With every new year at school, there always seems to be a new system or other which claims to be better at doing something that didn’t seem a problem the year before. After tinkering with OneNote in the classroom last year, I’m going all in and there seems to be a general murmuring amongst the, genuinely delightful, pupils I teach as to ‘what’s the point’. What was wrong with paper for our prep and writing stuff on a whiteboard?
At its best, it offers the flexibility to teach and support the students in a way that is just not possible with a paper and pen. Here are three examples.
As I write information on the board, I can be wherever I want in the classroom. I’m not the smallest of people so the first advantage is getting me out of the way. But if I position myself at the back of the classroom, or in amongst the students, or sitting next to the student who’s struggling, it gives me the flexibility to adapt my teaching. The latter case is particularly powerful. How often does a student want to ask that quiet question to clarify something, but would rather not ask it in front of the entire class.
The second example is on the speed of feedback. Students can complete homework on the night it’s set and I can mark it before the next lesson. I don’t have to remember to collect it in or give it back, and they don’t have to remember to bring it to the lesson or hand it in. I’m sure every teacher at some stage has tried to get a class to hand in their work the next day, even when they don’t normally have a lesson. I certainly did, and tried nobly for a few weeks before giving up and accepting that I’d have to teach the next lesson ‘blind’ as to what their homework may have shown me as to their understanding. A spin off of this electronic marking is that the students seem to respond to what I’ve written much more, correcting work spontaneously, but its early days to suggest this is sustained.
The third is on the richness of media. It’s easy to paste onto their work a worked example, or a custom made ‘This is what you could do to improve’ stamp, or an audio recording of feedback. They could also record an audio question they wanted to ask, or even record them explaining an answer orally (the prospect for languages here is obvious). From bringing in diagrams from the internet, pasting graphs from Excel – it does seem a very natural way to bring all these things together.
Does it have its faults? Of course it does. The lack of a defined time slots for them to do it and me to mark it means that I mark in dribs and drabs, or start marking before they have finished it. The flexibility of structure means that sometimes a page of work ends up with all sorts of scrawling over it, from my comments, to their corrections but it seems much more organic and more representative of a real conversation that might be taking place, but which we don’t have time do every time. The key thing though is that it allows me to do things that I couldn’t do without the technology, which I think is the acid test of whether something is worth persevering with and so I’ll keep on using it.