Getting Boys to Write

The National Literacy trust has revealed that, based on its own research, boys are half as likely to enjoy writing as girls and almost a third never or rarely write outside of class.  So working in a boys’ school, it’s a fair assumption that there are more than a couple of reluctant writers in my classes.  Which, given the importance of extended case study writing in geography exams, can become a problem.  The challenge is thus twofold, getting students to memorise the case study information and then getting them to practise writing the information concisely.

Several years ago, two of my students decided to make songs of all their A level case studies and publish them to youtube.  Whilst never troubling the charts with their work, they did manage to achieve good A-level results.  This got me thinking, could music be used to help memorisation and also encourage writing in boys.  Before the i-Pad, this kind of activity would have been difficult, but the built-in recording and editing in Garageband makes this a relatively simple process.

The task that was set was to either produce a rap about the Haiti or Japanese Earthquake, or one that compares them.  They had to write 3 verses and a chorus, and record it over a Creative Commons approved backing track.  The written aspects of this are challenging for 13-year-olds, as they have to consider not only the geographical details, but also write using rhyming couplets and rhythm.  Effectively they were writing poetry in disguise, and they were enjoying doing so.  Here is an example of the finished work:

People often ask whether using technology can help develop writing skills, and I would argue that it can, but it needs to be planned carefully.  In this example, the technology has been the catalyst, a motivating influence that helped the boys consider rhythm in writing as well as creating a device that enable students to remember the crucial details needed for the case study answers. I mean, who doesn’t remember the words from songs they listened to when they were young!

The role of technology in the classroom

There has been a lot of sensationalist headlines in the UK press recently regarding the role of technology in the classroom, which has once again brought the topic of tablets back to the public’s attention.  Articles such as this, from the Sunday Times, have very sensationalist headlines:

Ban Tablets says ‘Tsar’

However, Tom Bennett, the government advisor on behaviour has clarified his position in his blog (Tom Bennett), which has a more balanced view where he recognises that technology can have a positive educational impact when used in the right way.   I don’t disagree with Tom, technology can be distracting, but so can many other things.  In the 20+ years that I have been teaching I have seen students distracted by paper (who doesn’t remember making paper aeroplanes?), pens (graffitti anyone?), open windows and most recently books being read under the table in another lesson.  We obviously don’t advocate banning all those things!  The truth is, students are easily distracted, but technology, used the right way can have the opposite effect.  When students are busy making film, or demonstrating learning via animation they are more focussed, more engaged and most importantly,  learning.

At Pleckgate we banned personal mobile devices in the classroom, but gave students an iPad that the school owned and controlled.  These devices were filtered, in and out of school; all social media was blocked and the app store removed so that students could not download games.  We also gave teachers the control needed to lock devices, control what websites they can go on, and monitored their use.  The MDM (mobile device management) profiles on devices gave us that control, and basically made it impossible for students to personalise the devices with their own apps.  A tough policy on use of devices also made it clear that any mis-use, or deleting profiles (not an issue now DEP is in UK) and they would lose their device.  However, the key for the success at Pleckgate was not about the devices at all.  We always said the device was there as a tool to aid teachers, we did not advocate everything had to be done on them.  The school embraced the TEEP model for improving teaching and learning, and the iPad development plan was matched into this to ensure the focus was on pedagogy not technology.  We always maintained that the technology was an enabler for improving/diversifying pedagogical practices proven to work (Meta-cognition, feedback, collaboration, homework etc.) all proven to improve outcomes by the EEF.

Here is an example of how the iPad programme was mapped into the plan to improve learning and teaching and the TEEP (which is now also being researched as a successful intervention by the EEF).  Ipad Development Plan.  An example of a lesson where technology really made a difference to learning was in geography.  In this lesson, students made stop motion animation videos to demonstrate how physical landforms were made.  Without the technology, students would have drawn some diagrams and added labels, but this is easy to copy and do without thinking. By re-creating the physical steps students  had to really understand the processes and they were therefore able to re-call this information much more clearly, as was evidenced by written exam answers ( and yes, the students did still answer an exam question, essay style, with a pen).

The introduction of iPads, combined with all the other interventions, helped our last year 11s achieve the highest results in the school’s history.  Did the iPads do that on their own, of course not.  So if you are planning a 1:1 roll out, do not do so without careful planning, and do not rush deployment.  You must make decisions on many things, including levels of control, but most importantly how the iPads fit into a wider plan to improve learning and teaching.

Ade Institute 2015: EMEIA Region highlights

A week ago ADE institute in the Netherlands finished, and I returned back to the UK, tired, but invigorated having had a productive week with fellow ADE’s from across the EMEIA region.  The top 5 highlights for me personally were:

1) The 3 minute ADE showcases that started each day.

The showcases were started off brilliantly by Catherine Jessey from Hove Park with her Animating and Narrating in Science, and the content varied from Lindsay Durell’s Rethinking PD pedagogy to the beautiful showcase from Marta Ruiz Benito.  Every single one, and I do mean all 45, were brilliant and made me reflect on my own, and my school’s practices.  So many ideas came out of these sessions and I really liked the 3 minute showcase format.  Where can I get some digital countdown timers?

2) The SEN showcases.

The institute dates coincided with the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Americans With Disabilities Act, so it was apt that there was a focus on SEN during many of the showcases and keynote sessions.  Stuart Hammersley showcased the progress one his students has made thanks to iPad, and on the final day we saw showcases from Poland and Czech Republic on how iPads are making a difference in SEN education.  The final showcase, ‘SEN means “dream” in Czech’ by Iva Jelinkova and Lenka Rihova was particularly moving.

The potential for technology to change lives was highlighted by the story of Christopher Hills, who really demonstrates that anything is possible:

3) Bill Frakes

A Pulitzer prize winning photographer who took all our professional portraits gave an excellent masterclass on photography.  His work is awe inspiring and he’s such a humble, nice guy it is impossible not to listen and want to go out and take photos.

4) The educational leadership learning community ‘Time for a Change’ that I am now part of.

It was great to listen to the stories from different countries and how their 1:1 visions have gone or are planning to go.  This community has members from 3 continents, ranging from Delhi to Cape Town, Holland and the Arctic Circle in Finland.  We all have so much experience as leaders and we really learnt well from each other.  I am sure the support from this group is going to make a really big difference to my Institute projects.

5) The UK ADE team

With 50 members, the UK team were the largest of the countries at Institute, and we all worked well as a team.  I am looking forward to continuing to collaborate and work with my fellow ADEs, especially the team from the North West.

My final reflection of the week is that Institute was not about the technology, but about the people.  A great week collaborating, hopefully i’ll get the chance to do it again.

Developing Oracy through iPad presentation tools

Having just helped lead Pleckgate out of Special Measures in just over 12 months, it’s fair to say we have had our fair share of Ofsted inspections.  One consistent theme that always comes through is that our students’ verbal or oracy skills are weak.  This is not necessarily surprising given the EAL profile of our students, but it is a key area for improvement as students cannot write what they cannot say.  As a result, one of the most common uses of the iPads in our classrooms is to prepare presentations which helps address this key area. So, I’ve put together an introduction to three of the top apps for making presentations.

Keynote

Keynote

Keynote is Apple’s presentation software that now comes free with newer iPads and Macs.  It is a really simple, intuitive programme that works brilliantly on the iPads.  It is simple to use, for example it’s much simpler to align and position images/objects than in Powerpoint and it’s much more multimedia friendly.  Plus it has some excellent transitions and animations (Magic Move is nice), and it’s simple to export into other apps in a variety of formats.  The key drawback for developing Oracy and verbal skills is that it is almost too engaging… students love to create animations and visuals, and forget about the presentation part, and therefore revert to simply reading back the written information in the slides.  A good way round this is to get them to open it in Explain Everything so that they are forced to think of the presentation aspects too.

Adobe Voice

Adobe voice

I was introduced to this app just recently, and I was immediately taken with its simplicity.  Insert simple creative commons licensed images, choose from a limited licensed pool of music and record your voice to tell a story.  The limited options mean students only focus on the verbal aspects of the presentation which means its great for developing oracy in students.  Students can also create great stories in a matter of minutes.  The downsides are also its strengths, the lack of customisation means that this is an occasional app rather than a frequent flyer.

Haiku Deck

Haiku deck

Haiku Deck is similar to Keynote and Powerpoint, but it constrains the user into set templates and styles which makes it harder to overwhelm the audience with too much text.  This forces students to focus on what they are saying, and the ‘Deck’ is just there as a visual reference point… as it should be.  One downside that has been reported by some teachers online is the nature of the images and that they are not always appropriate for younger students.  Definitely something to look out for.

Whichever presentation tool you use, it really comes down to the teacher focussing students on the essentials for good presentations.  As with all good lessons, teachers need  to share clear outcomes and objectives that are agreed from the outset so that students are clear what is expected.  If these foundations are put in place then any of these apps will help develop students’ oracy skills.

Starting with the why…

The central message that we tried to get across at Pleckgate was that the 1:1 scheme was about pedagogy and not technology.  It was always about the learning and teaching process and helping students to become better, more independent learners.  The starting point for training was centred around Dr Puentadura’s SAMR model, which is neatly summed up here:

samr

The Redefinition of learning is part of a bigger 5 year plan, but whenever I work with teachers, I try to pull them back to why…why are you using the iPads, is there any functional improvement by using the technology?  If not, how can you gain that functional improvement?  Some teachers are straight in with task redesign, other need convincing that the iPads will do anything to improve the learning process.  Thats the challenge of leadership though, getting people to buy into that vision. For us, one of the easiest ways in was through an App called Showbie:

showbie

Showbie, at its most basic is the workflow app.  The one that enables students to submit work, and for the teacher to set work to the students.  The majority of our teachers are confident in using this app, and like to do so.  At it’s most basic, Showbie is used by our teachers as a substitute for existing resources.  Teachers can see the advantage of sharing a file to all their students as it saves them the trip to the photocopier, it saves lesson time giving out resources, and students get the resource even if they are absent.  It also saves money too.  Some of our teachers are also now combing apps, so using keynote to produce ‘cards’ for card sorts.  Students open the resource from Showbie into keynote, and than sort the cards on the iPads rather than on the table.  The teacher is sold as it saves him/her the time cutting out the cards.  The task can also than hit the augmentation phase of SAMR as the students can colour code the cards in Keynote, add images from the web, or anything else to enhance their understanding in relation to those ‘cards’.  The redefinition of learning than comes with what happens next… if students than take their finished card sort and open in Explain Everything, they can than record not only what the answers might be, but also how they have completed the task.  This allows the development of metacognition, which EEF research suggests is the most effective way of enhancing learning (progress gains of 8 months-EEF Toolkit).  Furthermore, teachers than collect the finished work, and  Showbie allows verbal feedback to be recorded and shared with the students, which in turn gives students the next steps to improve their work, which is completed in lessons or for homework.  The quality of verbal feedback is much better, richer and more detailed and the student doesn’t skip ahead to the grade and ignore the ‘how to do better’ guidance.  All in, Showbie is the gateway app into hitting the modification and redesign areas of SAMR, and also for accessing higher order thinking skills.  It comes highly recommended from us, even as a time and money saver.  For more ideas on apps, and the SAMR model, the model below gives some good ideas to start with.

the-padogogy-wheel

Hello world!

I have been meaning to start this blog for the last year or so, and work commitments have largely robbed of the time to indulge in blogging.  However, here we are, and I am starting out on my blogging journey… the journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step, or blog in my case.

So what am I going to blog about… well, my passion is for learning and teaching, and also the use of technology, so that seems a good place to start.  So, my next few blogs will be a look at educational apps on Ipads which can transform outcomes in the classroom.

Hopefully, some people will take something from my posts that will help them in the classroom.