Feedback on students’ work is, according to the research (John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam), the most effective way to raise achievement. Despite knowing this, we find it hard to give the necessary time to discuss in depth the strengths and areas for development due to perceived constraints (syllabus/curriculum coverage, behaviour management issues or lack of time). I remember a few years ago when I was struggling to find a way to incorporate feedback that an inspirational teacher (and good friend ) Iain Biddle at Presdales School pointed me in the right direction. Iain would set up a task and then use the lesson to meet every student for a few minutes to go through their work. His argument that the feedback was more important than the curriculum being covered for one lesson stuck with me and I soon adopted his idea with my own students but I always felt a little dissatisfied about the tasks I set as I felt that sometimes there was more emphasis on keeping the students busy rather than learning.
With my IB History class this term I have really worked hard to give effective feedback but I was at the point in my Scheme of Learning where I really needed to start the new topic of Mao’s consolidation of power in China 1949-57. I normally start a new topic by using an overview so students can gain a sense of the ‘Big Picture’ and lean heavily on the work of Ian Dawson. However, the overviews I employ demand heavy teacher involvement which means not being able to spend quality time giving the necessary feedback. I needed an alternative.
I had been toying with the idea of using ePub books for a while but needed to find the right time. ePub is an electronic book format that can be created using a number of applications including Apple’s Pages application and the results can be pretty stunning with audio, video and images embedded with the text. This seemed to be a good alternative in terms of giving the students information but I also wanted them to gain a sense of chronology. An ePub book by itself was not going to allow me to do this (apart from using a very drab timeline) but I returned to one tool that has been incredibly useful for teaching chronology: Beedocs’ Timeline 3D. What is impressive about the application is the ability to create timelines and embed multimedia into the timeline itself giving both a sense of chronology and knowledge. Having created a timeline with clips from a number of documentaries on China and audio clips by Professor Rana Mitter and Dr Patricia Thornton from the University of Oxford, I embedded the video file created by Timeline 3D into Pages. I added a few questions for the students to work on and made sure the video file was ‘inline’ with the text (necessary to do otherwise Pages cannot convert the document to ePub). I then copied the ePub file to the iPads and told the to bring their headphones in to the next lesson.
What followed was an example of the pedagogy driving the use of the device, not the other way round (or as I have started to say, the device is not the pedagogy). I handed the students the iPads, pointed out iBooks to them and told them to open the book and complete the work. The duly plugged in their headphones and set about gaining an overview of Mao’s China. Whilst they were watching/listening/reading, I spoke to each student individually about their essay using the following format:
- I ask how they felt the essay went (they usually fill in a self assessment form when they submit work).
- I go through the aspects I really like
- We then discuss specific things they could do to improve.
As I have come to expect, the students responded positively to the feedback but what was particularly interesting was what I noticed when I observed the students using the iPad:
- Students could pick up their learning where they left it after discussing their work and they did not feel disadvantaged by spending a few minutes in the corridor discussing their work;
- The ability to ‘scrub’ through the clip and minimise the video within the ePub so they could see the questions allowed them to replay important points at their own speed and to reduce the friction between moving between the questions and the resource.
This may seem a pretty mundane lesson as essentially they were given some material and I spoke to them individually about their work. The result in the first instance was extremely positive; they were able to return the following lesson and relate the overview of events to the abstract discussion on Mao’s political ideology which I was very pleased about. As for the feedback, I am looking forward to the next essay as I now get drafts before the deadline with the feedback incorporated into the work. It may not be the most ‘showy’ use of an iPad, but it certainly was very effective in terms of learning.