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How can you empower students to take charge of their own learning? Watch this video…

Would you like to get your students more actively involved and engaged in their learning? Juliet O’Callaghan of Wootton Upper School says, “The VLE (virtual learning environment) is a great piece of technology that can actually help that happen. Using itslearning has had a very positive effect”. In this article and its accompanying video, Juliet describes how itslearning has helped empower and enable her students to take charge of their learning.

Wootton Upper School in Bedford, UK, is an academy that teaches 13- to 16-year-olds in compulsory education and 16- to 19-year-olds in advanced education, or Sixth Form. It is one of the top performing schools in Bedfordshire and has a reputation for high standards in both curricular and extra-curricular opportunities. The school is so popular that each year the demand for enrolment significantly exceeds the number of places available.

Juliet O’Callaghan is the lead professional and head of psychology at the school. Her interest in pedagogy and how to motivate students has always driven her teaching practice. Four years ago, Juliet noticed that her Sixth Form learners seemed to lack independent study skills. They were not achieving as much as they were expected to. Juliet decided to use the school’s VLE, itslearning, to design a curriculum that would empower and enable her students to take charge of their learning.

Juliet explains, “We have a generation of students who are used to getting their information online, not from libraries. Therefore, I was very much aware that we needed to provide some online way for them to access information. I believe the answer lies in the VLE.”

The power of the VLE

“Entire course are set up in itslearning so that students can access them from anywhere. The planner clearly states what they should be doing in lessons. They have all of the resources and assignments attached. This means that they can work relatively independently, or in groups, rather than needing teachers to direct all their learning.”

“Using itslearning quizzes and assignments, teachers can set up homework that marks itself. This frees them up to focus on what the results are revealing, and actually act on it, or alter their teaching plans accordingly.”

Personalised learning

“I’ve found that the VLE is great for differentiation,” Juliet reports. “I can set individual assignments for individual students, which is great. I can also use a flipped learning approach and ask students to watch a video and answer associated questions on itslearning. I check their answers before the next lesson to see who is struggling and who found it easy. The start of the next lesson is much more efficient because I’m not collecting homework. I get the students straight onto the starter activity, which is brilliant. I can then set personalised learning by spending time with students who’ve struggled, while others can do some work to extend their knowledge.”

Formative assessment

“When you want to provide detailed formative comments, the itslearning assignment function makes it much easier for you to provide feedback, and to monitor your students’ responses to this. It also provides a record of progress over time, which is becoming increasingly important.”

Professional Development

Juliet is the lead professional at the school for the VLE, and is in charge of training staff members in its use. When asked how she gets the staff to use itslearning, she replied, “We made it a high priority in our school development plan. For three years in a row, we scheduled in CPD (continuing professional development) time for the whole staff throughout the year. There’s no magic way of doing it…there are lots of different approaches: using it, talking about it, showing it, training with it; it’s a continual drip-feed approach that works.”

Sharing resources

Teachers who teach the same courses at Wootton often create a shared page on itslearning to store resources. On this page, teachers have their own folders containing their lessons, homework assignments, discussions, etc. Fellow teachers can see and share everything on the page, but students can only see the information that is relevant to their classes. This is done by setting permissions in itslearning. “You can do that quite easily,” Juliet says, and she shows us how in her video. In addition, she describes how she uses use itslearning’s digital tests, assignments, planner, pages, etc.

Thanks Juliet and Wootton Upper School for your informative and inspiring tour of itslearning!

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