Reflective Learners

I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading of late around the idea of reflective practice. Love it or hate the idea there is definitely some consensus around the fact that if you revisit something and think about it again, you often gain a deeper understanding about it. I have always tried to put this idea into practice in the classroom. I remember becoming really frustrated when I attempted to mark significant pieces of writing alongside the children, individually. I simply didn’t have enough time in the school day yet I could see that revisiting the work with them (albeit with me guiding the discussion) made the comments and edits far more meaningful to the children.

With all of that in mind I suggested an idea today to one class where reflecting on their work could become an integral part of their day to day learning. It came form looking at the awesome app that is Storyrobe. It doesn’t do much but what it does it does brilliantly (it is discussed with some examples in the Apps section). I was getting across the point today with the Y6 class that you should rarely narrate over pictures or videos without planning, redrafting, editing and having checked your “script” first. The BBC never would so aim high. Whilst searching for examples of when you cold do it off the cuff, I suggested that children could take a photo of a piece of work that they have done then narrate over it. I suppose it is like those DVD extras you get where the director talks over the film, explaining aspects of why the film is the way it is at each point. The children could do a quick review of what they think they have done successfully in that piece, and what they feel they need more work on. That short video can then simply be added to the child’s skydrive folder where it is shared with the teacher. Done regularly this would ensure that children reflect on work they have done, often with a criteria to talk to. The teacher liked the idea and suggested it might help her marking sometimes to hear the child’s view on the work while she is looking at it, usually outside of the classroom. I haven’t suggested that the mark could come back as a narrative yet…let’s see how this works first.

Keeping up

I have been working with a diverse range of situations over the last few weeks and I hope my brief discussion below helps to identify useful techniques that may apply to your own use of mobile devices from the outset.

The key to effective use is to identify how they help us to learn. That is always the focus of my first session with a group of new users and it is a theme I continually revisit. The idea of the data hoover that becomes your second brain is paramount and is the reason for using it is documented at length elsewhere in the archives of this blog. One class that I am supporting is in an unusual situation that is now becoming more common; the children have used the devices with a keen teacher the year before and have now come into a class where the teacher has no experience of them at all. I have tackled this in a number of ways:

  • Little and often sessions for the teacher so that she has time to integrate an idea into her existing practise before being introduced to the next
  • Open forum with the children to identify what helps them to learn when using the devices
  • An openness with the class that the teacher needs their help to make the best use of the device for learning
  • Off the peg ideas with demonstration for things like “handing out a picture and receiving descriptive work back” – ipod style!
  • Focussed discussion with the teacher whilst the children are doing a task so that it forms the “director’s commentary” to the lesson she is watching
  • Additional focussed time with the teacher outside of the classroom to consolidate what she thinks she has found useful and what she feels she needs more of in a less public setting – i.e., not in front of the class
  • Begin each support session specifically addressing an issue that has arisen since the last in school support session

This range of techniques to support the teacher has been developed over a number of years and a LOT of experience. I find it helps support teachers who are really keen to use the devices and have even been the instigator to acquiring them….to the teacher who has inherited them and would possibly like one less thing to worry about. I use the same openness with the children regardless of whether or not they have used the devices before in school, 20 odd minds, focussing on “How can this help us learn?” are vital in making the integration of devices as effective as possible.

To give some context, this week the teacher I was supporting had had some problems writing a newspaper article in Mental Note as it went over three pages when it became a pdf – which looked daft. I addressed that with the children straight away and several suggested what I had had thought, Strip Design is a far better tool for organising a page with multiple text boxes and possibly fonts and images. So we spent 5 minutes just demonstrating that…some children led parts of the demo too. Knowing that allows the teacher to make appropriate decisions going forward in terms of which app to use to produce which format of a finished piece. She immediately identified to the children several future uses for the app for types of writing that they had been working on.

That is important, the devices are there to support and enhance what teachers do well. You do not sit there with a device “what can I do with this?” there lies madness. You sit there, plan the work the children will do and identify opportunities for the devices to enhance that experience. That i what I am doing on Tuesday afternoon now that she has had several short and sharp in class support sessions. We will sit and look at her planning, possibly for January, to identify how we develop the use of the devices to enhance the learning experience. As they are going to be studying Ancient Greece as their main topic I can already see how research into the Olympic Games will allow eyewitness news reports via the Green Screen Studio app live from Olympia circa 500 BC!

Getting to grips

Short post about yesterday’s visit to the steel fabricators. Grangetown Primary sent 11 children and the Deputy Head on a visit arranged by Anne Simpson to show our local children the process that is building up the regeneration of our area. The fabrication company, Hambleton Steel hosted a fantastic and really interesting morning learning about the processes that the steel goes through before becoming the new leisure centre and civic hub in the local authority. My interest, and hence this post, was grabbed as we gave the children iPods to record their visit. They hadn’t used them before for school work (some had never used one out of school either) but I gave them out on the bus as we set off and challenged them to work out how to use Strip Design to create a short review of our trip.
During the visit we were given lots of opportunities to take photos of each process. Once back on the bus I quickly used my iPad to ensure that all the children had at least seen the right icons to press to complete their task (though some had worked it out for themselves). They then spent the half hour return journey reviewing their photos and selecting what best represented what they were trying to describe. The teacher was going to follow this up in school tomorrow when she would have the group back together. I will post the results as soon as I have them!

What struck me, and it shouldn’t have surprised me, was how easily the device fitted into the visit. There was a big concern from the company that the children would be kept safe and would be moving around a potentially dangerous environment. However, the iPods only came out at key points of interest then disappeared back into pockets in between, reviewing, adding detail, embellishing their ideas…that an come later, the device was a hoover for all the information that they were getting at the time it was happening. It will fulfil its second brain function when the information is reviewed and produced for an audience.

Over and Out

Although written a little after the event this post is focussed on my third and final visit to the children and loan ipods at St Paulinus. As part three of the starting from scratch series of lessons I hope it shows how little input can produce such a massive impact.

I must admit I indulged myself for the first ten minutes in asking the children their reasons for having an ipod for learning (I was careful not to say “in the classroom”), my notes are screen shot below:

It is interesting to note that they focussed their answers on mainly literacy and numeracy and how the device supports this. The comment about downloading apps at home referred to some of the maths games that they had used in class. Remember, they were using loan kit so were not taking them home, this was a frustration for them they told me. There is an answer to that below…

So what did we do for the last lesson?

Well, I wanted to reinforce the way that the devices support effective classroom pedagogy. So I started by using the Hobbit Movie app (Free) to show the children the 360 panorama of Hobbiton. I asked the children to discuss in pairs who lived there, in fact they had to be more precise than that. I settled the view on one hobbit hole with a clear view of the front door and the front garden. I asked the children to pick out things that they could see in the picture to act as evidence for who lived there. So for example:

overgrown lawn – someone who doesn’t come home very often

The children were asked to pick out five features. The learning focus here is on settings, not one blade of grass will appear on that film set if it isn’t needed. Someone has made that setting to create an accurate impression of the person who lives there – several meetings and a lot of biscuits came up with what we are presented with! How do the devices support this? The image was on the board but it was also taken as a screenshot and emailed to the children (if I’d prepared it in advance this might have worked better through uploading it to the Skydrive as the image was quite large and took a few minutes to load up on the devices via Mail). By doing this the children were able to get up close and personal with the image, zooming in for greater detail. They then used a range of ways of recording their ideas. Some inserted a “zoom” on an identified feature into Mental Note then wrote their idea below it, repeating a different “zoom” for each feature. Others simply inserted the picture and wrote their ideas below. Some even identified a feature by jotting a number next to it on the inserted picture (with the pen tool – I may have led some to that way of working…) and then used a key below the picture to write what each “number” suggested. It was all about children learning to organise their thinking. I repeated the task using the other panorama viewer, the inside of the Hobbit Hole to reinforce the way of working. In all cases the children had to work together. Interestingly, the emailed picture took a while to get through to some of the devices so the children simply went up to the board at the front of the room and photographed it there.

Really simple after that, I turned the task the other way around. Each pair of children was given a character (whispered in their ears – e.g., Cinderella). They had to write down five objects that would appear in the character’s house if we walked in and looked around.
Ok, I know the spelling was a bit dodgy (to say the least!) but these are children who often struggle to know what to write when asked to “write the setting for a story”. Grammar and building these ideas up into sentences is the next step but the children now have a strategy, a place to start when opening a narrative piece. The details of the setting are relevant rather than “it was a nice sunny day” because it is something that paints a picture. Identifying key features to base your setting around, drawn from the character who is in the story, makes writing more meaningful and engaging. I then asked the children to upload their finished writing (screenshot then skydrive as it is easier to flick from one to next than via Mail) so that we could have a quick quiz and discussion around meaningful information in a setting as a plenary to the lesson.

The lesson focus was clearly on literacy yet we could see where the device made that lesson more effective from both the teacher and child point of view. The stimulus could be delivered into the palm of the children’s hands, they had alternative ways of manipulating information to suit them, they were able to feedback info to the teacher and in fact the rest of the class. The teacher was fairly hands free for much of the lesson in the sense that the majority of the time was focused on all children talking and working together. I only stopped them when we needed to clarify a point or move the learning forward. If I had done that with a big screen at the front it would have been more teacher led with children feeding back individually more often one at a time. The fact they could easily hand in their work to a secure place that the teacher could access with minimum effort (it is an app on the iPad with a direct path to the iPod work) was the icing on the cake. I could use it to review the learning in the lesson, children could see each other’s work and learn from it and I could even walk out the classroom and access it either at home or back at our office. In fact, the uploaded images here have just been downloaded from the Skydrive as all the work is still there.

I mentioned above the frustration about stopping learning at 3pm in an iPod sense. Well, the school held a parent meeting last night where I talked to the Y4 parents about what we had been doing with the class and why we wanted it to continue. I think every parent in the room agreed that it was educationally a big advantage to their children and that bringing a device home to continue that would be even better. There were questions around types of device and how they might work, safety and so on but as a group they were very positive. They have been asked to go away and think about contributing to a scheme that will allow their children to have their own school iPod that they will also be able to bring home as well. The school where the other set of iPods were loaned out last term have also done the same thing. In fact, I have yet to work with a school where following a loan and my regular support, they have not then gone on to get their own devices. This may sound like bragging but it is simply a fact and maybe owes more to the fact that we are doing this with the correct educational approach than my personal magnificence! lol