AlphaSmart Editorial: Learner voice leads the way

Learner voice leads the way

Interaction, collaboration and personalised learning are high on the agenda for many a teacher in modern day education and, with the dramatic advances in technology, academic opportunities are endless for today’s schoolchildren. Through interactive media and revolutionary hand held technologies, learner voice is placed at the hub of school classrooms across the country.

With the digital age has arrived a new type of pedagogy; one that can be inclusive for all and promotes communication, debate and peer evaluation. Digital natives, as we now refer to schoolchildren, expect ICT to be a part of their daily routine, therefore it is paramount that educators cater for the class’ every need.

Richard Courtney, head of operations and hardware products at AlphaSmart, a division of Renaissance Learning, explained: “Through ICT classrooms can come alive with group quizzes, voting and brainstorming activities.  Children require stimulation in the classroom so why not take educational advantage of their favourite pass times; interacting with technology? Digital natives crave experiential activities to demonstrate their talents, be they creative or educational. Teaming ICT with group work promotes collaboration and interaction of pupils, and in turn results in more confident students and heightened learner voice.”

Providing students with choice, and empowering them through personalised lesson activities, allows for the development of fundamental academic skills and increased classroom productivity. Collaboration is one way of promoting learner voice; this may entail teamwork, partnership and group analysis. These types of activities challenge the students to communicate with each other and express their views and opinions.

 Young children are highly capable of engaging in effective group work and this can result in heightened academic achievement.

Classroom quizzes are an effective way of encouraging learner voice. Through voting technologies, teachers can pose a question to the class and receive an answer from each student immediately.

Let’s take the following scenario as an example: Class 1B were studying the Olympic Games. At the start of the lesson their teacher was keen to find out the pupils’ existing understanding and knowledge of the Games so posed the following; “Name a sport that will take place in the London 2012 Olympic Games.” This task was written on the interactive whiteboard and within seconds, through the use of wireless technologies, the whole class had responded with their individual thoughts. Instant feedback was displayed on the interactive whiteboard in colourful charts and graphs displaying the most popular answer; rowing.


Through classroom response systems and hand held technologies, all students are encouraged to participate fully in the group activity, no matter what their academic ability. No longer does the quiet or shy student need to feel afraid to answer a class question, nor does the student that struggles to put pen to paper have to worry about the task of writing neatly. Interaction through technologies allows each student to demonstrate their own talents and allows them a personalised channel of communication with the teacher. The teacher, receiving each child’s response, can judge whether they have grasped the task at hand, or if they need an extra helping hand to understand the activity.

Paul Hargreaves, teacher at ISE Community College, Northamptonshire commented: “Each child had their own handset, which was usually left out on the desk throughout literacy and numeracy sessions and occasionally for topic work in the afternoons. The children were initially very intrigued by the handsets, which look like mobile phone units, but quickly settled down and used them very proficiently. They seemed to really like the fact that they were personalised and that it was possible to read and answer questions using the keys.”

Online innovation
Richard explains that the internet is also having a major impact on educators: “It is great to talk to a teacher who is motivated by innovation, who finds a resource online, for instance, and then creatively implements it in the classroom, perhaps taking something and exploiting it beyond its original purpose.”



For example word clouds make an exciting activity for children to take part in. Through the use of their hand held, wireless technologies children can respond to a question and send their responses to a ‘word cloud’ creator. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the class’ responses (as can be seen in the diagram above). Through this type of experiential activity children can discover their peers’ thoughts and answers. Colours, fonts and intriguing diagrams all provide an attraction for the class, encouraging motivation and engagement for heightened classroom productivity.

Using Class 1B as an example, learning about the Olympic Games, the students can not only view their own response and see how many of their peers agreed to their answer, but also discover further sports in the Olympic Games. For example, the word cloud pictured  below highlights that rowing was the most popular answer from the class as it is shown as the most prominent word. Athletics and swimming were also common responses from the class. The teacher can grasp from this word cloud that the whole class has a sound knowledge of sports in the Games and can also reflect on the task at hand with visual aids at the front of the class.


Richard adds: “Google Docs is another highly innovative piece of software that allows for further engagement and collaborative work. Simple document creation and management is encouraged anywhere and at anytime. Students can easily send documents back and forth wirelessly between computers and the Google Docs website. This work can be saved and revisited from any web-enabled computer, encouraging further collaborative working between pupils.”

Richard also explained that students, au fait with the use of technology in their everyday living, often come up with new and innovative ideas and ways of using handheld technologies. Once again this increases the volume of learner voice, empowering school children to ‘tailor’ their educational activities. “It’s time to adopt and exploit technology to further the achievements already accomplished in schools across the country. Learning to collaborate and interact with both teachers and their peers is key for pupil progress. Young children need to master communication skills and the idea of sharing and working co-operatively so that when they progress to more advanced levels of education, such as secondary school, they can be confident in their approach to classroom tasks,” concluded Richard.

For more information about AlphaSmart, a division of Renaissance Learning, visit

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