Teacher Driven? Ambition in E-Learning and Engagement

This is the last post I’ll make about the really excellent SSAT conference I attended a week ago on “Raising achievement through embedding learning technologies”. At this conference I met some really interesting people and heard some enthusiastic and engaging discussions on now to improve learning through the use of technology.

Several of the talks got me thinking about what drives innovation and high standards in schools.  As I was listening to these inspiring people I thought of the SSAT (this site is not sponsored by the SSAT by the way, its just that quite a lot of their stuff is pretty good!) DVD on Embedding Formative Assessment.  Dylan Wiliam, who appears in several videos on the DVD,  explains that by and large you do well if you’re in a classroom where the teacher is working well, that the an important factor in differences in attainment between pupils is the teacher who teaches them.

This seemed to ring true for me whilst listening to Mark Richardson (who I’ve already posted about), who saw making films as a way of helping his students to learn (and not just something cool to do with technology), and for Mark Clarkson, who spoke about helping teachers solve problems and change the way things work with pupils in their own classrooms.  Mark C gave us the example of using hand held PDAs loaded with books to encourage boys to read more.  Dominic Tester from Costello Technology college wants to go beyond the government / BECTA requirement for ‘online reporting’ to parents by 2010, driven by the need for the school to engage parents in the learning of their children.

The theme really struck with me I’ve posted before (ad infinitum) about having solutions imposed from above, and also spent hours on inset where I teach staff how to use various packages, and I’m not sure about the impact of either.  The examples above might help us explain why my hard work might have achieved less (so far!) than I might have hoped – they were all driven by the needs and the ambition of the teachers.

In order to help teachers drive innovation and improvement we need, yes to inspire them, but aslo to say ‘yes you can’ when they come to us with a need.  Most importantly though we need to start where they are.  The very nice man in charge of the whole day, Paul Hynes, programme leader for new tech at the SSAT, held up a NCSL hierarchy of activities using ICT.  You have probably seen it, it’s by Martin Blows (2005) and shows a latter of increasing engagement and deeper learning.  Blow’s argument is that the further away one gets from ‘exchange’ (swapping traditional practices with ICT), and the nearer to ’empower’ (empowering learners to take control of their own learning), the better.

Broadly I think I agree.  However, what the conference last week taught me (amongst many other things) is that we have to start where the teachers are right now.  Exchange is a great place to start, with the ambition of moving further as soon as we’re able.  It also seems to me that exhange can sometimes also be empowering, because some traditional practices are themselves very effective in empowering learners to take control of their learning.   As an example I’d like to humbly offer my prototype google docs form which attempts to assess pupil’s attitudes to the learning that they’ve just done, and to find out what they’re planning to do next.

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