Sunday, 4 December 2011

Participation is Key

A key aspect of the usefulness of technology in the classroom is how it can motivate children in their learning. As the proverb goes: You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Getting children engaged in lessons is a key skill for teachers in today’s classroom.

Many homes are full of technology and children will happily make use of this for sustained periods. Video games, computers and mobile handsets are used by children to socialise, share and educate each other. Schools need to be making use of these tools in order to encourage participation.

When we made ringtones in our classes, we offered children the opportunity to bring their phones into school in order to make it real. We use ‘Brain Training’ games on the PSP to encourage mental maths skills and we use iPods to deliver teaching through video and podcasts.

However, technology cannot be the sole tool for encouraging participation. Dylan Wiliam recently exhibited some key strategies in his BBC programme, ‘The Classroom Experiment’. In a range of secondary classrooms, he showed how tools such as coloured cups, whiteboards and lollipop sticks could encourage those children who felt disengaged by school to participate in lessons through discouraging the use of ‘hands up’.

At our school, we looked in detail at the use of these techniques. We are always looking at better ways of engaging our children in order to maximise the quality of the learning. Firstly, cups. Some of us dreaded the prospect of crinkly, noisy, distracting cups so we made discs out of laminated card. Green means - I know what is happening. Orange means - slow down I am unsure of what is going on. Red means – Stop, I don’t know what is going on. To keep the use of these in the children’s minds we have a picture of the three discs on most pages of our lesson presentations. Most of the time the children have the discs on green and, when needed, they are able to move it to red to ask questions.

Every class has lollipops with children’s names on. Whenever we need to ask children to participate in lessons, we pull out a stick. Sometimes, we catch the children who know the answer, other times we catch children who are unsure. This gives us a far better picture of how well a lesson is going as well as ensuring children know that they need to keep up with the lesson as their name might get pulled out. For those of you who love a gadget, Smart Notebook and both offer funky alternatives in the form of random name pickers and a fruit machine Flash tool.

These techniques have equipped us to better engage children in lessons. Discs and lollipop sticks mean that we can get immediate and valuable feedback about how lessons are going, leading to lessons which are much more effective for children.

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