AB Tutor Logo
ABTutor Logo

making networked classrooms work


We asked Cathi Rae, a woman with 25 years of teaching experience under her belt, to write a guest blog for us on how she might u

We asked Cathi Rae, a woman with 25 years of teaching experience under her belt, to write a guest blog for us on how she might utilise our software to help her students stay on task during a lesson:

It’s Wednesday, period 3, students still in break time mindsets, lunch still impossibly far away and my yr. 8 humanities class and the weekly horror of a class gone bad looms.

But, it’s not really my class and this is where the problem lies, this is a class whose actual teacher is on long term sick leave, so each week their 3 humanities lessons are being shared out between, quite frankly, a slightly ramshackle collection of adults who happen to be free at the right time and none of whom are even close to being subject specialists .At best, I’m  exactly one lesson ahead of the class, at worst, I’m reading the worksheets as I sprint from playground duty to the third floor of the large, inner city secondary school. A school I’ve worked in for over 15 years.

This shouldn’t be happening, not at this point in my life, unteachable happens to NQTs, to my younger colleagues in the first few draining years of a teaching career, unteachable happens to supply staff with their small screw top jars of instant coffee and dried milk. Unteachable shouldn’t be happening to me.

In this school, humanities is taught in mixed ability classes and in a school where over 90% of the students have English as an additional language, the niceties of the English Civil War and any meaningful understanding as to why we are actually spending half a term “ doing” it simply don’t exist.

Their unteachability started subtly, late arrivals, dramatic entry into class long after the bell has gone, not following the seating plan (and of course, I don’t know their names, so this is an easy win for them) and now escalated to refusal to follow instructions, refusal to open books, refusal to simply stop talking.

We are close to our own mini civil war.

I have tried everything I know. I have been punitive, endless lining up outside the classroom until we “ ready to learn”, behaviour points, whole class detentions, making them sit boy/girl boy/girl (in yr. 8, the simple horror of being seated next to a girl is often enough to make boys behave, obviously, this will all change in yr. 10). I have tried rewards, house points, allowing them to sit in friendship groups, 5 minutes free time at the end of lessons. I have even tried allowing them to make posters - that secondary school equivalent of colouring in, but nothing works, nothing works.

Then one day, I have an epiphany, these are not bad kids, these are yr 8s, young enough to remember the comforting security of primary school, when they spent each day in the same room with the same adults and now they are adrift, missing Mr B, 30 years a history teacher, the man who has navigated their journey into understanding English history, the man who actually knows about the Civil War and crucially, cares about it and about their having a meaningful learning experience.


So, how could cutting edge technology have helped me and even more importantly, helped my struggling Yr 8 class to have a better Wednesday morning experience? There are 4 key concepts to explore here:




1.     Screens


This generation of learners are comfortable with screens, their lives are navigated via screens, if it's not on a phone, on TikTok or WhatsApp, well it simply didn’t happen, and they are dextrous users of technology. The simple presence of a screen says something exciting, something new is happening.


2.     Student led learning


In the battle of classroom control it may appear a dangerous tactic to give partial control to a class already out of control, but, learning which gives students some sense of ownership, allows them to be participants rather than a room of bored kids listening to something that means nothing to them. The security features within this software and the control it gives the adult to quickly notice ( and correct) off task behaviours, means that you can set them off  on their own personal research tied into your learning objectives. “Find out how battlefield injuries were treated in the 17th Century” you say ( generally, the most gory and disgusting elements of history are what fire learners’ imagination) and thanking  the blessed Terry Deary ( of Horrible Histories fame) - you let them lose.


3.     Peer and real time adult review


Using the aspects of the software, students can quickly share their work with others in the class, without risking movement around the room ( never a good idea when a class is poised on the brink of revolt). As an adult, you can quickly see where students are struggling, off task or have misunderstood what is needed and corrections and suggestions can be made privately, avoiding the stigma of being seen to struggle by their peers.


4.     Catch them doing it right


This is a key element of good classroom management, but when behaviour has broken down, it can seem impossible that any student may be doing the right thing. This software allows the adult to notice a student on task, a student creating something amazing or simply a student who has gone to the right page and is ready to learn. Public praise in classes that have gone rogue may actually cause more problems than it solves, but using this software, it is possible to quickly ping a quick message to a student, one that says, I can see you and I can see that you are doing the right thing. 


Software alone will never replace good teaching, sound subject knowledge and a clear understanding of your students’ needs, but this software is a valuable tool to enhance your teaching and learning experiences.


About the author.

Cathi Rae has over 25 years experience of teaching in secondary, primary and post 16 education. She now works as a freelance writer and performance poet and is studying for an MA in creative writing at the The University of Leicester.