I have been thinking about what I value in my classroom and I feel that my success has come through consistency in a few areas. Although not directly edutech-related, I am convinced that these non-negotiables can be enhanced through tech. I will outline these ideas below and then suggest ways that tech tools can be used to ensure these pedagogical practices stay paramount (try saying that three times fast!)
1. Engaging Activity on Entry - how a lesson starts is almost always a gauge for how it will end up. If we start rushed and unorganised, unsure of which lesson we are delivering and what we covered last lesson, students will switch off and become disengaged. If your school is 1:1 for devices, why not try an entry ticket Google Form or a Kahoot quiz on prior learning? Or, display an image on the board for students to try and work out what the lesson is about and ask them to share suggestions on Google Slides Q&A. Your starter could even be to open up Google Classroom and follow the instructions on the feed. All of these buy you time to complete registers, collect homework, reprimand latecomers, organise seating plans, etc.
Google Slides Q&A
2. Share learning objectives or at least what we are aiming to learn - in university, this mystical concept of learning objectives was introduced. I do not ever remember any of my proficient (or even young!) teachers ever starting a lesson with WILFs (What I'm Looking For) or WALTs (We Are Learning To) nor was there the ubiquitous dragon on any slide presentations! However, this concept isn't simply an exercise in ticking a box - it sets the trajectory of a lesson. How explicit you make this is down to individual schools and teachers but please never make children copy these from a board! In terms of how tech can make this engaging, you could ask students to complete a Google Form to fill the gaps and use their answers for real-time discussion or perhaps even agree LOs together. I don't generally use tech with LOs apart from having them differentiated through Classroom and Slides but sharing the intended trajectory and then allowing for SOLE (Self-Organised Learning Environments) which lend themselves nicely to tech is very useful. For an interesting article discussing whether learning objectives are really necessary, read this from Christina Dennett on TES.
3. Focus on literacy - SPaG, vocabulary, complex sentences - there is an ever-increasing focus on these in examination grading and yet it seems that young people, more than ever, are becoming decreasingly unaware or unconcerned with literacy rules. I have also prided myself on addressing concerns regarding literacy basics, whether spelling mistakes, the need for better sentence structure/grammar or addressing the purpose of the writing to make the piece fit for purpose. Having taught Religious Studies for over ten years, this ability to formulate persuasive argument has been at the forefront. There are literally (no pun intended!) 1000s of edtech tools to support this. A few I like are Grammarly, which is a free Chrome extension which highlights basic SPaG, Thesaurus add-on for Google Docs and using blog tools like Blogger to give students authentic audiences so as to improve the need for accurate literacy and lexicon. For more ideas on literacy, here is a great article by Teachthought on how.
4. Model tasks so that everyone knows what a good one looks like (WAGOLL) - My good friend, Andy Griffith, author of Outstanding Teaching and Teaching Backwards, discusses them in the latter of these books, "The great thing about WAGOLLs is that they powerfully demonstrate the positive features of a piece of work...WAGOLLs can help learners to visualise what needs to be done." Tech can truly help with this in using the About tab on Google Classroom to showcase these on a regular basis. However, Peardeck is a great way to showcase student work, especially if you want to do this mid-lesson as a spotlight. Padlet, Nearpod and others allow this sharing of screens which is really powerful and it also boosts motivation in students. Not only that but WAGOLLs don't all have to be teacher-created; get your students showcasing what a Grade 9 piece of work looks like or how an A* essay should be structured.
5. Challenging and inclusive questioning - I pride myself on the fact that in every lesson observation I have ever had, the observer has made positive reference to how I question. I have led sessions for staff on improving open-ended questions, bounce questioning (leading one question onto another), never letting up on a student (this is one of my favourite things to do especially when a students says they don't know!). For me, one of the best tools for self-paced, thought-provoking and challenging questions is EdPuzzle, which allows students to engage with videos and learn lessons as they go. Teachers can even give live feedback to incorrect or incomplete answers from individual students. This really is a powerful tool. I have included a link to an EdPuzzle video I created for a Year 7 lesson on Sikhism, using a TrueTube video Holy Cribs: The Gurdwara and adding my own questions for students.
6. Regular progress checks - This has never been more prominent in assessing the success of a lesson - how often do we check that all students are learning and then use this 'data' to realign our teaching? Oftentimes, we feel like we should plough through a lesson (especially when we are being watched) but a quick check of learning would show that many of our students haven't grasped foundational aspects which will lead to long-term underachievement or lack of understanding/disruptive behaviour. Google Forms, Quizlet, Kahoots are all good ways to check progress within a lesson. However, I really like the idea of using Twitter as a measuring tool and also a promotional tool for your learning. Why not ask the students to tweet what they have learnt or even make a little Ditty to make it even more creative?
7. Strategic, personalised support for all - support & need - there is an increasing demand on teachers to ensure that how they deliver is tailored to the needs of the children in front of them, especially in terms of additional needs and challenge for the most able. In an era of mastery and life-without-levels, we need to find strategic ways to support all students. This is why I am an advocate of tools that help with self-paced learning. Hegarty Maths is one such tool which identifies areas of need in mathematics and offers bespoke lessons and tests in a digital format. Another new solution to this challenge is Learning By Questions. Both of these tools help with keeping the learning focused on the students not the teacher. It is also worth noting that EdPuzzle and Google Classroom (setting tasks for groups of students rather than whole classes) can be used for this purpose too.
8. Regular marking and feedback - instant where possible, linked to 'fix it' time - the research tells us categorically that regular feedback as quickly as possible is one of the most effective factors in student achievement. I have already mentioned Google Classroom a number of times for this and I don't think you need to go much further than this to find meaningful and immediate feedback that can improve student learning. The ability for teachers (and student peers) to correct misconceptions before they 'sink in' and extend learning - they are unbelievably powerful. That notwithstanding, sometimes there is need for sitting down and marking batches of work. If so, using Google Keep notepads, when students submit work electronically, will save you hours of repetitive comments. Don't forget that rewards tools like Class Dojo are also good ways to offer instant feedback.
9. Opportunities to summarise learning and see what's next - finally, I believe a firm consolidation or plenary is vital to a consistently outstanding classroom. Using Google Forms as an exit ticket will go a long way to gathering data that will explain whether the students have 'got it'. This data is useless unless it is then used to inform teaching going forwards, something Andy Griffith refers to as the 'pre-mortem' - assessment must always inform planning and you must always weave in opportunities for re-teaching. Intrinsically linked to this is the ability to see what is coming next. Why not encourage your students to find YouTube channels which explain the concepts in greater depth? I was blown away when one of my Year 13 students discussed Crash Course Philosophy - this amazing resource for A-Level RS (and they have options for other subjects too) was truly a God-send (no pun intended!) and helped to take the learning to the next level, even outside the classroom.
I hope this has helped somewhat in seeing how non-negotiables in the classroom can be enhanced by using technology solutions but I am absolutely aware and advocate this wherever possible - the tech is not the answer. If it's better on paper or the tech doesn't work, keep it simple. Don't reinvent the wheel if it still rolls effectively and efficiently; only change it if it needs changing.
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