Archive | June 2012

Death by PowerPoint – A view from a guilty lapsed Catholic!

Firstly I need to lift the mountain of guilt from my shoulders before I give my views on the potential evils of PowerPoint. I have two guilty confessions about this week:

1. I made three PowerPoints this week! I was making new schemes of learning for the department. Knowing most of the dept like using them I made some image based PowerPoints, despite wanting to phase them out of my teaching forever and encourage others to do the same! It was the easy thing to do. Hypocrisy you may rightly cry! To slightly mitigate this behaviour, I did make two ExplainEverything audio presentations as well, just to mix it up and give the students a different style of presentation.

2. My second guilty secret is that I took my small children to MacDonalds this weekend. It was lazy. It was wrong – I know, and I’m sorry. Please don’t judge me too harshly!

Glossing over my bad parenting hastily, I want to get back to PowerPoints! Now, I admit, they aren’t as evil as I may have initially suggested (English teachers are notorious for their use of hyperbole!), but they are over-used and often abused so I want to weigh in on the subject. There should be some simple rules for teachers in my view:

Rule 1. You should not make jokes about ‘death by PowerPoint’ and then go on to show a 50 slide PowerPoint! That is not irony – it is not big and it is not clever.  This particularly applies to training providers, especially exam board training sessions! STOP this please!

Rule 2. Don’t write what you are going to say anyway – I am not an idiot, nor are students. Say it with me: Do not patronise with PowerPoint!

Rule 3. Try hard to not exceed ten slides (when I have broken this rule, it has been only just over!) and if you do they should only be creative images.

Rule 4. Make the slides image based and/or with media clips – not crammed with writing. In fact, if possible, go wordless.

Rule 5.Try to use a variety of tools of teaching strategies instead of PowerPoint – variety is the spice of life! If you want to use technology you could mix it up with Prezi, Pinterest, make a movie, record a podcast etc. Be courageous and do away with them completely!

Rule 6. Experiment with ‘flipping’ the lesson, making the PowerPoint largely redundant.

Rule 7. Do not use pixelated images – these look awful when at full size!

Rule 8. Do not include garishly colourful backgrounds – these do nothing but make people feel slightly queasy!

Rule 9. Do not use other people’s PowerPoints without some serious editing – would you wear someone else’s ill fitting clothes? No.

Rule 10. I don’t have one, but I felt finishing on 9 rules would be odd!

Right, I feel so much better having confessed my sins. If you too were raised in a moralistic crucible like me you may want to add to my rules, or flagellate yourself for breaking them! Also, I recognise that by creating rules I thereby admit there is a place for PowerPoint, but as the saying goes ‘everything in moderation’.

Can the iPad really help improve children’s writing?

When the iPad is mentioned as a tool for learning to large groups of teachers I always detect a initial sense of awe and a frisson of excitement, quickly followed by a healthy dose of scepticism and even fear for some. I think the vast majority of teachers see it as a potentially useful tool for teaching and learning, but perhaps too many still see it as something of a glorified word processor! What is crucial is that those teachers have the experience of going beyond the ‘gimmick factor’ to realise the potential of the iPad to transform conundrums which often confound us as teachers.

It is a helpful tool (in my view the most helpful ICT device by a mile), not a miracle cure – but any teacher who witnesses the motivation levels inspired by the iPad will experience how it can engage students in the challenging process of writing and much more. With its myriad of apps, the iPad can harness oral rehearsal like no other technology to aid the writing process. With its capacity to show students writing through the projector at any moment (Apple TV, Airplay or a variety of other apps), it becomes a powerful way to make formative assessment instantaneous for all; helping to make the craft of writing more easily visible, and with good teacher pedagogy, more understandable. With the capacity to make real ebooks the iPad can make the writing process feel more real and more valuable to our students – there is no better way to make students value the crucial skills of drafting and proof reading than to create the opportunity for a genuine audience and create products the look and feel professional.    

‘Didn’t we inspire great writers and great writing before the iPad, or other such ICT?’ Yes. ‘Can’t we motivate students to write for the sake of it – can’t outstanding pedagogy exist without the iPad tool.’ Yes, undoubtedly. We should aim for a state of play where students are highly motivated without a reliance on technology; where students develop the core skills of writing both with and without technology – and yes, we must continue to hone their skills with the humble pen and paper! However, we should not ignore the potential gains provided by tools like the iPad, whose multi-functionality provides a host of ways to improve teaching and learning for writing. The iPad, with it’s unmatched range of applications, and it’s reliability and quality, can provide a series of marginal gains that cumulatively can make a significant difference to the learning of students – with writing being a key skill that can be enhanced.

It is about the pedagogy stupid!’ 

Any teacher who has used the iPad with students will know the x-factor it provides (nothing to do with the awful Simon Cowell product I assure you!) – the initial oohs and ahhs and impressed looks; the endless excited questions about it. Like anything, however, those initial awed impressions fade to a level of familiarity. That being said, the raised sense of motivation is palpable and never really goes away – remember, we are teaching ‘digital natives’ who have an expertise with technology (often beyond our own – something we should not fear, but instead harness) that makes them feel comfortable in their learning, often assuming the mantle of the expert unconsciously and with aplomb. When they begin to master the tool their confidence rises still further and they are more engaged than ever. Boys in particular, exhibit greater engagement and focus. One male GCSE student in my school reflected upon his learning with the iPad, stating: “I’m more likely to use technology – I’ll do more and work harder. It’s something different and new. I can make things look better and so I wouldn’t mind showing my work to the class then.” This young man is your archetypal disinterested boy, typically turned off by the process of writing, as he has formed a hardened sense of failure from an early age that is difficult to unpick. The technology gave him a sense of confidence and pleasure in writing that should not be underestimated – in fact, I view it as absolutely crucial to success.

Beyond the confidence and beyond the motivation levels of students is the use of the tool to enhance core teacher pedagogy. Why the iPad is the best technology, in my opinion, for students, is that is has such multi-functionality, such flexibility. Actually, the fact that it is keyboardless (you can purchase wireless keyboards of course) I perceive as a strength – as it removes the misnomer that technology for writing is simply a word processing tool. It can be that, but to transform and modernise and pedagogy it needs to be so much more.

 ‘The ‘How’ – ways in which the iPad can help improve student’s writing:

Oral rehearsal and recording: the iPad provides many applications that allow students to work both individually and collaboratively in rehearsing their writing – a crucial skill to support writing. For example, in devising a scheme for next year’s GCSE controlled assessment on writing a monologue, the students will work together on filming a monologue using iMovie. They will use the variety of camera shots and scene changes to build the narrative structure and sense of voice. They will edit the film, reflecting on the language choices, before showing it to the group to receive constructive criticism. The final process of writing up the monologue becomes cognitively clearer, the students have drafted without realising they have drafted! By using ExplainEverything, students can record their ideas, perhaps commentating on a text they have uploaded to the slide in the application, before they embark upon writing a conventional essay. They can play a presentation to the group and receive feedback on shaping what they have produced, giving then the constructive criticism they need to then write well.

Aiding the planning of writing: iPad has a legion of apps specifically for creative planning, such as Popplet, that are very useful tools. By using the likes of Notability, students can record their notes, save images, draw and be creative in their planning. Websites, such as Pinterest, or the Dropbox app, can be used to share planning, to access shared research or to engage in ‘flipped classroom’ learning. Again, the options are endless, but the teacher should hone their method to best suit their students. Apps like Comic Life can allow students to create comic book style plans for their narrative writing; Puppetpals can allow students to ‘play’ with interactions between characters, to practice speeches or debates in a fun and lively fashion.

Writing models: alongside using their own writing in the process of modelling, by using applications like Goodreader, or accessing documents from Dropbox, students can annotate upon almost any document imaginable! Classic skills of text marking can again be shared and made easily visible for all – the process can become shared, guided by the teacher or other students. Any annotation can be saved and stored, therefore making it accessible for future lessons, or even other groups of students. Although I have not used it, Google Documents can be utilised for creating shared documents and drafting writing across different devices – something I plan on researching soon. Annotation is an age old teaching strategy that isn’t new to any of us, but the iPad can take it up a level or three. The iPad is simply a tool to make the process of modelling and annotating more interactive, more easily visible and making any text more accessible.

Using the device and its applications as a stimulus for writing: I need not explain the potential use of the web or the YouTube app to aid wiring, only to say that it is fantastic to not have to book a computer room, or to organise and undertake the potted journey to the computer room to research the web, or to find some crucial gem of information that the students need for their writing! A range of stimuli for writing is there at the touch of a button – from the music library, the photograph library, iBooks, iTunes U etc. – the options are endless and all ready with easy and flexible access.

Formative assessment – unveiling the mysteries of the writing process: by using Apple TV, or applications like Airplay or Ideas Flight, it allows the teacher to stream the learning from any iPad in the room instantaneously – see Fig 1. Using Notability, students can write their ideas, perhaps a model paragraph or the opening of a narrative. The teacher can stream the writing and embark on questioning to support their writing, garner feedback from others and annotate directly onto the writing on the student’s iPad. The opportunities for guided writing and shared writing are obvious. The visibility of their writing becomes a powerful way to unveil the process of writing explicitly and with simple immediacy. Finally, taking a photograph of the written work of students is a great way to share their work and provide useful feedback for any given task.

What is clear is that the iPad has so many useful tools it can be almost be overawing, like a child flooded with excitement in a sweetshop! Each school or department needs to identify their priorities, harness their shared knowledge and learn together. You can use Twitter to find answers from their PLN (professional learning network) or the host of helpful YouTube video guides to help you through using the device as a teaching and learning tool. Our English and Media faculty have identified key teaching and learning strategies which will enhance our teaching and learning pedagogy – many in evidence above – that we will work together in honing. There will be elements of risk, there will be failures (technology has a habit of doing that at inopportune moments!), but the benefits outweigh the challenges. With some mastery, iPads can undoubtedly improve writing, providing marginal gains at every step of the writing process to result in better writing by our students.

FIG 1.

Why English teachers love teaching tragedy

The inspiration for this blog post came from a running joke in our English faculty, about how bleak our literature offerings were to our young key stage three students. We joked about how we couldn’t select a new Year 9 class text without checking first whether a distraught-filled collection of war short stories, or some nightmarish dystopian novel had been released in paperback that was obviously more appropriate! I began to think about the texts we teach, our choices and the values we instil through our teaching.

Class readers we choose, at KS3 and above, are selected over time, often through different teachers requesting to teach a new book, a syllabus shift, or at the suggestion of another, looking for a new avenue to refresh their teaching, or to tailor the text to a specific group. All too often our own pleasures and prejudices shine through in our selections. Quite rightly I may add: if we aren’t passionate about the books we read, how could we ever instil passion into the young minds of our students? Yet, when these choices are accumulated and analysed a distinct pattern emerges. It does appear like we are over-doing it with death! We are creating a generation of students who expect impending social breakdown, each hunkering in their bedroom fearing death and social decay! We didn’t mean to do this – honest! I than began to reflect on the ‘why’.

When I consider my personal book choices the pattern is clear, and I think many other English teachers are right there with me – tragedy dominates – not consciously, but perhaps necessarily. First on the culpable list is bloody Michael Morpurgo! More than any other writer for young children, he captures the horror of war, but at the same time he manages to summon the beauty of people and their relationships, managing to salvage meaning from the chaos of battle. Any English teacher who has not taught ‘Private Peaceful’ to impressionable Y9s is in for a treat. The narrative structure delicately builds the family life of the central characters, before unleashing a devastating but uplifting conclusion. I defy any English teacher not to read the ending without at least a trembling lip! I shamelessly go beyond that – I struggle to read the darn thing to its end! ‘Warhorse’ too, although lacking the emotional complexity of ‘Peaceful’, in my humble opinion, presents a unique and equally haunting view on World War One that goes deeper than any succession of images or series of facts.

I also happen to powerfully believe in teaching the horrors of the Holocaust. From teaching Anne Frank’s ‘Diary’ in my PGCE year this has been the case, to ‘Boy In the Striped Pyjamas’ more recently. The entire subject is inevitably challenging and almost incomprehensible for young children – yet Boyne manages to humanise the near-incomprehensible scale of the events with delicacy and beauty in BITSP. He crafts the innocent narrative perspective of Bruno with a subtle depth of language and meaning that students love. Despite more common knowledge of the delayed revelation ending, due to the release of the film, the punch of emotion at the end still has tremendous power.

Perhaps it is my passion for the writing of Philip Larkin and Thomas Hardy that makes me see the “skull beneath the skin” so prominently in the books I choose? My favourite novel is ‘The Great Gatsy’, play ‘Death of a Salesman’. The IB course I constructed is admittedly a litany of tragedy – from Greek incest to teacher molestation (the inimitable ‘History Boys’)! It is a wonder I do not hang around graveyards! But, no matter how often the students complain, “everything we read has death in Sir!”, their attention is never more powerful than when we read these works of artful grief. The concentration when the brother is in the waiting room in Heaney’s ‘Mid-Term Break’ is palpable beyond any examination hour. They write little better than when they empathise with Ben Jonson when he mourns the loss of his son, his “best piece of poetry”, in ‘On My First Sonne’. All the barriers of Shakespearean language, and their typical attendant complaints about “bloody Shakespeare”, fall away when they await Juliet waking to warn Romeo, or when she then bears the dagger and takes her life. These stories reach easily through time to hold their attention beyond any lecture or worksheet ever could.

When I was taught ‘Death of A Salesman’ at school, or Jonson’s sonnet, a chord was stuck that has lasted deeply within me, something I am not sure I understood fully at the time. Perhaps I was laughing nervously to appear insouciant to my friends, perhaps I complained about the relentlessly bleak nature of our reading material – all likely in my desperation to appear impressively careless! But, without a shadow of a doubt, those books have stayed with me – when I have faced the grief of losing family and friends those fragments of characters and scenes have given me strength, succour and understanding. The catharsis they can bring is perhaps the most valuable gift I will ever give the students under my care, whether they understand it fully at the time or not. Knowing that keeps me focused when buffered by the political nonsense we encounter as teachers. When students threaten to become subsumed by numbers and data, an inevitable aspect of our job, I remember that the most important values cannot be counted, that each of my students deserve the tremendous gift of literature. I remember that teaching English is a great privilege – that their grades may hopefully take them many bright and new places, but these books, and mere fragments of books, will be rooted somewhere deeper, providing sustenance in their times of greatest need. For every report I have to write, or lesson plan I have to devise, it is good to remember that privilege I have in imparting these words of others.

In the more esteemed words of Leo:

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” Leonardo da Vinci

Can the iPad help enhance reading in the classroom?

The Problem with Reading

Perhaps the biggest challenge for myself as an English and Media Studies teacher, and educators more broadly, is the constant fight against the steady decline of reading ability, and the capacity for reading for pleasure, that we find each year in our schools. Without wishing to sound like a jack-booted CBI spokesperson (who seem to exist only to reduce corporate taxes and demonise the state education system), there is undoubtedly a decline in reading that has a pervasive effect on our students and their life chances; affecting their capacity to read both functionally, and as equally importantly, to experience the imaginative delights that reading literature has to offer. I am sure many teachers could provide lots of anecdotal evidence of a decline in reading habits (by this, I must stress ‘traditional’ reading – web reading is in rude health in many aspects), alongside some hard statistical evidence.

The following BBC article paints a bleak picture as ‘four million’ children do not own a book:

Every time I have the chance to meet parents I am sure I sound like a broken record, extolling the virtues of reading for pleasure, in my sincerely held belief of its transformative impact. I am proud to say that my school is a ‘Reading School’, and we seek out lots of opportunities to promote reading, such as running our own ‘Huntington Big Read’ events, raising money to purchase books to give to our students to keep, and generally involving everyone we can in the promotion of reading. This is an ongoing battle however, one that needs an arsenal of resources. One crucial way to revive reading is by harnessing what is arguably one of the factors that explains the decline in traditional reading – technology. With e-books on the rise and mobile tablet based learning also beginning to flourish in our schools, we must seek out how we can revive reading with the technological tools at our disposal.

Technology: How the iPad can be the Trojan Horse for Reading

Not only does the iPad provide a pivotal tool for effective and engaging group teaching and learning, it has the potential to promote literacy and reading in an innovative and exciting fashion. With iBooks and ITunes U there is the unique opportunity to utilise a vast wealth of free classic literature. With no barriers of copyright, this literature can be used to challenge students in a positive manner; encouraging them to interact with reading many of the students would not have such easy access to, nor perhaps have the inclination to read. It is the perfect combination of the best of traditional reading, integrated with the best of modern technology. The capacity for instant annotation, internet research, audio podcasting, YouTube compatibility and the actual creation of ‘real’ books (iBooks Author on the Mac), provides an impetus to reading that is completely in sync with our core purpose as educators – to help create confident learners, who thrive in a changing world, where both core literacy and technological and media literacy are all equally as crucial. Alongside this, there is the capacity to buy texts and sync them across devices – with many of these texts having interactive elements that promote engagement, alongside fostering core reading skills of annotation, skimming and scanning etc. in a format that can be saved or erased in an instant.

The Best Mobile Device

The iPad is uniquely placed as a tool that would provide a motivation for students wishing to ‘challenge’ themselves by reading further. The iPad has a huge degree of prestige with students, and more importantly it has a myriad of functions to enliven and enhance reading. The iPad wouldn’t replace books in every classroom any time soon, there isn’t the capacity in every school, but they would be a tool to ‘analyse, evaluate and create’ texts, whilst providing an easy platform for students to become producers themselves. For example, schemes of learning that create poetry anthologies, or newspapers, could easily be formatted as an iBook; with links to video introductions and explications, art work and music. These can become truly ‘real’ texts, disseminated not just in school, but in the iStore – heightening the sense of purpose and student engagement. The iStore is currently enhancing its educational output, with iTextbooks and interactive ebooks now beginning to be produced in conjunction with traditional ‘books’. Apple’s dominant market share, although not a positive thing in some ways, means that they are best placed for updating the best software and hardware to enhance pedagogy. An interesting example for A2 English would be an interactive ‘Frankenstein’ app being produced, that includes the classic narrative, a modern and interactive retelling and a beautiful range of contemporaneous images (anatomical drawings and maps etc.) to stimulate interest.
Further innovations, such as saving research reading in Dropbox, means that students could complete and save homework; access research by previous students; access helpful YouTube videos, and read through their home devices, without being reliant of the vast expanse of the web, or the potentially limited knowledge of parents or siblings. This can work in conjunction with school VLE systems, not be exclusive of it, thereby encouraging a real synchronicity between student learning at home and in school.
Practical Teaching & Learning Strategies to Enhance Reading using the iPad

1. Use the device simply as an eBook reader, particularly with the impressive range of free library of classics that students can access. Books can be purchased and synced across devices. iBooks has a simple dictionary capacity, and highlighting and annotation features, that mean students can track their notes or identify key quotations.

2. One nifty strategy is to take a screenshot of a page they are reading, thereby saving it in the photo library, where it can be imported to a whole host of apps that can annotate that very page – or simply sync that page between apps using Apple TV (or AirPlay). By mirroring this work through Apple TV (such a simple process) so the whole class can see the annotation! It provides a brilliant opportunity for forming ideas, engaging in debate and honing key reading skills.

3. Using Notability to make multi-modal notes: this app (currently cheap at 69p!) is an easy and intuitive way to import photos or screenshots of their reading (or indeed their writing), alongside web page images etc. that they can then annotate and make audio notes etc. These can be saved and emailed to others and recorded in a multitude of ways for for use.

4. Using ExplainEverything for great presentations based on their reading: the humble book review can really be enhanced, and likely superseded, by creating presentations on this great app (one of my favourites for teaching and learning). Students can save almost any files type, image etc. and then create a flowing presentation with an audio commentary. This application really should see the death of ‘death by PowerPoint’!

5. Using the iPad for Internet research: The Safari web browser is a direct way to undertake internet research at any time, either instantaneously in class, or at home. What the iPad enhances about this common approach to researching authors or social contexts, or reviews, is that the information can be immediately saved and stored in apps like GoodReader or Dropbox, and then students can edit and interact with these resources, easily creating presentations as suggested above.

6. Reading Poetry: I don’t find e-books the best way to read poetry, but, of course, there is an app for that! IFPoems is a great app that is effectively an anthology selection of poetry, organised in a variety of useful ways – and a superb collection at that! It has the added bonus of audio recordings, by celebrities such as Helena Bonham Carter and Bill Nighy. Students can also record their readings of the poems, or email the poem, to be used in a presentation or for other learning opportunities.

7. With the easy access to iTunes U there is the easy chance to use a range of free audio recordings of books, alongside useful educational videos supporting an endless array of reading topics.

8. Using blog apps to provide individual or class responses to their reading: simple blog apps, such as the WordPress app, provide the opportunities to write web blogs in either class, or at home, that track their reading. This can support the reading of a class text or be used to track and share their own reviews of books they are reading.

9. Take a photograph of any student writing in response to their reading: perhaps my favourite use of the iPad is for instantaneous formative assessment. This aids a variety of learning skills, but by photographing the writing that students produce, then projecting it through Apple TV, the class, or the teacher, or both, can give instant formative feedback – this process really inspires students and they read the work of others with ease and skill when given the extra prestige of being projected for the whole group to engage with. It makes students more reflective learners and readers and helps them become ‘critical friends’, reading with a real focus.

10. Using comic apps for reading: students can create their own comics easily using lovely apps like ComicLife to get students writing, which is a great way to understand different genres they read. They can also read comics on a variety of easy apps like, like Stanza or Marvel Comics.


Clearly, this is a sample snapshot of the potential uses of the iPad to revive reading for students in and out of the classroom. One of the key bonuses of the iPad is how it can be used in such a wide variety of ways. With the growing network of schools undertaking iPad programmes, in a variety of ways, our collective learning and knowledge of how to use the tool can only improve. In our English and Media Faculty we want to focus in on key strategies, thereby making students and staff experts at these, before exploring the ever-growing wealth of resources at hand more broadly. At heart, I am a lover of reading and a believer in its power and beauty. In the last couple of years I have adjusted my habits to realise that it need not be a paper product we use to read, indeed, if we are to truly engage our learners we need to become ‘digital natives’ as they are, synthesising modern technology with more traditional concepts of literacy to combine the best of both worlds.

Why iPad over Android in the classroom?

As a Subject Leader, I have thought long and hard (with my colleagues, and particularly my fellow Subject Leader – of Media Studies – @KRE_ativity) about how we should move things forward in developing teaching and learning in our English and Media faculty. To bastardise a well worn American political phrase the first priority is clear: “It is the quality of the teachers, Dummy!”  Quite rightly, the question of technology to enhance pedagogy does come a couple of rungs down the ladder when it comes to importance. Every experienced teacher in almost every school will have suffered the trials of finding ICT room bookings like the proverbial needle in the haystack; traipsing across the school site in the rain; losing the late student who forgot it was an ICT lesson for the crucial first fifteen minutes of the lesson! The obstructions often outweighed the benefits. However, the potential to enhance teaching and learning with the freedoms provided by mobile devices becomes a different story; the capacity to excite, engage and personalise learning is undoubtedly present. With the flexibility and portability of tablet devices many of the former obstructions fell away – the enhancements were only enhanced! The question became ‘which technology could best enhance the pedagogy?’

In the world of  tablet technology the warring dividing lines very quickly became the choice between Apple and Android mobile devices.

The research began. The comparisons between apps and general capacity for varied uses were central (see my earlier blog posts), but also crucial was the cost. The question, ‘why pay for the premium Apple iPad product in a time of fiscal austerity in education?’ is obvious. Is the capacity so much better to justify paying extra, or is the iPad a triumph of advertising hype?

Firstly, in addressing the financial aspects, it is true to say that the iPads are at a premium; however, the iPad 2 has seen a significant price drop and its functionality is still cutting edge and brilliantly tailored for exploiting in the classroom as a collaborative tool. Still, they are significantly more costly than their cheaper Android rivals. When investigating the breadth and quality of applications, hardware and operating system maintenance, the dividing lines between Apple and Android were stormed by the better quality and range of the iPad. Crucially, no other Android device provides anything like the scope for enhancing teaching and learning like the iPads, especially when used in conjunction with Apple TV. 

Apple’s dominance of the tablet and mobile phone market means that it is the best placed develop educational applications (“Despite lower unit sales following the holiday season, the iPad scooped up 11.8 million of the 17.4 million units sold in Q1 2012 for a whopping 68 percent share.”[1]); whilst being better placed for reliable updates, consistent web browsing, better protection from viruses, and a better range of apps that can enhance teaching pedagogy than any cheaper Android device.[2] Some factors why Apple is better for such a deployment of multiple devices include the following:

–          The Apple OS is upgraded and installed much faster and more effectively than equivalent Android OS, therefore apps on iPads continue to get faster and better, particularly in areas like iTextbooks etc.

–          The back up, synchronising and cloud storage of iCloud is far superior to any Android equivalent, therefore student work is more secure

–          OS support is proven to be more consistent from Apple

–          Malware, viruses are considerably more common on Android devices and security on Android devices is significantly weaker. The gatekeeper control of Apple means the downloading of apps is more secure and their system provides excellent systematic protections for multiple devices

–          The range of Apple apps is currently significant larger and of better quality (a quality controlled by Apple)

–          Apple development and support is more consistent and systematic than Google’s Android model – this is crucial for our needs over the next five years.

The cost factor becomes subsumed by the quality factor. The old saying “pay cheap, pay twice” would likely apply to the cheapest tablets on the market anyway. The BlackBerry Playbook has crashed in price, but when RIM go bankrupt who will manage the operating system? There are lots of further logistical steps to master, training to complete, but the iPad can prove a real game changer. Because of its capacity to replace interactive whiteboards, visualizers etc. it becomes much more cost effective than it may first appear. By using the devices as group collaboration tools they become even more cost effective. The iPad device simply has to be the choice of the teacher and school looking to maximise the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

[1] J R Bookwalter, ‘Apple Owns Tablet market, while Android Stumbles’, TechRadar (May 2012)

[2] Fraser Spiers, ‘We need to talk about Android’,

The Flipped Classroom – An Introduction

The ‘flipped classroom’ appeared on my radar a fair few months ago whilst combing Twitter for ideas. As an English teacher, I was intrigued by the dramatic hyperbole and interested in what it was – whilst being inherently sceptical about whether it was just another buzz-term or ubiquitous hash tag of little use!  It took very little digging to find a host of information about the concept. In its purest form, represented by the likes of ‘The Khan Academy’, the model is quite simply the ability to share content through the medium of technology, in most cases simply lectures (of varying quality!). This basic model doesn’t add a great deal to teaching and learning, other than perhaps allowing for students to revisit and revise key information. Our tech-savvy students can easily use popular web platforms, like YouTube, to access this content at their leisure, on their terms (to a degree – it seems prime homework material!). There are the obvious benefits to this process. It allows for some personalisation of learning, it gives students the opportunity to revisit information, and in some cases (I doubt this is the case on any large scale) parents could engage with the material and support their children in their learning.

In our faculty we are looking to create a Youtube page for English and Media which would provide fun and interesting (that is the plan!) videos supporting students with issues such as essay writing, or giving them guides to our current courses etc. This idea preceded my knowledge of the very concept of the ‘flipped classroom’, but like most good ideas, they fit together nicely. There are a growing number of these departmental video channels now on the web and English departments will no doubt involve students in the process, making videos themselves (monitored and quality controlled by staff you would hope). We are also beginning to use iPads to enhance our teaching and learning, particularly group collaboration. The prospect of using mobile devices also fits snugly into the flipped model of learning and we should begin to align them in our planning and pedagogy.

Where the ‘flipped classroom’ model comes into its own is when the ‘flip’ is used to provide classroom time to then collaborate and engage in the learning, based on the assumption that the content has been digested. No doubt, like the setting of homework, some students will fail to undertake this gymnastic flip, but the show will go on regarding the teaching and learning within the lesson, and the minority who fail to complete their side of the flip would hopefully recognise the error of their ways! What is truly exciting is the prospect of greater curriculum time to practice all the higher level learning skills that help bring knowledge and curriculum content to life. How common is the complaint that we have too little time to cover the mass of curriculum ‘content’ we are expected to in the fulfilment of the National Curriculum and the multitude of examination requirements?

Undoubtedly, the future of learning is personalised to the learner.  It embraces the technology of our students who are the ‘digital natives’ of today and tomorrow. The ‘flipped classroom’ model is certainly a positive pedagogical step along that inevitably bumpy road. There are undoubtedly some dangerous flaws to navigate: simply uploading videos for a student busy multi-tasking on their Smartphone, whilst they simultaneously flick through their legion of social media comments, is hardly going to transform learning, or embed any understanding deeper than our existing model of education! (There is a level of distracted passivity and inability to concentrate fostered by omnipresent technology that is explored in this interesting article: )

A further issue is the inherent expectation for teachers to create the legion of videos required to make the flipped model work at all. The monitoring of comments/feedback, maintain links, and the technological process itself, are all time consuming.

Like any innovation, such issues are common, but the potential benefits do, in my view, outweigh the issues. The issues can be eased, if not eliminated. There is always going to be a transmission of knowledge required in our craft – the flipped model can provide a way of presenting that knowledge in a more varied manner than our classic ‘sage on the stage’ model. It need not be some ‘brave new world’ where automaton children are taught by internet avatars, where hundreds of future children are cocooned in their bedrooms responding only to the flicker of a computer screen! The use of video or podcasting should be an ingredient that is used often, part of a varied diet of good teaching and learning! Also, no individual teacher need reinvent the wheel – the likes of Twitter and WordPress connects a wealth of teachers looking for great resources, ready to share and pass on those they have found. Who hasn’t used a TED talk or a pre-prepared video (the ‘Shift’ anyone?) with students or staff alike? Students can and should be integrated into the flipped creation of resources; those resources can be recycled and adapted. The teacher may eat and sleep!

It is all rather simple really: it is a bit of a glamorous buzzword, but the principals and pedagogy of the ‘flipped classroom’ are fundamentally sound. The ‘flipped classroom’ is not going away and it will undoubtedly become one of the core habits of teaching and learning in the next decade. Get filming!

Here are some useful links to ‘flipped’ resources:

iPad Apps for English teaching and learning

In our prospective iPad project in our English and Media faculty we are currently trailing the best apps to use in the teaching of English and Media Studies. Here is a useful top ten list (with a few extras with honourable mentions!):

Pages: The basic word processing package that is really essential for any and all types of writing. Easily transportable by email to Dropbox etc. with the capacity to convert to Microsoft Word if required.

Safari: The essential internet browser for the iPad for all required research essential to presentations etc.

Dropbox: The best Cloud app to save work and create an accessible area to share work, ideas etc. Lots of free storage and a secure password system make Dropbox an ideal support for any department to share with students and fellow teachers.

iBooks: The essential e-reader and book library for the iPad. Save a range of classics for free and store other purchased class texts. With added annotation/ highlighting capacity, Apple is constantly updating the app to allow students and teachers to actively engage with texts. With iBooksAuthor you can even create real texts and upload them into iBooks – the ultimate ‘real writing’ experience.

ExplainEverything: A brilliant app for individual or group presentations. Students can upload images, video and text to the app template, whilst recording a voice-over to create fantastic presentations that harness a complex range of skills in an active way – allowing students to explain everything!

iFPoems: A fantastic anthology of poems is available on the app. The best features are great poetry readings, from the likes of Bill Nighy and Helena Bonham Carter. It also allows for the saving of favourites and the capacity for students to record their own readings of the poems.

iMovie: A smooth and easy  app that allows students to create films instantly, with an array of editing facilities. Reliable and effective, it is very simple but it can produce films of a very good standard.

Penultimate: One of the many handwriting apps on the iPad. This app is easy to use and excellent for writing notes, mapping ideas etc. Any notes can be easily emailed and saved to a Dropbox account.

iTunes U: This app provides an exhaustive library of free resources: from audiobooks to top quality lectures and instruction on a vast range of topics. Resources such as famous speeches to summaries of Shakespeare plays are free to use.

This fun app allows students to create comics with ease. It can effectively enhance the teaching of genre and provide lots of scope for exploring writing.

Some other great apps for English teaching deserving a mention:

YouTube: No explanation necessary, but very useful. With the vast range of resources being uploaded by educators (particularly with the growth of the ‘Flipped classroom’ model of teaching and learning) the options are endless.

GoodReader: A powerful app for annotating PDFs, this app has many uses for engaging with texts actively. I find the legion of options rather cumbersome so I am on the looking for a similar, but simpler, app for text annotation.

Instapaper: A great app for simply saving articles and documents offline in case any wireless network problems ensue.

Snapseed: Currently free, this is a great app to edit photos in a variety of ways.

Socrative: A great app for creating a variety of quizzes for instant formative or summative assessment.

Keynote: Effectively Apple’s PowerPoint, it is a nice smooth app that facilitates some lovely presentations. Similar to PowerPoint, it does take some time to get  to grips with.

CloudOn: A free app that provides the opportunity to create Microsoft documents for those who wish to use the familiar tools of the likes of Word or PowerPoint.

Frankenstein (by Inkle): A modern re-working of the classic. This app presents a modern, interactive version which really explores some of the moral choices inherent in the text. It also has the original text and some fantastic contemporary anatomical drawings and maps. Surely the future of e-reading is hinted at in this great app.

We intend to use Apple TV in our classrooms to ensure that students can instantly show any of their work from the apps selected. There are a range of apps that also provide this crucial sharing and control of multiple wireless devices, such as IdeasFlight –

I hope these ideas are useful. Do reply with any other good options for apps to use in English lessons.

Using the iPad in the English and Media Faculty

Beginning in our next school year, we are very excited to implement iPads (iPad2 devices) as a tool for collaborative learning in our English and Media faculty. We believe that the technology can enhance our pedagogy, whilst engaging our students in the basics of reading, writing and speaking & listening. We believe that the devices can harness excitement and confidence in our students, unleashing greater creativity and raising literacy standards. By using Apple TV, we will use the devices as a tool for formative assessment, immediately streaming student responses, writing, annotation or presentations and films etc. We are not going for the 1-to-1 model, instead the device will be used as a collaborative tool in groups. A class set will effectively be 7 to 8 iPads.

‘The main thing is the main thing’

Undoubtedly, any such new innovation requires time and training (both for students and staff), but we do not want to be put off by the relative newness of the technology for us all as a teaching and learning tool – we want to grasp the innovation and utilise the devices to enhance our pedagogy. Every teacher is a creature of habit – often we teach very similarly throughout our career – with a few ‘tweaks’ along the way. It is therefore important that we create new habits and really focus on where the devices can make those marginal gains in teaching on a day to day basis. We have therefore highlighted our key teaching and learning strategies:

  1. Using the device for photographing and streaming student work to the projector for immediate formative feedback
  2. Using the device as a tool for shared writing and guided writing
  3. Using the device for multi-modal group presentations
  4. Using the device for group reading and annotation
  5. Using the iMovie app for creating films/presentations
  6. Using apps like Goodreader for annotating documents (Interactive Whiteboard style)
  7. Using the device to research the web
  8. Using the device to store student work: ongoing and completed e.g. notes on a novel
  9. Using the audio recording facilities for speaking and learning activities e.g. podcasts
  10. Using the device to access and collaborate with research homework e.g. Pinterest
By focusing in upon these key uses we think that we can harness the capabilities of the technology, not as some ‘bolt on’ added extra, but as something habit changing that can transform how we teach and students learn.

The first blog…

This blog is a space to reflect on teaching and learning, share teaching and learning strategies and explore new innovations in teaching and learning.

I am a Subject Leader of English in a English and Media faculty in a great state school in York. I believe that the very best of traditional pedagogy can stand alongside innovation and new technology. Our faculty is undertaking a new project using iPads as a collaborative tool. This blog will chart the progress of the project, sharing what we – teachers and students – all learn along the way. Alongside this, I will muse about the ever-shifting landscape of Education, reading, media literacy and anything shiny that catches my eye!