Saturday, 11 July 2015

My First post!

My First Post!

I have been teaching in a British School in the most beautiful corner of the Gulf for 21 years now, 17 of which I have been teaching French in Primary. CPD opportunities for Primary French are few and far between so distant from the UK, but eagerly seized upon when they happen, and at my last visit to the London Languages Show I heard about the wonderful network of MFL teachers on Twitter communicating under the handle  #mfltwitterati. To be honest, once I had identified a small number of people to follow, Twitter began to feel like daily CPD! It's so refreshing and inspiring to read articles and hear about new ideas on a daily basis, that it has totally rejuvenated my teaching. Following some key Tweeters, particularly @joedale, @lancslassrach, @ICTEvangelist, @stevesingapore and @iPadEducatorsAE led me to learn lots about how teachers are using iPads in the classroom and I wrote a formal proposal to my Head requesting the chance to implement iPads in my classroom.

Our school ICT policy at present is to explore a variety of ICT options rather than putting all the eggs in one basket and rolling out one device alone, so they were open to launching a pilot scheme which involved a small number of departments and staff leading the way on implementing various devices across the school, from Nursery right to Sixth Form. For example, I have a class set of iPads, while a member of the Senior Maths department has a class set of Android tablets, and a third colleague is trialling BYOD in her Year 6 class. Across other year groups and departments such as Early Years, PE and Drama, there are smaller numbers of devices and we are all sharing our experiences to help shape future plans and directions.

I began with 11 iPad minis in November 2014, and threw myself into creating opportunities to integrate them to the curriculum. While one between two works fine for many things, I felt that the ideal scenario for many projects was to have one each, so four months after using the iPads, I wrote an evaluation document to the relevant people, and these 11 were augmented with a further 11 in Term 3, making planning and working all at once much easier. Key reasons for wishing for 1-to-1s were that the formative tools I use regularly, such as Socrative and Nearpod, didn't give me an accurate idea of who was making the mistakes when pupils were working in pairs; also, when creating more extended projects, I had to plan alternative activities for one half of the class while the other half worked on the iPads and I felt I was losing control of the teaching and learning, not being sure that everyone was engaged fully in each lesson. I was spending too much time trouble-shooting tech issues rather than teaching. Now with one iPad each, I can anticipate problems and explain solutions before they happen, leaving me freer to circulate and guide the learning individually. 

There is an incredibly steep learning curve from opening the iPad boxes to feeling that I have a grip on how best to use them to maximise learning opportunities. While much is made of the SAMR model of Substitution to Augmentation to Modification to Redefinition of tasks, a process has to take place during which I, as the teacher, am learning both about apps and their functions and shortcuts, quick-fixes and solutions when things don't go as expected. The Tech support team are great but they are learning about iPads at pretty much the same rate that I am, so often I have to find my own solutions. Furthermore, solutions need to be found immediately in a lesson, and the tech team aren't available on a call-up basis. Therefore, hand on heart, I can't say that in every lesson we are making perfect progress in learning. Each time we use them the amount of learning increases and the training on the tech aspect moves forward. But there isn't a short-cut to this process, and I've just had to accept that it's a necessary investment of time in future success, and if the MFL learning has taken a dip from time to time, then so be it. The end results are worth it!

One delightful consequence of needing instant solutions to unforeseen problems is that the pupils themselves are usually the ones to find a solution - there's always someone in the classroom who's better than me in fixing a problem and they get to wear the green unicorn Tech Expert hat - just a silly little conical party hat I made six of, which for some reason the children love to wear. Having digital leaders is fantastic, and saves tons of time in a 30 or 40 minute lesson. The first person to complete a task immediately takes on a 'teacher' role and helps guide less confident pupils.

So...the purpose of this blog is simply to share my experiences of using iPads in Primary MFL, specifically Year 4 to 6, with explanations of actual projects I've done, because that would have been a big help to me when I began and it cuts out a lot of the time-consuming exploration and investigation that I needed to do before presenting a project to my pupils. I hope it helps someone somewhere...!

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