(NB From Julian-This post is By Jonathan Ovenden and part of my visit to BETT. I agreed to cross-post this blog post because I am a primary teacher who works with white working class children, at a school who uses technology and I can see that it does make a difference.)
Last summer, 63 per cent of our student population who took GCSEs walked away with five or more C+ grades including English and maths. While the debate raged around whether this performance was good enough, I was struck by another figure.
That figure was for FSM white working class boys. In this group, only 26 per cent achieve five or more GCSEs, including English and maths meaning they are the lowest attaining group of all children. Somewhat surprisingly, their underachievement is also lower than many other ethnic groups who may have additional language barriers to contend with.
Closing the gap
Although the problem is not new, the increasing focus from the government on closing the attainment gap between certain learners means schools need to direct more resources towards this and other potentially vulnerable groups to ensure all children progress.
According to David Godfrey, a principal of two schools in Northumberland – Central First School and Hirst Park Middle School, technology can help with this process and re-engage hard-to-reach learners: “Technology is a fantastic enabler. It pushes many of the buttons that motivate boys and develops many of the skills we need to encourage in lower ability learners.”
David is well placed to advise on the issue of using technology to motivate white working class boys. Both of his schools have over 50 per cent of children on FSM, and the area is predominantly white working class.
Having supplied the coal pits with miners years ago, the region now has little industry and many families are third generation unemployed. David shares his views on how technology can be used in the classroom and beyond to help teachers make progress with this group.
According to David, technology has been useful in his school, because it encourages independent learning skills. “One of the issues you can find with lower ability learners is that they are often spoon fed learning and so are unable to apply what they have learnt in one subject to other learning.”
Technology can be used to encourage children to discover things for themselves and progress. Tablet use is widespread in David’s schools as it helps children find facts out for themselves, not from a teacher.
If the right tools are chosen, it can also help tailor learning to the individual. “Personalised learning is an expectation of schools but in reality, is difficult to achieve,” explains David. “The right e-learning technology, however, can help teachers diagnose issues and then present learning materials that are relevant to that child’s exact needs.”
It helps ensure progress is rewarded frequently. “Boys are motivated by competition so anything that feeds on that works well. But we also have to appreciate that there is another side to their nature. When boys do not win, they can feel like failures.”
In primary school, by the time you get to Year Five or Six in your hard-to-reach groups, this sense of failure can seem normal and so it helps to break that cycle. Online learning programmes that give frequent feedback encourage boys by showing that they can succeed and this encourages further success.
Make the content relevant to boys
The type of content is crucial in motivating boys as they can be switched off quickly by what they see as bland or ‘girly’ activities. An example at David’s school demonstrates the success of this approach, “We needed boys to be more engaged in written elements of the curriculum and switching the activities to focus on pirates and adventures achieved the desired effect. The girls adapted to the new materials without a problem too.”
“Parents hold the key to a child’s achievement so anything that offers the ability to share results or activities with parents is ideal,” says David. Sharing the learning at home allows parents to motivate their children to try harder and even learn alongside their child. With so many online or cloud-based resources available, this is far easier than it ever has been.
By choosing resources that are suited to this hard-to-reach group, you can have an impact on their achievement that will reap rewards beyond improved results. Happier pupils, more engaged parents and even more empowered teaching staff to name but a few.
Further reading: Centre for Social Justice reportWritten by Julian S Wood - www.ideasfactory.me/about/"rel="author"