Exact teaching exactly matched to the needs of a student! The dream of the best lesson ever. With technology, this is now possible.
In recent lessons I’ve let staff use a PHP\MySQL app that I’ve worked on for a good while now. The tool identifies the strengths and weaknesses of students in all areas of the Foundation Maths GCSE and then provides differentiated questions and support videos to each student so that they all make good progress. I tested the tool a few years ago, but I’ve got it polished to a point where I’m happy to deploy it, and to share it with teachers. I call my app Bespoke, because it gives students completely Bespoke support. It constantly assesses the strengths and weaknesses of students to ensure that it knows students as well as possible. None of this would have been possible without Philip Linnell, an awesome Intervention expert in London, who spent ages recording hundreds of videos for me.
On a sidenote, FrogLearn is our VLE and, the recent Whittle release with outstanding API support, has allowed me to make this tool instantly accessible to students. A bit of oAuth and PHP tricky forces FrogLearn to sned the roll number of students as a query string into my app and this automatically logs them in. The Whittle release makes the Frog platform even better than before!
Thus far, it has been great to watch teachers and teaching assistants identify the exact problems that students face and know what support they can offer. The flow of useful data as the tool grows into a living spreadsheet is something that really excites me. We can support students when they struggle, come to them with unique questions, quickly see where students are struggling, and even let this inform long term planning.
For me, it’s the natural extension of assessment for learning and differentiation. Educational technology has allowed these two staples of good teaching to collide to create outstanding outcomes for students.
As a teacher I will happily tell you that I was often guilty of paying lip service to differentiation. I’d identify my low, middle, and top ability students and plan work to meet their needs…or more accurately what I thought their needs were.
I often did this based on teacher judgement, assessments that could be weeks out of date, and recent marking. This data worked, to an extent, but in all honestly I often failed to get into the heads of students and give them the work that was exactly right for them. To get it right, I needed to carefully assess their exact learning needs of students and direct them to very specific resources that would stretch and challenge them. But, most of the time this data needed to be collected, analysed and acted on within a lesson. Mini-whiteboards and voting cards can help, but you need really rich data to do this properly.
We need to collect very accurate data about the exact abilities of students, in real time, and to act on it. Technology in the classroom allows this because quick formative assessments can be quickly analysed by computers, shared with teachers, and then students can be directed by this analysis.
Justin Matthys, who talked to our school on MOnday, has adopted an even more radical approach than Bespoke. His software, MathsPathway, is one of the most impressive pieces of web based authoring that I’ve seen in teaching and learning. This is a tool that constructs a scheme of work for each student based on their carefully assessed starting point. It then teaches the scheme to students, and the teacher can circulate and intervene with excellent subject knowledge and support when it is needed. This, for me, is the perfect blend of good teaching and good educational technology.
These techniques and skills are yet to carefully spread and become widely accepted. At my school, we’re still at the early stages of getting this right. However, Ofsted make a very positive comment about this teaching style in their report. In fact, it was the only lesson that was directly mentioned, so I think it impressed them! I am convinced that in time, and with effort, the profession will begin to radically shift the way that we use technology to collect and analyse a lot of data about students, and to quickly act on this within a lesson.by