Today’s post was written by Brendan Cawley, engineering and technology teacher and first year head teacher at the Coláiste Pobail Setanta school in Dublin, Ireland.
Background of the Coláiste Pobail Setanta school
Coláiste Pobail Setanta is a vibrant, friendly learning community where students, teachers and parents are encouraged, supported and challenged in pursuit of the highest standards of achievement and academic excellence. We foster equality, respect and integrity in our college. We embrace diversity and recognize that everyone is unique and has a positive contribution to make.
Opening our doors in 2008, teachers and students were afforded the freedom and creativity to use the best practices for teaching and learning. Throughout the intervening eight years, teachers were encouraged and facilitated to introduce various active learning methodologies and Assessment for Learning (AFL) techniques into their teaching. AFL allows teachers to be informed about their students’ learning, subject knowledge and understanding of tasks, and is embedded in the teaching and learning process at Coláiste Pobail Setanta. Goal-setting, self- and peer-assessment, quality feedback and reflection are all key characteristics of AFL.
It is important that students can identify where they are in terms of their own learning. To achieve this process, teachers use lollipop sticks for questioning, mini-whiteboards for feedback, traffic light cups to measure understanding, quality questioning techniques and keyword checks, to name but a few. Coláiste Pobail Setanta is a recognized AFL school and a center of excellence for teaching and learning.
In 2014, we began to think about making the transformation to digital learning. We felt this was the next step on our journey to continue to be at the forefront of innovative excellence and enhance our teaching and learning methodologies.
Our learning journey
In February 2015, our staff received Microsoft Surface Pro 3 devices and began to use OneNote to create, display and share content. Led by Amanda Jolliffe (an MIE Expert) and this author, the Staff Digital Leaders worked closely with subject departments to develop a OneNote template that best suited our school’s needs. With some guidance, we created a general template for all teachers in all subject departments to follow, pages are set to double A4 size, text font in Comic Sans size 20 for title and 16 for content, and each aspect of learning has a different color code: learning objectives are in blue, keywords in orange, Bloom’s taxonomy tasks in yellow, homework tasks in pink and criteria for success in green.
This subject template was shared with department heads, who could slightly modify it to suit their department needs, and then shared with teachers in their department. Departments then worked collaboratively to develop OneNote chapters in specific subject areas. Each teacher would take a chapter each and use shared resources, such as PowerPoints, PDFs, Word documents and pictures, as their core content and augment this with links to YouTube videos, online games, websites, kahoot quizzes, homework and extension exercises. By May 2015, this process was well on its way, and throughout the summer, teachers worked on developing their OneNote Notebooks to present content. In September 2015, we welcomed 240 first year students (7th grade) who used a Surface 3 for their learning. Each class teacher then created OneNote Class Notebooks, where they shared their content with students. OneNote is a central location for all teachers’ resources, allowing them to access a wide range of educational resources, while the Class Notebook allows for collaboration between students, an array of different tasks and assessment methods, and instant feedback from teachers. All other year groups, from second to sixth year, also have access to OneNote through their Office 365 accounts, and it is used as a teaching and learning resource.
OneNote templates help facilitate student learning
Our OneNote templates are presented in a way that best facilitates students in their learning, and AFL techniques are embedded throughout each chapter. Students are active in their own learning and understand exactly what they will learn and need to know. At the beginning of every chapter, we have an outline of the learning objectives. Examples of these are shown in blue below for Geography, Spanish and German OneNote Notebooks.
In addition to the learning objectives being clearly shown in blue, students can identify what area of Bloom’s taxonomy they are using in their learning—content is presented and tasks such as classroom activities or homework are in pink.
OneNote has allowed teachers at Coláiste Pobail Setanta the freedom to include a wide array of different examples, sources and recourses to support teaching and learning in the college. Teachers and students can include pictures, videos, voice recordings, text, links to websites and online games in their notebooks, all in one central and easily accessible place. Students are also afforded the opportunity to engage in their own learning through fun and interactive methodologies. This has meant that students are not just recipients of information but they are now actively involved in their learning, and classroom engagement has improved. Students are now even more eager to learn, while class and homework activities are varied and engaging. Students also engage in peer assessment where they use the two stars and a wish method to evaluate another student’s work and give feedback on positive areas and areas in need of improvement. This process further allows students to understand the learning outcomes necessary for that topic.
Teachers use keywords as a tool in teaching and learning, with many teachers checking keywords at the door as students enter the classroom, giving incentive for students to know and understand them. Teachers have embedded keywords in designated pages at the end of every chapter, and the OneNote Class Notebooks allow students access to these keywords for the duration of their learning and in later months when they need to revise for exams.
Criteria for success
To further engage students in AFL techniques through OneNote, the last page in every chapter are checklists, where teachers summarize for students what they need to know at the end of every chapter. Students know what the criteria for success is for each chapter and use the “traffic light system” and smiley faces to self-assess whether or not they understand what they need to know for each chapter. Parents also have access to help support the student in their learning and what they need to know. Below each checklist are number lines that allow students to identify where they’re at in their own learning, choose extension tasks at their own ability and allows teachers to differentiate learning in the classroom. If a student is at level 1 or 2, they can do simple tasks like remembering and understanding or use a sneak peek to help them on their way. Level 3 or 4 students can attempt tasks to apply their knowledge or analyze something. If a student is at level 5, they can attempt a more challenging problem.
I hope this guest blog is beneficial to educators who wish to use OneNote as a teaching and learning resource. Teachers in Coláiste Pobail Setanta have made it their own by creating OneNote templates from the given examples above. This has allowed teachers to support and challenge themselves and students in pursuit of the highest standards of achievement and academic excellence. I would like to acknowledge my colleagues, notably Amanda Jolliffe, for their help and support in the creation of this blog. If you wish to know any more about us, then please visit our website or at @cpsetanta on Twitter.