Teachers in Australian schools today are facing increasing pressures to move to more didactic, teacher-centred approaches to teaching. However, these traditional ‘top-down’ pedagogies (teaching methods), where a teacher is often at the front of the classroom ‘transmitting’ knowledge, are increasingly being supplemented by other teaching methods including approaches based on digital technologies as teachers continue to find ways to foreground 21st century skills.
The UNESCO report, The futures of learning 3: What kind of pedagogies for the 21st century? suggests that children need to develop new technological competencies compared to previous decades. Therefore ideally, when learning to write, young children should be producing and editing texts using digital technologies and developing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills at the same time. Introducing digital technologies into classroom curriculum and pedagogical practice could provide such a range of learning opportunities.
In the analysis outlined here, I was interested in what happens in a classroom when a teacher uses digital technologies to teach writing in the early years. I wanted to closely map and analyse the teaching practices, movements and activities of the teacher and children during the course of a lesson using digital technologies.
Mapping pedagogies during a writing lesson where children used digital technologies
Drawing on data collected as part of a project with Annette Woods, Barbara Comber and Lisa Kervin, I investigated the use of time-lapse photography in a classroom of twenty-two Year 2 students participating in an 80-minute lesson. The teacher was engaged in a Design-based Research (DBR) project where teachers identified, and worked on, an aspect of pedagogy that they wanted to change as part of their work with university researchers.
In this case the classroom teacher wanted to improve children’s engagement with writing using digital technologies, as this was a significant issue in the school. Children were often required to share as few as three iPads per class at school, and their access to the internet and digital devices at home could also be limited or non-existent. Technological marginalisation can occur when schools are not able to provide access to the tools and technologies of digital ways of working and this has a particular impact when children are growing up in contexts where access to the same is limited outside of the school as well.
In order to look closely at what the children and teacher were doing as they worked to create text using iPads, time lapse video was recorded using the Lapse It application on an iPad.
What was the lesson about?
The teacher designed a lesson where the children developed a digital game using the Sketch Nation application on iPads as part of a literacy lesson. The application provided the tool for children to design, create, share and evaluate their own digital games.
The children worked collaboratively to develop the game and then wrote text explaining how to play the game. This was followed by the children playing each other’s games and then writing a review of the game that they had played.
How did the teacher teach the lesson?
The teacher used a wide range of pedagogies to enable children’s learning including teacher-centred and student-centred approaches, depending on the stage of the lesson and the lesson goals. These included:
- teacher-centred pedagogies such as exposition and giving instructions; demonstrations and providing explanations about the task; and discussion and questioning; and
- student-centred pedagogies that enabled children to make decisions about their learning, and engage in inquiry or problem solving.
An Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) report suggests that student-centred approaches can make a positive difference to children’s learning outcomes.
In this lesson, the teacher spent 68% of the time drawing on pedagogies that were student-centred and therefore focused on the learner and their learning.
Student-centred pedagogies involved and focused on children to a greater degree than teacher-centred pedagogies. During these parts of the lesson, children were engaged in broader and more diverse learning options; they were encouraged to develop and share ideas with their partners; and were able to make decisions about the pace at which they undertook the activity.
Interactions and student-centred pedagogies
The teacher’s and students’ interactions throughout the lesson varied, and included the teacher interacting with individuals, small groups or the whole class. The teacher spent:
- 50% of the time engaging with individuals or small groups of children (most of the time with individual children),
- 40% interacting with the whole class, and
- 10% of the time monitoring the class.
Teacher’s interactions with children during the lesson
Throughout this time, many of the children were able to collaborate and interact with other children in the class, without the teacher, as well as working with the teacher at other times. Many of the children chose to work in groups.
The teacher favoured teaching methods that enabled the students to move freely within the classroom. This was particularly the case when children were engaged in problem solving and undertaking inquiry learning. For example, the teacher would frequently go to where the child was located rather than expecting the child to come to the teacher. As such, the teacher spent 84% of her time in areas of the classroom other than the traditional ‘front’ of the room.
How using digital technologies can change teaching practices
The teacher incorporated the production and evaluation of a game; drawing on multimodal and real-world situations for literacy learning. This example demonstrates some of the practices associated with literacies, particularly text production and learning to write using digital technologies.
The pedagogies described show that there is a great flexibility associated with the teaching and learning of writing literacies. Learning can be collaborative or co-constructed in one instance and an individual undertaking the next. Children can learn through teacher-centred approaches, but also through student-centred opportunities that encourage greater independence and incorporate student choice about their learning.
When student-centred pedagogies were used, children enacted elements of their own learning and the classroom took on a less defined form. Movement was not restricted and the children had a greater degree of control over their learning.
The teacher was able to balance whole class activities with individual tasks, and student-centred and teacher-centred pedagogic experiences thereby incorporate digital literacies and technologies that engaged children in broader literacy learning outcomes.
This research was supported by the Australian Research Council under grant number DP150101240 awarded to Annette Woods, Barbara Comber and Lisa Kervin.
Aspa Baroutsis is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Griffith Institute of Education Research, Griffith University. She was a research fellow on the Australian Research Council funded project, Learning to write in the early years, at the Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology. She researches in the areas of sociology of education and education policy with a focus on social justice. Her research interests include digital technologies and literacy learning; mediatisation and media constructions, and representations of identity. Twitter: @aspa25