The following is a guest post from Gerald Haigh.
Reading through the #BETTchat posts on Twitter, in preparation for visiting next week, I noticed a great deal of interest in the use of technology for peer-to-peer collaboration. That immediately brought to mind a visit I made in 2013 to Simon de Senlis Primary, a Microsoft Showcase School in Northamptonshire. There I saw teacher and Microsoft Expert Educator Charlotte Coade working with her Year Six Class on a project that involved children reading and reviewing each other’s work using Microsoft Surface devices and Office 365. You can read the blog I did then here:
‘Perhaps teachers interested in collaborative approaches could learn something from what’s happening at Simon de Senlis,’ I thought. ‘Maybe they’ll be doing something at BETT.’
So I called the school’s head Tom Rees and, sure enough, he confirmed that he’ll be presenting twice each day on the Microsoft stand, talking about his school’s whole developing vision for learning and technology.
My call to Tom made it clear to me that much has happened in the few months since I was at the school. Ofsted has visited for one thing, finding the school ‘Good’, with Outstanding features. In particular they approved of the extensive use of peer-to-peer collaboration praising its high quality, and the significant impact on learning.
When I saw the children working in that way, their enjoyment and level of engagement was obvious, and in our call Tom was keen to tell me more about that, particularly how the process has been made so much more effective by the use of One Note Class Notebook Creator.
Peer-to-peer collaboration can, of course, be done well without the use of technology, but, as Tom says, so much gets in the way:
“Making comments with different colour pens, then someone’s pen runs out. In OneNote nothing runs out. There’s also the issue of swapping books which takes time and can bring self esteem issues into play around issues like handwriting and spelling. It's the sheer speed of the process that’s important. They can give and receive feedback and improve their work much more quickly and efficiently. We’re working on doing more of it.”
Also on the theme of collaboration, Tom was able to tell me how ‘Yammer’ is starting to transform staff communication.
‘It moves everything out of email, and forced discussion boards, and puts it into a neat and unforced social networking environment.’
What’s particularly impressive about the Simon de Senlis approach, though, particularly given its status as a Microsoft Showcase School, is the way Tom and his team are constantly questioning their use of technology, focussing on key learning strands. In his own blog on the school’s website, http://head.simondesenlisblogs.org/ -- which is well worth reading in full -- he writes,
‘However well developed a digital vision may be in a school, it is always the time to keep renewing our sense of purpose around WHY and HOW we use technology. In a ferociously busy school world of conflicting priorities, implementing any new initiative, process or technology must be thought through carefully with a clear rationale and continually pitched well to staff in order for it to become part of common practice.’
So it’s pretty clear to me that if you are healthily cautious about the place of technology in the classroom, ready to listen, but anxious always to put learning first, then you’d do well to visit the Microsoft Stand and meet Tom. He’s a fine example of the whole Microsoft approach to the place of technology in learning.