Caption: “I sat Gove’s EBacc and look where it got me!”
I am not necessarily angry at the demise of the GCSE; however, I am annoyed that Gove appears to be spurning his undeserved privilege to create a truly world class qualification in the place of GCSEs that can make us all proud. Gove’s EBacc isn’t finalised by any means – but surely the misguided proposal of a sole final three hour exam for a national English qualification could not possibly be the totality of any qualification to ready students for a complex and rapidly changing modern world. Expecting a qualification with a concluding three hour examination as its only method of assessment to ready students for their diverse and highly technological future is like asking a giraffe to climb a tree to ready it for survival on the barren plains of the Serengeti! Gove appears to avidly ignore a wealth of educational evidence, and the myopic prejudices of Gove and Gibb look set to squander any hope of a modern qualification for English, the Humanities and beyond, that is truly fit for purpose.
There are a range of examinations, both nationally and internationally, to draw upon to create the best qualifications for our 11-16 year olds that is fit to prepare them for their complex future. Gove appears to eschew such research, evidence and expertise, and he appears to stubbornly rely upon his conservative prejudices – he may praise certain qualifications, but he refuses to learn lessons from them. So what current options do we have for which to build an ideals set of qualifications? We have the GCSEs (labelled as wholly discredited, mostly by people whose knowledge is slim and their prejudice fat); the iGCSE (a favoured preserve of Private schools); the International Baccalaureate – at both Middle Years and Diploma (praised repeatedly by Gove), as well as a host of internationally renowned qualifications. I would ask a series of questions about how our assessment for this curriculum stage, and our curriculum more broadly, would be composed to best suit the skills and knowledge required for the future:
Where is the place for Project Based Learning?
The PISA report, one of Gove’s sacred tracts, revealed how assessment models that embed project based learning are the way forward for successful assessment models. I have quoted this in my diatribe against Gove’s Ebacc before (https://huntingenglish.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/an-angry-response-to-gove-levels/), but it bears repeating. PISA found in the ‘framework for assessment’ aspect of the report that:
” “problem-solving competency” can be developed through “progressive teaching methods, like problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning” and project work. “The Pisa 2012 computer-based assessment of problem-solving aims to examine how students are prepared to meet unknown future challenges for which direct teaching of today’s knowledge is not sufficient,””
This approach is not a new phenomenon, but it is a manner of assessment that is rich in a diverse manner of skills: from independent research; to reading a complex range of sources (from the Internet to ancient literature) and synthesising ideas in a logical structure; to extended writing with a real purpose and a real audience; to a final oral presentation which is ‘testing’ in the most rigorous and rewarding manner. In IB schools, 11-16 year olds already undertake such projects, like in the Southbank international school in London: http://www.southbank.org/personal-project.html. Should we not seek out the assessment celebrated by the very international body Gove so clearly heralds?
Where is the place for Speaking and Listening?
A three hour exam is all well and good as a simple measuring stick, but our children will need to exist in a social world where they will also need to communicate successfully in a myriad of ways still unimaginable to us now. They need to be highly flexible in their capacity to communicate with different audiences and in different contexts – in a truly globally connected world. The current GCSE model of three oral assessments in English, includes a drama performance, a group discussion and an individual presentation. It is imperfect, but it is wholly appropriate to lending credence to the central place of oral communication in any and every assessment model. Gove could warmly remember his days as President of the Oxford Union if he were to come to a state school like mine (he would dread this I’m sure!) and listen to some highly enlightened current debate. Only this week my Year 11 English group have been arguing about the nature of fame, Warhol’s ‘fifteen minutes’ and the importance of role models in our contemporary world. Yes, a final examination does not exclude the central position of discussion in our pedagogy, yet every student and teacher in the land will be under pressure to teach to the test – keep your dogmatic league tables Mr Gove and you will continue to see teaching through the eye of a narrow test.
In the International Baccalaureate Diploma there is an oral presentation and an oral commentary (recorded for and moderated by the IB) in the A1 English aspect of the course. These form nearly a third of the overall assessment for A1 English for one of the most renowned and rigorous qualifications across the world. The oral commentary is a developed response to literary texts and it is highly challenging. Is such an assessment model not fit and proper for our students? Would it not hone a whole host of skills and inject a much needed diversity into our proposed Ebacc assessment model?
Where is the place for multi-modal writing and technology?
Gove is a self-professed traditionalist, and as an English teacher, I would debate heatedly the importance and relevance of Shakespeare in any modern English curriculum. I may draw the line at Gove’s liking for Dryden, but I have a keen preference for the classical canon. That being said, we live in a rapidly changing world where media literacy and multi-modal texts must be combined with the best of the traditional canon of knowledge. This isn’t pandering to create a curriculum for ‘enjoyment’; the reading of film, a critical analysis of the web and a skilful knowledge of texts that combine all of the above, are crucial skills for a future when the written word will continue to synchronise with technology in ways we cannot fully comprehend.
Once again, project based learning can encourage the use of tools of modern technology in a real and innovative fashion. Seeing students be creative with iPads, smart phones or computers to create films, applications or presentations, truly celebrates a multitude of skills appropriate for the future when technology will surely be integral to learning and living.
Where is the place for extended writing not completed in exam conditions?
Now, let me set the record straight, neither old fashioned coursework, nor the new controlled assessment system is ideal as a mode for assessment. Crucially; however, the role of extended writing produced in a series of drafts, and honed and crafted, is just as valid as any examination approach to extended writing. If the issue is the ‘gaming’ of the system that occurs with coursework, as so famously exposed through examples like the honourable Prince Harry and his Private school art teacher; or the limiting of curriculum time created by the stultifying controlled assessments, then learn from those errors and make the assessment better! Create an independent piece of extended writing that is offered in a portfolio approach, where proposals are recorded, drafts are retained etc. We may even come to recognise the value of crafting writing with research, deep thought and revisions, rather than celebrating the reductive time constraints of the exam model. Again, the IB Diploma has this enshrined in the Extended Essay aspect of the qualification. It allows for an independence of thinking and exploration we would surely seek to foster in all our students – whilst honing a range of skills simply not possible in an exam-only model.
How do we get our students to ask and answer questions that can’t be tested?
The exam-only model is clearly reductive. It is easily measurable, quantifiable and scalable (and sellable to bloated exam boards!) – therefore it is the default model for education systems around the world. Crucially, however, continental systems still manage to embed philosophy and critical thinking at the heart of their curriculum. In the IB Diploma, for example, TOK (Theory of Knowledge) explores knowledge and thinking in rich and diverse ways. Time is found to explore and critique knowledge in a way comprehensively ignored in our national curriculum at 11-16. It is this deep learning and thinking that helps foster citizens who can think flexibly and be able to apply their thinking skills in innovative and creative ways.
Finally, I would ask a broader question: why are independent schools, and their students, given the privilege of choice, when our state schools are hampered by that behemoth that crushes all breadth and richness of curriculum provision – school league tables? I will admit it is my very personal bête noire – but whilst schools are forced to supposedly raise standards in a system which fosters a heightened narrowing of the curriculum to achieve ‘success’, how will we ever see the required diversity of curriculum provision needed for the future of our children? How can a system that actively promotes competition over collaboration, in a survival of the fittest to scramble up the league table to relative safety from the attack dogs of OFSTED, ever work in raising standards for all? With such a pervasive culture of distrust and narrow judgements, how will schools enjoy the freedoms to innovate and enrich? With such crushing judgements awaiting schools, it is no surprise when cheating ensues, when good practice is ditched at the alter of expediency. I am not condoning such corrosive behaviour that impacts negatively upon students, but I understand why it is going on when the conditions for growth and development for state schools are as fruitless as Osbourne’s scorched earth economic policy.
When will we corral the experts in the field of education to create an English qualification fit for purpose in preparing students for a changing world? When will we be led with courage and the foresight to let schools collaborate in local unison to create assessments fitting for our children and their futures? To bastardise a political phrase: we must be the change we seek. We must forge a vision of a future proof curriculum that we can be proud to teach and make Gove and his colleagues stand up and take notice. Parents, teachers, school leaders and unions must unite in this cause. It is crucial to the very future of our nation in a globalised world where economies of scale mean that Britain must create a highly innovative and creative knowledge economy. It begins with education. It begins with an evidence based curriculum fit for purpose. It begins with us.
Imagine the very typical scene of a class in an ICT suite. I am sure you would simply visualise each individual student working away at their own computer – such is the basic paradigm of ICT use that we have all internalised. What is typical is snapshot of the near catatonic bliss of individual students disappearing into a virtual world of ICT – their terrain, their world! In my experience as an English teacher, students would often use an ICT room to be researching on the web, perhaps some aspect of the social context of a given text, like researching Great Depression America when we study ‘Of Mice and Men’. Each ICT room is built to encourage purposeful individual learning; group work is a concept left for our usual classroom spaces. When working with ICT simply putting students in pairs can have a radical impact upon their learning. A good teacher knows that group work is key – collaboration can lead to greater creativity – students can better enhance their knowledge base and understanding by working together. When working in pairs on the same task as mentioned above students can synthesis their ideas and judgements, debating and evaluating their evidence. Why can’t the new technology of tablet devices, like the iPad, and mobile learning more generally embrace the same principals of effective group work and collaboration?
With any education technology it is important to put great thought into implementation and how it will shape effective pedagogy. The iPad is clearly leading the charge for mobile technology in the classroom. Now, issues of price and effective usage are abound with the iPad and other similar devices. By making the iPad a tool primarily for group work and collaboration it can greatly enhance learning in a myriad of ways – not only that, it is highly cost effective. In a time of fiscal austerity good pedagogy may well be a way of preserving dwindling budgets.
Here’s an example I made earlier:
Now, there are many ways in which students can use the iPad as a collaborative tool to enhance learning. Take a single task in my subject area of English – related to the aforementioned ‘Of Mice and Men’ – the filming of dramatic monologues created through purposeful group work. As a group, students can formulate effective open and closed questions for a range of the key characters in the text. Students can then hone their questions to a top four or five, thereby evaluating their understanding together, synthesising the best of their ideas. These can then be streamed and shaped by the teacher or other students through critical formative assessment of their ideas. Also, if needs be, they can use the iPad to search the text or the web for useful supporting information as they learn. Each of the group can then take a role as one of the characters being hot seated and answer their formulated questions. They can then use the iPad as a tool to film and record their performances using iMovie. These films can be streamed instantly to the class projector, with other groups peer assessing the quality of the questions and the appropriateness of the answers relative to their understanding of the novella. Their film can be saved and stored in Dropbox to be used again, recycling the learning easily where necessary (repetition is the one of the keys to mastery). Now, this task could be done with a video-camera, but the iPad does it with ease and is brilliantly multifunctional. It is a camera, a Visualiser, an Interactive Whiteboard and a PC all in one! The film can be made simply and quickly, edited by students as they film.
The iPad is simply a great tool to record, store and share, annotate, assess etc. It functions brilliantly for group tasks – allowing for group annotation, shared reading, shared writing and a tool for oral presentations (ExplainEverything is my favourite app which can record oral commentaries over presentations – you may never need PPT again!). Coupled with the ability to stream work instantly to the projector using Airplay, it is a great way to formatively assess their group learning with immediacy, whilst heightening the sense of purpose for almost all students.
Almost all of the research into mobile devices centres upon the one-to-one approach. This is coupled with the less popular, but emerging, ‘bring your own device’ approach. Both have obvious benefits. Each individual students having a device opens up a host of options that the collaborative approach cannot. However, there are also prohibitive costs related to this approach and the emphasis on individual work can inhibit the deeper learning as shown above. Having seven iPads as a ‘class set’ also allows many more classes to use the devices at any given time, multiplying the potential benefits. By approaching the new technology as tools for collaborative learning schools can make significant savings in a time of fiscal austerity – not only that, the benefits to pedagogy are still clear. It may take a paradigm shift in how we envision the use of technology and mobile devices, but the collaborative approach could be the way forward for many schools looking to implement iPads and new technology more generally in our era of slashing cuts – making a virtue out of necessity.
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.
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. http://www.simplehelp.net/2010/04/03/how-to-take-a-screenshot-of-your-ipad/
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.
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.”); 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. 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.
 J R Bookwalter, ‘Apple Owns Tablet market, while Android Stumbles’, TechRadar (May 2012)
 Fraser Spiers, ‘We need to talk about Android’, http://speirs.org/blog/2012/3/6/we-need-to-talk-about-android.html
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!):
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 – http://www.ideaflight.com/how-it-works/
I hope these ideas are useful. Do reply with any other good options for apps to use in English lessons.
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:
- Using the device for photographing and streaming student work to the projector for immediate formative feedback
- Using the device as a tool for shared writing and guided writing
- Using the device for multi-modal group presentations
- Using the device for group reading and annotation
- Using the iMovie app for creating films/presentations
- Using apps like Goodreader for annotating documents (Interactive Whiteboard style)
- Using the device to research the web
- Using the device to store student work: ongoing and completed e.g. notes on a novel
- Using the audio recording facilities for speaking and learning activities e.g. podcasts
- Using the device to access and collaborate with research homework e.g. Pinterest