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.

My iPad – the “nearly a PC” for teaching


Clearly from reading my blog, you can work out I love my iPad. Hopefully, you can also tell from reading my blog that I am also not a slavish “Apple Fanboy” who never finds fault with the product. Over the last year, I have been experimenting with the iPad extensively ( some would say obsessively) to see if I can completely do away with needing a laptop and relying exclusively on my ‘magical tablet’. As a teacher with ‘many hats to wear’, I rely on access to many computer dependent tools to complete my day to day responsibilities. What I have concluded is that if I was completely independent in carrying out my teaching, I would be almost laptop -free. Because I have to work within the constraints of a shared school environment, though, the iPad still had a little ways to go before it can completely replace my trusty MacBook Pro.

Because of its portability and multimedia functionality, the iPad is a great tool for assessment that has streamlined the data collection process in many ways. As a busy teacher and parent, the iPad has given me mo opportunities to access and input data wherever I am ( even during my son’s weekly basketball training )I can take written, audio and photo notes within the same program, whether Notability, Evernote, TagPad or any other similar note taking app and have access to a range of data on a given student. Using ShowMe, Educreations, Explain Everything or ScreenChomp, I can get a student to visually show their thinking in a recorded format and keep that for later analysis. I can use the assessment tools on Edmodo‘s iPad app to mark Student’s submitted work and do text based annotations through the assignments annotation tools. I can record, sort and analyse assessment data on spreadsheets using Numbers or Office2 HD. I can access the school’s shared Google Docs Online Assessment tool and record comments and scores for students I teach. So using just my iPad I can function very effectively in terms of assessing students, however…………

The actual user experience of Google Docs spreadsheets on iPads is a pain and most teachers at my school would not put up with the glitchy workarounds I use to make the assessment spreadsheet we use on laptops workable on the iPad. Proprietary software like school reporting programs and on demand testing programs generally won’t work on an iPad without mirroring from another computer (which obviously means still needing the computer!). Spreadsheet apps have limitations that don’t recognize high end functions on Excel which means some spreadsheets become unusable if originally created on a Windows/Mac computer. Therefore, in terms of individualized assessment procedures that collect really useful data, the iPad can be a standalone tool. Sharing school resources? Not so much.

Accessing and saving Files at school
Proxy server issues with certain apps like Dropbox and Evernote aside, which apparently will disappear when a new system is commissioned next term, accessing, updating and saving files has not been an issue. I very rarely use my laptop to read, edit or create documents anymore, unless they were created with a program incompatible with iPads. The teachers I work with use a combination of Google Docs, Dropbox, Edmodo and our school network to save their documents, all of which are accessible through my iPad through the Internet, their own iPad app or through Filebrowser for network and photo library access. All the apps I use can access these options either through the Open in… function, syncing options or in the case of Apple’s iWork apps, through Dropbox/Googledocs access via Otixo’s webDAV service. The only app that is problematic is GarageBand, which I still have to use iTunes file sharing with. ( Email is a poor option as is YouTube or Facebook for primary school setting). While sometimes I have to perform digital gymnastics to access some files via two or three apps like Goodreader and Filebrowser, it works for me. I’m going to do a post soon on Filebrowser specifically, partly as a lesson for my staff but also to share its features. There is also the option of using sendtodropbox service for apps that only use email for exporting. I really like it. Therefore, in my experience in terms of accessing compatible files, I can virtually put my laptop away and rely on my iPad.

Creating and Presenting Content
Despite protests from some in the anti iPad blogosphere, the iPad is indeed a fine content creation tool. I get the complaints about the keyboard ( personal preference and typing skill dependent) and the switching between screen issues ( I admit this bugs me) but that aside I think the complaints come down to what field of content creation you are in and how text typing dependent it is.
For me I can create everything I need to support my teaching on my iPad.
Attractive multimedia heavy documents and presentations are easily created through publishing apps like Pages, Keynote, ComicLife, Strip Designer, SonicPics, iDraw, Explain Everything et al, iMovie, GarageBand .. The list goes on.
PDF annotation of texts for class note taking can take place using PDF apps like GoodReader or iBooks on an interactive whiteboard or projector/TV. Books for sharing can be created using Book Creator or Creative Book Builder. Lesson content and collaboration can be covered with the Edmodo app or Coveritlive.

The biggest omission on the surface is the lack of compatibility with interactive whiteboard software such as ActiveInspire on Promethean Whiteboards. A plugged in iPad does not interact with the boards like laptops do because the touch based driver doesn’t support iPads ( any chance in future Promethean et al?). If I want to create flip charts, I still need my laptop to run ActiveInspire, however….

There are iPad based options with and without laptop. AppleTV is one solution. No computer required, but an expensive option if you need one for each whiteboard in your school. A relatively recent and cheap solution is the use of AirPlay compatible software that turns your Mac or PC into an AppleTV solution. Reflection and AirServer (PC and Mac) allow flexible projection of iPad screens onto the whiteboard through a connected laptop, including audio, all wirelessly. OS 10.8 for Mac ( Mountain Lion) will have the feature built in. With this feature, all the functionality of all the apps on the iPad appear on the whiteboard’s screen, giving it far more interactive possibilities
than a pen that has to touch the screen. Multiple iPad screens can be projected side by side for student sharing of their iPads. This could cut the cost of buying interactive whiteboards altogether and replace them with iPads and cheaper projectors and screens. The other option is using Splashtop Whiteboard (price has gone up since I bought it) to control the laptop screen through the iPad.

Of course the other elephant in the room in terms of sharing content with the iPad is the whole Flash issue. It’s not going away yet and I have covered this issue in an earlier blogpost this year. You can read that here to get my view on that. At this stage, yes I still need laptop access for some flash based web tools ( but I can use the school’s computers for that and leave mine home. )

In finishing, the question remains – How close to replacing a laptop with my iPad in my work environment am I ? ( I stress my environment because it is not feasible for all ). Not completely yet. And some of the workarounds I pull out to make some of the above possible is too much of a pain for less resourceful people. There are many days, though, that my laptop does remain in my bag untouched for the whole day. If I get AirServer installed on our school laptops connected to the whiteboards (at the moment I rely on my own ) , my laptop will barely see the light of day at school.
I’m not abandoning the Mac platform. There are tasks I would always prefer to do on my Macs. I just want to carry less around at school and if the iPad can be relied upon all day until I get home to my Macs, I’ll be happy. It’s close to fruition.

Obviously the solution is not for everyone and I would be interested to hear from others about their iPad experiences. Join the conversation.

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