3 things I do every (school) day that make me a better teacher

1. Read at least one article/blog post about teaching and learning.

As an English teacher it is probably a little predictable that I read a lot, however I believe that it is important to keep up with what is happening in education. I have also learned as many of us do that teaching is a busy and time consuming affair, therefore I don’t often find extended periods of time to read. Instead, I use a small number of apps and devices to bring reading material to me in a manageable way. This includes Google reader as an RSS aggregator and apps such as Reeder and Instapaper which I access on my MBP and HTC Wildfire respectively. I save and export longer articles/papers to read on my Sony Reader. Without going in to too much detail here, this combination of devices allows me to read at whatever point of the day I am free to or feel like doing so. Hotspots are: on the bus (7:30 – 7:45) heading to work and when school has just ended (3:40 – 4:00).

I am of the mind set that the best teachers are those who not only work hard on their day-to-day classroom teaching but also continue to keep up with pedagogical ideas, theories, new technologies and what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. When I talk to other teachers on Twitter or at conferences they tend to fit in with this description and in turn tend to be innovative in their practice, open to new ideas and are ready to discuss and share their opinion about education. Reading, for me, is an integral part of this dialogue. It is important to be informed.

2. Make sure one of my lessons is not teacher directed.

Two issues here. 1. Teaching from the front of the classroom (lecture style) is a sure fire way to kill creativity, learning and can lead very quickly to behavioural issues. 2. Teaching from the front of the classroom is a sure fire way to drain yourself of energy and enthusiasm for what you are teaching. At the beginning of each week I review what I have planned to teach and then set about planning into each of my days a lesson (with a different class each day) where, after sharing the learning intentions and explaining what is to be achieved, I shut up and spend the majority of the lesson sat with my students helping and supporting them with their learning.

I use these lessons in a variety of ways, here are a couple of examples:

  • Targeted support: I will group the class by ability and select a group to work with. During the lesson I will dedicate my time to that group – putting trust in the other students to get on and complete the work unaided. Some of the ways that I ensure the students are engaged in the work is by giving them a choice of what to do, in turn giving them ownership of their learning. I usually also set some sort of feedback exercise (not necessarily with me involved) where they are being relied upon to provide information. This allows me to then focus my time on the students I have decided to offer some more personal support to.
  • Assessment: I believe it is important to assess students work with them so that they can understand the process and what I am looking for. If certain students have been making the same errors repeatedly I will use these non-teacher led lessons to sit with them and will mark their work throughout the lesson with them, almost as a form of 1-2-1 (directed) learning. As they try to tackle the ideas or skills they have been struggling with I can address them and get them to work through, making corrections. This is time consuming and I don’t get around to all of the students in a single lesson but the level of learning and progress that takes place is very high. Over the course of the year every student who needed this level of support will have gotten it.

To some this may not seem completely fair and that some students may not get the same level of personal input from me. However, I do not have a problem with this and even tell my classes at the beginning of the year that some of them will get more out of me than others. What I also explain though is that I am not the fountain of all knowledge, that I will help them to understand where to look for answers so that they can solve problems for themselves. I also explain that for some of them I will simply be a facilitator, for others they will need my knowledge and expertise. They are all starting at different points and the better I know them, the better I can adapt the way that I support them as individuals.

3. Stop and take a break.

I make sure that I use either the 20 minute break time or the 50 minute lunch time each day to stop and switch off from what I have been doing and am going to be doing that day. Where possible I try to do this at lunch however, I teach during lunch time on a Friday. Why do I do this? Becuase, education is my career but it does not define me and I am certainly not going to let it kill me. Teaching is intense. Particularly when you are dedicated. Therefore, it is important to give yourself a mental break. I achieve this in a variety of ways. I may simply sit somewhere in silence; other times I may sit and read or surf the net; and on some occasions I will go sit with others and catch up on the gossip. Whatever, I do I try to make sure that it has nothing to do with school.

To those teachers who say “I simply have no time to take a break”, I say: “you are doing something wrong then!” The most important thing to learn as a teacher is how to do each of the many different tasks that make up your day in both the most effective but least time consuming manner. This could be:

  • using ‘assessment stickers’ that can be filled in with a few letters, numbers or ticks instead of writing out long paragraphs at the end of a student’s work.
  • keeping an electronic mark book instead of a paper one – easily copied for use with other classes.
  • setting extended homework projects that challenge your students but do not require that you are mark homework every couple of days.
  • using peer assessment more often to make your students more critical learners while lightening your marking load.
  • to collaborate with someone else on a scheme of work. You will not have to produce every single resource and your students will benefit from the ideas of two teachers, not just one.

There are many ways to cut down on your workload while ensuring that the learning in your classroom is engaging and effective. Putting just a few of these ideas in to practice would ensure that you have time to take that break. It is important to switch off. After all, you are only human contrary to popular belief! 🙂

Google Docs In The Classroom – Part 4: What’s Next?

This is the fourth and final instalment about my experiences of using Google docs in the classroom. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.

Part 4: What’s Next? (or chipping away at the Google docs iceberg)

This final chapter is a little (cough) belated and some of the ideas and approaches to using Google docs that I will be discussing are already in place.

Growing the use of Google docs

As I have blogged in a previous post I was given a spot at my schools beginning of year conference to discuss the importance of assessment for learning. This gave me the opportunity to begin to share the work that I had already done in developing the use of Google docs in both the English and Media Studies classroom. As with any presentation that I have delivered it began with some time spent reflecting on the pedagogy behind using it in the classroom.

Before employing Google docs to support my students preparation for their exams I felt that I was an expert when it came to AfL and that it was an intrinsic part of my classroom practice but using Google docs as a tool has redefined my use of AfL with my students. Some may argue that the way that I have used Google docs (see part 3) is nothing more than an augmentation of an already tried and tested pedagogical approach. To some extent this is true but I want to take a broader view of the task by considering the differences between the standard (non connected) classroom and the ICT room (connected to the Internet) with Google docs open and ready to be used.

In the traditional classroom AfL exercises between student and student or student and teacher can actually be limited by 1. time and 2. willing.

Redrafting work in books takes considerably more time than simply editing an existing (Google) doc. I believe that this can actually inhibit learning for some students as they may not be willing to put the time and effort into it. I am not suggesting that we should be encouraging students to shy away from work but I feel that ten years into the 21st Century having student re-write text in books over and over again is exceptionally antiquated. Google docs redefines this process as the technology allows the students to focus on the mistakes that they have made, working to correct them and not making them re-write sections of text that were well written surrounding the mistake.

This was the message that I conveyed in my presentation and firmly believe that effective AfL is as dependent on the methodology as well as the pedagogy. Google docs can transform the method making the pedagogy behind AfL even more valid.

I followed up the conference presentation by presenting in more detail to the English department. This included, inviting a student to stay back after school, helping to deliver a live demonstration of Google docs. In another room they sat and edited a Google doc with me. In the document they explained why they enjoyed using it so much and what they felt it offered. Several members of the department were impressed with the tool and its potential and have begun using Google docs with their Sixth Form classes.

I am going to deliver a similar presentation as part of the school CPD programme hopefully to a cross section of staff from different departments. To prepare for this I have been investigating via Twitter and the web different ways of using Google docs. There is such a plethora of material out there to draw from. Here’s just the tip of the iceberg:

As I continue to ‘grow’ the use of Google docs in school I have begun using the following video to demonstrate how Google docs works; sending it out via email and showing it to people who have a few minutes to spare. Created by Douglas Greig it offers a clear and systematic guide demonstrating “how to use Google docs to collaborate”:

Future potential

As well as exporting the use of Google docs across the school I plan to continue to develop my own use of Google docs. I see a significant amount of potential for Google docs in both the English and Media Studies classrooms. Some uses are obvious and will naturally build upon the practices that I have already put in place. Along with assessment, Google docs offers the opportunity to teach students real life editing skills including proofing each others work; as well as making editorial decisions about fellow students work. I am looking into an opportunity for students to write separate pieces that will make up a class newspaper or magazine. After the initial writing the students will take on the roles of editors and proof readers editing each others work before it is pieced together.  It also fits in neatly with my wish to run and publish a school magazine; an idea I have been toying with for some time but have not yet realised.

Many friends on Twitter have been raving about Google forms and spreadsheets for some time now and I believe that this is a feature of Google docs that I have neglected. This is probably due to a prejudice on my part, seeing both document types as the realm of the Mathematician rather than the English/Media teacher. This is clearly, not the case and based on a lot of the material I have come across online I can see opportunities to: produce quizzes; gain feedback; and to produce documents where students could track their own progress. For example, in the English department we currently get students to track their progress in selected skills during each unit. This could work very effectively in Media Studies, where we work 100% online, as a Google form. With the ability to share access to the document I can also have a clear picture of where my students strengths and weaknesses are.  The possibilities are endless really and thus, exemplifies the fact that I am still very much in my infancy when it comes to using Google docs.

The majority of my focus in using Google docs has quite naturally centered around classroom practice, using it with students. I believe that there is an opportunity to expand the use of Google docs amongst staff in school to support planning both at the department and whole school level. Schemes of work, resources, improvement plans and even letters could be efficiently and effectively produced in Google docs alleviating the need for multiple copies of the same document being emailed/printed/re-emailed between staff members. This will perhaps be the hardest sell but like my use of Google docs so far, I will begin small and then export the use of it when I have more evidence in place.

Final reflections

I have only just begun to chip away at the iceberg that is Google docs. However, I will say from the little that I have chipped away, using Google docs with my students has been ground breaking. Why? After all, the principles of sharing resources, collaborating and accessing material from home are not new. All can be achieved through other platforms. Moodle for example, does them all.

What I think Google docs brings to the table is a system that is both fit for purpose but also evolving at the same time. Moreover, it is not dependent on a specific browser or operating system and requires almost no extra knowledge to be able to use it. As a teacher if you know how to access your Facebook account and upload a picture from your digital camera then Google docs is a doddle. Wiki’s can be over-complicated, are not real time; a forum can be too open; and Moodle as a platform needs Internet Explorer or Firefox to allow editing to function correctly. Google docs is easy to sign up to, works just as you would expect (if you use Word, Excel and/or PowerPoint) and works on any web browser. It’s a truly inclusive tool! And it’s free!

4D Books, Cover Work and a Retweet – QR Codes in Education

Continuing the narrative on QR codes David Mitchell, this past week, took to stage at #tmbpool3 demonstrating how he has used QR codes to connect the myriad of online content produced by his students to the work they produce in their books. Using a beautifully designed Prezi and actual students books he showed how he was addressing the problem of evidencing where work and assessment is happening for parents, Ofsted, and more importantly for the students and themselves as educators. The post, titled: ‘Introducing 4D Books – Linking analogue to digital‘ is well worth the read.

In controast to David I have been taking a more gradual approach to QR codes. I have simply begun to include them in a variety of places over the last couple of week. I have added some to the VLE providing links to blogs or useful websites for Media and English students. I have added some to my lesson presentations such as on homework slides and I also left a link to my cover work, via a short url and QR code, on my classroom door while I was out of school on Friday. See below.

I have not actively engaged the students as a whole class in using them yet but simply encouraged students who  have a QR capable phone to download a free app and scan the code to see what happens. The response has been positive and by the end of two weeks some students scan the code on the homework slide rather than copy all the info down into their diary. I am going to continue with this approach while I am in the process of developing a whole class activity for my Media Studies class (more on this in the near future).

Finally, David Hopkins retweeted a link to a page on the blog: ‘Web2 tools for in the classroom’ about QR codes. On the page there are a variety of links to useful posts and a clear explanation of what QR codes are, with some useful ideas on how they can be used in education. I certainly like the idea of students including QR codes in their assignments to send me the teacher to a useful resource.

Want to know more about QR codes in education? The read my most read post ever!

If you have been using QR codes or have ideas please comment below or share via Twitter with the hash tag: #qrcode

QR Codes in Education: A Burgeoning Narrative

Since I last published thoughts on how QR Codes could be used for learning in a short audioBoo (click the link or scan the QR Code on the right), there has continued to be a growing and significant buzz about QR Codes on Twitter and in the blogosphere. A narrative is developing as ideas, experiences and best practices are shared and discussed.

The ball got rolling at TeachMeetX where Julian S. Wood delivered a thoroughly engaging presentation on storytelling and QR Codes. I couldn’t be there in person but was fortunate to catch most of what Julian had to say via UStream. What struck me during the presentation was not the quality of the tech but the pedagogical principles that underpinned the activities putting the technology where it belongs: at the heart of making the learning happen but not directing it. Hopefully, the video of the presentation will be available soon and everyone can see it. One of the tools that Julian used was Delivr which I have written about here and will mention again later in this post.

A couple of days later I was catching up with Twitter and dropped in on a discussion that was taking place about QR-Codes. Dughall McCormick tweeted out a link to a blog post he had written about QR Codes and an app called stickybits – see Tim Ryland’s article here for more info on that. Dughall shared a variety of ways that QR Codes/stickybits could be used, all with their various merits and implications. My personal favourite was this:

Stick a code on the front of a pupil’s exercise book. Feedback can be added in any format as time goes on. This can be done by peers, the student, teachers, parents etc. The same could be done for homework presumably

This struck me as immediately pertinent as there is a huge drive on assessment for learning and the marking of work in my school at the moment, what with Ofsted just around the corner. More importantly it is one of my many beliefs, in relation to education, that assessment can be a driving force in improving a students progress and attainment. This may be one way that I myself experiment with QR Codes and/or stickybits.

Dughall finished by sharing a few other useful links including a collaborative guide produced by Tom Barrett et al. about using QR Codes in the classroom. It is part of his excellent Interesting Ways series and so far there are 14 different ideas about how to use QR Codes.

Also mentioned by Dughall and tweeted out the same day was a post by the ever innovative David Mitchell – blogging about his use of QR Codes with his Year 6 class.

He explained and demonstrated through photos how they had been used. Essentially his students had drafted a piece of work in their books. They then wrote up their work on their class blog and generated a QR Code from their blog post’s URL. This was then stuck into their books. Instantly the gap between analog and digital work was bridged (or as David put it: “A Literacy book suddenly becomes an interactive book of weaved magic!”).

By allowing anyone to scan the code and see the final draft of the work while looking at the first draft it changes the engagement and interaction with the students work bringing the student, teacher, parent closer to creative and developmental process. A clever and highly effective use of QR Codes I think.

Below is an example of one of the images from David’s post – click to zoom and then scan the code – it really works!

As the discussion continued on Twitter over the next couple of days more and more resources and posts related to QR Codes began to come to light, demonstrating the fact that the technology is not that new and that educators have been toying with it for a while now.

One such post that was tweeted was from Ollie Bray who had written about QR Codes (back in 2008) in a post titled: iPhone in Education – Using QR Codes in the Classroom.

In his post he details how QR Codes work with some clear broken down screen shots. Towards the end of the post Ollie makes a couple of suggestions about potential uses but overall it stands as a good post for QR Code novices to help them understand the basic principles.

This was followed by a link to a PDF document (hosted by the EDUCASE Learning Initiative) titled: 7 Things You Should Know About QR Codes (written in 2009). The document is well structured and concise (2 pages), offering answers to basic questions like: “What is it?”, “How does it work?”; to more complex ones like: “What are the implications for teaching and learning?” This is a good starting point for QR Code novices. Download here.

There were a few more posts that were dragged up from the archives but I will not comment on them all here. A Twitter search for QR Codes should provide some useful results.

The final post I wish to discuss is fresh and new and was only published this week, on October 26th, over at the blog of David Hopkins – Don’t Waste Your Time. Titled: QR Codes: It’s not all about the phone, you know. David offers up three potential applications that could be used to scan QR Codes from your desktop computer. This was interesting and I am going to download and play with the Desktop QR Code Reader myself.

Reading David’s most recent post though led me back to his many other posts about QR Codes, some of which I had read through a few weeks ago when I had just begun to look at QR Codes myself. I felt that I would re-mention the post: QR Codes in the Classroom. The explanation and suggested uses are very good but even better than the written word is the video David has included of QR Codes in action. Scroll through the post, find the video and give it a watch. If you are still unsure about the potential of QR Codes, you won’t be after you have watched the video.

With a growing list of potential uses and some very well thought out pedagogical approaches I believe it’s fair to say that this technology is worth investing the time in. To get started with my own use of QR Codes I am going to focus on two areas:

1. Creating a class project based around similar principles to those presented by David Mitchell. I really felt the simplicity of linking physical writing with online content was an interesting notion that warrants further exploration.

I need to give it more consideration but I see excellent opportunities here to connect the creative/tactile freedom of my classroom with some of the tools that I already use with my classes online. One idea that came to mind was to get my students to collate a variety of useful material on a Lino It canvas, generate a QR Code for their wall. Then back in the classroom preparing for their controlled assessment they could scan the QR Code (now stuck in their books) to access that information.

Once I have planned the activity better and have the results I will certainly blog and share it.

2. Educating students, parents and fellow teachers on what QR Codes are and how they can be of use inside and outside of the classroom. I think there is an opportunity to share simple info like revision tips, short helpful videos and other similar materials. In principal this is straight forward as I have seen several good examples of QR Codes being used. One of the keys is to include info on how to scan the codes and where to get an app to do it.

With this in mind I found this clip from CSI on YouTube. It provides a fairly clear and engaging explanation of what a QR Code is.

I have shared it via Delivr which displays it on a dedicated page making it easy for it to be reshared. What’s more, as I mentioned in my blog post about Delivr when viewed on a mobile phone the page is optimised for mobile screens.

The success of sharing info in this way will be more difficult to judge than within the controls of a classroom based activity. This is why I will be using Delivr to generate the codes. Signing up for an account allows you to track the QR Codes you create. I will be able to get instant raw data on whether the codes are being scanned.

Again I will blog and share the results.

Before I close this post I will share one more useful link. There are several pages on the web that help you find the right QR Code reader for your phone but I felt that this one from PercentMobile was the most effective. Simply select the manufacturer and handset model that you own and it then provides you with a link to an app that will work with your device. Get out there and get scanning.

If you have anything to add to the QR Code narrative, perhaps you have experimented with them in your classroom; or you have a useful resource to share; or you have read a good blog post then please share it via Twitter using the hash tag #qrcode or reply to this post.

QR-Codes In Education – Why?

After tweeting a few times recently about QR-Codes I recieved the tweet below from James Wilding.

James Wilding Tweet

Click play on the AudioBoo player below to hear my response.


Subscribe to my Boos: