Testing times

At last it’s the half-term holidays and all of us are enjoying a well deserved break from the classroom. The autumn hiatus offers teachers and students a welcome opportunity for rest and relaxation: a chance to get away from the rigmarole of planning and delivering lessons or designing and marking tests. The reality however for most teachers is that the work will follow us on our holidays.

For many of us this will be an opportunity to assess that first major assignment on our courses, to deliver on the promises set out in our SPT comments. It is a chance to provide some detailed feedback to our students and set a standard for the quality of work we expect to receive in the future.

With this in mind, perhaps coupled with a feeling that we have once again sabotaged our own holiday, we are likely to reflect over our teaching practices. We may ask ourselves some questions: How do we gauge the understanding of our students in the classroom? How can we ensure students are getting enough feedback early on to enable them to develop? Indeed, how can we gather and assess enough work from our students to provide meaningful feedback for those development talks early in the term?

With our next inset day at IEGS just around the corner I find myself planning a short workshop on how to incorporate technology in the classroom to engage learners and, rather ambitiously, to lighten the load on teachers.

We all know what works in the classroom, but do we know what works better?

Ewan McIntosh, CEO of NoTosh and the keynote speaker at IST‘s Practical Pedagogies conference, talked of how teachers tend to plateau after around 3-4 years in the job. As we embark on our teaching careers, we find ourselves on a steep development curve until eventually we find a style of our own and a way of working that is comfortable. We are okay. McIntosh notes however, that as innovators, it is not okay to be okay.

This was a point echoed by Jesper Ersgård (Lärarfortbildning) during our last inset day when he spoke to the staff on the subject of John Hattie’s Visible Learning: as teachers we all know what works in the classroom, but do we know what works better?

Last year, after a conversation with one of our science teachers, I started using Socrative as a method of formative assessment. Not only has this tool enabled me to gauge whether students understand the material we are covering during a unit, it has also made the correcting of tests more efficient. Socrative generates reports on each student which you can easily share in the student’s portfolio too.

In short, Socrative has helped me answer some of those questions I’ve faced during past holidays and regain at least part of my autumn break.

It begins…

Last week I had the privilege of traveling to Toulouse and the Practical Pedagogies conference arranged by Russel Tarr and IST.

I had been alerted to the conference by my colleague who follows Russel’s Active History feed on Twitter and thought the Tech Tools workshops would be right up my street – how right she was!

In my new role as an advanced skills teacher at IEGS, my focus this year is on embedding technology in our teaching practice. I firmly believe that technology can be harnessed to create independent, creative learners. In Toulouse I met inspirational educators who share my vision. A few of them I had followed on Twitter for some time but one of my big takeaways was meeting new teachers and expanding the list of educators I follow on social media.

One of them was John Sutton (Creative Blogs) whose workshop on blogging relit my interest in a tool I had long been curious of. John showed us that by having students write for a larger audience we can engage them more in the process. 

John talked about a young Bolton Wanderers fan whose grasp on punctuation confounded his teacher. It was only when a reader in Australia commented on the errors on this pupil’s blog that the boy finally made corrections to his writing. The exasperated teacher asked what prompted this change, after all  he had been giving the boy the same feedback all term. The boy’s reply was, “Yes, but he’s a real person.”

By having students write for a larger audience we can engage them more in the process.

A blog can empower young writers. We go from teaching students how to write, to teaching them to be writers. Blogging is also a useful tool to help me process the plethora of tips and tools I was introduced to in Toulouse. So, with that in mind I have decided to be my own guinea pig. I aim to test drive a number of new tech tools and hone my skills in others. I will share my experiences here and hopefully offer new ideas to interested teachers.

This blog has been brewing for some time but it’s thanks to Toulouse that I am finally writing.