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October 15, 2014

Learning Comes First. Always. – Guest Post from Chris Williams
This guest post from Chris Williams (@modblog1) first appeared on Daily Genius.
How can we use technology to transform learning outcomes for our children and young people? What really are the main benefits in the classroom, and what approaches should be avoided? The presence of technology in all aspects of society, from the home to the school and the office, often provides more questions than answers. It can’t be ignored, and all educators need a strong and clear understanding of how technology can (or can’t) support their work as well as its core purpose: teaching, learning and student progress.

Collaboration and Learning

Until my collaboration with David Andrews (@dmandrews15) (an ICT leader focused on whole school impact and ensuring learning comes first), I was a firm techno-sceptic and remained a big advocate of the “Toxic Childhood” work of Sue Palmer, holding the view that technology - and access to it - can be damaging and detrimental to children’s social, emotional, physical and communication development. We see it everywhere: children immersed in their tablet based games; parents not talking to or looking at their children as they live their lives on smartphones. Language delay is a growing and significant issue ( Risley, T. R & Hart, B. (2006) for many young children and impacts their progress in reading, writing, and success in education as they grow up. David helped me open my mind to the technology (although the first time he showed me an iPad, I felt this was just another shiny waste of money that meant little to me and my pupils). With an expert’s eye and an insistence that technology was simply a facilitation tool, David helped me channel my creative and learning-focused principles into gaining skills with a small number of applications which supported my firm belief in language and communication development. Together, we developed a small “app toolbox” which is central to our approach in the classroom. I now firmly believe now that with a clear purpose classroom technology can lead to remarkable progress, higher standards and improved life opportunities for students.

Harnessing the Power of the Tablet

Through collaboration with psychologists, speech therapists, school leaders and classroom teachers, I have reached a point where I am convinced that harnessing the power of tablet technology can provide genuine transformation for all teachers. I have worked extensively over the past 2 years with David and colleagues in hundreds of schools across the UK to develop a simple, whole-school accessible approach to using technology in the classroom to achieve relevant outcomes and maintain the focus on learning. With a background in language development and primary/special education, I have used examples of best practice in promoting learning to produce successful, high-impact approaches which firmly place the power of technology in the hands of the teacher, parent, and education professional. We now have available to us incredibly powerful devices which can make an immediate and sustained impact on standards and progress, but it is important we put all of our efforts on learning first, and recognize that technology is simply a valuable tool which may or not be appropriate for the task in hand. There is so much more to using technology in education than word-processing, Google, and spectacular apps - and the answers are often much more simple than expected. My primary aim when I am using technology when working with students of all ages is to ensure progress in spoken language and communication which will underpin success in reading and writing, and understanding in all subjects.

Education Technology as Facilitator

Recently I have presented two full day practical training sessions for children in Scotland with a focus on progress in writing and removing barriers for students with additional needs. Both sessions were buzzing with creativity from the educators in attendance as they quickly began to see how technology could do so much for their students in ways they hadn't considered before. This room full of creative educators quickly put their own stamp on these ideas. They developed instant resources matched to meet the needs of individual students, created powerful multimedia assessment opportunities, and explored a wide variety of approaches to promote spoken communication. The discussion surrounding our carefully structured audio-visual approach to producing plans for writing was driven by inspired educators realizing that they now had the tools to make real changes to the learning process. Mhaire, an educational psychologist from South Lanarkshire, summed up the impact of the sessions:

“The way we can now connect with individual students and their learning needs is incredible. There are so many ways these approaches can change make an impact on lifelong learning for students of all ages.”

The answers can be unexpected for some colleagues, and previously held ideas are sometimes challenged. The sessions are packed with countless practical, accessible and transferable approaches which map out the next steps for the forward thinking, ambitious, and truly innovative schools. Examples from the training activities include a distinct and carefully structured audio-visual planning tool for all genres of writing, powerful assessment approaches which ensure feedback is meaningful, relevant and responded to, plus a two-way approach to sharing pupil and teacher content through the quick and easy production of powerful web apps. I am looking forward to working with the exceptional EdTechTeacher team and meeting the creative and learning-focused educators at the iPad Summit in November. My workshop uses a small handful of apps which come together to produce an approach which instantly raises standards in every classroom. Our work is not restricted to iPad devices and is relevant for all mobile devices (Android/Surface etc). Our approach to teaching writing in all subjects has been adapted and developed as a digital training product (featuring lesson plans, model texts, student examples and video demonstrations) and includes our methods for multimedia planning and assessment wich can be accessed at www.chalkandboard.net. Any* schools wishing to use the resources and approaches without cost to help provide feedback can email us at: info@mrandrewsonline.com to receive a free access code. (*10 available) This November, I will be presenting the approach that I use at venues across the UK, and in London, on November 19th. I will also be sharing this fully transferable approach at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston on November 13th and at UK National Literacy Trust conferences in the Spring. To learn more from Chris, as well as educators from around the world, come join us for our third annual iPad Summit in Boston. Space is still available!