Joining up the dots: Utilising our EdTech strategy to facilitate AFL and create informed next step teaching

Recently I read Daisy Christodoulou’s latest publication, “Making good progress? The future of Assessment for Learning”. Daisy is a popular but at times divisive figure in education and having read her last book “Seven Myths in Education” and heard her speak at ReserachEd Amsterdam in March, I was interested to read this book. Although I do not agree with everything she says, (I need to read far more to fully understand the role and place of comparative judgement in secondary education) I find the basis of her assessment arguments often valid and have found some real practical applications of the suggestions she makes in this book.

As explained in an earlier blog, The BSN has introduced a new 1-2-1 EdTech device in the Senior School to coincide with the implementation of our new Edtech strategy. Having previously blogged about the benefits these changes are making to my work life balance here, I am now seeing more and more of the educational benefits this offers to my pedagogy.

BookWhat I found most interesting in this book was how the suggestions Christodoulou makes about good AFL practice can be directly implemented through our EdTech use and strategy at The BSN. Christodoulou spends  considerable time in the book highlighting how the use of quick answer, multiple choice questions can be a highly effective AFL technique to gauge what students can recall from previous learning, highlight any areas of misconception and indicate potential gaps in student knowledge.

Multiple choice questions are often viewed as the poor cousin to other questioning types but I value their place. Firstly, many of the criticisms often presented (the ease of answering, the ability to guess answers, the inability to probe for deep understanding, the lack of relevance for essay based subjects) can be addressed through careful consideration of the question and answers being provided. Christodoulou addresses these issues in the book but for a quicker read of these issues see the following blog by @Joe_Kirby here. Secondly, the GCSE subject I teach includes 8 multiple choice questions as part of the exam, so it is equally important students experience answering them.

Using AFL techniques to snapshot learning is not a new suggestion to pedagogical practice. Entrance and exit surveys, hinge questions and the use of student whiteboards are all excellent tools to enable teachers to gain insight into class understanding. The difference between these techniques and those offered through combining our VLE and Edtech strategy is the speed at which the teacher can elicit this information. Although paper based multiple choice questions are quick to answer, they still require time, either yours or the students. Furthermore, seeing trends across the class in subject knowledge or common misconceptions requires analysis between papers which again takes time.

However, through Canvas (our school VLE platform) a 1-2-1 device that meets the learning needs of students and an upskilling of my EdTech pedagogy, I have an excellent tool that significantly speeds up this process. Providing real time AFL feedback to inform my planning and next step teaching.

Using our VLE I can quickly create a series of multiple choice questions that revisit topics from the previous lesson, as seen here:

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With a traditional paper quiz or student whiteboard, I would now mark the questions myself or use student self-marking or peer marking. Great for telling me about individuals scores, but time consuming and not so useful in highlighting whole class misconceptions or learning.

However through the quiz analysis tool in Canvas, I receive real time updates as students complete the questions. Not only their own specific answers, but trends in the class per question. This instant feedback as students complete the questions, is hugely beneficial in helping me ascertain if a topic or idea is well learnt and does not require more time spent on it, as in this case:

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Or something I clearly need to revisit this lesson, as in this case looking at the answers provided to the question above:

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Here the quiz analysis function quickly indicates that of my 13 students, 5 answered incorrectly, with 4 of the 5 making the same mistake. Clearly something to revisit in this lesson.

Could I have gained this information from other assessment techniques? Yes. Could I have gained it in the time taken between the students finishing the quiz and opening their text books? No.

Knowing when to move on and when to pause and revisit learning is a fundamental part of good pedagogy. Our school VLE, Edtech strategy and use of 1-2-1 devices provides the opportunity to do this quickly therefore informing my next step teaching more effectively.

What has Ed Tech ever done for me? Well apart from help my work life balance……

This week saw SSV take a big step towards achieving it’s new Ed Tech strategy with staff receiving their new Microsoft Surface Pro devices. The rationale for this vision has been outlined clearly by Kieran Early (CEO and Principal of The British School in the Netherlands) here and how this strategy will enable our school to improve the outcomes of our students. Having spent the last month trialling the new device, I have been surprised that the area I have seen perhaps the biggest impact in is my ‘mobility’ and how the strategy, coupled with the new device is improving my work life balance.

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Maintaining a healthy work life balance is a commonly discussed issue in the teaching profession and it’s no surprise why. As teachers we don’t need reminding of the state of workload in the profession. If you do need reminding, you probably aren’t a teacher, and if you are a teacher lucky enough to be working in a school where maintaining your work-life balance is never an issue, I’m sure people would be interested to know if you have any vacancies coming up……

During a workshop for staff this week on migrating their school documents to cloud based storage, we began discussing how this increased mobility now enables us to access our ‘work’ documents at home. Which then inevitably lead to a discussion about if this was a good thing, how do we ensure our work life balance and what is our school’s expectations of ‘working outside of school’. Whether you work in the UK or internationally, ensuring your own well-being and the well-being of your staff has to be a fundamental aspect of your school ethos and I believe our Ed Tech principle of mobility, utilised through our new devices, can support staff in this area.

The issue when discussing work-life balance and our right to disconnect, is that your view on what constitutes a healthy work-life balance might not look the same as someone else’s. Some of my colleagues want to finish their teaching day, ensure they are ready for tomorrow  and then leave school knowing they don’t need, want or more importantly are expected, to check their emails or continue working until they arrive back at school. This for them is what a healthy work-life looks like, a clear compartmentalising of ‘work’ and ‘home’.  

But for others this is not how they maintain their work life balance. On days with no after school commitments they like leaving work when they can, taking advantage of the daylight (admittedly not always possible during a Dutch winter!) to enjoy activities that help ensure their work-life balance. I am one of these type of people and the mobility offered by our Ed Tech strategy and new device is enabling me to do this. I don’t particularly like to run or cycle in the dark or late in the evening because I was still at school doing things I could have done later that evening when the sun (yes it we do sometimes see the sun here) goes down. I know colleagues that want to be at home to see their children and are comfortable working later in the evening if needed; spending quality time with their families when their children are awake is what is important to them.

Our Ed Tech strategy being implemented at its best. Mobility in productivity: Coffee, lunch, a spot of work and catching up with the NBA all in one sitting. 

With a principle of mobility and a device that enables me to access my school user space, answer emails, complete marking and prepare lessons outside of school, I ensure my well-being, but I do this with no expectation that anyone else needs to achieve their work-life balance by doing the same. This ‘no expectation’ outside of school is the fundamental principle we must adopt to help create better well- being in our profession. There can be no expectation that any staff member works (or needs to out of necessity, rather than choice) out of hours, but if they choose to, we now have strategy and device that will enable them to do this to facilitate their work-life balance.

Having worked in six different schools in four different countries, I have to say The Netherlands is the best I’ve seen for considering the impact of work on the employee.  I also believe the introduction of the Ed Tech strategy above, coupled with the right device to deliver this strategy, will ensure that all staff have the ‘right to disconnect’ and ‘right to connect’ in whatever way best suits their life choices.  

As a profession we need to address the workload expectations we place on each other, but perhaps from a position of ensuring choice rather than expectation. Our new Ed Tech strategy and device is a positive step towards achieving this.


One of our great strengths at The BSN is the multinational make up of our student population. However, with over 80 different nationalities across our schools, ensuring our teachers have the skills to meet the needs of all our EAL (English as an Additional Language) learners requires constant upskilling of our staff.

To enable this support to be provided to learners, for the past 6 years the Senior School has been offering it’s teachers the opportunity to participate in the TESMC (Teaching ESL students in Mainstream Classrooms) qualification and this year I am one of the course participants.

It’s never too late to upskill as a professional, whatever your experience or role in the school and The BSN places significant value on CPL (Continued Professional Learning) for its staff and this value extends to our commitment to EAL learners. Malcolm Hebden (Head of Learning Support Faculty and TESMC course tutor) stressed this to me when I joined the school; providing support for EAL learners is the responsibility of all our teachers not just the EAL department. Providing support for our EAL students is a key organisational aim of The BSN and this course goes a long way in providing this support for our students.

So now 6 months into the course it’s a great time to reflect back on what I have learnt so far and how my practice has changed as a result.

Day one of the course saw Malcolm Hebden, during discussion on how to use joint construction in writing tasks, saying something along the lines of “Good EAL teaching is actually good teaching. This practice will benefit all students, not just the EAL learners”. Something that has been reinforced time and time again during our sessions with both Malcolm and Deborah Duman (Deputy Head of Learning Support Faculty and TESMC tutor).

Now six months into the course this has probably been my biggest realisation. Writing frameworks (providing students with a structure to frame an essay answer), co-constructing answers (building an answer sentence by sentence with the class) and using listening grids (to support oral tasks) are becoming more and more embedded into my practice to the benefit of all learners.

We have seen significant changes to examinations courses over the past two years, with many subjects now facing increased emphasis on the ability of students to produce longer essay style answers (Even my own subject, GCSE PE, now requires answers to 9-mark essay questions in each of the two exams sat at the end of Year 11). The skills I am developing in the TESMC course are enabling all students in my class to benefit from my upskilling as a teacher, not just my EAL students.

I look forward to the next stage of the course, the impact it will have on my practice and the improved outcomes of all of my students. Good EAL teaching is good teaching for all.

Knowing thy impact- Is disengagement of many the price of a research engaged few?

As a fresh-faced NQT in 2003 it didn’t take long for me to hear a colleague say something along the lines of “I’m not chucking that, it might not be popular now but give it 5 years. Everything that goes out of fashion comes back later”. Fast forward to Easter 2016 and after looking at the new GCSE PE specification, I almost blurted out the same line “I’m glad I didn’t chuck those resources, this new exam spec is just like the pre 2009 one. I knew they would come in handy again”.

As you move through your teaching career, it’s easy to sometimes see education as deeply cyclical in nature. Curriculums, ideologies, polices and ‘drives’ stuck on a loop that sees them come in and out of fashion every few years in the minds of politicians, school leaders and teachers.

Becoming research engaged is an example of one of the ‘newer’ educational ideas. Just to be clear from the start, I believe 100% in this. For too long our profession has been at the mercy of external ideas/companies/money makers looking to promote (i.e sell) the next big educational tool that will increase learning and outcomes for our students.

The problem is we’re a pretty easy audience to sell an idea to, I’m yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t want their students to do better. If you tell me something is going to help and I think it might, I’m going to get on-board, especially if it has been “proven” by someone.

So in our desire to help our students, we have opened our classrooms to all manner of  educational fads. So reflecting, asking the question ‘How do we know this works?’ can’t be a bad thing. It helps our profession question and remove the “snake oil and pseudo-science” Tom Bennett (Director and founder of researchED) suggests plagues the profession.

We now have a growing number of teachers actively engaging with educational research, attending research conferences, reading published journal articles, discussing the impact of research on our teaching and as someone who is engaging myself in this movement – it’s brilliant.

But I do worry sometimes that in our attempt to become research informed we might in fact be disengaging many teachers from the process.

For many schools and teachers, the starting point for engagement with research often is the popular work of Hattie and his ‘Visible Learning’. Great, let’s all be sure to “know thy impact” of what we are doing. But hang on, it seems Hattie’s work might not be as watertight as we had been led to believe according to Dr Gary Jones.

Okay so ignoring that, let’s instead go with what we know does work; mindsets, everyone knows and understands Growth Mindsets and the drive in schools to engage with this research has been more than significant. Oh, now seems as if the research behind Dweck’s work is also being questioned (See David Didau’s: Is growth mindsets bollocks?).

So is all this reflection a bad thing? Of course not, but if we are trying to engage a whole profession we must consider the impact of our actions. If you are interested in Educational Research you will of course be interested in finding out exactly what does and doesn’t work.

But if you are research new or dare I say, research cynical, the weight of information telling us what we think doesn’t work might lead to a simple decision being made to disengage with research. Being told something that you have used is now proven to be ineffective (Learning styles is a good example), or perhaps worse, something you were recently told was proven to improve outcomes (Growth Mindsets, Visible Learning) is now being questioned isn’t helping anyone’s enthusiasm for a research engaged profession.

As a colleague recently said to me, tongue in cheek (I hope), as we were discussing the importance of our school becoming research informed “Yeah great, for the next few years, until someone else comes along and ‘proves’ what we are now doing is in fact now a load of old tosh”.

So what’s the best way forward, stop reflecting and accept what we are told?

No way, let’s reflect on what works, let’s engage in discussion but always consider the impact of these discussions on those on the peripheries of the debate. Using social media to call out fellow professionals who we now know/believe to be incorrect in their practice (Via the twitter hashtag #VAKoff for example) is not going to engage the masses and just comes across as undermining and disrespectful of fellow professionals.

Concentrating the debate on what works (The EEF toolkit for example) as opposed to spending our time stressing what doesn’t work is surely going to be more productive in the long term.

If not I worry we are at risk of repeating the very same argument my colleague presented back in 2003 “Better not throw those VAK resources away, it will be back in fashion in a few years”. Which we know really is a load of old……………