I've been putting the final touches to a report I've been writing for a local school where I spent time at the end of last year interviewing students and staff as part of an audit of their ICT programmes. It was a pretty positive experience, with a range of good things happening and, predictably, loads of suggestions about ways things could be changed or improved into the future. Like any school, there was a mix of good and not so good, underpinned by a range of philosophical approaches from those who embrace change to those who would prefer to see things kept the way they are.
The student interviews were a delight – frank, honest and no holds barred. They were very clear about what they expect in terms of being able to use ICTs in school, and very clear also about the things that work best for them in terms of the approach taken by teachers. The following quote from one senior student pretty much sums it all up:
Good teachers make lesson more enjoyable, involve you, use humour, explain more to you, go in depth, provide support and 1-1 help, tell us stories to illustrate – connect as a person, recognize that kids learn differently.
Poor teachers (generally older) try to control too much of the lesson, hate being silent all through the lesson, don’t appear happy with being there, don’t take into account that different kids learn differently – force us to do things just one way.
Seems there's a pretty clear picture here of what works – and note the emphasis on teacher behaviour, when the question that provoked this response was about the use of ICTs for learning. So the issue comes back to pedagogical practice, as summed up in another favourite quote of mine:
The existence of ICTs does not transform teacher practices in and of itself…
However, ICTs can enable teachers to transform their teacher practices.
At the end of the day we can have as much technology as we like in our schools, and can produce volumes of resources to support that, but it won't have any impact on learning or learners unless teachers are prepared to change their practice. It's the teaching that matters, and we need to maintain our professional development focus in schools – not in an ad hoc way, with the odd PD session here and there, but through a systematic, focused and measurable process, as the conclusion of a 1999 CEOForum report suggests:
“What teachers really need is in-depth, sustained assistance as they work to integrate computer use into the curriculum and confront the tension between traditional methods of instruction and new pedagogic methods that make extensive use of technology.”
As a new year starts in your school have you planned your PD for your staff? Do you have a strategic focus, and do you have measurable outcomes that you will review regularly through the year? Are you using a model of teaching as inquiry to underpin your approach?
Remember – its the teaching that matters, so we can't leave anything to chance.