Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Ten Top Tips

Oops - I can't now remember who or what i wrote this for!! lol
Was it the Guardian? TES? Err.. really can't remember. But in conferences people keep referring to it (warmly). So here it is again:

Talking to schools and LAs and others I am often asked for practical things that you can do right now to help the journey towards 21st century learning. So... here's one set of my ten top tips.

There is a palpable sense of education changing, at long last many would say, and a significant part of that change has been brought about by the new technologies that it is surely now impossible for anyone to ignore in our learning lives. In the 20th century most economic success stories were big things that did things for people - a national curriculum, a railway network, travel agents and so on. In the 21st century the successes are largely all about helping people to help each other: eBay, Google, Wikis, cheap flights, the huge growth in charitable sector are indicative. So what small steps might schools take that will prove to be on the route to 21st century learning? Here are ten suggestions, all working somewhere, tried and tested. Simple to achieve but quite profound in their impact. Doubtless readers have 1,000s more, but these are ten of my favourites from Scotland and around the world.

(1) Get an NQT and the children to arrange a staff development day that introduces colleagues to Facebook, Flickr, SecondLife, Bebo, Big Brain Academy, explains why "poking" isn't rude any more, has a clinic to clarify predictive txt (!), explains why children have stopped emailing, and so on. Ask them to give it a purpose, not just another sterile "how to" workshop, and ask if it can be fun please - the last one I visited somehow had an 007 theme worked into it! Great fun, great insights...

(2) Go out and buy a few pay-as-you-go SIM cards (£5) for some old phones (£0!). Remember to match the network of the card to the network of each old phone (eg T Mobile). Give them out to a few colleague volunteers and ask them to give the number to their classes. After each lesson, if pupils have useful suggestions about teaching and learning, they will be encouraged to TXT them to the phone. You will be amazed by the quality of the responses IF colleagues comment on the suggestions and respond. What happens of course is that over and above the motivation of hearing the authentic student voice and the value of wise suggestions, there is a meta-level reflection on learning which in itself improves performance all round. The TXTs are only received, so the pay-as-you-go card lasts forever.

(3) 21st century learning needs properly reflective practice. Set up a staff-student-parent research project. A favourite is to explore the impact of music and sound on learning (you will probably find for example that music with a clear lyric gets in the way of writing, but silence is less effective than some aural ambience. You can structure this any way you like, but involving parents helps too, and structure the tasks so that you get solid data. Again that meta-level reflection is a useful by-product. Having established what works, don't forget to implement it!

(4) On the little Nintendo DS pocket game console, Dr Kawashima Brain Training and the Big Brain Academy really do work. See if you can assemble a half class set (beg, borrow, buy - they are £80 each) and have a regular early morning moment where a group run the game and graph their "brain improvement" but compare their performance on some other curriculum task before and after a half term of "brain training". You'll be surprised! Take a moment to run a staff tournament too. More surprises!! Look no further than East Lothian's Gullane Primary School and class P7 for advice!

(5) If any of your staff are on Vodafone it is currently VERY easy to take a photograph, add a subject and a TXT comment, then publish it to a "phone blog". Get Vodafoned colleagues to capture and blog images they think are useful for a staff discussion about policy - for example school uniform, or movement around the school. Use as a focus for staff discussion. Doubtless colleagues will start to think about how handy this will be for field work, holiday "show and tell" and other things too. You can control who sees the blogs by the way.

(6) Give half a dozen of the more "lively" school students a stopwatch each. Ask them, as a research project, to start the watches when they have finished arriving or getting organised and actually start learning, and to stop them again when they start to pack up at lesson end or are moving about the school. In a secondary school something like 20% of the week will be found to be wasted in this way if the school is on the old 20th century short lesson timetable. Explore the impact of MUCH longer timetable blocks (eg a maximum of three blocks in a day). Not only will concentration and application change, but colleagues will need to re-examine teaching styles (the old Dick Turpin model "stand and deliver" won't work for example) but performance and enjoyment will shoot up. Don't believe anyone who says "our subject is special and needs short lessons!! By the way, you will be amazed at how the behaviour of your lively young researchers changes too.

(7) Set up a school media group and rotate the children involved in it. Ask them to interview key guests, capture sporting triumphs, record the rehearsals for the forthcoming school production, explain anti-bullying week, etc., etc. Get them to edit this down to a punchy 5 or 10 (max) minute weekly show, including any words from the head. Post it weekly onto YouTube and use one weekly tutorial session to ensure everyone watches it. Within weeks half your parents will be watching too. In this instance I'll offer an example of how effective this can be: search on www.YouTube.com for CMTV to see how Castle Manor School do this weekly. A by-product is to hone the media skills of many students of course. Watch those parental first choices climb!

(8) If you go to Google and type a search for "free essay online' you will get millions of hits. In many cases children are delighted to post their best work and it very motivating as a learner when others get "A"s for work you did! It gives a great sense of audience, but is clearly a coach and horses driven through current assessment practice. So work on developing 21st century tasks that are appropriate. For example: find an essay similar to the one set, improve it significantly and then hand in the original AND improved versions. Or find an essay and, with others, critique it - say what is wrong with its sources, its conclusions, its scholarship. A good way to do this is to copy an A4 printout onto the centre of A3 paper and critique it by hand with margin notes. Consider the school posting its own best work online for next year's students and others to explore. Good-bye criterion referencing. Hello progress and ambition!

(9) Take a digital camera (or if pushed, a disposable camera which can be developed onto a photo-CD cheaply). Ask one student per week to capture the ten best things that happen in school that week. they can't just wander around looking, so give them four weeks notice to research what those ten things will be. Twirl a projector round each evening to point at a window that can be seen from outside the school. Focus it onto the glass. Run a slide show all night of those images (© credit the student). This top tip is fab in the winter but a waste of time in the summer, but watch the crowds gather...

(10) and finally - every school is different. Your culture, context, colleagues and children are all different. A breezy wet day is different from a dry calm one. There is no exemplar, just many solutions to making learning more delightful, engaging and effective. But everyone is trying new ideas and learning is moving rapidly. You can borrow tested, effective "learning ingredients" from other schools all around the world. You can take a selection of these ingredients to make into a great local "recipe" for learning. This final top tip say there are tens of thousands of top tips worldwide, don't stop at these ten!

© Prof Stephen Heppell 2007

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