Friday, 30 May 2014

Tech tool trial - Educanon

Twice within the last week I have heard good things about educanon.  When, last night, someone twitted about it again (apologies as I cannot remember who it was) I decided to have a look and try it out.  I was on my iPad and I did feel that I would be better placed to explore this tool properly on the computer but nonetheless, I managed to put a very little something together:

educanon trial with Grammar Buddy

As I said, a very little something - but I think you can get the idea.  The impressive thing is, it was very quick and easy to put together and can see how useful it would be in any class - not just MFL.  This is a tool that doesn't just substitute, it augments what happens in the classroom.  If we let the students make their own videos and quizzes using educanon who is to say that this tool cannot transform teaching and learning for our students.  

educanon is then a tool that is worth investigating.  Happy exploring!  Let me know in the comments box below what you think of it.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

What apps for the SAMR model?

In my last post I talked about the ability to transform what we do in the classroom using technology as opposed to simply substituting what we do as teachers in the classroom.  Of course, students can use a word processor instead of writing out by hand, or they can use email to submit work or they can do their research using google or safari instead of a book.  This is the first level where technology can play a part.  However, technology can do more than just substitute and in order for it to impact more effectively we must look at how technology can augment, modify and redefine tasks in the classroom.  The top level of the SAMR model calls for redesigning tasks where what can be achieved goes beyond traditional and takes tasks to a new level allowing students to go further in their studies and thought processes.  The other key, in my opinion, is to remember that technology is not the star of the show but is there to enable teachers to move learning on beyond traditional expectations and help students construct knowledge in a way that they might not have been able to before.

I know it's been done before, nevertheless, I have put together my choice of apps for the different levels of the SAMR model. 

Here there are now, listed with links.

Substitution:    ipad maps, ipad notessafari, email

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Don't just substitute - transform

I am a relative newcomer to social media.  I tried Facebook for a couple of months a while back but couldn't see the point. After all, I could tell my friends what I was doing and how I was feeling at any point. I didn't need Facebook to do this. I then tried twitter at the recommendation of Kevin Wild @mflandbeyond.  I quickly saw the point.  So, my twitter birthday, my renaissance, if you will, was 12th June 2013.  With my new-found, on-going, CPD delivered by an ever-growing number of twitterers I was following (and continue to follow), it did not take me long to see the power of technology both computer based and via mobile devices.  What I am trying to say, perhaps in rather a clumsy way, is that I am not an expert.  I am an excited, enthusiastic participant who is eager to learn and to discover.  I want to seek out ways in which I can improve my teaching and discover how technology can play a part in that.  I am lucky in that via twitter I was introduced to the idea of studying for an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching at Nottingham University.  Although the onus has been on the impact technology plays in languages the course has taught me a lot more and introduced me to a great deal more than simply what can be achieved with technology in a MFL classroom.

Amongst other things, I have learnt that technology is not there purely for fun at the end of the lesson, nor is it there as an add-on to an activity, nor to substitute for the teacher.  Nor, indeed, in the future, will technology be a motivating factor for students; they are already quite well used to technology in school and in their home lives. 

So then, what part can technology play?

One of the most important things I have learnt through my own practice and through my course is the idea that technology use must be contextual  and must enhance what could have been done without a computer or a tablet device.   Remember now, as I have said, I am no expert but I have read a great deal recently about SAMR and I think it helps explain very clearly about the part that technology should play in the classroom.    There are plenty of images that represent the SAMR model developed by Dr Ruben Puentedura (click here for his website, Hippasus).  Here's my take on it:

For me the key point is that even as you move up the chart the technology in use is not the star of the show.  It is woven into teaching to augment and improve what pupils do.  The idea is that technology is more than a substitute for chalk and talk, or pen and paper.  Technology can transform what students do and what they achieve in their studies.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Technology - helping them think through collaboration

At the risk of sounding boring I am still harping on about a constructivist approach and how technology is a perfect partner for it - an "optimal medium for the application of constructivist principles to learning".  I have made no bones about the fact that I am rather partial to a constructivist approach.  I truly believe in enabling pupils to discover and determine for themselves as I believe it leads to better learning and learners.

So if I truly believe in this approach and that there is a close relationship between technology and constructivism given that the implementation of each one benefits the other what can I do to ensure overall success?   Keep in mind too that whilst students might be motivated by technology use in class (that's not always a given) they don't necessarily want to have to think for themselves (as mentioned before).  Undoubtedly many of my students have enjoyed being passive recipients of knowledge for many years and they can find themselves perplexed by a constructivist approach.  After all, "how to teach is the teacher's choice, how to learn is the student's choice" (Perkins).

As teacher I am going to need to be resourceful, creative and innovative.  Nothing new there then - this is surely something we all do as teachers everyday. 

So, for this project I chose wikispaces as my medium.  The pages are neatly divided into topic areas and grammatical concepts that need to be learned, internalised and re-applied.  In each of these topic areas there is a focus on some drill and skill exercises and there are a variety of tasks, many of them open-ended.  More importantly there are pages allocated for collaboration.  Why importantly?  The benefit of collaboration is dialogue that can facilitate deeper learning and the advantage of creating a course using a wikispace is that interaction can take place not just between the student and the teacher but between the students themselves.  It's a type of reciprocal teaching that opens discussion amongst my students to which I am able to respond and provide guidance to further promote cognitive processes and understanding.
I know that collaboration can exist in an environment where technology does not play a part but collaboration can be that much more successful and effective when all parties can play a full and active role which is not always possible when work is produced on paper or conversations take place around the room as opposed to a discussion forum.  There is always the one who gets away with doing nothing very much at all.  Collaboration in an environment such as wikispaces provides a whole different aspect that is certainly most welcome in my classroom.


Gilakjani A, Leong L-M, & Ismail, H (2013) ‘Teachers Use of Technology and Constructivism’ I. J Modern Education and Computer Science 4: 49 - 63

Perkins, David (2005) 'Constructivism and troublesome knowledge' in J. Meyer and R. Land (ed.) Overcoming barriers to student understanding Routledge: 33-48


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Technology - helping them think

Previous posts have waxed lyrical about a constructivist approach and how this is going to actively encourage my students to think for themselves, engage with the content and produce their own work using their existing knowledge and moving it one step on.

However, I have been quick to see that there are some stumbling blocks on both sides of the classroom. There are no quick fix solutions.  Instead, a slow steady pace is needed to instil confidence in such an approach and a creative attitude to overcoming problems will be needed. To this end, in the first instance, I am going to call on technology to help me in achieving my goal.   'Technology as part of a learning theory is more than a tool; it becomes the framework for the methodology' 

It is said that 'constructivist teachers pattern their instruction after the old Chinese saying: "Tell me and I will forget; show me, and I may remember; involve me and I will understand'". This being the case, it is important to provide students with a number of ways to engage in the learning process that accommodates different levels and different learning modalities so that they can all be involved and understand. Undoubtedly, a constructivist approach does not necessarily need to call on technology to ensure it can be successful.  However, why ignore a tool if it can help?  Indeed, technology can do more than just help. In this case it can be the difference between failure and success.  Technology can impact positively in many areas.  It can enhance many elements of the whole learning process starting from the varying types of content to the assessment procedures themselves.  Technology will help students think.

Technology in the Classroom: The Impact of Teacher’s Technology Use and Constructivism  Dr. Kerry Rice, Jennifer Cullen and Farnoush Davis

Thursday, 15 May 2014

What digital technology has done for me and my pupils

How fortuitous that a colleague pointed me in the direction of twitter.  I have been teaching for nearly 20 years now and I have always felt that I moved with the times and kept my ideas fresh.  Indeed,  I have always enjoyed teaching.  However, upon discovering twitter and in particular the #mfltwitterati I feel that my teaching has become re-invigorated and I have discovered a whole new world out there about which I knew nothing.  The struggle to get pupils to think independently and access those higher-order thinking skills has been greatly enabled and improved by the use of technology.  I am not quite sure how I coped without technology beforehand!  Twitter has introduced me to a whole host of ideas and online resources that have helped me to guide my pupils to learn, think, collaborate and create in a way that was not so easy before.  Take for example linoit (  A web based sticky note service that allows you to post a whole load of sticky notes.  I discovered it via twitter, of course, and have made use of it with a number of year groups.  It allows me to flip the classroom and get pupils to follow a powerpoint or a video at their own pace - because they do all have their own pace - and learn a particular grammar point which on this occasion was the perfect tense.  This image below is the product of 40 minutes with my Year 9s.  Initially, they followed the instructions that I posted on the board and then 15 minutes later they started creating their own sentences.  The real buzz for me was hearing them ask each other who had posted an incorrect sentence, pointing out errors to each other, or building on something one of their friends has stuck on the board.

work created by Yr 9 using

The next step will be to get them to create their own learning resource for a younger year group or their peer group.  A plain old powerpoint perhaps, with a video voiceover created on knovio ( There is just so much potential.  What excites me most is how technology can bring about such good learning patterns.  I no longer  need to be simply the giver of information and my students no longer need to be passive recipients of knowledge,   I can show them the way to reconstruct their existing knowledge. Just as twitter has allowed me to collaborate and learn about the technological possibilities available to me as a teacher, technology has allowed me to scaffold my pupils' learning and point them in the right direction and enabled them to embrace learning in a way that gets them thinking, analysing, collaborating and creating.  These are exciting times for both me and my pupils.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Think for myself? I don't think so!

Ok, ok, I know my previous post was waxing lyrical about the benefits of getting the students to think.  The wonderful advantages of teaching students to become lifelong learners, to internalise knowledge in order that they might go forth and use this knowledge to create their own masterpieces. These are all noble ideas indeed and I do truly believe in an approach to teaching that embraces such thought.  For this reason I created a course for my Year 10 students using wikispaces that allowed them to think through threshold concepts and construct their own knowledge.  I approached the task with gusto and felt sure that my Year 10 students would greet this creation with similar enthusiasm and indeed a number of them did.

However, it was not to everyone's liking; there were issues and I am not talking about problems with logging on and learning to navigate round the wiki.  Of course, we did have a few hitches in that respect but the interactive whiteboard came into its own as I was able to show the new members of the wikispace round the pages.  The real issue came from some of the students who found it hard to shake off their classroom expectations.  What disappointment for me; they like being and wanted to be passive recipients of knowledge.  They did not want to read, investigate, explore or discover knowledge. Not for them the opportunity to work through threshold concepts and work out problems themselves.  

For many students (and perhaps many other parties) the most important issue is results.  What is going to get them the best results?  The critics in my Year 10 class belittled my efforts.  They wanted me to give them the answers, a worksheet that explained everything, a writing frame with an outline of an essay that would give them top marks.  No matter that I had aligned my objectives with my assessment, these few students were not prepared to think for themselves because they have become accustomed to receiving information and dare I say it being spoon-fed.  

The biggest issue for these students is understanding that a focus on "thinking, reasoning, understanding and meaning-making" (Toohey, S: 55) will take them beyond the relational and lead them to the extended abstract and thus enable them to access higher marks. 

The biggest issue for me as their teacher is helping them to understand this fact so that I can enable them to develop their intellectual abilities. This calls for a paradigm shift both in their behaviour as learners and in my approach to teaching.  I am a strong proponent of such a change as this post hopefully proves, however this is a battle that I cannot fight alone.   This change has to be played out across the whole school and there will be many colleagues who will fear moving away from the tried and tested traditional approach.  For them, there is a concern that in so doing the results will not be so good.  In this respect they have a great deal in common with some of my Year 10 students.  Undoubtedly, the best way to start embedding this approach is to bring it into play from year 7.  At this stage the students have not lost that wonderful urge to get out there and discover building on previous experience and ideas as they generate new knowledge.

Embracing a constructivist approach will be a bit like crossing the Rubicon for some teachers and students and the trick will be crossing it peacefully bringing everyone with us with the right mindset.  Otherwise, even our best students will only continue to demonstrate understanding of knowledge and will fail to reflect, hypothesise and generate new alternatives. 

How do I propose to affect this change?  Technology surely has an important part to play in this whole process....but thoughts on that are for another day.


Toohey, S (1999). 'Beliefs, values and ideologies in course design' Designing Courses for Higher Education: pp46-69

Thursday, 8 May 2014

How to make them think

In teaching there is so much to think about that it can be easy to forget about our actual approach.  Sometimes we give more thought to the classroom layout than we do to the actual design of the course that we are going to teach.  Often, of course, the choice is out of our hands.  As teachers of public examinations - whatever course that may be - the decision of course content is set in stone.  Sometimes the usefulness of the course content to our students can be questionable and sadly there is not much we can do about that.  

Nevertheless, it is possible - even within the confines of a syllabus - to expound your beliefs about the best way to teach.  I, for one, am a keen exponent of a more constructivist or cognitive approach.  Yes, perhaps there are issues about the teaching space and the time available to me but I am able largely to proceed without getting bogged down in these issues. 

So what is it about the cognitive approach that entices me?  I really like the idea of helping my students to develop their minds, to discover how to develop their minds.  I want my students to learn how to learn.  A skill that they can take with them for life.  This skill, in itself, is so important given the ever changing world in which our students live.   It is well reported all over social media and undoubtedly elsewhere that the students of today will need to become masters at a variety of different jobs on a much more frequent basis than ever before.  Thus they are going to need opportunities that will help them to utilise and strengthen their intellectual capacity. 

With the idea in mind that I need to bring my students to a certain point defined by the syllabus and that I wanted to achieve this by enabling them to construct their knowledge I decided to put together a wiki for a particular class.  I used wikispaces as the medium through which I intended to deliver the course.  The goal was to enable my students to think for themselves and in doing so internalise their new knowledge to produce their own work.

Here is an example of the home page.

the group project page
I am fully aware that my role as a teacher is all important - the questions I ask should be such that I draw out those higher-quality thinking skills that are necessary in a cognitive approach. I have tried to pose such "fat" questions within the various pages of the wiki and there are project work pages for group work and collaboration.  That opportunity to spar with another person, to think through the concepts that might be tricky is vital and the ability the students have to provide immediate feedback to each other is crucial in such a course design. Needless, to say the great flexibility of the wiki is such that students can move ahead as and when they are ready, they can revisit what they have not understood and they can access information via a variety of different mediums such as video, song and written notes.  Such flexibility is at the very heart of the idea behind a flipped classroom that allows differentiation to take place.

I cannot say that I have been entirely successful and created a purely constructivist course.  Indeed, I am not sure that I wanted to, nor do I think it would have been right for this class.  There are a number of pages that are
reflective of a more traditional or discipline-based approach.  There are a number of drill and skill exercises that are crucial for students: students like that feeling of security that they get when completing online activities. For me, in providing drill exercises I am enabling my students to build good foundations from which to "learn to think critically, become lifelong learners and solve problems".

I do get a thrill when my students tell me that they have been on the wiki in their own time using the resources there to help them produce their own work.  However whether my pupils actually want to think critically, become lifelong learners and solve problems is another matter for another post.  I do know that I am certainly thinking critically....

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Differentiation - enhanced by technology?

If we focus on the idea of content, process and product, educators, when differentiating, must think about the source material and employ a variety of source content that starts at different levels in terms of difficulty; for example: books, articles, newspapers, quizzes and vocabulary lists.  Moving on there are multiple processes; teacher-led, cooperative, collaborative, individual or group-work and these processes can lead to varying outcomes or products such as posters, presentations, summaries and essays.  At each stage consideration must be given to the modes of working as some pupils will engage more with audio material, others visual modalities, whilst there will be some who are happy to work with the written word.  In all of these elements technology need not necessarily play any part in any of this.  Furthermore modes of working can be differentiated; students can work in classrooms with peers, in carefully considered groups or pairs or of course, individually.  Again, technology need not impinge on this process in any way.

However, as differentiation and consideration of individual pupil needs are vital to ensure that pupil progress takes place it is important to consider whether differentiated instruction can be delivered more effectively via technology and if using technological methods can make differentiated instruction more successful than more traditional techniques. 
Information technology can be viewed as the teacher’s favorite workhorse, in as much as when it is integrated creatively and authentically into instruction, it can be used to enrich, to extend, to accelerate, and to supplement learning to meet the instructional needs of the wide range of students present in today’s classrooms. (Kyburg Michigan Virtual University Lansing, 2007)
Technology enhanced learning increasingly is recognised as having a positive impact on education and institutions from primary through to university are well aware of its power and how it can enhance learning. This video on a study carried out by the University of Birmingham on the use of technology with medical students sums up successfully the affordances of Technology Enhanced Learning  (2013). A study by Durham University states that ‘Overall, the research evidence over the last forty years about the impact of digital technologies on learning consistently identifies positive benefits’ (Higgins, Xiao, Katsipataki. 2012: 3).   Language learning is not immune from this impact and technological advancements have always played a part in language teaching.  From the early stages of CALL and Warschauer's approaches, educators have looked to incorporate technology into their language lessons:  from tape to CD, from video to interactive whiteboard, from projector and computer suites to the increasing use of tablets such as iPads. Schools are now wise to the affordances of technology, not just in the language classroom, and many educational institutions look to create BYOD policies to maximise the potential of such appliances.  Such technology affords a number of benefits to the language learner.  Opportunities to be free of anxiety when speaking a foreign language, to access higher-order thinking skills and to allow learners to create their own content and build on knowledge garnered originally in class or via teacher guidance. If technology has a part to play in delivering successful language lessons it can surely be considered an instrumental part of differentiated instruction. Or can it?
What can technology do that can not already be done in a classroom without a jot of technology around?  Let’s take the in-vogue process of ‘flipping the classroom’ which allows for students to read or view content prior to teacher contact time, leaving time in class for collaboration and higher-order thinking skills.  A flipped class can be defined as “one that inverts the typical cycle of content acquisition and application so that
• students gain necessary knowledge before class, and
• instructors guide students to actively and interactively clarify and apply that knowledge during class.” (University of Texas at Austin 2013)
Flipping can easily occur without any technology whatsoever.  It is possible to send pupils away to investigate an array of articles and text books about any subject matter and then invite them back to class to share their thoughts and ask their questions.  These students will return having digested the content at their level and the teacher will have “flipped the classroom” even though technology was not used in the process.
However, technology assists instructors in what they already do in the classroom.  Indeed technology helps ‘us to envision and meet new goals for language learners’ (Egbert, 2007:3)
So how, exactly, can technology play its part in enhancing differentiated instruction?  If one understands that in order to meet the diverse needs of the learner the focus must be on content, process and product it would be insightful to consider how technology can play a part in each of these steps.    Egbert goes on to clarify her statement on the power of technology by listing “what technology can and can’t do”.  As regards content the study mentions a number of well-thought out and well-known suggestions. 
- Providing language and content resources on a variety of levels for a great number of interests.
- Presenting real-life problems and raw data from which learners must discover a solution. (Egbert 2007: 8)
The importance of this second point must not be underestimated; the ability to use real-life situations and scenarios that are much more engaging for students provides excellent learning opportunities that can be tailored precisely to individual needs.   For example online journals, news reports, videos, social media, direct contact to a whole host of online experts, Web Quests[1], e-twinning[2], online games, virtual worlds to name but a few.  These are all up-to-the-minute, content-rich, authentic and relevant resources which are of high student interest and for the teacher the trick is to know where to start and how to manage this content effectively and in context.  “Access to the content is seen as key” (Hall, 2002: 3) simply because of the different modalities of the student learners.   As with all elements of differentiated instruction it is essential to recall that students have different means of learning and technology can enrich the content in a variety of ways that take into account that learners are audio, visual, kinaesthetic  and  verbal learners (to name but a few).  Consider again the flipped classroom model.  As previously suggested, a flipped classroom need not rely on technology to make it successful.  Indeed, there is evidence of such practices dating back to the early 19th Century when engineering students at West Point were responsible for researching and collecting their own principal evidence and content before returning to class to complete group work.   However, “with the advent of new technologies, specifically the ability to record digitally annotated and narrated screencasts, instructional videos have become a common medium in the flipped classroom.”  (Musallam, R 2011).  Simply being able to listen and watch voice guided notes taps into new modalities that the 19th Century engineering students at West Point may have hankered after to enrich their experience and make it more targeted to their individual needs instead of the books and diagrams they undoubtedly had as their starting point. 
This is just one area where technology can enhance differentiation.  What about motivation, ability to collaborate more effectively and different modalities of learning?  The list is endless and technology, when used appropriately and contextually, is rich in solutions. 

[1] A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. The model was developed by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in February, 1995 (retrieved 12/01/2014)
[2] a platform run by the British Council that enables students to connect, share ideas and collaborate with other students in Europe.

Egbert, J. (2007). ‘Asking useful questions: Goals, engagement, and differentiation in technology-enhanced language learning’. Teaching English with Technology. 7/1. (no page nos)  
Hall, T (2002) ‘Differentiated Instruction’  National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum 2002 
Kyburg, R Information Technology (2007): Unlocking the Door to Differentiation in the 21st Century Michigan Virtual University Lansing, Michigan
Musallam, R (2011) ‘Should you Flip your Classroom’  (26/10/2011) date accessed 12/1/2014
University of Texas at Austin Centre for Teaching and Learning (2013) ‘What is the Flipped Classroom’ date accessed 12/1/2014