When I returned to the UK from Turkey 11 years ago, I was shocked at how much education had changed, and not just in terms of the curriculum. Classrooms were dominated by a new presence. It was big and shiny and at the centre of things: the interactive whiteboard. No one had time to explain how it worked or to help if it went wrong (this was before school had regular technicians). I had to learn by doing.
That was the tip of the iceberg. Tablets have replaced textbooks. Today my classes use digital cameras, interactive websites, talking postcards and visualisers on a daily basis. But has this evolution actually enhanced learning?
When I started teaching, I was taught that my goal as an educator was to pass on knowledge. I did this by reading and talking to pupils. We used textbooks and encyclopedias, worksheets, comprehension exercises and diagrams. Pupils learned skills such as reading, writing, taking notes and researching. We encouraged them to be careful recording their work, and graded them on their ability to express themselves neatly and accurately on paper.
Now, 30 years later, teachers are no longer the gatekeepers of knowledge; technology gives learners access to unlimited information. We don’t assess young people on knowledge but their ability to find and use it appropriately. Our curriculum is increasingly skills-based, and success relies on demonstrating a range of proficiencies in creative ways.
Dr Mmantsetsa Marope, director of UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education, recently wrote that we need to cultivate people who know how to learn. Success in the 21st century will depend on it.
Technology is important in this context because it provides a greater choice of tools with which to engage pupils. It enables them to be curious, independent and resilient, and allows the learning process to be interest-driven.
The challenge for teachers is to find creative ways of using technology to inspire students. Whole-class demonstrations have their place, but technological tools can be used to personalise learning far further. Here are some examples, across various subjects and abilities.
Your maths group is finding times tables challenging. They aren’t making much progress learning them, let alone applying their knowledge to your current work involving simplifying fractions.
Once you’ve finished your teaching input, invite small groups to come to the interactive whiteboard where you can show them how to work together on online times tables game, such as the one at www.timestables.co.uk followed by another from www.mathplayground.com.
Leave them while you circulate, helping other children, and check on them occasionally – thereby promoting independence, quick thinking and teamwork.
A student is struggling because he thinks more quickly than he writes, often omitting words and phrases. He has had the help of a teaching assistant but you would like to be more independent now. Try giving him a talking postcard.
Invite him to sit apart from the other children, and speak each sentence into the device (which can record up to 30 seconds at a time). He can play it back, stopping as often as he wants. This will give him useful support in recording his sentences properly, while also developing his listening skills, independence and motivation.
You are teaching number sentences with brackets but your students are too dependent on you to check and correct their answers rather than reviewing their own work first. Copy and paste some graded questions (three columns: lower, middle and upper), into Smart Notebook, completing the answers then covering them using Notebook’s filled-in shape facility. Give the pupils time to complete the exercise, allowing 10 to 15 minutes to review their work at the end.
Uncover the answers and tell them that that you will give them one point for every correct answer, but two points for every incorrect one where they can identify errors. Extend this in subsequent sessions by awarding three points for those who can identify errors before you display the answers.
Match of the day
Your students are struggling to remember the names of different parts of a plant. Use Smart Technologies’ Smart Lab to choose an activity, such as Match ‘Em Up, and add your own content – in this case, plant parts with descriptions and images. You can either invite a student to complete the activity at the interactive whiteboard or send it to their individual laptops or tablets. This activity will develop confidence and decision-making, without the need to record incorrect answers in books and have to go back to edit them.
We don’t know for sure what the future will hold for technology in schools, but we do know that change is here to stay and the possibilities are endless. One thing is certain – if we build learners who are independent, resilient and confident users of technology, we will be raising their chances of leading a productive and successful life.
Deborah Jenkins is a class teacher at Heathfield Junior School, Whitton