Jo Smith provides some practical tips about how technology can support and enhance the learning you have planned for gifted and talented (G&T) pupils
I’m no expert when it comes to technology! I would like to think though, that I have kept up with the times. I value my classroom projector and interactive whiteboard, make full use of my laptop and as a teacher overseeing the practical production part of the AQA Media Studies GCSE course, I now know my way around moving image editing software and can teach pupils how to make best use of a digital camera. The practical tips below suggest how, as a teacher, you can employ ICT in its various guises to provide challenge, pace and interest in the pursuit of progress and high-quality learning, while at the same time catering for a range of learning styles.
In the classroom Starters
Preparation is the key here: often pages captured in a previous lesson on your interactive whiteboard (IWB) can be used as the starting point for the follow-up lesson. Or what about briefing pupils to lead the lesson by preparing a starter (for homework) and saving it on their memory stick, which you load as they enter the classroom? For example, they design 10 questions which other pupils have to answer on the topic you taught last lesson. If you have a projector and internet access in your room you might like to use activities from www.agameaday.com which has changing daily brain-teasers and word games that would suit a starter slot or tutor group time and can be done by pupils without your intervention – www.wordplays.com is good too and has a link to foreign language games. Daily sudokus can be found at www.dailysudoku.co.uk. These activities can be on the board as pupils enter and starting work on them will soon become habit, giving you a vital couple of minutes to sort out yourself and your materials in that hectic lesson change-over time. One excellent science lesson I saw ran a video clip of the chemical reactions taking place in a previous lesson’s practical experiment and used it as the focus for the start of the following lesson. Used in conjunction with the IWB, pupils were asked to come to the board and label key features and talk through their findings before writing up their conclusions.
One of the key successes of the Key Stage 3 strategy has to be the use of modelling as a teaching strategy. Extended writing skills in any subject can be modelled by the teacher or, of course, an able pupil, demonstrating the art of sentence composition, planning or layout. These days it is very easy to connect and quickly upload images from a digital camera on to a PC and project on to the board. Taking a snapshot of a pupil’s work to either use as a good example, or to demonstrate editing techniques, has proved very popular in my classroom. Pupils are fascinated to see their handwriting on the board and often see their mistakes more easily that by the usual methods of book swapping. Again, a video sequence of pupils successfully completing a task (an improvisation in drama, an experiment in science, a role play in languages) can be a good modelling technique to use in class. Editing or reviewing work is one of those tasks that even the brightest pupils don’t like doing. For very literate pupils, editing is normally more about the structure or shape of a written response rather than looking at the text at word level. In any subject, I recommend using a simple word processing programme such as Word. Produce a good, but not excellent, response to an assignment or use a past pupil’s work (anonymously) and load it up on screen. Save the document in the student resources folder on your school network and it can be accessed by the whole class at the same time if you all have access to laptops or are working in an IT suite. Add a list of editing suggestions and let pupils move the text around on screen or insert additional phrases, sentences or even paragraphs of their own in the pursuit of an A grade. Ask them to print out and resubmit the assignment to see if they have been able to raise its grade or level. The next step is to get pupils to do this with their own first drafts of essays, experiment write-ups, etc.
Again, ask able pupils to take a lead in this part of the lesson. The simplest of tasks can prove very effective, eg letting them use your laptop to enter five key learning points as the lesson progresses, then sharing these to recap with the whole class in the plenary. Pupils who finish the main task early can be extended by phrasing questions to test the rest of the group’s learning. By typing them on to the computer and then projecting through the board, you have a personalised ending to the lesson that hasn’t required significant additional resourcing by you and also helps you gauge what your most able learners have taken in. Employing ICT for pupils’ independent learning at home or in school, making use of your school’s virtual learning environment (VLE) to benefit your most able, and using ICT for assessment for learning are all worth considering too. While the practical strategies outlined above focus on using technology to aid learning in the classroom, the suggestions below focus on stretching the same able pupils using available school technology to encourage independent learning that goes beyond pupils searching Google or using the computer suite to word process neat copies of assignments.
Independent learning Internet searches
Word processing and internet research are likely to be the two forms of ICT that you most expect your able pupils to use independently. Able pupils are good at sifting through and discarding more irrelevant webpages and are probably already quite proficient at performing specific searches. However, ‘cutting and pasting’ just isn’t productive or creative nor will it keep able pupils engaged for very long. Try reinforcing the techniques for fruitful web searches in study skills sessions, threading+key+words together like this to create a more refined search.
Perhaps you work in a school with a fully fledged virtual learning environment (VLE) or managed learning environment (MLE) and suddenly the possibilities for asking pupils to work independently in school and/or at home become more wide ranging.
In simple terms, a VLE provides a personalised area of the internet that school stakeholders can access via a specific logon and password. Different logon privileges allow staff, pupils, parents etc to access relevant pages and work can be set, resourced, submitted and even assessed online. How can this be of help to more able students? Differentiation becomes possible without the very obvious division of pupils by ability in the classroom. More challenging and stretching background reading, research material, even tasks themselves, can be made available and able pupils provided with direct links to them when they log on. Uploading examples of high-quality work in any subject can be really effective. Able pupils cannot be expected to produce excellent work if they haven’t been shown what it looks like. The VLE is an excellent forum for this. Not only can pupils benefit but staff too can see the standard to aim for and such evidence can be used for standardising assessments. This is a good strategy for sharing good practice, allowing less-confident staff to see the end result of good task-setting, and parents will also appreciate seeing the quality their able children could aim for. The VLE becomes a good viewing area for a whole range of relevant stakeholders. VLEs also provide opportunities for safe chat areas. Able pupils from different classes and years can share ideas, tips and advice promoting the ‘stages not ages’ ideal that is so difficult to promote in the reality of school organisation. Separate areas on the school’s pages could provide self-study units, enrichment activities, or signpostings to other learning opportunities. Even more simply, able pupils can look ahead at the curriculum pages for older pupils. The potentially isolating experience of perhaps being the brightest pupil in the class dissipates when the school VLE allows access to the wider world of able learners.
Increasingly, external pupil assessments are being completed by the major exam boards using new technologies. The advantage of course, is that the marking and reporting of pupils’ scores is quicker and more consistent, but this is also an area which schools can use to stretch able pupils with minimal additional timetabling or specialist teaching. Edexel’s suite of skills tests are largely considered to be the precursor to functional skills testing at 14-19. The Adult Literacy and Numeracy (ALAN) tests for example test pupils’ skills and at Level 2 equate to half a GCSE in the points scoring system recognised in school league tables. The end of Year 9, after the SAT testing period can be a fallow time for able pupils who have worked hard to prepare for the external tests and are eager to get their results and start their GCSE courses. Currently, SAT results take up to three months to arrive back in school while the ALAN tests offer online, same-day, personalised results along with diagnostic feedback. Practice tests are available to load on to your school network and pupils are able to familiarise themselves with the format of the tests and brush up on the literacy and numeracy skills they need. Errors made in the Practice tests are diagnosed and the correct answers and explanations for them, shared on screen with the candidate. Text books accompany the tests and can be used for individual intervention or whole-class teaching, otherwise pupils are able to work at their own speed in front of the PC and can try and raise their score each time by addressing their own personal areas of weakness. The tests use a multiple choice format and when it comes to accessing an accredited test, pupils log on with a code released by the exam board upon entry. Under supervised invigilation in an IT suite, pupils can sit a test any day of the year except Christmas day (the tests change every 24 hours). Pupils can therefore sit the test when they and their teachers deem them ready, with testing fitting round the school timetable and calendar. While the tests are ostensibly designed for adults and used by many colleges of further education, Key Stage 3 pupils feel this early accreditation opportunity allows them recognition for their advanced skills.
Not all gifted and talented pupils are keen to advance their own learning: it is sometimes the naturally able, but underachieving, pupils who are hardest to reach, especially outside of the classroom where the disciplines of learning cannot be so easily enforced. These pupils can often be encouraged through different learning styles and for many, the use of IT can be a motivating force. Many primary and secondary schools have subscribed to the SAM learning service, an online revision package that can be used in school and at home. The improvement in exam performance is said to be measurable for pupils who put in 10 task hours and many parents find it a handy tool for encouraging and supervising their child’s learning.
For further information go to www.samlearning.com