking to a friend who is in charge of computing for their primary curriculum and he questioned why I was so worried? I had been a teacher for a long time, and in the end as long as you know your curriculum, teaching it would come easily, surely?

Despite the reassurance I kept reading and making notes and by the end of summer I had so many ideas and wanted to share so much with the new collegues at school.  As well as wanting to be at least one step ahead of our pupils who “know so much about technology”.  I think I could have burst with the amount of things which I now knew.

Did it help, well yes, in some ways I felt ready and empowered me to teach a range of different class based activities.  But when it came to actually starting, I found that I was trying to fit far too much in to my lessons, and pupils were unable to successfully complete activities.

Then came the lightbulb moment: There really is such a thing as too many applications.  It really took me a few months to fully get my head around it.  In fact, it was only after attending my first EduTech Conference in Dubai that I clicked. My realisation came at much delight to my principal! Less is definitely more, but now was the job to prove that to others.  I think as teacher we worry that we need to keep pupils interested in lots of new things, which is where the problems can occur.

More recently, I was listening to a fantastic episode on @PodcastEdTech where the brilliant point was made that people assume that children know so much about apps and technology, but in reality, they do not.  They know a really small amount, and mainly only about things which they have been exposed to.

Now in my classroom, I try not to use too many different apps with the pupils at once. As a school one of our main priorities is to focus in on specific apps which would be used and mastered, not only by pupils but by our staff as well.  So this comment really resinated with me.  We are all so worried about how “tech savvy” pupils are, but we forget that they are only as good as we allow them to be.

If we as teachers focused on ensuring pupils were masters in apps and not just skimming from the top, progress and skills development would be much deeper.

So over this academic year we have begun to be more focused in our expectations of using apps.  We are a 1-1 device school, so we are very lucky to always have the technology available. But instead of all using different applications and clouding pupils with information overload.  We have been training teachers to become Apple Teachers.  Getting to grips with a range of brilliant technology which they already have just in their hands all the time. From there we also have a set of core apps. Nearpod, Explain Everything and Book Creator.  Three apps which allow us to flip the learning, allow for Peer and self assessment as well as personal learning. All of which allow us to create digital portfolios which we can show our learners progress. 

The more we use them, the better our pupils become at being able to focus on the learning outcome and less on the idea that they are using a device. We get pupils to upload work to showbie at the end of lessons, or projects for verbal feedback.  As we grow, we aim to be better at facilitating and using the right technology which allows learning to happen without gimmicks.

As we grow as a digital school, so will our pupils. We are already planning, as much as we can in our digital world for our KS3 and 4 pupils entering next academic year.  To ensure that they are equipped with the right tools to be employed in the fourth industrial era.