Professional Development

Teacher Training Should Start Before iPad Deployment

ELL instructors, like those in other disciplines, are discovering the benefits of iPads in the classroom. With some advance planning and appropriate training for teachers, schools can avoid an awkward or stressful deployment.

When iPads suddenly populate English language learner classrooms, teachers often face a steep adoption curve. The reason isn't the technology itself, but rather because too many districts are "not focused on the professional development piece," according to Jared Bloom, who serves as supervisor of assessment and technology at South Huntington Union Free School District (NY).

Bloom, who also teaches an iPad training session for ELL teachers, said that even before they begin to use iPads in their classrooms, the first step is to get the devices into the teachers' hands and then allow a minimum half-day training session.

Bloom's training regimen starts with an overview of the iPad's features, then moves on to "everything they needed to know about the device and how to use it." That encompasses the iPad's assistive features, potential issues instructors may encounter in an iPad deployment, and a selection of general content and ELL-specific apps. "Then, we gave them time to actually go through and find some free apps that they could transfer to their area," he said.

When Chicago Public Schools rolled out 750 iPads to 23 preK-12 schools last year, which included several classes for English language learners, the plan for professional development was to "capture the [district's] early innovators and have them start really pushing along and helping us define best practices," said John Connolly, educational technology director for the district. Then, in mid-2011, the district received a $3 million grant for an additional 4,500 iPads--including a portion destined for 10 ELL classrooms.

"Our philosophy around professional development--and it's been very successful thus far--is frequent, relevant, and collaborative," said Connolly, who fosters creative collaboration among instructors using an iPad for the first time. According to Connolly, the approach has proven effective.

Teachers should receive iPads at least a week or two ahead of their students, said Connolly. Noting that 1-to-1 initiatives often fall short of a district's expectations, he warned against rollouts that fail to give teachers a head start. In fact, he added, "I would argue that teachers should have the technology a year in advance, so that they are ultra-comfortable with it."

Planning Ahead
"Before the teachers even come into [a training] workshop, it's important for the administrators to understand what they're hoping to achieve by bringing the iPads into the classroom," said Heather Parris-Fitzpatrick, program coordinator for Technology Resource Solutions for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, in Nassau County, NY, which serves the county's 56 school districts. Parris-Fitzpatrick also presents local iPad training workshops and is a cofounder of the technology blog ESL Techies

When it comes to professional development, the focus should be on crafting a pre-rollout plan of attack, she said. "Is this going to be for intervention, is this going to be for enrichment, is this for assistive technology? Are we trying to support special needs, or is it for digital literacy--something ELLs often need to focus on?"

The abundant uses and functionality of the iPad is readily apparent to ELL instructors, said Parris-Fitzpatrick. But she cautions against letting educators do too much without a solid framework in place. "I think one of the mistakes that is made is you get excited about the iPad, because it's a great tool, then you find all these fun apps, and you--a district or teacher--try to build a lesson around an app," she said.

Some schools pre-select certain apps before training commences to jumpstart the hands-on training experience. Parris-Fitzpatrick suggests choosing in advance one type of organization app for students to use, and one method for them to submit their content to teachers. This way the systems will be in place even before teachers start their training.

Connolly took a proactive approach to prep teachers before an iPad deployment. He advocates training that includes monthly touch-points for teachers, which he says does not necessarily mean that teachers have to be out of the classroom. "It could be during prep time, it could be before school or after school, or hooking up teachers within a school, or across schools, depending on the size of your district," he said.

Each quarter, Connolly brings teachers together for a one-day training session, during which participants share best practices. He said this creates a synergistic feedback, which energizes staff members. "They all come together for a training outside of their school, where they learn something new the first half of the day and the second half of the day is just sharing what they're doing in each other's schools."

Connolly said his professional development methods have encouraged a vigorous flow of ideas. "Classrooms start doing stuff that other classrooms are doing and doing twists, and making it better, and sharing," he said. "It just helps everyone's game."

About the Author

Jan Fletcher is a Spokane, WA-based freelance writer.