Writing with them & iPads as a tool for feedback – late to the party?

Do you ever get that horrid sinking feeling? That ‘late to the party’ feeling when it seems that everybody around you doing something that you’re not? Well, that’s pretty much how I felt about the good old iPad. Yes, I have an iPhone and yes, I was using it to take pictures of positive learner behaviours, projecting photos that I had taken on to the IWB, using the odd app etc. but with such a small screen and such terrible eyes…I really wasn’t doing it justice. We’ve all heard the expression ‘using tech for tech’s sake’ and I’m a firm believer in only using something if it enhances the learning experience for the pupils in the classroom so, when I recently gave in and got an iPad, I was understandably cautious. I had got it to use for work yes, but in spite of the mountain of amazing recommendations from others far more experienced than i (see @ICTEvangelist), I am still following the line of ‘cautious’ in my approach.

By introducing it into the classroom slowly however, I am finding that the simplest things are made far easier. Take revision with Year 11 for example. Having made it my mission to change their mindset when it came to drafting extended answers for the English writing exam (see my previous post Meat is Murder), we are getting through a good deal of past papers at the moment. In the spirit of channelling my inner year 11 pupil (scary at times!) and working to develop a Growth Mindset with the group; I have started to write with them, a fantastic tip from David Didau @LearningSpy , and it has developed both their learning and my relationship with the class in a very positive way.

In the vein of ‘exam papers are hard but they are worth giving your all to’ as opposed to ‘give up at the first 10 mark question’; I explained to the group that each time they were to write an exam answer, reading or writing paper, I was going to write with them. I too was going to ‘sit’ the exam. This was a novelty for them. Rather than me going round, peering over shoulders offering little or no input until the marking stage; I too was feeling the pressure of the silence, having to analyse the question, find the information and structure the answer. It’s completely different from writing model answers in the staffroom during your PPA’s let me tell you! It really was a great learning experience.

Rather than sitting at home or at my desk, creating model answers; for 30 minutes I was able to understand their experience and they loved it! With the occasional well placed utterance of ‘it’s a bit tricky that second one’ or ‘must remember to use the key words from the question here’ from me, it really enthused the pupils to know that we were ‘in it together’. Quite apart from that, the notion of me completing the exam with them removed the desire for those ‘can you just look at this and check it’s right?’ until the appropriate time, as I was doing the exam too and they ‘couldn’t’ disturb me. The subtle promotion of independence within this situation was something so simple yet so important. It is doing them a disservice to step in at every possible opportunity; after all, they won’t get that assistance in the exam. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t refusing assistance, we have been working on structuring responses for the better part of six months now, but in this situation, it can be too much of a temptation to ask teacher.

Having completed our allotted questions it was time to mark and feed back. During the initial attempt I used only the answers that I had written, photographing them with the iPad and projecting on to the whiteboard after which we marked them using the mark scheme, annotated key points and compared with pupils’ own work.

This technique of projecting your own work is beneficial for a number of reasons. On a human level, if you make mistakes (on purpose or not!) pupils are quick to correct them, suggesting improvements and learning from the errors – what not to do next time. We all make mistakes, that’s where the learning happens!

From a ‘time’ point of view; you are able to create model answers which can be used again with other groups, thus saving valuable planning time (we all need that!). From an expectations point of view, the answers, yours and theirs, can be used to raise pupil aspirations by explaining that only the best answers will be shown and analysed, therefor enthusing pupils to produce their very best work, ‘I’m going to get this just right so that mine will be shown’ or in contrast to remove the fear of feedback and move towards a focus on progress by using answers that aren’t quite there and building upon them as a group, visually, making improvements. I’m definitely a fan of the iPad, albeit a cautious one, yet its use to give instant visual feedback is a simple yet effective technique and I have found it to be great for exam preparation.

Although writing with your classes is not appropriate all of the time, I would really recommend doing it when you can as it promotes independence. If you are writing too it encourages pupils to independently work through any issues they might come across, using their own skills and knowledge to resolve them. You can always clarify misconceptions / misunderstandings at the feedback stage and most valuably, use these ‘moments’ to reflect upon and improve exam technique. It develops your understanding of the tasks you set – you see things that you may miss if you are ‘just’ planning it rather than ‘doing’ it. Finally, it develops your relationship with your class; they see that you are prepared to do the task rather than just dishing it out, struggle at times and then show them your work as well as theirs to critique. A useful technique for developing writing all round.

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