Monthly Archives: May 2013

Using technology to support basic skills

Technology continues to change many aspects of our lives and in school it is no different   Each new cohort of four year olds enters Foundation Stage more familiar with technology than their slightly older peers.   Picking up a tablet, a handheld device or sitting at a computer holds no fear for them.   They don’t look for the instructions before testing its capabilities, their approach to learning with technology is not a linear model more of an exploration fired by an inquisitive mind.   Using technology with young children presents educators with a great opportunity to develop basic skills.   A natural curiosity for learning can be further enhanced with an iPad or similar device.   Our reception children tend to use iPads as a social tool – they huddle in small groups to share, discuss and debate whichever app they might be using.   Such dialogue would seldom develop unassisted without technology to provide the stimulus.

@glynnlee and I have often discussed the power of blogging with primary children and, as Lee stated, if you replace the word ‘blogging’ with the word ‘writing’ it can give you some indication of the difference the use of technology can have on learning.  In the early years class blogs are mainly used to provide a window on the children’s learning for parents and families, but the junior classes tend to give more ownership to the children who use it as a vehicle for their writing.   Children enjoy blogging, it looks good, its appearance can be changed, it can be shared, has a potentially wide readership and is easily edited.   Regular contributions to a class blog also gives children their own digital portfolio.  Using technology to support writing in such a way is a positive application of the tools many children are increasingly familiar with out of school from an early age.

Making use of green screen technology is also a great way to develop basic skills.   Children respond readily to scripting, filming and re drafting and are often blissfully unaware that these steps are supporting them in their writing, speaking and listening.   The chance to write auto cues for their friends to speak often raises the  bar in terms of their expectations and listening carefully before re drafting is also a key skill that needs to be successfully employed to improve results.  Using the green screen gives children a strong stimulus for a whole range of basic skills.   If you suddenly have the chance to film your historical report about the beheading of Anne Boleyn from in front of the tower, it might just inspire you to greater achievements, to think more carefully about what you are writing.   If you are creating a micro tutorial on how to convert fractions into percentages, you will need to ensure you fully understand the process before sharing your learning with others.   You could argue that such approaches would work without technology but the opportunity for children to watch themselves, to share their learning, to get feedback from beyond the class makes the use of technology an attractive way of developing and enhancing their learning.   Embracing technology in the primary classroom  can provide practitioners with exciting ways of developing basic skills, many children already enter school familiar with a range of devices, we need to ensure we build on their early interest and curiosity to the benefit of their future learning.


Class to class, school to school – developing professional partnerships

It is a sad fact that for many primary teachers their educational world seldom extends beyond the four walls of their classroom.   It is easy to become overwhelmed by the day to day pressures in the high stakes arena and the opportunity to get out, to observe, to share, to collaborate and to reflect is often sacrificed for the potential short term gains of being permanently in the class.   The problem with this is that long term development is hindered.   One of the simplest, most effective ways to improve practice is to enable staff to get out of their own classroom and into those of their peers.   This is  easily managed in one school and only slightly more difficult to organise amongst several.   We often overlook this most valuable resource in favour of more expensive professional development in the form of courses, conferences and training but class to class and school to school links can be hugely beneficial.

While visiting one of our partner schools in Beijing I witnessed such a refreshing approach.   I asked our colleagues what the additional teachers in the lesson were doing – Were they trainee teachers?   Was a peer observation in progress?  Apparently it is routine in the school for a teacher to ask in the staffroom if a colleague wouldn’t mind watching them teach – perhaps they are trying something new and want feedback, it may be that they have concerns overs something else in the lesson and they want a second opinion.   The process was one of complete openness and support and something I was keen to emulate on my return to school.

Staff meeting are often run from classrooms now as this is another opportunity to staff to get into their peers’ learning environment, to ask them questions, offer ideas and advice, compare and contrast.   Our next round of peer observations has been an opportunity to match up the strengths of one member of staff with areas of development for another.   This isn’t a perfect match as you can imagine but gives peer observations a stronger focus and a strategic edge.   This pattern of getting staff into the classrooms of their peers with complimentary strengths is being extended to our partner schools after half term giving teachers the opportunity to see others wrestle with similar issues in their own school and beyond.   It also provides staff with the chance to see someone who has strengths in an area they might be developing.   Seeing someone ‘walk the talk’ is so much more powerful than hearing someone talk about what they do on a course, it has credibility with staff and enables them to build a strong professional partnership with fellow practitioners.   Allowing staff to get out of the classroom to build such partnerships can only help what goes on in the classroom