Written by Claire Hughes, former primary school teacher and now Primary Curriculum Specialist at CENTURY Tech.
Choosing the right classroom technology solution is a tough process for any school leader. For primary leaders this can be even harder, given the unique challenges facing younger learners.
Edtech (education technology) refers to software, hardware and processes intended to support teaching and the day-to-day management of education institutions. As an Early Years teacher I saw firsthand the difficulty of implementing technology in schools, particularly when applied to our youngest pupils.
To help primary leaders through this often daunting process, I’ve drawn on my experience in the classroom to come up with seven factors that primary schools should consider when choosing and implementing edtech solutions.
1. Focus on your needs
It might seem obvious, but the edtech market is saturated with options, many promising to tick all the boxes and solve all your problems in one go. Finding the right tech for your school should begin with identifying your needs, then looking for a solution – not the reverse.
Ask for your teachers’ honest opinions about what could help them in their roles as educators – after all, they are best placed to tell you what support they need. Each of your teachers will have their own history with tech and you should make the most of their insights. You will likely hear that not everything out there is of good quality; some phonics programs may contain schwared sounds, or maths apps can show clunky and outdated methods. Ask your subject leaders to check potential options are compatible with your curriculum and policies. You can also check independent third party websites such as LendEd, which hosts reviews from schools and case studies, so you can learn what users really think.
But fundamentally, you need to pick the right tech to fit your school’s individual culture. For example, a program that incentivises children to learn through ‘stars’, ‘points’ or buying trendy clothes for avatars may not promote the sort of learning culture you want for your school. Research shows that using gimmicks to motivate children to learn can be counterproductive, and any positive benefits are short-term at best. Look into those technologies that focus on promoting effort, progress and a growth mindset.
2. Use tech that enhances, not diminishes, teacher-pupil contact
When many parents (and educators) think of technology being used by children, they imagine zombie-like children in rows, fixated to screens, mind-numbingly answering questions for points.
But when the correct tech is chosen and is applied correctly, this is not the case. The best technology augments, not replaces, teacher-pupil interactions. By providing teachers with detailed data on each child’s performance, their strengths, weaknesses and behaviours, technology can allow teachers to interact in a far more meaningful and helpful way with pupils.
When tech is implemented, it should improve the relationships between learners and educators, rather than building yet another screen between them. One of the most effective lessons I’ve seen was at Lozells Primary in Birmingham, where a teacher used printed slides to teach and then had children complete questions on a learning platform. This dramatically reduced her workload in both planning and marking but also meant she could immediately understand what pupils understood in her lesson. She could then speedily identify any misconceptions, and go help students straight away.
Tech can be used to open up classrooms, energising pupils to take agency in their learning. Ranches Primary School is an excellent example of how technology can be used dynamically and actually open up the classroom – see video here. Other primary schools, such as St Joseph’s Catholic Primary in Warndon uses tech as part of ‘a focused intervention time’ that runs in conjunction with their ‘outdoor learning curriculum’.
Tech should be used for teachers to get to know their pupils better, and help them to provide more exciting, personalised lessons and interventions.
3. Involve children in how the tech is used
As we all know, kids love technology. As opposed to giving a teacher more work and commitment, consider tech solutions that allow the children themselves to get involved with its running. Pupils from Year 1 to Year 6 are more than capable of putting away iPads or laptops and checking that they’re charged. One school I visited had several Year 5 ‘tech experts’ who, rather then taking up more of the teacher’s time, were the go-to-person to ask for help with technical issues. This not only helps teachers get on with teaching but also helps to instill responsibility and agency in pupils – a win-win.
4. Use what works, not what is trendy
All too often, schools adopt new programs in schools because they feel under pressure to copy other schools or follow the current trends. However, it is important that tech is chosen for its proven benefits, not its shiny interface, and that when tech is implemented, it is continuously monitored for its impact.
In addition to the previously mentioned LendEd, consider whether your potential tech solutions are evidence-based. This can be approached in a number of ways, but look out for UCL EDUCATE’s EdWARDS Applied badge, which signifies edtech that has been developed with research and evidence at its heart.
Good learning platforms should always keep you informed of if they’re actually working. This includes data on the amount of time teachers and pupils are using the platform for, the results of different groups in your school and how much progress has been made. But consider running evaluation projects so you can measure exactly how your chosen technology is working. The technology companies should be happy to help you with this.
5. Choose ‘one-size-fits-one’, rather than ‘one-size-fits-all’
Tech is at its most accessible when it offers learners options. For some children, this may be through videos and animations that bring learning to life. For others, it may be slides where learners can click through at their own pace.
Instead of grouping all children with SEND under one banner, tech should be specialised for each child as individuals. Perhaps one child needs an extra zoom to read quickly. Another may need a tinted screen. Many children also benefit from text-to-speech software, or fonts that are dyslexic-friendly. Others may like to focus on any key vocabulary offered by a learning platform, before they embark on any questions.
6. Make online and offline learning compatible
When tech is implemented at its best, it complements the existing teaching and learning taking place in the classroom. The best technology is able to be combined and compatible with the learning going on offline, too. For example, pupils can get out their whiteboards to help them work out calculations they’re solving on the computer, or the teacher can tell their students to make physical notes while learning on a digital platform. This means students can still practise their handwriting and organisational skills along with embedding whatever they were learning about online.
In short, all platforms should work alongside classroom learning and not restrict it. While platforms that use artificial intelligence can generate a recommended path for each learner, they should also allow the teacher to decide this themselves. When teachers can choose what topics students cover and when, transitioning between offline and online learning becomes easier.
The right tech can also help teachers work more efficiently. I previously mentioned how some schools print off digital learning materials but then test the children on the platform itself, saving endless hours of marking time.
7. Embed it everywhere, not just in the classroom
Some children may not have the same opportunities to access technology at home. When technology is implemented it should never widen the gap. Make sure there are ways for learners to benefit from the technology at lunchtime clubs or before and after school.
Getting parents onboard with edtech is a great opportunity to show both parents and children how tech can be used safely and responsibly, both at home and at school.
Many parents don’t have time to drop in to learn about the new Maths Calculation Policy during the day, but they may have time to access an app. Equally, teachers tend to find the time for pastoral conversations, but struggle to find time to go into detail about the next steps of a child’s learning. Rather than waiting for Parent’s Evening, parents can access their child’s progress year-round through technology, and intervene as they see fit.
To summarise, primary schools can benefit from technology just as much as secondaries and FE colleges, as long as leaders focus on needs first, with an implementation that considers the needs of teachers, pupils and parents. By focussing on improving the education of learners as individuals, schools can make huge strides in personalising learning, improving outcomes and reducing teachers’ workload – one of the biggest challenges facing education – and ultimately improve education for all.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding the use of edtech in primary schools, so please don’t hesitate to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.