In many walks of life, there’s a tendency to look for a single solution to current problems and issues. That’s true too in education. Not too long ago, for example, interactive whiteboards were seen as the ‘magic bullet’ to transform teaching and learning. It’s fair to say that for most schools that hasn’t been the case. Indeed, the reality probably is that no single panacea has ever existed, or ever will. So instead of a single solution, maybe we can learn from the success of Sir David Brailsford’s GB cycling team where a focus was given to improving, ever so slightly, every aspect of the team’s performance; a process known as ‘The Aggregation of Marginal Gains.’ As Brailsford says: ‘The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by one per cent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”
This is a principle that can be applied across a multi-academy trust. Let’s take, as an example, the role of English departments in building a culture of high expectations, enjoyment and achievement in literacy. ICT can play a part here. Using free or very low-cost tools, English teachers can improve the quality of learning experiences in small steps that collectively add up to create significant improvement. We’ll take a brief look at just a few of these highly effective tools. An important consideration in choosing these is that they are easy to implement, have very shallow learning curves, and are free or inexpensive.
In our example, an English department can play its part in developing a culture of literacy achievement by becoming a centre for students’ writing through the use of blogging and publishing tools. One of the benefits of academies working within a trust is access to partner academies and, therefore, a ready-made and authentic audience of fellow students in these. By sharing and commenting on blogs across the trust, students become more conscious and critical writers and readers – something noted by school blogging expert, David Mitchell. And, as American educator, Rushton Hurley puts it: “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough.”
Using free services, such as Issuu, students’ writing can be quickly created as digital magazines hosted online by the department, the academy or by the trust. Students’ writing can also be transformed into high-quality printed books by using a free service such as Lulu. These days, students’ expectations and sense of production values has risen considerable. The days when an English teacher could create a class anthology using a photocopier, cardboard covers and spiral ring binders has long past. Instead, Lulu provides a means to publish printed books with the same production quality as you would expect to find in Waterstones. By using these simple and free ICT services, English departments within the trust can provide authentic purpose and audience for students’ writing.
High impact visual media can engage students in discussion and creative responses. The excellent, and free, Literacy Shed provides a wealth of videos, visual literacy ideas and teaching tips. A superb service is also afforded by Watch Documentary which saves considerable teacher time by providing a curated source of free online documentaries. To help create active engagement with videos teachers can make use of services such as EDpuzzle and EduCanon. These tools allow teachers to embed questions directly into a video and provide analytics on students’ use of the visual material.
On their own, none of these ICT services is likely to have a transformative effect on the work of English departments in the trust. But, cumulatively, a regular and skilled use of such tools can contribute to the aggregation of marginal gains. Just as small flowers can have an unexpected impact so too can a few ICT resources.
Andy Hutt is an Educational Consultant at RM Education.