Harnessing technology to empower students and individualise learning

Harnessing technology to empower students and individualise learning

We’ve all heard it, right? You can’t effectively teach to the needs of a whole class in one go. Whole class lessons simply don’t work. So the solution is to teach in small groups. Tailor the lesson to suit their needs, keep a close eye on misconceptions, get more feedback from all students… everyone wins, right?

Well, everyone except for that student who didn’t quite get it and now has no access to support because you’re teaching another group. Oh, and that other student who just needs to hear the instructions once more. And of course there’s that other student who is happily completing his task… completely and obliviously wrong, but you’re none the wiser until you mark his work after school because you were working with another group. And that special event this week means that group B missed out on their lesson… Yeah, you might be getting the sense that small group work wasn’t cutting it for me or my students. I had to think differently. I needed a solution that would:

  • provide opportunity to teach to student’s needs
  • allow students to work at their pace – including repeating/reviewing lessons when needed
  • leave me free to support students in class to watch for misconceptions, troubleshoot and keep all learners on task.

Here’s what I’ve come up with… Notability + Google Drive + iPads = Brilliant.

The context for this is in a grade 4 math classroom, although it could be applied to almost any context. It’s worth noting that we are a 1:1 iPad classroom and all students have a Google Apps for Education email account, Notability and Google Drive installed on their iPads.

The workflow is:

  • Create the lesson – at the moment focused on division strategies – using Notability on my iPad. With this I am able to write on the screen and record my voice. Because I am able to create many lessons, I am able to keep them short and specific. I found that when I was working with small groups in class, it was so long between seeing each group that I then tried to teach too much to them in one go.
    • Once my lesson is finished, I am able to import PDF worksheets for immediate consolidation of the new task. Sometimes I’ll add in some worded problem or open ended type problems to extend their thinking and application. This is all within one note in Notability.
  • When I’m ready for students to take the lessons, I will share the note (in notability file format – not PDF – to include the voice recording) to a Google Drive folder that I have also shared with students in that group.
  • Students then open Notability on their iPads and import my notes/lessons. They are able to listen and watch the lesson, then proceed to their independent practice without interruption or need to setup their task.
  • Students work is automatically backed-up to Google Drive where I can view their progress if I didn’t see them in class. I can also import documents to my iPad, comment on them with voice and/or writing and then send it back to the student’s Drive folder. However I find the best form of feedback and check-in is in class. As students finish, I will check their work and move them to the next task – Mathletics tasks or teaching their new learning in Explain Everything.

Organising the lessons

Inside a lesson

Notability note layout

Within a week I’m already seeing huge benefits for  both students and myself:

  • Lessons now effectively become one on one as students plug in their headphones to focus on the lesson without distraction from other students,
  • Students can watch and re-watch the lessons to help them understand,
  • Students are taking on more responsibility for their learning,
  • Students are able to move at the pace that suits them – some are racing through lessons, while others are being more diligent to ensure they understand the lesson,
  • I am free during lessons to:
    • troubleshoot students’ queries
    • identify misconceptions or students who are off track
    • monitor students’ progress and move them to the next step of learning when they’re ready (in fact I’m finding I’m far more aware of students’ work and abilities compared with before)
    • less after school marking as it’s done in class (after school is now spent creating the new lessons)

Students using iPads to document their learning

Teacher: “What’s one thing you’ve learned from today’s lesson?”

Grade 2 Student: “I learned that iPads can be used for learning and not just for playing games”.

With the addition of 50 iPads to the elementary campus just before the December break, we have been exploring exciting and innovative ways to enhance our learning.

In grade Grade 2, the students have been given the opportunity to use iPads in their classrooms to help them record their learning, ideas and questions about their Unit of Inquiry. Each classroom has 3 iPads permanently stationed within it. Groups of 6 or 7 students are sharing the iPads and making use of a few specific apps to help to record any new learning they have made. The methods of sharing their learning can occur through photos or videos using the built-in camera, an ongoing mindmap using Popplet or by demonstrating their understanding using ScreenChomp.

There are a number of benefits in allowing students to record their thinking and learning in this way. Firstly, a record of learning is kept throughout the unit, which will show the progress of each student from beginning to end. Secondly, the teacher has an opportunity to reach every child in the class at any time of the day. The teacher can then review the documentation from that day after school. This then allows the teacher to identify any misconceptions and prior knowledge that can be used to help plan the next learning experiences. Students are given the opportunity to express their learning via a number of ways including text, speech and illustration. Finally, the motivation for students to think about their learning is enhanced through the opportunity to then share this learning using an iPad.

We are very excited by the possibility that this technology tool will bring to the students. Stay tuned to see how this trial unravels.