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Developing Student Independence Through The Use of iPads
November 13, 2014
1

I find myself in an unusual and yet a privileged position.  I currently work in 2 schools – 3 days in my own school and 2 days on supply in another.  This has allowed me to have a new perspective on my own practice and it has highlighted some surprising things.18 months ago our department were lucky enough to acquire 20 iPads.  To be honest our first year with this new technology was not without its struggles.  Work flow had to be organised,  new routines had to be established and as staff, we had to get used to the new technology that we had been gifted.

Without doubt the use of iPads has 100% supported the work that we do.  We have seen increased engagement in class, we have been hugely creative in our lessons and our confidence in the use of technology has soared.  We have also had our down times, not connecting to the network, lack of Internet and lessons we thought would work that have just simply bombed.

Until now I have not noticed how independent the use of iPads has made our students but they most certainly have.  For many a year I have felt, as I am sure many MFL teachers do, like a walking dictionary; “Miss how do you say…?” Even before the advent of our iPads I had tried to encourage independence amongst our students by using the acronym SNOT; self, neighbour, other teacher.  I created some snotty looking posters and readily displayed them around my classroom.  The phrase “have you snotted?” became a familiar one in our classroom and yet I never felt that students were really moving towards independence.  iPads arrived and the SNOT phrase still rang out in my room.  I really felt that we were making no headway with this independence thing at all and yet unbeknown to me we were.

Last week it was independent learning week at my other school where students were asked to get into groups and research life in a new country.  This was all well and good but they just couldn’t do it.  In spite of the fact that they were sat at a computer on the internet I was still subjected to such questions as “is the Ivory Coast in Africa?” “Is the currency of Japan the Yen?” To be fair, I had a bit of an annoyed teacher rant that they had all the information at their fingertips and that they really didn’t need me, but to no avail.   The lesson was a bit like swimming in porridge to be honest but we gallantly ploughed on.  This got me thinking, this wouldn’t have happened at my school I simply knew that it wouldn’t but why?

At the beginning of our iPad adventure I set up some simple classroom routines based around getting the iPads out, logging into the network and doing it without fuss or bother.  I taught the students simple finger gestures so that they could efficiently and effectively use the technology.  I then placed some posters of QR codes on the classroom walls, these linked to basic language tools like an online dictionary and an online verb table.

Throughout our 1st year with iPads we experimented with a variety of apps with differing degrees of success.  Nearpod was very effective and the students enjoyed working through the online tasks that I set them. As we only have 20 iPads students often shared but this still worked  well  as they discussed their learning with each other.  Apps such as bookcreator and 30hands helped to promote both writing and speaking in the target language.  As we grew more confident, we began to try some simple and then some more complicated app smashes these can be reasonably tricky and require some serious thinking, collaborating and creating from the students.  What’s more, once given a task they just get on with it whilst I act as their guide.

More recently I have been using the excellent iTunesU App to help promote independent learning.  The courses are incredibly easy to set up.  You will need an iTunes account to be able to create and manager your courses.  You simply need to log into iTunesU manager and then it is just a case of finding all the materials you are going to use in your topic and dragging and dropping them into your iTunesU course.  Courses can be made public or private, mine are private at the moment, students need either a link, maybe via QR code or an enrol code in order to enrol in your course.  Once in, they can access all the materials in there.  By giving students access to all of my materials it has helped them hugely when preparing for controlled assessments as they can easily refer back to previous lessons or they can check online grammar lessons that are also uploaded to the course. Students can work at their own pace, as once they finish a piece of work they can easily move onto the next in the course without fuss, bother or paper!  Listening tasks can also be uploaded to the course which enables students to control how often they listen to at ask and which parts of that task they listen to again.  It has taken some time but students are getting used to the idea that the classroom is not focussed on me or the whiteboard.  It’s about them, their peers, collaboration and independence.

These days and without me even noticing, I rarely get “miss how do you say…?” In fact I very rarely to say “have you used SNOT?” The reason for this is the effective use of technology in the classroom.  Students now know that if they want to look up a spelling or gender they simply scan the relevant QR code and bingo they have their answer.  They are used to working together to create and overcome challenges that they have come across through our app smashes or through the use of apps such as nearpod.  I have never explicitly taught these skills although I have always tried to foster them and yet my students are becoming more and more independent and confident in their handling of the language.  This shows itself in their written and spoken work whereby they are writing phrases, sentences and indeed whole paragraphs off their own backs, not simply vocabulary that I fed them but stuff that they have found, created and worked on.  So when other teachers ask me have iPads had an impact in my classroom?I can categorically say yes they have but the move towards independent learning is often shadowy, it creeps up on you and suddenly you have that moment when you have your eyes opened for you and it’s there for all to see – independence in all it’s glory!


  1. I used ipads on a one to one basis with classes for 3 years and then, with my new Primary 6, I had to wait till a few weeks ago when a new set was purchasedn to begin using them again. I realise this might sound a bit snotty, I know I have been privileged to have so much access but doing without after having them all the time was strange and limiting, it did feel a bit of a backward step. I am so happy to have ipads back in my classroom.

    Like you, I have learnt a lot a long the way and not everything goes smoothly or well every time we use them but the benefits outweigh any frustrations or mistakes (in fact the mistakes usually faciliate learning).

    Ipads (and I’m sure other tablets) allow access to more choices about what to study within given parameters and about how to demonstrate learning; different apps and app smashing allow for creative choices; learners teaching each other how to do things increases; confidence increases as learners are able to be experts with different apps and skills; professional looking results promote confidence and help those who aren’t so good with pen and paper; we go much further with writing and editing than would be possible with pen and paper; we think about what we don’t know yet and learn more when our skills aren’t quite up to scratch e.g. how to plan for filming or our photography isn’t so hot; they create genuine audiences and opportunities for collaboration; it is easier to share and discuss work and give feedback as things are being made, discussed etc and learners present to each other regularly and it becomes easier and more a natural part of what they do. There are so many benefits.

    I am also a parent and have been amazed at what an ipad has meant for my child. She loves art and has learnt techniques and gained inspiration from online videos and tutorials and has been provided with an audience and encouragement. She watches TED talks and finds out more about the authors of the books she is reading, the musicians she loves and her current obsessions e.g. the Rubix Cube or a song she wants to learn on her guitar. I probably have the same worries as other parents about them spending more time in virtual chat than real chat but I also see that it has allowed her to go much further with her skills than would ever have been possible B.I. (Before Ipads).

    Really glad to hear that you are having a positive experience too and seeing some of the big picture changes that are being brought about.

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