A few weeks ago, in a little primary school in one of the most deprived areas in Scotland, I met one of the most inspirational teachers who I’ve ever encountered.
I arrived at the school to set up a staff training session about capturing learning with iPads. Helen met me at the door and showed me to her classroom so that I could set up. I noticed a small tent in a corner of the room, complete with fairy lights and soft cushions. “Is that for when it all gets too much?” I asked.
She laughed and said, “That’s for Dylan. When he gets excluded from his class for being disruptive, they send him to me.”
Shaking her head, she went on: “Half the time, the poor soul hasn’t had any breakfast or much sleep – he can’t even think about his maths. He comes here for a KitKat [she opened a drawerful] and a glass of milk, and before you know it, he’s out for the count in that wee tent.”
I was immediately struck by her caring tone, and by the simple effectiveness of the approach, but we were here to talk about technology.
“Actually,” she said, “would you like to see what myself and Dylan are doing with the iPad?”
She picked up the device and took me through a digital book, complete with text, pictures and video. It shows Dylan, in his cycle helmet and with a rather rusty-looking scooter, at a local skate park.
In the videos, he points to the ramps. “That’s a quarter-pipe,” he says, “and that one’s a half-pipe; it’s like two quarter-pipes stuck together.”
He goes on to describe the features of the skate park, eloquently and in some detail. On another page, there are videos of him doing tricks on his scooter, then describing the features of each one and how he learned them. It’s a fantastic snapshot of language, captured on location, and focused on something that Dylan is incredibly proud of.
“I shot the video holding the iPad until my hands were frozen,” Helen said with a smile, “then we got a wee hot chocolate on the way back to school. We put the videos together into a digital book and added titles and text together.”
I love the way that learning has been captured, and the fact that Dylan has an example of his work that fills him with pride.
Putting digital technology at the heart of learning is incredibly powerful, but not because of the cleverness of the apps, the tech-brilliance of the staff or the school demographic. It is powerful because technology has the ability to make learning visible.
Andrew Jewell is a Scottish teacher. He works with the iTeach programme to help schools get the most of out of iPads