Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Observation of an Inspired ICT Classroom

Today I went to observe Jacqui Sharp’s digital classroom at The Gardens Primary School. What struck me first as I entered the room was that it was so open, no ‘personal’ desks or spaces, no rows or group tables, rather a less formal learning environment with digital centers. It looked exciting, I am sure the other classes must be envious every time they walked past.

Jacqui is a confident and an inspiring teacher, she never talks above a normal voice and she doesn’t lecture. I realised how teacher directed my own classroom is compared to hers. She begins class by reviewing expectations and work choices, she then models, explains and off they go. Quick, detailed and well scaffolded. Despite having four observing teachers in the classroom with whom she chatted, she still moved around and conferenced individual students according to their needs.

I found the whole experience inspiring, the students worked away at their tasks, of which there was a huge variety. They have a board to guide their activity choices, I saw students regularly referring to it in order to decided on their own next learning step. They all seemed to be on different but related activities, working individually, in pairs or small groups, yet they were all engaged and on task. I sat near a group of boys who were comparing each others Hero avatars and teaching each other ICT skills as part of their discussion. I don’t think they were even aware of how they were learning and tutoring each other, they were just having fun!

I could write on and on about the many fantastic and inspiration ideas I observed in her classroom, but then you can get most of them by reading Jacqui’s blog. There are two elements however I would like to share that had the most impact on me and that I believe made this digital class such a success.

First routines and expectations were WELL established. Jacjui only had to say ‘Stop’ not even loudly, and she had the instant attention of the whole class. The students did not waste time or get distracted by visitors, they all knew their timetable and what they needed to do and how to find out their next step. From the moment they came into the classroom they were fully engaged.

Secondly, with Maths, Reading and Writing, they had a huge list of possible activities to choose from and as a result there were no students asking what to do next. Every curriculum area had a broad range of activities that the students need to complete. In writing there were a range of activities for the draft, conferencing and publishing stage. Most of these were set up as digital learning centers in folders on the server, with everything from WebQuests to Inspiration comparison charts.

I mentioned to Jacqui that it must require an enormous amount of preparation getting so many digital activities for each curriculum area together, and starting from scratch it would take months. Her advise was to start with your higher ability groups, create for them and teach them, so that by time the next group has progressed you already have all those resources ready and waiting, plus those students can be your experts to tutor the next group.

Thank you Jacqui for an inspiring experience in an inspired classroom.