iPads for Learning… keeping the emphasis where it ought to be

This week, we hosted a European delegation (mainly from Germany and Belgium) of teachers and educators (and a few Apple education resellers), who wanted to come in and have a look at what we are doing with iPads: we are now 18 months into our whole-school 1:1 deployment of iPads, and things are ticking over very nicely.

Neil Henderson (Deputy Head and all-round iPad guru) had done a great job of organising their time to give the delegates some time touring classrooms, some time interacting with apps themselves (led by Neil, showing examples of workflow and some of the potential that iPads offer), as well as touching on our model for financing and some of the technical considerations (ably assisted by Nick Carpenter, our Network Manager, who has been instrumental in making the scheme work).

Neil asked me if I would talk very briefly about iPads from a Learning and Teaching point of view, and the opportunity to do so got me thinking about what the message should be, given the limited time frame in which to convey it…

Back when we first started discussing the idea of a 1:1 deployment in 2013-14 (having already had a few class-sets, the use of which had hinted at their potential, but which was always limited by the fact that students couldn’t keep them and maintain them as their own, limiting the ease with which work was stored by individuals), one of my concerns was whether or not we, as a staff, were ‘ready for them’: did we have a sufficient number of staff with a sufficiently developed level of genuine expertise (in terms of learning and teaching, not necessarily technical know-how) to be able to exploit the potential of the technology in a genuinely transformative way (as opposed to simply using them for quick gimmicks and as a way of saving on photocopying)? I was unsure. Moreover, I wasn’t convinced that we had a sufficiently well-developed approach to professional development…

Back in May 2014, when the roll-out started (to staff, initially, ahead of a September 2014 roll-out to the first year group of students), I happened to read this article by Alistair Smith (@alatalite), in which he states that;

To start with technology and ignore the learning landscape is to invite disaster.

On first reading, it resonated with the concerns I had. However, at the same time as I was mulling over this important message I was, in my previous role before taking on L&T, becoming increasingly involved in carrying out lesson visits/ tours across the wider school, and for the first time felt I was starting to develop an accurate picture of where we were as a staff: we had the expertise in more than just ‘small pockets’ (though it wasn’t well recognised and shared and utilised to drive the school forward) and, more than that, we had a great deal of untapped potential which we simply had to harness, irrespective of whether we wanted to roll-out the iPad scheme…

In the absence, at that point, of any clear, shared whole-school vision in terms of L&T, maybe we could use the introduction of the technology as a trigger to stimulate something special for learning and teaching? Maybe introducing the technology could be a vehicle for getting learning and teaching back on the agenda? Maybe, with care, we could attend to the learning landscape using the technology as a lever?

We are still on that journey but there is no doubt in my mind that it has paid off, particularly since the launch of the new L&T agenda this academic year (the number one priority on the School Development Plan).

Slide2And so, rivisiting Alistair’s article, this is where I decided to start with the delegates: yes there are some great benefits of using a tool like the iPad: for instant AfL, to enhance/ facilitate feedback (teacher-teacher, student-teacher, student-student), for rapid access to a range of resources, for collaboration (student/teacher/peer), for construction (and co-construction!) of rich content, for differentiation and personalisation, for modelling, for flipped learning, to increase engagement and interaction… But none of these are the preserve of the iPad. Not one of them is an exclusive feature attributable solely to an iPad, or any other tablet technology. This is, first and foremost, a list of learning methodologies, and these must be the starting point.

If you or the staff in your school are starting with the questions ‘what apps are there for science?’ or ‘what apps are there for geography?’, then you are looking in the wrong place. There will, of course, be a periodic table app. There will, of course, be an app that allows students to interrogate maps (that’s bascially what they do in geography, right?). But these are one-off resources that are probably useful in a handful of lessons a year. Think instead about what you want to achieve in terms of assessment and feedback, then look at how the interconnectivity of the iPad can facilitate and enhance this. Think instead about what you want to achieve in terms of personalising the learning of individuals, then look at how the tools can make this possible.

Early on in our roll-out, there had to be training on ‘let’s look at how this app works’, and we had to do this for a lot of apps, and we continue to have to do this on occasion. But the emphasis now can come from point of view of the learning, not the technology: ‘let’s look at this particular learning methodology, why it works, the research/ theoretical underpinning, and then let’s see how the iPad can enhance (or even transform) the methodology in some tangible way’ (see this post about a recent twilight carousel for some idea of how we are working on this at the moment)

At least, that’s what’s working for us……….


…and then, just as I add the final touches to my post, moments before clicking ‘publish’, this pops up in my twitter feed…

The essence of my entire post summed up in less than 140 characters… probably could have saved myself the time and just published the tweet alone!

Twilight INSET 24/11/15 – Pt.2 L&T Carousel


The second part of this evening’s twilight was a carousel. Staff opted (prior to the afternoon) for 2x20minute sessions. Aside from the questioning session (led by Gabby Veglio, our Yr9 Year Leader and Numeracy Coordinator), the other sessions all had an iPad focus to them, part of our ongoing drive to ensure staff are supported with siezing opportunities to enhance learning using the iPads.

The sessions which show-cased socrative, nearpod, post-its and padlet were intended to be exactly that: a show-case of what the apps can do rather than necessarily how to go about setting them up (where is the incentive to go away and play with them if you haven’t first seen some of the reasons to have a play?!)

The sessions were followed-up with the opportunity for staff to come along to our iPad workshop on Thursday afternoons, hosted by Neil Henderson (one of our Deputy Heads and all-round iPad guru) and myself, to assist staff who now needed a little help working out how to actually incorporate these apps into their own classroom practice.

iPad workshop

Twilight INSET 24/11/15 – Pt.1 Professional Learning Projects

Having previously read a little bit about the idea of teacher learning communities in Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam, and subsequently read more here and elsewhere about collaborative models of professional development, a session led by @swhsleadership at the SSAT Leading Edge Annual Leadership Conference back in October was the final kick I needed in order to look at how we move forward with the idea.

The goal is to have ‘fully-fledged’ teacher learning communities (or whatever we end up calling them) in place for the end of the academic year, ready for them to form the backbone of our professional development programme next year (2016-17). The Professional Learning Projects was a way to collectively dip our toes in the water and get a sense of how they might work for us.

And so we started this evening’s INSET with a short briefing, all teaching staff together, to formally introduce the Professional Learning Projects…PLP header

Prior to the twilight, staff were given a brief sense of how the projects would work and were asked to express their top three preferences from a list of options:PLP choices

The opening 5 minutes was then a chance to make sure all staff were clear on why we were doing this and what we were hoping it would achieve.

Slide1It was a good opportunity to make it clear to staff that this is intended as a move away from stand-alone INSET sessions (not an abandonment of the stand-alones, but a re-prioritisation!) towards a longer-term, ongoing model in which the expertise of our own staff is valued, a forum is provided for discussion and sharing of ideas, choice and support is provided for staff in terms of their own individual areas of interest, and staff are given chance to experiment, take risks and learn from it all. No small ambition!

The general process, irrespective of which particular project group staff opted for, will be similar: Slide2

      1. A reflection stage, involving pooling of ideas and consideration of some carefully selected reading/ research literature that group leaders had assembled beforehand
      2. Moving to action, forcing teachers to make their ideas and intentions more concrete. Staff were encouraged to focus on a small number of changes, spelling out specific changes in teaching practice and time-frame, identifying some aspect of their approach to pedagogy/ classroom practice that will be done differentely/ additionally/ less/ not at all.
      3. Planning for reflection/ review – what was effective? how do you know? what next?

Having had a number of staff express interest over the last couple of months in structured peer observations, this also presents an opportunity to make peer obs part of the development programme, possibly by using a peer observer to help identify impact.

From there, it was off into the project groups (ranging from 5 people up to 16 people) to get cracking… more to follow in the coming months!

The support materials for the individual project sessions looked like this…

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INSET Day 7/10/15

INSET Day  07-10-15 focus The brief opening slot of today’s INSET provided an opportunity to set out some of the priority areas for the coming year: the inextricably linked ideas of shared success criteria, effective assessment and students knowing how to improve…

Prior to the INSET day, everyone was organised into groups of about 8 staff (to ensure staff were working in groups containing a range of subjects/ experiences/ characters) and an email went out with the subject ‘Important information for the INSET day (worth flagging)…

The body of the email repeated the hint: ‘You might like to flag this email ahead of tomorrow’s INSET… (and yes, it will help your team stake their claim on a prize)‘ and then provided a piece of information (each group had a different email, though they didn’t know this and nor did they know who was in what group… a sure way to create some intrigue in the staff room in the days leading up to the INSET! A nice way to get people talking about the INSET day in positive terms before it has even happened!)

Examples of the sort of information each group was given included:

Your population is 15.74 million, you produce most of the balsa wood in the world, and your capital city is Quito.

Your population is 8.098 million, public performances of your national anthem usually only involve the final verse and chorus, and your capital city is Tegucigalpa.

Your population is 22.92 million, you have 143,700 landlines in use, and your capital city is Antananarivo.

And so on for 13 different groups. The only bit that anyone needed to think about was the capital city, but the random facts added to the intrigue! Most staff googled the country, but not all had then taken the hint to look at the flag for their country!

running out of retort stands in the lab!

Watching staff run around the school hall (flight of the bumblebee blaring out) trying to work out which flag was theirs, shouting at each other for help in order to be able to start the first challenge (and win themselves a breakfast hamper of croissant, pain au chocolat and juice to consume during the rest of the morning!) was a great way to start the morning. The first challenge was a L&T Tarsia (if you haven’t discovered Tarsia, you’re missing out! Free, easy to use, kids love it)

And so to business…

INSET Day  07-10-15

First we took a look at some of the research headlines to provide some context for the decision to place some emphasis on the three specific areas of our Challoner 10 over the coming months.

INSET Day  07-10-15 research



This, combined with the fact that we have a new assessment and feedback policy in place this year which we are seeking to develop and embed, provides good justification for taking some time to think about these three areas!


Terminology and general rationale…

I started by suggesting that it doesn’t matter a great deal whether we call them objectives, outcomes, success criteria, aims, WALTs, WILFs,  etc. Rather, what matters is that we have a shared conception of the ideas, why they are arguably important, and how we might use them effectively. Given the seeming preference within the research literature (and my own personal preference for what I think is greater clarity than objectives/outcomes), I framed the session (and continue to frame my conversations with colleagues) using Learning Intentions and Success Criteria.

Learning Intentions & Success Criteria


Having explored, in groups and as a whole staff, what Learning Intentions and Success Criteria can be/ should be, we focussed our attention specifically on Success Criteria. The full slides from the session can be seen below, but the focus of much of the discussion was on the importance of students being able to operationalise and internalise the success criteria, through modelling and assessement (of various sorts). Unfortunately, there was little time left to really get into the value of modelling and some particular strategies for how to go about using modelling and collaborative assessment, but this is certainly something we’ll come back to… (in the meantime, check out this post over at ClassTeaching)


And here is a nice little video from John Hattie…


Full session slides below…

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