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Technology - providing new ways to connect with learners

Before moving to my new school in February, at the interview I was asked what areas I would like to improve in my teaching. Having not had much opportunity to use technology at my previous school, I had been aware for some time of the need to upskill myself in the use of technology and I was frequently impressed (or, should that be overwhelmed, perhaps) by teacher colleagues online and at teach meets, who seemed to use all sorts of fancy tech in the delivery of their lessons. Green screens, SeeSaw, Microsoft Teams - it sounded useful, but it had never been part of the ‘bread and butter’ of my daily lessons, so I never paid it any attention. I didn’t have the time.

I am laughing out loud to myself as I write this, thinking of how quickly since then that teachers have upskilled in IT, with many of us now so IT literate that we would be capable of branching out into the world of IT support, if we so wished. What a surreal few months this has been for everyone, but especially for teachers. Whether we ‘dabbled’ with it or not before the pandemic, technology is now most certainly being embedded into our practice and, I would guess, it is here to stay.

Whilst it cannot and will not ever replace face to face teacher contact and those amazing ‘wow!’ moments that we all get from being with our amazing young people in class, I have been surprised that even the IT cynic in me has found a great deal of positives from this increase in technology use.

To give some context, our chosen school-wide platform for delivering home learning has been through an application called SeeSaw, which, in the most basic terms, holds what we would traditionally call a learning journal for each child. Teachers can assign work made and uploaded ourselves or we can use the extensive (if somewhat American) resources that are already pre-loaded and categorized by age onto SeeSaw.  Although the quality of the preloaded contents has been good, most of my colleagues and I have still preferred to upload our own work, which can be better tailored to our classes - just as you would amend text book questions.

Work can be assigned daily, or scheduled for a later date (an incredibly handy tool for the forward-planners amongst us!). The children can access their work and complete attached templates or upload photographs of their response to the activities, which teachers can then give feedback on and parents, too, can comment. It feels like a real learning partnership between the teacher, the parent and the learner.

So, what are the benefits that I have found from using this technology so far? And, more importantly perhaps, how do I intend to keep some of the ‘best bits’ when I return to the real, not virtual, classroom?

I want to first consider the relationship between parents and teachers. I think that technology has had a massive positive impact in my experience. Before, there was reports to parents twice a year, as well as parent’s evenings. In between these times, we didn’t really have much chance to engage with parents, other than via reading records or school events. Their child’s academic progress was in our hands, and parents didn’t really have much detail of it. Technology has changed this, as parents can now see their child’s strengths and areas for improvement much clearer, helping them to help their child or ask for teacher support to do so. The ‘formal’ barrier has also been softened quite considerably, replaced with an ‘all in this together’ mantra - with teachers having a new level of respect for parents and vice versa. I have had parents messaging me with their questions, with lots of smiley emoji’s exchanged between us. This is definitely a new way of working together and it should continue to be embraced.

Then there are the ways that technology has benefitted some learners (I say some, as I know that some children with additional support needs, for example, have not found this transition easy). Children who are naturally quiet in class can often be overlooked. Technology allows us to focus on one child at a time - noticing gaps in their learning to focus on what arguably, in class, we don’t always have a chance to see. It also allows the quieter personalities to shine - sharing jokes online with their teacher, or uploading a voice message for me. Creating more confident learners.

Differentiation, too, is aided by online learning. As we are not teaching groups in the same way that we do in class (with the logistic need for groups to be of a certain size so that we can input effectively), work and feedback online can be individualised and tailored to a much greater extent than in class. I have been enjoying extending learning via differentiated comments on children’s work and I think this is more useful for parents and children than reports, as it is ‘in the moment’ and can be acted upon at the time, so more useful for a learner’s progress. Going forward, I would like to hope that homework can follow this model in future.

Lastly, my colleagues. I don’t actually know my new colleagues very well at all, but I feel that I have been able to get to know them well via sharing our best practice of technologies and via our weekly online video meetings. The agenda has been dominated by best practice for IT and this has helped to connect us all together with the same common aim that we have always had - to ensure that our learners are at the forefront of everything that we do.

Technology has made this whole pandemic business much more bearable for us all, and for that I am very grateful.