Are teachers drowning in a sea of tasks?

Opening the laptop this morning to catch up on the latest edu news it's yet more grim reading. BBC reports Trainee teachers are being deterred from entering the profession while schools are also likely to spread the supply teacher search abroad. The impending teacher shortage in the coming years is becoming as familiar as the  'Winter is Coming' warning in Game of Thrones, but just like the Kings and Queens of Westeros, little is being undertaken to prepare for this monumental challenge.

The run up to the election seems to offer little salvation with everyone is pledging promises to fix everything but the most important. Pledging more money to schools, reducing class sizes, building new schools and retesting SATs may in one way or another sound enticing, but if there's not enough teachers to support this then they're likely to have minimal impact. The reality is getting more people into teaching is a difficult task, and there's likely to be a period where there's a significant shortage in the UK before any interventions the government make come to fruition. So the real question is how do schools and teachers best support the generation who will bear the brunt of any shortages? Recently I've been reading The Digital Classroom, and while it's 7 years old there's a lot in it that gave me food for thought. There's 2 areas in particular that are very interesting, and can make a big impact, all the more if we do experience a significant shortage of teachers.

1. Digital Portfolios: Mark it online

I don't really understand why these never took off here in the UK. In America it's standard practice to digitise students work so that it's available online for feedback and comments. When you think about the scramble of supplying evidence when Ofsted turn up, or the marking & feedback processes that are crazily out of hand (I know of schools who go back and forth between student and teacher 4-5 times with comments, taking 2 weeks+ to mark a single piece of work), surely it's time to leverage digital tools to minimise teacher labour? We're half way through a high impact project with Broadgreen International School, and already we've cut the average teacher's marking time per class from 1 hour to 15 minutes through digitising the process. Students are reporting higher quality follow up feedback as they're being received in a more timely manner. Schools using iPads should all be jumping on Showbie and trying this out for themselves as there's a huge time saving potential going untapped.

2. Flipped Learning: Leverage homework for the better

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Class sizes have been growing for a number of years and I don't expect it to slow down, so the influence a teacher can exert outside of the classroom is going to become increasingly more important. Homework needs to evolve, and it might surprise you to learn that no study has ever correlated homework with a points increase. Investing time in a task such as homework doesn't automatically equate to improving learning/understanding, and if homework could be leveraged better it would produce a huge benefit to teacher and student alike. Introducing flipped learning, whereby students research the topic ahead of the lesson is far more valuable. For one, it reduces teacher workload as there's nothing to mark, but more importantly it allows teachers to address the question of understanding at the point of impact: the lesson. This will allow teachers to properly differentiate work, while also allowing them to target their time in lessons for those who need it most. Flipped learning in it's most basic form just requires internet access and a device. When you take into account school computer rooms, student smartphones or tablets, home computers and free WiFi that is available throughout all major coffee shops and restaurants now, it would have to be a pretty extreme set of circumstances that would stop a student having access to the internet. From there flipped learning becomes scalable, and you as a teacher (or a whole school) can begin to produce richer resources such as video content (YouTube), screencasts (Explain Everything) or custom courses (iTunes U) for students to access prior to lessons. Here's a handy infograph I like about flipping the classroom.

Classroom Window[2]_letter
Classroom Window[2]_letter

It's my opinion that teachers are drowning in tasks, and that time could be better served working directly with students. By implementing either of the points I've talked about is likely to make a significant impact on student and teacher alike, and with the future challenges of getting enough teachers into classrooms, there's no better time to start leveraging the power of technology to reduce workflow and improve access to education.

As always please leave a comment or tweet me direct

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Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker