Serif in Education

Welcome to the new school term

The new school term brings with it a whole host of mixed emotions for teachers.  After 6 weeks of relaxation and reflection, and generally having some down time (although those with kids may not have had any of this!) it is time to pack away the sun cream, pull out the laptop and start lesson planning again. If you’ve been teaching for a long time you will be used to all this, but for new teachers, it is a nerve-wracking time. Although many will enjoy the new term challenges, research by Rachel Williams, Lecturer and part of the Employment Research Unit at Cardiff University, has found that many teachers actually find their first teaching job to be much more difficult than they expected.

Government statistics show that in 2015, over 10% of teachers left the state sector. At a time when the routes into teaching are changing, more than 107,000 teachers who completed their training last year never actually taught in a school. This is worrying considering that many teacher vacancies remain unfilled. Williams identified that the greatest challenges for teachers were caused by a high work load, disruptive pupils, the worry of having their lessons observed and teaching pupils with different abilities in the same class.

I wanted to talk this week about the latter of those challenges.

Having to structure work for children with different learning styles and abilities is a very common problem in classrooms across the UK. Meeting the needs of each and every pupil is essential but there is not an easy ‘one size fits all’ solution. Making use of group work or working in pairs and setting different tasks that are appropriate to different levels in the group can really work well. Creativity is a great tool in these types of situations.

Pupils can be given an open and creative task which allows them to work at their own level. Susan Bremner, a Modern Foreign Languages Teacher in South Lanarkshire, has a wonderful example of this. In Métro bleu in module 3 she gives pupils the task of setting up a French school. They have to decide on a name for the school. The tasks involve making up a dream timetable, a mini school handbook (e.g. name of school, times, clubs etc) the design of a school uniform and a play outlining activities at school. She usually puts pupils into groups of a similar ability and gives them a week to complete the tasks.

The Serif Design Suite could come into play in all four sections of this activity. A dream timetable could be drafted in PagePlus, using an invisible grid to help separate sections of the timetable. The grid is an invisible framework or set of guidelines which does not print, but guides the student when placing text and images on the page. By structuring its layout format, the grid helps define the look and feel of a print document and can be varied within the same publication in many different ways to avoid boring repetitious-looking pages. A grid helps give the document consistency and contributes to the ‘house style’. Grids and templates also communicate a clear message by organising information and creating balance, unity and a visual rhythm to keep the reader focused. Serif PagePlus makes a simple matter of setting up templates for your underlying grids.

A mini school handbook could be designed in DrawPlus, and even pupils new to vector drawing can create intricate graphics. With a wide of advanced new tools and greater accuracy to output lines for professional print, more able students can really get their teeth stuck into the project and go as far as their creativity will take them.

DrawPlus can also be used to design a school uniform. To save valuable lesson time, students can sketch their designs in black and white on paper and then scan them into the computer to flood fill with colour. This takes just a few clicks, and means children can experiment with different colours and patterns.

A play outlining activities at the school could be acted out using green screen in MoviePlus, or pupils can video their plays and add special effects. Again, this gives students the chance to experiment. Teachers could even take this whole class activity one step further and ask pupils to put together an interactive school website in WebPlus.

There has long been the debate about setting pupils or leaving them in mixed ability classes and which is the best way to achieve effective teaching and learning, but group work can motivate students to find things they are good at and explore different ways of learning. As Robert Fisher once said; “ All children are born with potential and we cannot be sure of the learning limits of any child.” (Robert Fisher, 2001:1)