Keep some of the old but add new technology to it!

When I visited a local school recently I was talking to Martin Heeley who has been working on and developing some ideas I gave him during the course. As we have a focus on the blog about what to keep of the ‘old ways’ and what technology we can harness cheaply or even free to encourage pupils towards more independent study skills for the new GCSE and A level, this guest post is really practical and helpful. These ideas can be used in all Key Stages. I used Padlet at Language World a couple of years ago.

Of course I’ll write a piece for your blog, Liz! On technology, you say? I know just the thing!”

As a bright-eyed trainee only two years ago, I was buzzing with excitement about the prospect of using technology in my teaching. I envisaged every one of my students having iPads, creating movies and using Skype to hold video conferences with schools around the world. Then I became an NQT and discovered how time-consuming day-to-day teaching was, let alone using technology in the classroom!

No… Wait! Come back! This isn’t another article about how stressful teaching is – in fact this is the exact opposite. I’m now in my third full year teaching, and I’ve discovered the key to technology is baby steps. I’m in contact with my school’s partner collège in France, so the prospect of Skype for video conferencing is not so far away on the horizon, but I’d like to tell you about a relatively simple tool that has helped boost and maintain the enthusiasm of my students: Padlet.

For those of you who haven’t yet come across Padlet, I would liken it to the online equivalent of sticking post-its on a board. Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Why not just stick some post-its on a board then?!’ The main advantage over the traditional ‘post-its on the board’ is that Padlet can be accessed from home and is pretty easy to use. Furthermore, and this is the main reason that I love Padlet, it allows students to be responsible for their own learning by ‘flipping the classroom’.

Let me explain: the basic premise of the ‘flipped classroom’ is that students prepare something ahead of the lesson that they will then use in class. I’ll give you an example: Year 7 students are going to be looking at how to use the partitive article (so, how to say ‘some’) in French next lesson on the topic of ‘food and drink’. Their homework is to go away and research one item of food and drink each and whether it is masculine, feminine or plural, and then add them to the Padlet ‘wall’. This is then displayed next lesson, after briefly covering the rule with some good, old-fashioned ‘teacher talk’, and students must then apply the rule to the words that they themselves have found. Students feel excited that their work is presented to the class, and that other students are using their work; so those who had perhaps been hesitant in doing this the first time, gradually increase in confidence.

“But that’s not that amazing. It’s a bit basic.” I know, I thought that too. However, the level of challenge or complexity of task can be developed according to the class: my Year 10s each had to write the longest sentence they could to say what they wanted to be when they grew up, with the aim of using it as a reading activity in the next lesson. Once I had shared with them the purpose of the task, then their engagement increased as they then wanted to make their part as complex and as difficult as possible.

I thoroughly recommend having a play about with Padlet. Yes, you’ll need to sign up, but it is free (there’s a premium version, but I’m quite content with using the free version), but it’s worth just taking a few minutes (that is literally it) to set up a Padlet for one of your classes. Let me summarise the key points about using it:

  • It’s free – did I mention that?
  • I would recommend setting it up either with a school account, or with your ‘teacher name’, so I started one as ‘Mr Heeley’, and now my department has an account. This makes it easier with the next step…
  • You can modify the weblink so that the students can easily access the Padlet in question, e.g.
  • Ensure the students just put their first names, and nothing silly – I made this mistake after the first try with it!
  • You can password protect each individual Padlet, and share this password with the students. They don’t need to sign up or anything, so as long as they don’t put their surnames or personal details on, it is secure.
  • The first time you set the students to use it, I would advise talking them through how to post on it (double click anywhere…), then getting a student to show the rest of the class how to post on it.

Now, I’m aware that this feels like one giant advert for Padlet (they haven’t paid me for this, I swear), but I really enjoy seeing my students so engaged with their homework, so much so that I’ve bothered my department to death about it, and now Liz has very kindly let me bother you about it. It has engaged and enthused my students with minimal effort on my part, and has allowed me to dip my toes into the world of technology in MFL. Next stop: virtual reality headsets? Maybe not just yet…

Thanks very much for this post, Martin!  And for coming into university to talk to the students about what to expect as they start their NQT year.

Liz BlackLiz Black, has taught languages in both primary and secondary schools for over 30 years and has, as a consequence of this cross-phase work, a keen interest in ensuring effective linguistic progression. She is currently a PGCE tutor, freelance author and consultant. She has been a member of ALL for many years and is on the National Executive Council and the Primary Special Interest Group. She delivers training for primary and secondary teachers and is well known for her creative teaching ideas.