Questioning our Questioning!

Answering Questions

My school has done a lot of work in developing questioning skills to support teaching and learning. The idea of “fat” and “skinny”/open and closed questions has been emphasised in student research projects and discussion building. “Enabling” and “extending” prompts is our current focus in Mathematics differentiation in particular to cater for the needs of the wide spectrum of skill levels.

One aspect we haven’t covered enough as a school that I have always seen as an area for improvement is how teachers elicit responses from the students themselves during lessons. This is something I always emphasize in my role as a mentor for graduate teachers. One of the easiest traps to fall into as a teacher is assuming your lesson has been effective because there was ‘lots of discussion’ and ‘student participation’. The students “seemed to understand because all of my questions were answered.” However, through closer scrutiny, this usually translates into ” the top 10 smart kids/teacher pleasers answered all the questions while the rest added to their doodle collection or planned their lunchtime activities while staring at the oval out the window.”

Targeted questioning addresses this issue in different ways. I model to my graduate teachers the art of catching students, especially the reluctant participants, understanding something during the lesson. I then ask a question directly to those students, knowing they can answer the question. This builds their self esteem because they are prepared for the answer and encourages further participation.

In preparing lessons for Literacy using the “Reading to Learn” program/strategy, one of the key factors for success is creating differentiated questions that involve all students in the discussion and comprehension of the text being explored. For the less able readers, prompts are prepared to direct them to specific sections of the text while extension questions encourage the higher achievers to share their knowledge to support the comprehension of others. This kind of targeted questioning enables full class participation. The fact that students know that a question will be directed personally at them rather than the ‘get out’ clause of ‘hands up who wants to answer’ places expectations on them to follow the text and think about a response at all times.

And then there is this YouTube video I’ve just come across thanks to my good buddy Zite. This takes targeted questioning to another level. Created by Jim Smith, a teacher for Derbyshire, England, it explains a process for planning a structured approach to asking your students questions. Without going into too much detail ( Jim’s gone to the effort of making the video to explain it, after all!), it involves knowing your students’ capabilities and preparing questions geared for different levels of understanding on the topic you are teaching. Then it comes down to knowing which students to direct the questions at.

It’s a form of differentiation we as a school are becoming more familiar with but the process Jim goes through is, for me anyway, quite effective and should be of great benefit in any classroom. Initially, it would take quite a bit of preparation, but if we aren’t going to use questions effectively to target student needs, preparation is necessary. This looks to be a good process to follow. Here’s the video. Feel free to share your opinion.

5 Factors to Real Change

Scanning Twitter feeds today, I came across a Chart showing the 5 factors needed for Successful Change. After a bit of research, I linked it back to “The Art of Leadership” by Manning and Curtis (Manning, George, and Kent Curtis. “Part 2 – The Power of Vision.” The Art of Leadership. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2003. 56-66. Print.) Below is the relevant excerpt of the book courtesy of Google Books.


This is my version of the Change Chart

While I recall seeing this years ago, it comes as a timely reminder to all involved in massive change that is expected in schools today. It is quite confronting viewing this chart and reflecting on what is needed for REAL, long lasting change to take place. Schools are always clear on the need for a Vision. Of course that vision needs to be clear, committed and shared by all stakeholders in a school, including parents and students. It’s why we have so many surveys asking for their opinions on curriculum. If we as teachers embrace a particular curriculum change but it is not supported at home, then it makes teaching and learning difficult, when children are getting mixed message from home and school.

Skills need to be developed for change to take place or teachers can’t implement the changes required. Professional Development that makes a difference and available to all staff is vital. School communities need to see a final result that is going to lead to improved teaching and learning outcomes. This is how I define Incentive in the School Change setting. If we don’t access the required Resources to implement the change envisaged in the School’s Vision, it won’t occur. All the good intentions in the world are no substitute for the actual staffing, equipment and training required. Finally, a clear Action Plan is required to make it all happen. Change takes time. Time needs to be managed. Management requires planning.

Looking at these 5 factors in their totality, it is not surprising that real change in Educational Technology is so difficult. Too often, we put the Resources in place without the Skills to use them. We jump on the latest tool or idea without planning how it can be implemented effectively. We put together a wish list of short term plans but lack a Vision for the final result. And so often, we fail to articulate how it is actually going to help/improve the teaching and learning in the classroom and result in better outcomes, failing to provide an incentive to change current practices.

And the result? Frustrated, anxious teachers who struggle to learn the skills required and don’t see how it is going to improve their teaching and the student’s learning. At a system level, we pump money into resources for short term gain but then run out of money to maintain resources before teachers are ready to take advantage of them after decent training based on a purposeful action plan. We then hop back on the treadmill and chase the next change without actually ever reaching the goal our vision sets.

IF we are ever going to really fulfil the vision of all those wonderful orators who inspire us at conferences, on blogs and online TEDTalks, we need to consider all these factors. Educational Technology has been floating around school for a over quarter of a century. Sometimes we seem no closer to the Holy Grail of learning change than when those first Apple IIs were rolled out  all those years ago.

School Shared iPad User Policies – a Necessity or Overkill? (used and adapted under CC licence)

In 2011, our iPad program began with 15 trial iPads given out to willing teachers and school leaders prepared to test out their usefulness.

In 2012, 35 iPads were divided up into five sets of 7 and shared between the 27 classes at our school.

Now, in 2013, Phase 3 begins with further purchases enabling us to put together sets of 14 iPads for EACH Grade Level ( 4 classes in each). With greater and more regular ( and unregulated) use across the school, I’ve begun to consider what policies/procedures/practices to put in place to enable a successful implementation of iPads across the school.

Last year’s setup had its limitations. All of the iPads were centrally stored in my office in a secure, locked cupboard. This was great for the 5/6 classes who lived with me but a pain for some grades who have to travel 100 metres to find them and carry the tray(s) across, sometimes with weather as an issue. It was an unfortunate necessity as we wanted everyone to have equitable access to the number they wanted rather than spreading them thinly across all classrooms.

This year, with the Grade levels having their own sets of iPads, they are now to be stored locally in their area. Great for them, but security, level of care and monitoring become an issue. I don’t want to be concerned, but at times last year iPads were returned with cables and covers in a sorry state – and that was with me seeing them at the end of each day. Out of sight but not out of mind, I want procedures in place to ensure staff and students look after them responsibly.

I also want to monitor their use. I know this is probably seen as overkill by some but it has its reasons. The introduction of the iPad across the school is different to how we have accessed desktop and laptop computers in the past. Because of this, I want to be able to assess the implementation and use of the iPad for future planning and use. Like everything in schools today, data is required. Therefore, the monitoring system comes in to play.

So this is how I plan to implement the program this year. I would really appreciate feedback from other co-ordinators of iPad programs at their schools or districts. Is it overkill or a necessity? Let me know what you think.


Similar to last year, class teachers or teams will need to record when they are going to use the iPads and for what purpose ( or what apps were used). This should be a simpler task this year as teachers will only be negotiating with their own team rather than all 28 classroom teachers. This means it can all be sorted out at team planning rather than worrying about clashing or double booking with other year levels.

The booking will be done on a shared Google Spreadsheet. If the team decides they want to have a chart on the wall to make bookings more visible and easily accessed that will be their call but at the end of the day, I still expect a team member, possibly the ICT team member of the year level to record all details on the Google Spreadsheet. What I need all to understand is that I want to be able to evaluate the level of use the iPads are getting at each Grade level and what apps are being used regularly so that future decisions can be made about further app or iPad purchases. It’s not a matter of ‘checking up’ on individuals or teams. It’s a way of collecting data that can inform me on who may need more PD in using the iPads or which apps I have spent money on have been worth the cost based on use. Now that the iPads are linked to Grades rather than the whole school, I can focus on purchasing apps specifically targetted at Grade level needs rather than installing a large number of a particular app on all iPads and then not being used. This should save money in the long run.

The Spreadsheet will also include a list of the Apps installed at the level as well as sheet for recording a Wish List of apps or purposes. Teachers and students will be able to browse the App Store on the iPads ( but not purchase ).Grades may be able to apportion a small percentage of their Year Level budget on apps specifically for them. This sheet will be an efficient way of informing me of what the grade wants.

If teachers want to borrow overnight, they can just write their name instead of Class name. An unforeseen problem caused by Configurator’s Supervise mode means that teachers will need to bring the iPad to me before they take it home if they want internet access at home. I have to disable the installed profile to allow the iPad to connect to a wifi network other than school’s and reinstall it the next day so that it will work at school.


A: I think it would be generally accepted that the use of Desktops and to a lesser extent Laptops at our school hasn’t changed too much over the years. Internet use (free but monitored for acceptable use), desktop publishing ( = Microsoft Office, included in our computer licensing agreements) some dabbling in programs like Pivot, Google SketchUp, Scratch and Inspiration and, more recently, free access to some web 2.o tools like blogging, Prezi and Glogster. Mostly free or established as part of the standard school computer set up, monitoring is not required.

The iPad changed the game ( sorry for the cliche!) It doesn’t sit on a desk with its limited use cases. It is isn’t restricted by the limited number of programs installed on them. It’s a camera, a movie maker, an audio recording device, a book, a mobile device of many uses. It offers new opportunities for teaching and learning that staff may or may not be aware of. Its going to be used in ways the desktop/laptop haven’t been and above all, it’s being shared. For these reasons, I want the system in place so teachers can plan for their new uses, so I can monitor how they’re being used and plan for support and PD to improve usage, and yes, so we know who is responsible for the iPads at a given time ( they’re more fragile, more difficult to pack up, so I want to monitor who has them if they are damaged. One iPad was broken last year ; I was able to trace the source immediately because I knew who had just used them. Full disclosure – it was actual my group!) We have a system for borrowing books, a system for borrowing Maths resources, a system for borrowing digital cameras, all items that are shared and limited… we can have a system for borrowing iPads.


My other big issue ( and maybe its because I’m a closet ‘control freak’) is insuring that the iPads are secure and stay in one piece. Laptop screens can break, keyboards and monitors can get knocked on the floor. iPads are just looking for trouble in their design. Entire faces made of glass, connections with fiddly pins ( we still have 35 iPad 2 connectors to contend with), ultra-portability that can sometimes mean users forget where it’s placed. On top of that is my cost cutting measuring to save money to get more iPads. No fancy charge and sync trolleys costing thousands at our school. Dish rack + powerboard + extension cord = iPad storage system Mr G style. Cheap, effective, easy to store – but easy to mess up, too. Tangled cords, shifting iPads, heavy to carry for some -there have been issues. My neighbouring Grade 6 Teachers and I spent more than a few days tidying up after iPad trays returned from some grades. So we need to be on top of all of this with some clear procedures and protocols. Check the cords are tied up, the iPads are placed correctly and in the right position, the cords aren’t bent or stuck under the iPad, apps are shut down, covers closed properly.

Security wise, teachers can’t afford to leave them laying in the open exposed to the view of others walking past their windows or open entrances. Each Grade level will be getting a lockable cupboard to store them when not in use. Not jsut at the end of the day but at recess and lunch time as well.

Last year was a starting point. This year is the beginning of the real thing. No more Mr G watching over the whole thing. The staff have what they asked for – more access, more responsibility, more iPads. Now its time to use them well.


Who should we consult about technology in our schools?

Thanks to edtech times for this infographic
From their website:

Nonprofit Project Tomorrow aims to make student voices heard in education. Speak Up, an initiative of Project Tomorrow, surveyed 294,399 students, 35,525 teachers, 42,267 parents, and others in fall 2010 to determine the benefits of certain types and uses of technology for teaching and learning. The results are depicted in the infographic below.


I think we can learn a lot from the results of this very extensive survey. On reflection, I wonder why we do things so differently to the rest of our society. Politicians, businesses, the entertainment industry, sports organisations spend up big on researching the stakeholders in their product or idea or policy. Education departments and schools too often make the mistake of deciding what is best without asking the real stakeholders in our system what their opinions are, often to the detriment of what follows.

What I really appreciate about this survey is that it focuses on ALL THREE ( I’m not including the bureaucratic side ) interested parties in education – Students, Parents and Teachers. While I haven’t seen the actual survey, this infographic suggests that in-depth questioning took place and the results encourage a lot of thinking about how we should go forward in planning for technology in schools. It also raises questions about what we as educators consider important as opposed to the parents and students think. Finally, it would also be interesting to conduct this same survey two years on in 2012, when the use of technology has accelerated so much, to see if there has been significant change in perceptions.

Student Responses
I found it interesting that the factors that scored highest involved independent activity. Students find tech beneficial in organizing their times, managing their own learning and working at their own pace. With the push towards student centered learning, this shows technology can contribute to the success of this learning strategy in the eyes of those that count – the students. It’s also an eye opener that well less than half of the students surveyed find tech as motivating or the key to easy success. This is a cautionary tale for those tech advocates ( me included ) who think that iPads, 1:1 programs and web tools are the answer to all engagement and learning problems. We need to balance our thirst for tech spending with reflection on multiple intelligences and learning styles research that stresses students have different preferences. Technology is not necessarily the answer for all students.

Another observation that comes to mind is that we have work to do on some of the skills we want to ingrain in the learning behaviors of our students. Collaboration and asking questions are important but the survey suggests our students are not necessarily using tech effectively for that, despite all the great collaborative, sharing, networking tools at our disposal. It brings home the point that its not enough to introduce Edmodo, Diigo, blogging and the like to the students and expect it to just happen. We have to work hard to show them how it will improve their learning. Obviously, we also need to do the same for teachers, parents and leadership as well.

Parents responses
I was particularly interested in this section of the infographic. Parents are often the last people we consult when we make decisions. They are often the first we get concerned about though when they start to question our decisions or pedagogies. Maybe we should communicate more with them and find out what they want. Then we can address the issues they raise and educate them in what we believe from our training and experience is best for their children.

What interested me most from the survey results in the infographic was the motivation behind the parent responses to what can help them assist their children in their learning. They want access to curriculum materials so they can support their kids. How often have we heard ” I can’t help my son because you do it differently to when I was at school.”? Technology today gives us the perfect tool for sharing what we do in school with the parents. Blogs, social networking sites, video lessons ( only 22% in this survey – before the flipping classroom boom – but it would be interesting to find out what the interest would be now ), online newsletters are practical ways to communicate how we teach the students in a contemporary classroom.

It’s encouraging to see such large percentages of parents wanting regular updates and viewing of children’s work. They don’t want to wait for reports or interviews or portfolios to come home at the end of term. They want technology to provide them access. This is a huge challenge for us as schools as we are not used to parents seeing the students work before its “ready”. There needs to be a shift in thinking about what this access to students work will entail. Parent and teacher education ( and students too) will be needed so there isn’t a misunderstanding of the difference between work in progress and published work. Technology has the potential to allow for real partnerships between all the stakeholders in a child’s education. From this survey parents want to be a part of it. We just need to make sure we get the balance right in the partnership.

Another fascinating tidbit from the infographic was the response to purchasing tech for students to use at school. Without knowing the demographics of the survey, it’s enlightening to see such a large percentage of parents willing to buy mobile devices for their children to use AT SCHOOL. It raises the weighty issue of BYOD ( bring your own device ) programs in schools. To me, this suggests there needs to be serious discussion between school and parents about the prospects rather than just dismissing the idea. Of course, just because parents might think it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it is. Many parents aren’t necessarily in control of the tech use of their children and don’t understand the pitfalls of such a program. Again, it means Parent Education in responsible digital citizenship, their responsibilities and how they can support their children will be needed but if they are prepared to make the commitment the discussion needs to be had.

Teacher/Student responses
Some telling observations can be made from the results in this part of the infographic.
First, it is apparent that digital literacy is not clear to either teacher or students in some cases, particularly in analyzing, interpreting and detecting bias in media stories. It suggests we need to have a conversation about new Literacies with our teachers and why technology has an important role to play in this.

Not surprisingly, students don’t place importance on checking their sources. This is a big part of digital literacy – the more children are using the Internet for both research and presenting their findings in a public forum, the more we have to change their behavior. They are exposed to so much info in such easily accessible and unchecked ways, we have to place importance on convincing them this is important. We think of them as ‘digital natives’ but they’re still not skilled in the nuances of its use. We have to consult teachers, parents and the students themselves in this area.

One final observation here is the low percentage for producing digital media reports from both teachers and students. Again, a lot has changed in the last two years since this survey in the proliferation of web tools in schools. Nevertheless, less than one in three teachers and only 40% of students thinking digital publishing is important is interesting to consider. This is one area I would really like to investigate at the local level before making massive investments in technology.

Final thoughts
It seems to be accepted that we need to invest in technology on a large scale to prepare our students for the tech rich world they are going to be living in. Before making this investment though, it seems to me we need to make sure we consult with everyone involved. A lot of time, effort and most of all money can be wasted if we don’t find out what our clientele wants. That’s teachers, students and parents. Decision makers need to consider all stakeholders. When you look at the numbers of people involved in this survey, its hard to ignore the importance of the responses received. I would love schools to conduct a similar survey to find out what everyone involved thinks. It would allow for considered decisions to be made rather than hasty purchases. What do you think?

Tailor Made ICT PD for Staff

Sometimes we need support getting to ICT heaven!

In an earlier post on Teacher Technology PD, I mentioned 5 key ingredients to support the important development of Educational Technology in schools.

  1. PLTs dedicated to Technology integration into our teaching practices
  2. A constant focus on Technology throughout lesson and unit planning
  3. A restructuring of the role of ICT Leaders/teachers in schools
  4. A greater focus on Technology in Teacher Training programs
  5. A commitment to Technology Professional Development courses on an equal footing with Literacy and Numeracy Projects.
Obviously, I have no influence over the last two points, which are system wide initiatives. It is the first three that we can make a difference at individual school, and possibly, district level. In another post, I reflected on my dreams for this year in ICT at school.
  • Collaborative, ‘always on’ staff communication. In short, I dream of school system wide adoption of Edmodo, GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Diigo.
  • We have the hardware, let’s ALL use it. In short, PD has to be regular, consistent, continuous, collaborative, hands on and purposeful (linked to teaching and learning practice)
  • Student-led ICT development and  improvement. In short, establish an energising, active and supportive Student ICT Leadership team dedicated to the ongoing adoption and growth of ICT in our school
At the time, I thought they were great ideas that were unlikely to be implemented but we’ve made some real progress at the leadership level since then and I am really excited about the upcoming term at school. A commitment to ICT PD  for 2012 has been made and several initiatives are on track.


As part of our Contemporary Teaching and Learning Project, each Grade Level has taken on a project to trial and implement new learning and teaching techniques. A couple of teams have chosen ICT as a focus. This means a number of PLT sessions and extra planning time will be dedicated to planning for ICT at the classroom level. One team has chosen Web 2.0 tools and have already had a session with the ICT team to discuss their options.


What was exciting was that in that initial session, we quickly moved into a discussion about how the ICT can be used to improve learning. We discussed possible uses within the Grade Curriculum and finished the session with a clear plan for what we wanted to do. This is what I meant when I said staff meetings couldn’t meet the needs of individuals or specific teams, The level of professional educational discussion we had would never happen at a whole school meeting. Within this PLT environment, individuals were able to open address their strengths and weaknesses, set goals for themselves ( within the group were early adopters willing to try anything and self professed technophobes who had a great desire to improve and use ICT effectively but didn’t know how to start.). By the end of the session, they had a chance to explore some tools we had discussed could address the educational outcomes we had developed and are ready to go next term.


Encouragingly, ICT has also found a place in the PLT timetable. Teachers also communicated in the survey mentioned below a desire for sections of Curriculum Planning/PLTs to be dedicated to ICT integration with input from ICT team members who can attend for short amounts of time. This will require communication of planning focus so ICT team members can come prepared to contribute effectively.


Outside of the PLT/Planning, we agreed upon the need for further training in specific Web Tools, ICT usage and iPads/iPod Touches/Interactive Whiteboards. Again, we identified that there was a need for more than the occasional staff meeting or relying on teachers to train themselves. With less involvement in actual classroom teaching this year, I offered to take on a role in developing targeted PD for the teachers. I wanted it to address their needs so I sent out an online survey to identify what the teachers wanted. I also linked the survey to a page that outlined what each PD area would involve. From the survey, I was able to identify key areas the staff were interested in. The main areas were Blogging, iPad/iPod Touch, Assessment, Edmodo, Web 2. 0 tools and Special Needs and ICT. A majority of staff were willing to commit to at least fortnightly sessions and many to weekly. I’m now in the process of sorting through the survey data to plan the sessions, ensuring I cover everyone’s needs and time commitments. I have also started to develop a separate blog ( not live yet but will link later) that will provide information about each session, tutorials from the Web and a space for staff to ask questions and provide feedback. It’ going to be a lot of work but I’m excited, especially that some staff members have also offered to lead some sessions themselves.


On top of that, I’m also genuinely excited that Leadership is making a commitment to take on ICT more proactively. We will be including sessions in our meetings to develop awareness of the tools as well as attending the PD sessions with the staff. It was recognised that as leaders of curriculum areas, we need to have sufficient knowledge of how ICT can have an impact in our expert areas. We have made an initial commitment to forming a group on Edmodo and exploring how that can enhance our communication as a Leadership team.


Finally, the ICT leader and I have finally met with the Grade 6 Student ICT Leadership Team. It was an interesting beginning. They started out rather cautiously and predictably talked about having competitions for ICT products as their main goals. They seemed very unsure what their purpose was because it was the first time we had formed an ICT team and previous Student Leadership groups had been more involved in organising events than making real change. Gradually though, we managed to get them talking about their desire to learn new ICT tools and wanting to teach others. They started identifying purposes rather than tools, which was a great step to take in the space of a single meeting. Suddenly promoting the school, collaborating, creating content, blogging, website development and the like started springing from their minds. We also got a good commitment from the vast majority of the team to give up some of their lunchtimes to achieve these aims. It’s early days but I think there is great potential in this group for real change led by the students.


So what started as a pipe dream at the start of the year has become a reality. Hopefully we can maintain the commitment throughout the year and notice a real change by year’s end. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from others how they have taken on the responsibility of building capacity in their schools. Join the conversation.

When it comes to Technology, teachers need as much scaffolding as students

Teachers' Technology Inservice.

As teachers, we have come to learn over the years that we should never expect our students to fully understand a new idea without some form of structured support framework, or scaffolding as the current buzzword defines it. If we want them to solve a problem, we tend to provide them with a range of strategies and tools to assist them. Before writing a persuasive text, teachers present a text framework and spend time developing the language structures and features required. It’s common sense thinking that we need to help learners when exposing them to new experiences.

The same, of course, should be the case in supporting learning for our fellow teachers. From Literacy Co-ordinators to Mathematics Leaders, Education consultants to teacher mentors, it is accepted practice to take a methodical, measured approach to develop teacher capacity in any given curriculum area. With one glaring exception. For reasons that have no grounding in common sense or educational practicality, Technology is just thrown at us and expected to magically stick to us and develop. What actually happens is that it slides right off, repelled by the totally justified and expected reluctance of older teachers who trained as teachers before computers evolved beyond command lines or inexperienced teachers who are still getting their heads around making their challenging students stay in their seats. The lack of a systematic framework for developing teacher capacity and competency in teaching with technology is a massive black hole in Education today. We bandy around the term 21st Century learners every day at school but where is the plan for ensuring 21st century teaching and learning is taking place?

At the moment , I am reading the book, “Leading for Instructional Improvement – How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise” by Stephen Fink and Anneke Markholt. Chapter Eight begins by focusing on the idea of Reciprocal Accountability.

“Reciprocal Accountability simply means that if we are going to hold you accountable for something, we have an equal and commensurate responsibility to ensure you know how to do what we are expecting you to do (Elmore’ 2000; Resnick and Glennan, 2002). Practically speaking, this important concept means that accountability must go hand in hand with organizational capacity building with a specific focus on ensuring that teachers and leaders have the expertise necessary to ensure high achievement for all students. ” ( pg 221-2). It goes on to say that “teachers must know deeply each of their students as individual learners, differentiating their instruction accordingly so that each student meets the expected standard regardless of the student’s starting place……..the concept of reciprocal accountability provides the same useful lens to examine the relationship between teachers and principals…..Although principals don’t take the relationship between teachers and students for granted, they often fail to recognize the similar reciprocal nature of their roles with their own teachers.” ( pg 222)

This is particularly true when it comes to developing teacher skills in using and teaching with Technology. We can’t just hand over thousands of dollars of equipment and expect teachers to be accountable for the effective use of it if they don’t know how. So what do we do about it?

For me it comes down to these points.

  1. PLTs dedicated to Technology integration into our teaching practices
  2. A constant focus on Technology throughout lesson and unit planning
  3. A restructuring of the role of ICT Leaders/teachers in schools
  4. A greater focus on Technology in Teacher Training programs
  5. A commitment to Technology Professional Development courses on an equal footing with Literacy and Numeracy Projects.

Professional Learning Team Meetings (PLTs)

Justifiably so, many of a school’s PLT Meeting times are dedicated to Literacy and Numeracy. In the current educational climate, we have to ensure we are doing everything in our power to improve student outcomes in these areas. However, if the system is going to make genuine improvements in the use of Technology in our classrooms, school and department level leadership needs to commit to PLTs for this area of Teaching and Learning. Teachers need time to learn about new trends in Web 2.0 tools, read and discuss articles about educational technology, investigate how current and future technologies can enhance the learning in their classrooms. It’s one thing to run 20 minute “”Techie Brekkies”  before or after school or teacher organised TeachMeets on weekends  to introduce an app or a web tool to an interested group of teachers but for real educational change there has to be a place for “All in” meetings. These PLTs would challenge teachers to delve deeper into their thinking about how, why, when, how often and who with  Technology can be used in their lessons. Staff meetings alone only brush the surface as 30-40 adults add a single thought to the conversation. PLTs allow for the in depth scaffolding of what is needed.

Technology Focus in Planning

Technology will never be properly integrated into our daily classroom practice effectively without strategically planning for its application in our weekly learning experiences. I’m not talking about teachers booking in “computer time” for students to publish their work or planning for research on the internet. That’s been the default behaviour since computers came into our classroom. It’s not even about planning specific workshops involving tech tools. I’m talking about the systematic weekly planning  for tech integration in all subject areas – where applicable of course ( I’m not advocating blanket 24/7 inclusion of technology; that would be counter productive). This would be a natural follow up from earlier PLTs but it would also involve a school wide schema that would highlight areas to consider when planning.

For example,

  • How can we use collaboration in this task – so what ICT can support this?
  • How can we collect information from students for this activity – can I use online polls, a shared noticeboard, online forum?
  • What virtual manipulatives websites are available to support my Maths lesson?

Literacy and Numeracy Planning proformas would be almost universally expected in schools to assist planning. It’s time ICT had a planning structure as well.

The role of the ICT Leader/teacher

Pedagogically, the most important change that needs to take place if we are ever to truly embrace Technology systemically across education systems is the role of the ICT leader/teacher. While this is in no way the case in all schools, there is too much responsibility placed on the shoulders of the designated ICT teacher to teach the students how to use computers. In my experience, and again I’m not suggesting this happens everywhere, this has only led to a generation of students doing computer related projects in the ICT Lab and not making a link between the tools they used in there to their general work with the classroom teacher or at home. It made sense when computers first came into schools in the 80s and early 90s. The ICT teachers were often the only staff members who knew what to do and most schools only had the funds for a small number of computers to share. But its been 15-20 years since then and we still have Computer lessons once a week in some schools, despite the ubiquity of 1:1 computer/student ratios in many instances.

In my opinion, ICT leaders/teachers should serve the same role as Literacy and Numeracy Leaders. Instead of being release teachers showing students how to make a Powerpoint presentation while their teachers are planning with the Literacy Leader, the ICT Leader should be at planning as well, guiding the integration of Technology in the Literacy Lessons. The ICT Leader should be working with the teachers during lessons supporting the teachers and students, not working for them.

Teacher Training and Technology

When I started my teacher training back in the mid 1980s, we were still inserting floppies into Hard Drives to turn them on and the sum total of our computer experience was commanding a pixelated turtle to move around a black and white screen. Computer technology has certainly grown exponentially since then but sadly, teacher training in its use has not. As an experienced teacher with a well rounded knowledge of both the technology and the pedagogical knowledge to go with it, I want to see a change in the level of knowledge and awareness of ICT tools in the new teachers coming into schools. This is in no way a criticism of the teachers themselves. Indeed many do come with their own self taught knowledge of Technology, just as I have relied on my own initiative to become the “tech guru” I am today. It is a critique of Teacher Training Programs at universities. Now again, I fully understand that we need to ensure teachers are prepared to improve students’ literacy and numeracy skills. That has been my main aim for 25 years. However, just like we can’t expect our students to truly learn the true power of technology through weekly ICT Lab lessons, nor can we expect graduate teachers to be any more TechEd-savvy if all they get is one semester of ICT 101. To improve the ICT in schools now, we need young teachers leading the change, supporting the more experienced teachers who missed out on the ICT training in their early days.

We talk about being Life Long Learners every day of the year in the Educational Community. Maybe our Professors and Lecturers who lack the requisite skills in ICT need to commit some of their vast experience, knowledge and skill to learning how they can integrate Technology Education into their own courses so that student teachers can develop an understanding and awareness of how ICT can be used across all curriculum areas. This is a huge challenge. It may be too late for our current crop of elder statesmen at University but at some stage if we are going to get serious about 21st Century Learning, this shift needs to take place.

Technology Professional Development Programs

Without blowing my own trumpet, I consider myself to be an expert teacher in all areas of the curriculum and have been for many years. And yet, it has been deemed necessary for me to be sent off to numerous PD Programs in Literacy, Numeracy, Religious Education, Inquiry and Health and PE, as have many of my colleagues. Don’t get me wrong, I have very much appreciated the investment and opportunities. There is no doubt  my fellow teachers and I have greatly expanded our repertoire of teaching skills as a result of these experiences. Again though, missing from these experiences was Technology PD. Not a problem for me as I have been able to educate myself in this area. Clearly this has not been the case for a large number of other teachers in the Educational Community.

Georgia Educational Technology Conference 2008

Governments have poured massive amounts of tax payer funded cash into schools and education system in general to build up access to ICT equipment. The lack of planning, though. has left out the far more important area of funding Professional Development. I see no purpose in handing $3 million over to a school to purchase equipment but spending no money on training the teachers how to use it. It goes back to my earlier quote about Reciprocal Accountability. Systems have funded 2 year PD courses for entire schools in Numeracy and Literacy, including visits to their schools by experts to support their improvement. All we get in ICT PD is an invitation to a 3 Day Conference run by a Technology company that the school has to pay for itself – and they’re not cheap. Now I was lucky to attend a day at one of these Conferences last year with a donated ticket. It was one of the most inspiring experiences of my teaching career and resulted in a massive shift in my thinking about ICT. I learned about Web tools I had never heard of that are now indispensable in my teaching. I’m writing this blog as a result of the conference. That’s not good enough for schools overall, though. As I’ve already discussed, gaining access to teachers to share my experiences through PLTs, planning or Staff Meetings is a big ask when school already have commitments to Literacy, Numeracy, Religious Education, and so on. We need more whole staff PD in Technology so everyone can develop, not just the chosen few.

Final thought

It’s not going to happen overnight. Real change doesn’t. But it has to happen soon. In the 90s I attended a conference on 21st Century Learning as we looked to the future of Education. We’re now into the second decade of that century and the system wide change hasn’t happened. If we don’t reassess our current practice, we’ll arrive in the 22nd Century still talking about it. I dont pretend it will be easy or I have all the answers. I want Literacy to improve and we need time for that. I want Numeracy to improve and we need even more time for that. Somehow, we need these two very important areas to improve alongside Technology so that we can work on all of them at the same time. We can’t expect the kids to get it without us. Sure they probably know how to use all this Web Stuff and apps better than us already but they still need us to show them how to use it to learn. Teachers need to know how to provide that support and we have to plan for it.

There’s no doubt I have overgeneralised in some of my criticisms and overstated some problems but it is how I feel. What do you think? Is your experience different? Better? What ideas for improving Technology do you have? What’s happened at your school or district or even country level? Would love to hear from you.

iPads can’t improve learning without good teaching Pt 2 – Writing

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at ( )

Writing and technology has been a controversial subject for many traditionalists in education. “Spell check stops children from learning to spell”. “All students do today is copy and paste from Wikipedia and Google searched articles.” ” Children need to handwrite all their drafts”. “William Shakespeare didn’t have a laptop” ( OK, i just threw that in for fun!) At the same time, of course, as a teacher I have been subjected to countless reports and stories typed in ridiculous unreadable coloured fonts, decorated with superfluous clip art and WordArt headings and thousands of “death by Powerpoints” unnecessarily printed out to hand up to me. 20 years of computers as a publishing tool has not necessarily improved the standard of students’ writing skills.

The key words in that last sentence are of course publishing and writing. For too long we have seen the computer purely as a publishing tool. For me, the computer is far more effective as a writing tool. I completely understand that in the early days of classroom tech, when we only had one or two computers at the back of the room, publishing was about as much as we could do. Today, though, as we move into Personalised Learning in the Age of Technology, it is time for us to break the shackles of traditional thinking regarding writing and technology. We can no longer afford to dwell on the negative impacts of spellcheck and copy/paste. Instead, let’s focus on the benefits.

Which leads me once more to the star of “Mr G Online”, the iPad. Again, though, the iPad will not have any impact on improving student writing if its use is not accompanied by innovative teaching backed by sound literacy principles and a change in attitude towards technology’s role in the writing process. If it just becomes yet another means of publishing student work, with new bells and whistles replacing WordArt,Clip Art and fancy borders, then we once again waste an opportunity for significant change in writing education.

I’ll preface this discussion by saying that many of my suggestions can certainly be carried out on laptops or indeed desktop computers. However, the touch interface and AV tools, coupled with the portability and personal experience you get from using the iPad, makes for simpler and more practical use.

What is writing?
Before trying to convince the doubters that the iPad can impact on student writing, we have to define what writing actually is.

A breakdown of genres, their processes and products

I’m not going to use some perfectly expressed term written by literacy professors to impress anyone. For me, the definition of writing is one word -communication, either with yourself or with others. We reflect in writing to help our thinking processes. We record in writing to keep information for later use. We write to persuade others to agree with us on a variety of issues. Many of us have stories to tell, either from real experiences or from the deep recesses of our imagination. Sometimes events and processes have to be explained. All of these examples are ways of communicating.

Now originally, communication was verbal. It was immediate, person to person or within groups. We eventually felt the need to communicate with others beyond our immediate area and left images, cave paintings, carvings, statues – our first multimedia experiences. At a later time, we decided we wanted to be clearer in our communication and began recording our every thought in written forms. With the invention of the printing press, we could share our ideas with a mass audience – the early, albeit very slow, World Wide Web. At the same time “a picture paints a thousand words” was being made apparent by the Renaissance artists, with their paintings sculptures and stain glass windows educating the illiterate of their societies. Eventually we found new ways to communicate; plays,music and songs, photography, film and television, until we finally created the computer in all its forms.

You may be wondering why you are reading a history of communication when you came here to learn something about writing and iPads. Bear with me a little longer. My point here is that as teachers we have to rediscover the purpose of writing as pure communication. We have to get past our obsession with the mechanics of writing, the perfect spelling,the beautifully crafted complex sentence with all the punctuation in the correct place and get children to communicate effectively, enjoying the experience and wanting to share what’s on their minds. This, finally, is where I think the iPad can have an influence, especially if we get the teaching part right.


The planning stage
Traditionally the planning stage of writing has been that bit at the start of the lesson when students were forced to write down their key ideas on paper, regimentally jotting down our Orientation, Complication and Resolution or ordering their arguments. Let’s take them on a far more inspiring and useful track using the iPad instead. This will involve teachers challenging their idea that we don’t use computers before the publishing stage.

Use Popplet to record ideas in separate blocks of ideas that can be rearranged in any order without the tedium of rewriting. Branch extensions of those ideas off the original using its mind mapping properties. Take snapshots with your iPad camera and import them into your Popplet to inspire your imagination visually. Pass the iPad around to fellow students or teachers and let them respond to your plan without the need to scribble over your handwritten notes. They can alter the order of your ideas with a simple drag and drop, or pop a quick note in.

Alternatively students could use Evernote or Notability in similar ways with the added bonus of audio recordings of thoughts and ideas they can use for their later writing. Students can import web clips of useful pictures, videos, information websites that support the research project they are compiling and have easy access to them when they start composing. They can use social bookmarking apps like Diigo, combined with the Diigo bookmarklet in Safari to collate links to websites related to their work.

Specific apps allow for effective and engaging planning. Comic Life or Strip Designer can be used to storyboard ideas. Toontastic’s user interface is designed around the planning structure of the narrative in which each scene is broken up into parts like setup, conflict and resolution. You can add your characters and backgrounds in as you go and revisit each scene to edit. It makes for an interactive planning experience while also providing the opportunity for good teaching to happen in developing story writing skills. What I hope it doesn’t become ( after necessary early experimenting) is a cute way of creating badly written stories. StoryPatch is another option for junior grades that allows for guidance in planning and creating stories through a visual interface.

This is a major shift in the way we have planned writing in the past and it will take a lot of good teaching to embed it into the practice of both students and teachers but I really believe we have to deepen the thinking at the planning stage beyond the dot point method. And yes I know they don’t have time to do this before a standardized writing test. But are we preparing them for 40 minute tests or instilling in them a lifelong love of writing?

The Composing/Editing stage
This is where in my experience the greatest shift has to take place. In my humble opinion, it is not good teaching to NOT use an iPad or computers in general as a composing and editing tool for writing. Get the ‘spell check is bad’ mentality out of your head and teach kids to reflect on the errors that spell check has picked up while they write. Using Spellboard, a spelling program app for the iPad, they can copy and paste their errors over to the app as they show up and store them for later work during spelling lessons in class. Far more effective than making a ton of errors that aren’t picked up until a teacher or spelling buddy corrects them. Reluctant writers are reluctant because they have to make so many changes to their handwritten writing and can’t be bothered rewriting the whole text all over again or writing a detailed text in the first place.

The iPad makes for a personal, “easy to edit and enhance” writing experience. If they only have to edit the errors and not rewrite everything, reluctant writers will be more willing to experiment and extend their writing. If they have easily accessible dictionary/thesaurus and other word study apps at their fingertips, all with search functions, then they can compose and edit far more easily, without flicking through pages and pages looking for a word. Teach students to take their time. Teach them to review their writing as they write. On the iPad ( or any other word processing device ), if they take their time, edit as they go, respond to feedback on sections ( not entire texts) using any word processing app on the iPad (not going to list them here)  the result will be more fluent, quality-driven writers.

Don’t bog them down with 19th/20th Century writing practices just because you’re more comfortable reading and correcting handwritten texts. I haven’t handwritten a text since I’ve had access to a computer. I’ve written over 30,000 words on blog posts in a month without putting pen to paper. And I’m not a super fast typist. The drawbacks of the iPad keyboard ( which I have used to compose about 90% of these blog posts) actually slows me down enough that I can just write and review without doing a stack of drafts.

The publishing stage
This is the easy part because this is traditionally what teachers have seen as the role of the computer, which the iPad is just the next version of. What I want to see happening is a variety of publishing media, beyond the old Word/Publisher/Powerpoint triad ( and not just because I’m anti-Microsoft!). Spielberg, Disney and Pixar haven’t published a novel between them but are probably the greatest story tellers of the last century. THere’s more to writing than the written word. Think beyond purely written text as publishing options.

Many of these apps also provide opportunities for increasing audience for writers as well, with their integration with online services. This is another incentive for increasing writing quality and desire.
Final thought
Of course, all of this is pointless if we don’t have teaching and learning strategies in place. The apps don’t create the text. But they do make teaching writing and writing  itself a better experience. Naturally, this all just my opinion. I have no Masters in Literacy as an authoritative stamp on this post. I have taught writing, though, for 25 years and written songs, stories, information texts, Maths programs and opinion pieces over that time. From experience, computers have made me a better writer. The iPad can take me to another level. As teachers of writing, we have to move into the new millenium. What do you think?

Planning for a new year in ICT – Can growth and change happen?

"It's about the teaching, not the technology" link

I love this comic. It sums up so succinctly the general state of technology in schools today. Over my 25 year teaching career, I have seen millions poured into resourcing schools with banks of computers, glittering new computer labs, trolleys of laptops, digital cameras, color laser printers, iPods and iPads, after hours presentations by technology companies, cupboards full of CD-ROMS and subscriptions /licenses for every imaginable whizz bang software solution.

The result of all this money can sometimes be a printed sheet of paper with Word Art heading and a colourful clip art image at the bottom – the 1990s version of a handwritten story with a stencil guided title and drawing from the 1950s. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve also seen wonderfully innovative teachers use these tools to develop real 21st Century skills in schools. Creative videos, 3D models, interactive slideshows, collaborative online forums, stop motion animations – they’ve all been done and done brilliantly. But they’ve been one offs, part of a technology unit or the result of the ICT or classroom teacher’s enthusiasm for the latest tool from a PD day she attended. Too often when the dust settles, and the student’s excitement levels wane, we all slip back into the routine of typing stories and making yet another PowerPoint presentation with those annoying transitions and text effects. And yes, I’ve been guilty of it as much as anyone in the past so don’t stress.

These reflections have come about as I begin the 2012 year as a newly ordained member of the Leadership Team. At our first meeting we were asked to go away and plan for what we wanted to achieve in our specific area of expertise which we will then present to our team by the end of the term. I’ll be working with out ICT leader on our hopes and dreams for Technology in school. We share the same concerns with the pace of integration and adoption of ICT in education today . We share the same vision of how Technology can impact on Contemporary Teaching and Learning. So in preparation for the upcoming meetings, I give you my hopes and dreams for ICT in schools ( in no particular order of priority or level of reality!)

Collaborative, ‘always on’ staff communication
I dream of a time when;

  • All staff can equally share their ideas for others to read, reflect and comment on at any time, before, during, after and between meetings
  • All staff have access to a shared calendar so that we can keep up to date on what is happening in our school community and plan events without fear of timetable clashes without waiting for the next memo to be emailed/printed or school website update
  • All staff have an opportunity to share newly discovered research, websites, Web tools, information and so on through an easily accessible, always up to date, collaborative environment.

In short, I dream of school system wide adoption of Edmodo, GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Diigo.

Diigo V5: Collect and Highlight, Then Remember! from diigobuzz on Vimeo.

We have the hardware, let’s ALL use it
I dream of a time when;

  • Every classroom has students standing in front of the interactive whiteboards and teachers sitting in front of them
  • Students have control of the use and creation of content on the whiteboard, not the teachers ( and not just when they are presenting their projects)
  • We have to rip the iPads, iPods and laptops out of the hands of teachers and students when we collect them for updates/upgrades because they are always being used.
  • The AV Resource cupboard is ALWAYS empty and ALL teachers AND leadership are waiting to use what is no longer available.
  • The computer lab is NEVER vacant
  • All staff meetings involve using ICT tools ( not just for presentations to watch and listen to ) and this is seen as an opportunity for ICT PD, not just the content of the meeting.
  • Leadership and teachers are seen utilizing ICT tools in as many ways as the students are.
  • All teachers are seeking advice on how to skill up in ICT long after the initial introductory PD

In short, PD has to be regular, consistent, continuous, collaborative, hands on and purposeful (linked to teaching and learning practice)

Student-led ICT development and  improvement
I dream of a time when;

  • Students are free to explore web tools, PC/Mac software, iOS apps and ICT hardware, evaluate its usefulness and present their findings to students and staff
  • Students run workshops in using these tools for interested staff and students
  • Students become the source of information about and for our school and communities beyond through the use of blogs, podcasts and videos
  • Students have a voice in discussions about appropriate use policies at school and are held as equally responsible for how students use and abuse ICT as teachers and parents are

In short, establish an energising, active and supportive Student ICT Leadership team dedicated to the ongoing adoption and growth of ICT in our school

These are my hopes and dreams. Many are way beyond reality for 2012. But without hopes and dreams, nothing is accomplished. Hopefully, this year can start to make some real change around the world in Technology and Education Integration. If we don’t, the above cartoon, redrawn in 2061, will just be a teacher in an even shorter dress going Blah Blah in front of a holographic image being ignored by kids wearing Virtual Reality helmets!

What are your hopes and dreams? Are they getting closer to reality? If so, how did you make it happen? Join the conversation.