Our digitally enhanced learning programme of developments is underpinned by three key principles: an evidence-based evaluation system of trials which measure and quantify the benefits to the children’s learning; establishing one specific aspect of teaching and learning as the focus for each trial; training teachers in the implementation of digital technology to promote collaborative learning and provision of choice for pupils. Each trial has begun with a clear proposal of the expected benefits of new technologies, specifically focussing on the ways in which they will enhance learning and has concluded with a thorough analysis of each outcome and a confirmation of which benefits have been realised. In this way digital technology has been implemented only where it enhances the children’s learning.
The number and range of trials has expanded this year and they have successfully shown the variety of ways in which digital technology can enhance learning. We have run trials in every year group, using both iPads and Chromebooks depending on the age of the children and the subject being taught. In addition to the children’s clear progress in digital skills and the more varied opportunities available to them to consolidate key learning skills, there are three main areas in which we have seen learning enhanced: collaboration; choice and variety; pupil responsibility.
By sharing documents with each other through Google Classroom, collaboration is increased as children view and comment constructively on each other’s work. Through different sharing tools, such as ‘Padlet’ or the ‘stream’ function, they can quickly post suggestions and links to the class that can be used in research, presentations and discussions. Our trials also suggest that the amount of verbal dialogue is increased as digital technology stimulates discussion by opening up a wider range of creative and varied learning activities, promoting the exchange and debating of ideas.
In all age groups and subjects, the amount of choice in the ways in which children can research, discuss and present their work has increased. Choice is something that research has identified as making a significant difference in attainment and progress. This year, we have seen children in T1 carrying out complex research tasks, made accessible to them by ‘Natural Reader’, technology that reads passages aloud so that their learning is not held back by their reading level; children in T2 have written longer and more adventurous stories through using tools that enable them to combine text input, pictures and audio files; older children have had reading comprehension activities transformed by a programme through which they turn complex passages of text or poems into comic strips, focussing their attention on the detail and inference of the words in order to decide how to present the information in cartoon form; in languages, children can now choose to learn vocabulary through a range of engaging online tasks, many of which they have written themselves.
Digital technology has enhanced some of the ways in which we are developing children’s responsibility for their own learning. Children are able to research and question information for themselves, moving at their own pace and developing skills of analysis and interpretation. Comparisons of children’s work in T1 this year using technology with paper-based work last year, have shown a deeper range of information gained across the class; in Senior House, there has been an improvement in the vocabulary being used in stories thanks to easier access to the online thesaurus. Children are also taking responsibility for their learning by responding to marking, both from teachers and from peers, and self-reflecting on work in order to re-draft work more readily.
An increased use of digital technology in classrooms may bring to mind pictures of children sitting on their own in front of screens, with reduced access to the now ‘virtual’ teacher, copying and pasting information from the internet and thereby reducing their creative abilities. By contrast, walking into a classroom in which children are using Chromebooks or iPads you are likely to hear a buzz of engaged chatter, with children questioning each other about comments posted and shared, each group working on a slightly different task and method of presentation. The teacher becomes another ‘resource’ along the learning journey rather than the ‘answer book’ or judge. Limited skills in one area are not an obstacle to learning in another. Children choose the way in which they prefer to learn and present their work and each task is an ongoing work in progress, to be returned to and re-drafted repeatedly in response to teacher and peers alike rather than submitted for final judgement from the teacher.