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One of the significant changes that has occurred in education in the last few years has been the implementation of instructional models. Influenced in part by the research of Robert Marzano and John Hattie, these representations of best practices are often introduced around the mantra of ‘high reliability, low variability’. Along with discussions focusing on a guaranteed and viable curriculum, the intent is to create a consistent learning environment. Yet within all of these conversations around guarantees and reliability technology is often left silent. For some the answer is to get rid of technology. However this fails to recognise our client’s digital expectations. Here then is my attempt to situate technology within a high reliability, low variability framework. The model at the heart of this investigation is Howard Pitler and Bj Stone’s A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works. Developed from the work of McREL and Robert Marzano, the book unpacks the different strategies, including:

  • Providing Feedback
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Cues, Questions and Advance Organizers
  • Non-Linguistic representations
  • Summarising and Note-taking
  • Identifying Differences and Similarities
  • Generating and Testing New Ideas


“We need to provide our students with FEEDBACK in a way that is corrective and helpful as they move toward the objective, without overwhelming them with truckloads of feedback at once” p.23

Just as objectives help define the why of learning, feedback helps to maintain this. According to Hattie and Timperley feedback represents one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement. However, feedback takes many different forms.

Some of the options for timely feedback, include responding via a learning management system or in simply sharing a collaborative document. One application though that can be particularly useful is Google Forms. From providing instant response to a walkthrough to giving peers critique on a performance, Google Forms provides a number of possibilities.

In regards to criterion, technology can be used to not only create rubrics using add-on like JoeZoo or Alice Keeler’s scripts for Google Sheets. Technology can also be used to embed standards as Edufolio have done with their professional blog for teachers.

In relation to learners actually guiding their own learning, Bianca Hewes has shared how she uses medals and missions in a collaborative document to team up different students in order to identify the next step process, while Anthony Speranza has shown how students reflection on pre-tests can be used to differentiate learning.

Cooperative Learning

“Small-group work is valuable, but COOPERATIVE LEARNING, with elements of positive interdependence and individual responsibility, is the strategy that rises to the level of significance” p.76

Cooperative learning takes many shapes and forms. However, the advent of cloud computing has made it something that is both more ‘doable’ and visible. There are numerous applications which allow people to work in within what David White calls a coalescent space that cross-over between the digital and physical. Some of the more obvious possibilities for connecting and collaborating include the integrated use of platforms like Google Apps or Office365. While some other alternatives include Edmodo, SeeSaw or a class blog. Each medium provides their own means of individual accountability within varying group sizes.


“CUES are hints about the content of an upcoming lesson; in addition, they both reinforce information that students already know and provide some new information on the topic.” p.97

Cues help to focus on what is important and lay the groundwork for learning. For some it might be a piece of media, whether it be a collage created with Picasa, a shortened video made using TubeChop or a GIF capturing a particular moment. This may simply be the presentation of information, but it can also act as a provocation. For example Dan Meyer’s three act mathematical problems provides an visual extract as a question.

Another reason to cue in learners is to activate prior knowledge. One way of doing this is through the act of brainstorming. The focus of this is about gathering spontaneous ideas around a specific topic or idea. Some programs that support brainstorming include Answergarden, Padlet,Dotstorming, Socrative, Poll Everywhere and Google Apps. What is significant about them all is the ability to collaborate.


“QUESTIONS allow students to access previously learned information and assess what they do not already know.” p.97

According to Warren Berger, questions offer a means of shifting the way we perceive or think about something. In their investigation, Pitler and Stone identify two key categories of questioning to take learning to a higher level: inferential and analytical.

One form of inferential questioning is through quizzes. Whether it be using Kahoot, Socrative or Google Forms, each provides multiple choice options as a means of engaging with learners, as well as supporting the measurement of growth. A creative alternative to this is to get students to create their own quizzes and share them around. Although some of the applications require teacher logins, students can still collaboratively create a quiz in a Google Doc before inputting it into the system.

Another activity involving inferential questioning comes in the form of Mystery Skype. This is where classes virtually connect and build on questioning in order to identify the mystery location. An extension on this is the Skype-a-Thon where classes connect with others from around the world in a day long marathon.

In regards to analytical questioning, Verso provides an environment within which learners can go deeper. This may be starting with an image as a provocation or immersing within an inquiry, Verso allows students to anonymously engage with questions and problems. From there, they can respond to the different ideas that have been shared by others.

Another option associated with analytical questioning is engaging with an authentic audience. This might include connecting with an author in a Twitter Q&A or responding to student presentations via Google Hangouts. The challenge in the end is not fostering questioning, but creating the conditions in which they can flourish.

Advanced Organisers

“ADVANCED ORGANISERS help teachers prepare students for upcoming learning and take the mystery out of what is to come. They help students retrieve what they already know about a topic and prepare them to connect with and make sense of new information.” p.113

Similar to cues, advanced organisers are designed to prepare students for new information. They provide an overview of what is to come.

One type of advanced organiser is the expository. This is usually a space designed to provide information about what will be learnt. There are a number of virtual spaces which provide a learning hub, whether it be a class blog, Blendspace, a Hapara Workspace, an Edmodo group, a Google Classroom or a hyperdoc.

Another form of advanced organiser is the flipped narrative. This involves recording instructions and sending these home with students so that class time can be spent digging deeper. There is no right way of creating a flipped video. As Joel Speranza explains, they often involve a series of interrelated decisions.

In addition to these two approaches, some graphic organisers can be used to prepare thinking. Whether this be using Google Drawings to complete a Frayer Model or using a Padlet to complete a KWHLAQ.

Non-Linguistic Representations

“NON-LINGUISTIC REPRESENTATIONS provide students with useful tools that merge knowledge presented in the classroom with mechanisms for understanding and remembering that knowledge.” p.113

So many instructional methods are focused on linguistic representation. However, non-linguistic representations can be useful when making sense of knowledge and understanding.

A common method used to sort patterns of information is the graphic organiser. Whether it be about forming a description, sequencing a series of items, identifying the relationship between cause and effect or breaking down concepts into their parts, graphic organisers provide a means to express mental models. Matt Miller provides an extensive list of Google Drawings templates which you can copy to your Google Drive.

Another form of modelling is through the use of various digital manipulatives in the portrayal of ideas. A popular application used to support visual representation is Minecraft. Lee Hewes has demonstrated how Minecraft can be used across the curriculum. Some other manipulative applications include Scratch and Sketchup.

In regards to visual representations, there are many others options. These include GIFs, word clouds and flowcharts. Each of these modes builds on the constraints in order to focus on certain information. For example, the usual design of an infographic supports the summary of information into small visual chunks, whether these be images, icons or graphical representations.

Summarising & Note-taking

“The act of SUMMARISING facilitates learning by providing opportunities for students to capture, organise, and reflect on important facts, concepts, ideas, and processes they will need to access at a later time.” p.152

Methods for taking notes and documenting your thinking seem to fluctuate between the structured rule based approaches to the more informal fluid methods.

There are many applications which either provide templates to support summarising and note-taking or allow you to easily create your own. For example, both Google Docs and OneNote provide structured templates which you can use and adapt, while applications like Evernote and Google Keep provide the means to organise text on the go using limited formatting.

Another alternative to structured summarising and note-taking is the use of outliners. A text editor, outliners allow you to organise information and ideas in a hierarchical manner. They have been around a long time. There are so many different applications available. However, a good place to start is with Dave Winer’s Little Outliner.

For a more open approach, sketchnoting can be a useful strategy. Sketchnoting is about helping us think deeper by mixing, matching and making links using text, image and flow. Some call it visual note-taking, others doodling. There are a range of resources and presentations to help with sketchnoting including Sketchnoting FOR Beginners (Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano), Brain Doodles, Sketchnoting for Beginners (Sylvia Duckworth) and How I Teach Sketchnoting (Royan Lee). Although it can be done by hand, it is common for people to use tablets and touchscreens using applications, such as Paper53, Flipink and Adobe Draw.

Applying Knowledge

“When students are involved in identifying similarities and differences and/or GENERATING and TESTING HYPOTHESIS, they are very often thinking and applying their knowledge at a higher level or with more rigour.” P.237

The challenge of all the different strategies is to help students extend and apply knowledge. Two ways in which Pitler and Howard identify this happening is determining similarities and differences, as well as generating and testing new ideas.

There are many ways of identifying and representing differences and similarities, whether it be verbally or visually. The most common means though is through the use of organisers and frames. Maybe it is a sketch within a OneNote notebook or filling in a template created with Google Drawings.

In regards to problem solving and engaging with ideas, applications like Trello provide a means of managing iterative steps. Often it can be easier to work on paper when developing your thinking and representing ideas. However, Trello is also a useful application when it comes to supporting productivity and workflow. Not only does it provide the means to share with others, but it allows integrates with a number of applications making it easier to locate files.

A strategy which encompasses all learning is the act of documentation. It can be easy to dismiss the idea of documentation as just a portfolio of work, collected together. The purpose though is not necessarily to summarise products and projects, but rather develop a deeper understanding and provide a narrative. Some applications that can be used to support this include Seesaw, Book Creator and Adobe Spark.


So there is a selection of tools and applications which each in their own way can be used to support a high reliable and low variable classroom. It must be remembered that there is nothing inherent within a program that says it must be used to support cues or is perfect for providing feedback. Often such decisions come down to discussions around choice and context. Although it can be easy to view these strategies in isolation, it is often together that they have there greatest impact. For as the Ritchart, Church and Morison remind, “understanding is not a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating and creating but a result of it.”

So what about you? How do you use technology to amplify the act of creating, making and visualising in and out of your classroom? As always, comments welcome.

DISCLOSURE: Although I was lucky enough to be a part of the Google Innovators program and have done some work with Adobe, I have not received funds from any of the companies and/or authors spoken about above.

Here are the slides for my session:

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Creating, Making and Visualising: Integrating Technology within a Classroom that Works #digital16 by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

25 thoughts on “Creating, Making and Visualising: Integrating Technology within a Classroom that Works #digital16

  1. I really like the way you have presented this information and embedded your slides. Thank you for your hard work and sharing.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I always enjoy your presentations and the way you tie things together. My only quandary is SAMR and splitting the use of technology from learning and teaching. Although this maybe easier to make sense of cognitively, I wonder if this misses the way in which technology does or does not integrate within the wider school eco-system? This is why I liked about Modern Learning Canvas and using this to support the development of digital pedagogoies.

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