Tools for classroom innovation

Jane Basnett

Jane Basnett is Head of MFL at Downe House, a successful Independent Girls School in Berkshire. She has been teaching for almost 20 years and is still learning.  She has recently embarked on an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching at Nottingham University.

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Website: janeebasnett.blogspot.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I always love using technology in the classroom. Making the most of digital tools allows me to bring another dimension to my teaching, and gives me the opportunity to enhance those pedagogically-sound practices that teachers know, trust and use on a day-to-day basis.

To restrict my suggestions to just a few will be difficult, but I shall give it a go nonetheless.

Edmodo
has played an important part in my classroom of late and is, in my opinion, a vital tool for language teachers. It allows you to create a virtual learning environment (VLE) if you wish, where work can be assigned and quizzes created that can be automatically marked if desired. Longer pieces of work can be uploaded, attached and completed,"Interaction could only take place between pairs of students." and your markbook can be fully integrated. However, as impressive as this is, these benefits are not what originally drew me to the tool. I was more interested in how Edmodo could help my students connect and collaborate with other linguists across the world. Such collaboration is not restricted to students as Edmodo is rich with teachers collaborating and sharing resources and ideas.

Within Edmodo it is very simple to join groups of teachers who can collaborate on specific topics and educational areas. As a linguist, when I first signed up a couple of years ago I was looking for a French-speaking partner school with whom my students could interact, and within days I had found a number of possible avenues to explore. Two years later, I have run a couple of successful projects where English and French students have interacted and learnt about each other's lives.

The most recent project found students explaining to each other in their native language how they cared for their local environment. Not only did my students learn about how their French counterparts deal with issues that are relevant for all, but also, they were able to express themselves in the second language (in this case, French or English), and have their work checked by a native speaker. Those involved loved the opportunity to learn some more idiomatic expressions and the chance to use their language for real communication. Students were set up in mini-groups where interaction could only take place between pairs of students and the two teachers involved in the project. In this day and age where we are concerned about student e-safety, the parameters that can be set in Edmodo make it an attractive tool to use. Furthermore, at a time where global understanding is paramount any project that connects classrooms across the world and promotes such interactions is a must.

My second tool which has featured high up on my list of favoured tools of late is Google Classroom. Once again, the ability to collaborate is key. Students can be set to work in groups and study from their own devices anytime and anywhere. It is important to add that it is not just the teacher who can set up groups so students can collaborate. The students themselves can elect another student (or many other students with whom to share their work). Output is not restricted to documents, but spreadsheets and presentations too.

A key benefit of Google Classroom is the ability to provide focused feedback in a timely manner. The tool allows for students to submit their work on a date set by the teacher. However, I favour a slightly different approach, where students do not submit their work but let me have constant access and thus make suggestions for improvements. Using the comment feature, I am able to pose questions which encourage students to engage in their errors and work out how to improve. This blended learning approach is proving popular with the students and I am seeing greater engagement and progress. It has brought me great satisfaction to see how students tackle their feedback and how they engage with other students in their group, offering advice and suggestions.

Another key for me is that I am using a tool that very much replicates what students might experience as they move on to higher education. Google Classroom provides a working environment that increases productivity, allows for greater access to teacher support and enables the teacher to provide speedier and more focused feedback. It is a must for the modern classroom. Less paper printing.

To make the most of these tools it is vital that SLT buy in and understand the pedagogical benefits of using technology in the classroom. Their job is not necessarily to innovate, but to facilitate. Nonetheless, if there is innovation, perhaps it comes in the first, all important, move to appoint someone - a director of Digital Learning - to spearhead a period of potentially great change. This is a change where embedding a digital strategy is necessary if a school wants to ensure that its pupils are ready for the demands of the future.

If anything, once the appointment is made then SLT have to demonstrate trust in their appointee, and have to support them in what can be a tricky period for schools and their teaching staff. Many decisions have to be made: iPad versus tablet versus BYOD; Google Classroom versus OneNote; Socrative versus Nearpod and many, many more.

SLT have a chance to innovate in creating new roles for students within"The SLT’s job is not necessarily to innovate, but to facilitate." schools. Alongside games captains, school prefects and house captains, there will be digital leaders among the students throughout the school who will have opportunities to guide their peers and help their teachers. Not to be outdone by the students, SLT will appoint, among staff, digital champions who will ably support the director of Digital Learning to ensure that the technological tools that can so readily enhance what happens in the classroom are not ignored and neglected.

Innovation at SLT level is all about ensuring that the first move - appointing a director of Digital Learning, is an innovative one. Once these good foundations are laid then successful implementation will follow and opportunities to explore and make the most of new tools in an educationally sound manner will abound. The possibilities are very exciting and I know that I am excited to see what new tools come on to the market and how my favourite tools develop over the coming months and years. Who knows what tool I will be writing about in six months time?

Which tools do you use in your classroom day-to-day? Let us know below!

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