Leading teachers into new learning twilight zone

19th February 2010 at 00:00
CPD became more interesting for the teachers who are showing each other what works for them

Original paper headline: Open doors lead teachers into a new twilight zone of learning

Asked what kind of continuing professional development rings their bell, most teachers say sessions delivered by other teachers. Factor in the falling education budgets, and a South Lanarkshire pilot looks set to fly for the foreseeable future.

"It's about teachers showing other teachers what works," says Anne Rooney, head of education for East KilbrideStrathaven. "It is a great idea, but it's not mine. I first saw it in Glasgow. We're now running a pilot in all our East Kilbride and Strathaven schools."

These were asked to focus on a topic for which they had already received some recognition. For Mount Cameron Primary, where the pilot gets off the ground, this was straightforward. They recently won best whole school in Scotland at Becta's ICT Excellence Awards.

"We were delighted," says headteacher Caroline Reid. "So all 12 sessions tonight are about some aspect of ICT in practice. Every one of my teachers is delivering a session, including the probationers."

Given the reluctance of many primary teachers to put themselves forward as experts, this is quite an achievement. But there was no need for management arm-twisting, says the head. "Winning the Becta award gave us all a boost. When we discussed taking part with the staff, they all liked the idea."

Familiarity with their topic and national recognition partly explain the positive response, says Anne Rooney. But there is another reason. "Teachers are delivering workshops on their home ground, in their classrooms, using their own resources. That makes a difference."

For the next 90 minutes, purposeful-looking guests clutching school maps take advantage of the expertise on offer, finding their way from one pre- booked session to the next at the sound of the school bell. Lots of practical, innovative good practice is being demonstrated. There is audio, video, animation and visualisation. There are desktops, laptops, minibooks and touchboards.

"When I returned from maternity leave in October, Caroline told me I was doing a writing project using Nintendogs with P2," says Linda Callender in her session on games-based learning. "I'd never done anything like it and was quite daunted. But if I can do it, so can anyone.

"I couldn't believe the enthusiasm it generated. I've a few children who struggle with writing, but even they would ask if it was their turn to work with the dogs, and share what they'd done in their writing. They feel the dog is real, because they created it."

A feature that works well, she says, is boy-girl pairs sharing games- machines and dogs. Girls and boys tend to favour different activities, so it gets them talking. "You're able to put ribbons in the dogs' hair and fancy collars on them - or take them to agility competitions and shows. A wee girl will take the Nintendo home and the next morning the boy will say: `I don't like the pink ribbons it's wearing.' Then they'll show each other how to change colours.

"I have one wee boy whose mum was very concerned, because he normally says nothing. He is now telling her how excited he is."

Writing activities during the eight-week project include a diary, a functional piece on washing the dog and an imaginative story about it being naughty. "That'll be fun," she tells her audience. "I got the idea, and lots of other tips, from Derek Robertson's LTS website. There's a link to a Dingwall Primary blog on Nintendogs. I've got my kids responding to their stories and writing their own."

There is time for a quick question - "One piece of advice to other teachers?" "Take it home yourself and play with it first" - before the bell rings and guests are out in the corridors, with the head shepherding strays in the right direction.

Room 10 is in darkness. But teacher Rhoda Kirkwood patiently helps latecomers to their chairs, before turning to a futuristic-looking, black desktop device. "This is the visualiser. It's fantastic for showing images of objects to a class."

Bought with "one of Caroline's wonderful bids" (see panel), the instrument is similar to an epidiascope - the old way of projecting opaque objects like pages on a screen - but it's smaller, neater, cooler. Essentially, it is a mounted digital video camera, with a light source and a platform on which to place objects - anything from a piece of homework to a rare document or a jar of worms.

None of these could sensibly be passed round a class of questing fingers and curious brains, while gathering everyone around a table is not sensible either, so the visualiser is really valuable, she says.

"It has zoom in or out and autofocus, and is basically foolproof. If I can use it, anybody can," she adds, placing a fragile-looking soldier's service book on the platform, and reading the screen image, which says its owner was awarded the Africa Star on April 8. "You would never normally show a book like that to kids, for fear of damage."

Next up are darkly-worn pennies embossed with Victoria's head, a scarab beetle, and "an ammonite fossil that would fall apart if you passed it round". This is also hard to see with the naked eye. "But move in close with the visualiser and it brings it alive."

Another trick that helps lessons along, Ms Kirkwood tells her guests, is demonstrating the buttons to press for a new project on the games machines. "It's much easier than running round 24 kids to make sure they've got it right.

Assessment is for Learning is a big area for applying it, she says. "The visualiser is ideal for sharing good practice and examples. We've also used it to enhance looking at leaves and minibeasts - which brings me to our wormery. We now have baby worms, and there they are glistening in the jar."

But the visualiser is not just about projecting images, she concludes. "You can connect it to a computer, then take photos and make mini-videos. Imagine using it to watch a caterpillar become a chrysalis and emerge as a butterfly. Wouldn't that be priceless?"

The bell sounds and the guests leave on the next leg of their learning journey. "This is a great way of doing CPD," says Dawn Lawson, headteacher of Murray Primary, which will open its doors to other teachers for a twilight session on helping pupils with additional support needs.

"The CPD programme is popular with the teachers. We have eight here from our school, and I know they've had to turn people away. I've been going to management sessions, such as Caroline's on ICT finance and management.

"I know her because we're in the same cluster, but I've learnt things tonight I want to hear more about. Caroline knows her stuff about funding, for instance, and I like how they've been using Quizdom - the interactive voting system - with kids, right from nursery, and also with staff and parents. It's a great way of improving consultation."

As guests head home, teachers reflect on how it went. "I really enjoyed it," says Alison Smith, who delivered a session on minibooks. "It felt more like people dropping in to see you than presenting to an audience. It was hands-on and practical, which appeals to teachers, and you were talking to like-minded people. I'd be very happy to do it again."

It's early days yet, says Anne Rooney, who has been sitting in on sessions and gauging teachers' reactions. "But Open Doors CPD seems like a big success. It is inspirational. That's what most of the teachers have been telling me tonight."


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