Chromebooks @ KWS: 12 weeks in
It is now 10 school weeks since our first post about Chromebooks at KWS and as teachers, we find ourselves wondering if we could ever go back to teaching without them. This post explores some of the common themes in how they are helping our students’ to progress at KWS. Chromebooks are: developing our students to become independent learners, increasing engagement and enabling differentiation. We finish by touching on some things we have had to fine tune to ensure the Chromebooks really add value to learning and don’t start to detract from it.
Independent Learners: Chromebooks are, as you might expect, used a lot for independent research. Whilst our students benefit by having so much information at their fingertips they are more importantly learning how to effectively research, process and present information. In our current information age this is a life skill and one which they are using and developing regularly across multiple subjects. Our Year 7s are using Quizlet in Geography for revision flash cards, and referencing knowledge organisers online for Maths each week, developing independent recall and revision techniques that are often not touched on until key stage 4.
We have developed a Maths Google Site where students can independently access all the lesson resources, including PPTs, worksheets, tasks and knowledge organisers. It includes Support and Challenge materials that are used, as needed, by individual students in each lesson, to strengthen their learning. Students can use the site to study independently outside of lessons and refer back; useful as well if they are absent for a lesson or wish to refresh a concept.
Increasing engagement: Our Headteacher comments on how the Chromebooks are ‘thoroughly aiding engagement’. They are a motivating resource, one that encourages our less able to do more and some of our less well motivated students to engage in tasks they would otherwise have opted out of. Lessons have become more interactive as a result of having Chromebooks available for short chunks of time, for example they can be used for quick fire quizzes using Quizziz, google forms or Quizlet. Chromebooks are a great resource to use if the pace needs picking up or for giving students a sense of agency in their learning. They lead to faster transitions, be it in a regular recall starter in Maths (often started before the teacher is even in the room) or for recapping key points from a discussion in perhaps an RE lesson.
Differentiation: The Chromebooks allow our teachers to more easily and more effectively plan for a far greater degree of differentiation than they could without them. Our SENCO enthuses about how the Chromebooks are “AMAZING” for our SEN students. Dyslexic students can access lesson resources directly on their Chromebooks, minimising the visual stress of moving from board to book to teacher, reducing eye fatigue and mitigating issues with short term processing. Chromebooks offer an ‘out’ for our autistic students if they need a break from the classroom, as they don’t have to miss the lesson content. Our students with ADHD can work with quiet music on which allows them to focus instead of reacting to external stimuli and we make use of audio and speaking software for our students that really struggle to read and write. In essence the Chromebooks make all our students more equal when they are learning.
Chromebook availability in every lesson allows our students to access a wider variety of differentiated resources more regularly. In lessons like History we can provide more effective support via sentence starters, text manipulation or gap fills. In Maths we can make use of more detailed challenge tasks to deepen and further students’ understanding. In Music and Spanish students access audio files regularly, where they have individual control during listening tasks, they can pause, rewind, listen again, go at their own pace. Last term in English, students wrote their extended writing assessment on the Chromebooks and were encouraged to use the features in Google classroom to contact the teacher for help, live during the lesson. Using these features means that students received support and feedback immediately throughout their time working on their essays.
Fine tuning: In the words of one of our teachers, you “have to watch them like hawks to check they’re doing what they should be” on the Chromebooks. Impero online classroom gives our teachers that ability (a screen view of every Chromebook in their classroom) and, combined with pro-active circulating of the class, this is generally very effective. On the flip side we have next to no issues with mobile phones in school, they are not used for any educational purposes so it’s a blanket rule that they are not to be seen or heard once they enter the school gates.
Following a visit to Tring School to learn about their Chromebook journey (with thanks to Chris Lickfold and Luke Roberts for hosting us), we have fine tuned some of our monitoring and made a switch to Whitelisting Apps on our students’ school logins. This has removed the issues we were starting to have with some Apps that we could not see via Impero, and has put a stop to the handful of students attempting to play games in their lessons. We still have a couple of students who just can’t resist the lure of their Chromebooks, so theirs stay on the teacher’s desk unless in active use during a lesson.
A recent parent survey highlighted that most of our parents feel the Chromebooks are a real plus, but we had the odd concern about the balance of written work/handwriting. Most external exams our students will sit will be written and our teachers have this foremost in their minds when planning. Our aim is that the technology is only used when it can enhance learning, with an appropriate balance of written work to ensure exam success. Our monitoring shows our Chromebooks are used less than pen and paper across any school day.
Overall we remain a complete advocate for the Chromebooks. Their battery life surpasses any other laptop device and their educational uses are far greater than any tablet. We feel the value they add to our students’ learning is immense, not to mention the number of trees we have saved in reducing our photocopying!
Mrs Zoë Coomber
Head of Maths & SLT lead for Chromebooks, Curriculum & Feedback.