I used to work in a creative school. In fact, the creative curriculum at this north Essex island community primary school was celebrated as one of the best features of this high achieving school. Teachers and senior managers came from miles around to see how we taught using topics, yet provided true coverage of the national curriculum. I have moved away from the school and the school has also moved away from a creative curriculum to follow a more rigid approach. Sadly, the school is no longer high-flying and, I believe, that is in no small part to the change in direction.
In recent years it seems that there has been a shift away from a thematic approach to the curriculum. Yet, with the recent news that Finland, the PISA education powerhouse, is dropping the notion of an individual subject and will begin teaching by topics, what the Finns are calling ‘phenomenon teaching’, will cross-curricular teaching be back in vogue in the UK? What will be the implications for educators’ subject knowledge and professional development? Would this mean that the silos of specialism will be torn apart and all teachers will be generalists? Finland isn’t the only country moving in this direction. On a recent visit to China, I was proudly told by educators, headteachers and government officials that in the years to come there would be an expectation for all teachers to teach across traditional subject barriers at all levels of compulsory education.
Whether you prefer teaching in subjects, as a cross-curricular topic or somewhere in between, all teachers and pupils can benefit from knowing what others do in their classrooms, both in their own school and across the world. Educational technology, one of my specialisms, is uniquely placed to help educators and students communicate and collaborate.
I will forego the more obvious examples, such as widely used collaborative tools such as Google Docs, blogging, educational event like Teachmeets, or of the educational community on Twitter, naturally including the ever helpful and inspiring #ukedchat on Thursday evenings, and delve into a little deeper.
For all schools communication is key, but even in relatively small schools, this can be an issue. There are no easy answers and schools need to carefully look at how they communicate with teachers, students and the wider community. Edmodo.com and its Android and Apple Apps is a well established social platform for educators to communicate, with convo.com as a free alternative for up to 50 users.
Email seems to be a necessary evil of the teaching profession, but there are ways to make it more manageable. GetHop.com is a popular Apple and Android app which turns your emails into a chat platform for quick reading and informal responses. For those longer emails, policies and documents you can use apps like noinnion.com/voice-reading on Android or talkler.com on Apple to read out the text while you are doing something else. Communicating with students and parents outside of class is vital for everyone keeping up to date. Two useful tools, remind.com and classmessenger.com, are perfect for sending short messages via email/apps. Of course, most schools underuse the potential of their learning platform and looking to see what else can be done with your existing tools should be your first step.
Collaboration and creating takes planning and discussion. Mindmaps are one way to note down information quickly and connect ideas. Coggle.it offers a free collaborative space to pool your thoughts and share with others. Teachers seem to love post-it notes and no INSET seems to be without them. The post-it app (bit.ly/uked15apr04) allows you to digitalise and manipulate the handwritten notes on your device.
Educators and students can collaborate in making videos resources and projects using a variety of digital tools. Mixbit.com is a wonderful site and app which allows users to collaboratively record short videos and then edit them together. Memplai.com is a similar web-based service but offers many editing functions.
Sharing what you do in the classroom should be a given for educators. Sites like mentormob.com allow educators to curate collections of digital resources and sites and while pixiclip.com and showme.com sites and app allow you to record your lesson through your whiteboard activity to share or use as revision.
Hoarding your talents, resources and expertise from other educators, either in your cupboard or behind a paywall will not help students beyond your classroom. Imagine an educational world where every teacher shared their best ideas and materials. UKEdChat has an open-access resource bank at ukedchat.com/resources where any educators can share a link to their teaching stored in cloud storage, like Dropbox or Google Drive. Anyone can download the resources without signing in.
While the lone educator is now a rarity, but the silos of subjects and departments largely remain at our secondary schools and between year groups at primary. It is clear that education still lags behind the business world when it comes to collaborative team working. With digital tools, and the right attitude, we can work together to improve education for our young people.