Maureen McTaggart explores a new service that helps kids learn and teachers teach
A simple 45-minute test developed by an ex-teacher helps educators identify the strengths and weaknesses of all their pupils and then transform the way they teach and how those children learn. But the ePace online profiling tool, which will be launched at BETT 2011, is not about creating more record-keeping for teachers, says Mary Blake.
“We are looking at the fundamentals of how children learn rather than what attainment level they are going to get," she says. "I think it’s an amazing thing for teachers to know but even more so for children because it empowers them to see for themselves how they are learning.”
The ePace (electronic profile of attainment cognition and efficiency) test evaluates 11 critical areas of learning - auditory memory, visual memory, listening skills, emotional control, decision making, focus, hand-eye co-ordination, mental speed, timing, literacy and impulsivity – and any child from the age of seven can take it. The support pack includes practical teacher resources and strategies and interactive sharing with students and parents is actively encouraged.
The assessment is not arduous and the program is designed to sense anyone who is struggling with it, moving them on so children don’t feel as though they are floundering. The test will even show if a child, although very bright and therefore capable of getting good results, panics when it comes to tests, perhaps because of low self-esteem.
“Without the results of the test that would highlight such a trait, that child will never come under the radar of any screening programme within school,” explains Mary Blake who has spent five years working on the product with Sheffield University psychologist Rod Nicolson. “She’d be a great girl - always does her homework, hand up all the time in class - but it’s actually saying that she might find test situations very difficult and if you improve those things then you’ll improve everything for her.”
'With this kind of information at their fingertips parents can become engaged'
Once completed, test results are converted into an easy-to-read, simple traffic-light format. This allows teachers to explain and show learners what they are best at and what their worst game is. By explaining the reasons why that might be, discussions on how learners can improve and what support is available are easily initiated. In addition, with this kind of information at their fingertips parents can become engaged with their children’s education and give the right support.
“As adults we learn by trial and error how we get to learn best," says Mary Blake. "If we can teach children when they are seven that they are more likely to remember things if they write them down, or if they draw themselves little pictures to try and give it some meaning they’ll find it easier to process.”
“Or say to the teacher, 'If you are going to talk for half an hour this child will not be able to process what you are saying, so give them a diagram to look at or let them mind-map while you are talking. They won’t be scribbling, they’ll be writing things down and you are teaching them strategies to help maximise their attention.' You can have a fantastic teacher who delivers a wonderful lesson but if the children haven’t been able to process it the lesson is lost.”
For nearly a year, 1,500 learners in 15 academies, special and independent schools (primary and secondary) have been piloting ePace and its benefits have impressed the teachers involved.
Christian Hilton, head of Shipston-On-Stour Primary says ePace was a welcome addition to the tools his teachers already use to help students become better learners. “There are lots of tests and activities we can do to test their reading and writing and maths but there’s not a lot that focuses solely on learning," he said. "The fact that the ePace testing talks about the types of learner that they [students] are – visual or auditory – and talks about their memory and their mental stamina, it fits in perfectly with the building learning power work that we are doing in the school.”
“I went through the test with each child to say this is what the test tells you about you as a learner. It’s telling you if you are a very good visual learner, that’s what this means and that means when the teacher is teaching, you learn best by watching her, by looking at examples. But if it also says you are not a very good audio learner for example, that’s something I would want you to work on and try to improve.
“Also being able to let the teachers know who is very good at visual learning, who is good at audio learning when there’s, say for example, a science experiment demonstration, you know which children won’t learn best just by looking so you can enhance the teaching with a lot of dialogue and maybe get the children to do things as well.”
Madeley Academy - 'the increase in confidence is noticeable'
For students and teachers at Madeley Academy in Telford, ePace has also been a massive success. Lynne Heyes, the school’s Senco, and teaching assistant Jill Carr say the increase in confidence is noticeable. Jill Carr describes how one of her Year 11 students was fascinated because he could see himself in the picture he’d built up. “He took it away with him to college and he’s just recently come back and said, ‘I told them at college what sort of learner I am.’ It gave him confidence to be able to say that and it has helped our Year 10 with their organisational skills as they headed towards their GCSE exams."
Lynne Heyes is just as impressed: “In the past we might have told them, ‘This is what you need to do. You need to listen to this, you need to play it back or you need to do mind maps because you are a particular type of learner,’ but they wouldn’t take as much notice. But seeing it in written form and in an in-depth report changed everything.”
Mary Blake cautions that it is a 45-minute online assessment and not an all-encompassing test. “It is just a starting point for the learning discovery,“ she says. ”It should also involve talking to Sencos, looking at all the other things that you know about the child, looking at the files and thinking that, yes, this probably is quite accurate. Once those checks are made you can click on the [suggested] strategies - things that teachers will know instinctively but might not think of in the heat of the moment. And not all of them will work and not all of them will work every single day. You might have to change things around”.
An ePace annual, unlimited subscription is available at the introductory cost of £395 to £1695 depending on the size of the school.
Tel: 01789 201480
ePace – Stand V37