I use pyramid plenaries frequently. Even when I am working by myself, I find them very useful to focus myself on what I am actually doing. I am always rather skeptical about how useful the thinking-out-loud technique of YAVA (You ask volunteers answer) questioning is for a group of learners. When I see reflections as astute as those below, it makes me realise how think/pair/share is still the king of group management techniques.

Click the following to see the feedback after each of the six workshops: Critiques of teaching English with ICT 2012 York

Here are the results of the pyramid plenary completed by the trainee teachers:

What is one you knew about teaching with ICT before today’s session?

To only use ICT if it enhances learning.
ICT has to have a purpose inside the classroom.
Blogs are effective for providing a real audience for writing.
How effective a visualiser is in modelling and reinforcing good work.
The TES Plenary Producer
That ICT can encourage interactive and collaborative learning
That ICT should only be used if it benefits students
If ICT doesn’t enhance the learning, don’t use it.
Only use ICT when it is needed
That ICT can aid understanding without being too distracting
That ICT has to benefit students – not to look flashy.
That other methods should be used where possible
ICT can, and often, goes wrong
ICT can take time to prepare, but potentially saves time in the long term.
That the focus should be about how the kids enjoy the ICT, rather than you.

What are three things that I learned today about teaching with ICT?
Visualisers can be used to make exam criteria more explicit.
Triptico activities can make students think about questions, rather than answers.
Creative ways to engage students.
Some effective starters.
How to use the visualiser with exemplar work.
Online reading programmes can be motivating for lower abilities.
Storyboarding is more controlled with bitstripsforschools.com
Links between producing work using and ICT and making hard copies
To ensure that the novelty contributes, rather than distracts, from learning
Accelerated Reader
Whizzy things
You can encourage competition easily with interactive software.
Some programs have limits with questioning.
The use of interactive storyboards
The use of quizzes in teams online
To encourage the less confident to get involved, via www.classtools.net fruit machine.
Some ways of using ICT without a suite of computers
The range of potential starter-based activities
The ways in which an online reading programme can boost a child’s prestige and confidence.
That self-publishing software is free (!)
How to use ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development)
Using a visualiser to mark (think this works very well.)
Interactive storyboarding
Use of Triptico
Can use the drawing house AfL task for success criteria
The availability of publishing own work
Really useful programmes
That it is engaging and stimulates interest
The value of Accelerated Reader
That interactive starters are good to generate excitement
That online reading programmes are related to reading ages
That making a book is so cheap!
Making books is cheap and raises aspirations
Can put students in groups
Making quizzes is easy
Pupil ownership and engagement is a big aim
Match resources to learning desired carefully
Consider practical concerns of any ICT resource?
What are two questions I have today? 
To what extend does ICT motivate learners? I would say that, according to those that sell it, loads!  In reality, nothing motivates a learner more than achievement. Graphics and sound and interactivity lose their novelty in months rather than years. However, the ability to allow students to share and collaborate and compete is what makes ICT motivating. These things aren’t, however, exclusive to the use of ICT.

Would you use ICT every lesson? No. PowerPoint doesn’t count. I use classroom management tools every lesson (such as the randomiser and Triptico tools.) However, I would use an interactive starter/plenary once or twice a half-term. Bitstrips I might use one a fortnight.

How easy is it to set up an Accelerated Reader programme? Not very easy – you would need someone with the time and inclination to take on the ICT administration aspect of it. The company do guide you through the process, although they do charge £100s for the telephone support. The most important aspect is having the reading culture established already with SMT support. Seeing a school that currently uses the programme is of great benefit.

Could students use the visualiser? A great idea here. Learners remember 90% of what they do as opposed to 30% or so of what they see/hear. This is something I am certainly going to try to encourage.

What approach would you take in a school where the SMT were cynical about the use of ICT? An excellent question. Any SMT worth their salt need to be critical of the use of ICT, as there are many forces that would like to sell very expensive subscriptions that promise the world. In the first instance I would find ICT champions across the school, and conduct small case-studies with immediate feedback (recorded on PPt or in audio form) to present to SMT. I would also emphasise the principles I suggest. And I would stress that ICT is best when students are sharing and collaborating on work, or making meaning and connections themselves.

Are there ICT based starters and plenaries that are calmer? Something that is still fun, but not going to get the kids bouncing off the walls? Again, a very perceptive question. My lessons were characterised as ‘exhausting’ in the Year 11 leaving speeches, which is duly double-edged. All the starters that use the penalty shootout application can also use match-up and general multiple choice starters. My favourite ICT starters for calmness are ones that categorise, as they remove the competitive element. As you say, you have to feeling willing at that moment yourself to embrace the invariable excitement that such whizzy things can cause (and wise enough to know when you don’t want to!)

Do you need to have an understanding of students’ abilities in ICT when using interactive storyboarding? I would say no. I think that all students are able to use the software, particularly if you create a template. The learning comes in modelling the commenting (the AfL) at the bottom of each strip. If a student even only adds some more props and a text bubble, the storyboard will still be useful.

Can most of this be done without ICT? I hope so. You could allow the students to kick a football, or throw a bit of screwed up paper into a bin, upon answering multiple choice questions. You can save questions on flipcharts. You can randomly select groups by numbering them randomly. You can share work by swapping books. You can model marking via an OHP. You can choose randomly using lollipop sticks with numbers/names on them. I would say almost anything teacher-based can be done without ICT. It is up to you to choose how your students might use the ICT (with a wiki-war, for example… google it! There’s a wonderful NATE study on it.)

Do you reward those who gain the correct answers in quizzes? Those who pass Accelerated Reader quizzes, we reward. However, I prefer rewards for questions in quizzes with an immediate sound (such as a football-clap or similar.)

Does the random group generator perhaps neglect the need to have mixed ability groups selected in advance? This is an excellent point. Dave at Triptico strives to improve his apps and would no doubt love to hear this feedback. I think that you might choose a ‘captain’ and ‘vice-captain’ for each team in advance, and number them. When you then use the group randomiser, each group will still have a higher and/or lower ability student within it nevertheless. To do this you would need to ‘remove’ the captains just before you run the app (which is a self-explanatory when you run it.)
What’s the worst thing about using technology? The people selling it! Too often they aren’t teachers themselves, and use buzz words without credibility or context. When you see people who make free apps, like Triptico, or things like bitstripsforschools.com, then it makes you wonder what some of these companies are in the industry for. I also dislike how some teachers aren’t willing to learn new things. Equally so, I dislike how some apps are not user-friendly. Finally, I hate how flash and other software constantly updates and makes some apps not work for a few days. Still, all of these things are boons compared to the marking workload of English teaching…

How can you avoid isolating students if ICT facilities are very limited in school? I think if computer suites are in short supply, then getting students to starter and plenary questions for later revision is perhaps the most effective use of ICT. However, I would warrant that many ICT teachers would be willing to occasionally swap classrooms with a cheeky backhander…

Do you think there is a danger that the asthetics of something like a storyboard can be focussed upon to the extent that the content behind them is missed? Absolutely.  This is something you need to be aware of, always. Remember Kyriacou – students need to be receptive before they will learn effectively. In pratice, I would allow the students some time simply ‘playing’ with the software, and some ‘lol’ comments with the understanding that they will eventually used criteria to create effective storyboards. But always question whether the content is being covered…

What do you do if there are not provisions for ICT in the school? I would see if you can book your students into the ICT room. People are amiable if you are willing to return the favour. Even just a data projector can achieve a huge amount. And even without that, the use of lulu.com is a tremendous thing.

How much is a visualiser? £300 for a great one, these days. Bear in mind that projectors often only have 1048 x 768 resolution or so, and so a huge resolution on a visualiser is a little wasted. You can also get them from the LEA on loan, too.

What is the most powerful motivator, in your opinion? I think that nothing motivates more than students making their own meaning. Further to this, I think the more then students invest of themselves, the more they will be motivated by the outcome. To this end, I think that the use of lulu.com can provide the most powerful and sustained motivation – see the film Freedom Writers for more of what I am talking about.

How do you stop pupils getting too excited when using interactive starters? I remember using them during my PGCE year, and my first placement school frowned upon them somewhat. Upon leaving, I was informed this was largely because the student might get used to getting excited! I would use a slow countdown, with appropriate pauses (even 1-2 seconds between each number) so pupils can finish conversations – I would also use ‘thank you’ etc. for students who seem oblivious. Another technique I use is to have a student be the ‘games-master’ and responsible for calming their side down, with some penalty for too much excitement. You really need to know the students for this (and I have used some notorious students very effectively in this role.)

Would you use these starters more with KS3 than Ks4 and KS5? An interesting question. Some schools of thought think that you should treat KS5 students like Year 7s. Some teachers feel that teaching KS4 and KS5 students requires intellectual sobriety. Certainly, older students (KS3 included) aren’t impressed by the graphics and sounds of the applications. They are impressed by their own interactions, though. See Hector in Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’ to see how silliness is (perhaps) an essential part of educating higher ability students. Personally, I think that you need to judge the atmosphere of the class until you use them. Your credibility (and, therefore, authority) comes through your organisation and marking and clarity: not your use of ICT. The students will not be impressed by your use of ICT. They will, however, be impressed by your organisation of them into teams etc. Remember, people forget what you say and what you do – they do not forget how you make them feel.

Will my students already have done these things? I would ask the students. Make them the experts if they have, and give them narrow choices about how such starters are facilitated. If they have used lulu.com, then please let me know!

How do I set up the storyboard thing? There is a free version, and a paid version with powerful administration tools. I’ll send an email to the cohort if you would like to collaborate securing a discount/trial amongst yourselves.   For years I used the free version and had the students print-screen their storyboards onto PowerPoint – even collaborated with other schools on creating books with them.

Can these types of resources be more trouble then they are worth sometimes? Yes! I would dedicate a limited amount of time creating such resources, as tasks can always stretch the fit the time available. Hence, I would try to create starters on the morning of the lesson, or even as part of the lesson itself. Part of my use these resources, though, is the general desire to learn and improve my practice (in a reasonably controlled way!)

How/where/where are non-NQT staff expected to acquire these skills? It is so important to ask this, as time is sorely pushed. A staff member has to make this part of their performance management, and to have a good working relationship with someone who is willing to teach them. For me, this is tricky, but it can be done, particularly in 15 minute slots relating to something that actually is actually needed by the teacher in question. For example, I used to teach guitar. When doing so, I only taught the songs the students wanted to know, which were invariably a few open chords, or even fewer power chords (the easiest chords to play on guitar.) Most people could take these and play a guitar at a party, which is why they wanted to learn. Other tutors, though, would spend an age teaching how to read music, play single note melodies, and all sorts of useful things that wouldn’t sound good at a party.

Further to this, I notice that the QTS ICT-skills test can be abolished. Frankly, if a teacher isn’t willing to teach themselves basic ICT skills (by simply giving them a go for 15-30 minutes a week) then they shouldn’t really expect their students to teach themselves how to write decent essays. On the TES there are many threads complaining about the maths QTS test. Again, if you can’t train yourself to pass this test, how can you legitimately expect all your students to revise for their exams? Practise what you preach!

I should end with saying that I have a colleague who struggles with sending emails who is an expert at introducing the students to new ICT projects. Each time they do so, they risk embarrassment and uncertainty, and each time they embrace that possibility and do it anyway (with some success, and some failure.) That is the attitude I think teachers should model. Not, though, by booking laptops in your first observed lesson (as I saw one naively ambitious science PGCE student try a few years ago!)

Exemplar of how this can be done:

1) What is one thing about teaching with ICT that I knew before today’s session?
That teaching with ICT can be exciting and engaging for learners.
2) What are three things that I havve learned today about teaching with ICT?
That ICT should be used appropriately and selectively. There is no need to use ICT for something that the pupils could do with a pen and a piece of paper: don’t use ICT for the sake of using ICT and make sure that it enhances learning.
Encourage students to interact and use ICT in creative and interesting ways.
I really liked the group selector; it seemed very simple to use and would be effective to quickly organise pupils at random into groups of different sizes. The starter activity where pupils had to devise the question to the given answer was great I really liked how they were self differentiating. Pupils can either challenge themselves or the less confident learners can still choose an ‘answerable’ question. I also think it would be valuable as pupils can see the sort of answers that receive ’30 points’ making visible the sort of responses that are of most value in our subject.
3) 2 questions:
How often do you include opportunities in your lessons for pupils to use ICT? As above – reasonably frequent.
Have you used blogs or wikis in your teaching? I have experimented with them and would like to use them more often. The best person I have seen using wikis is Carol Weale of Dane Court Grammar school. Her study, available here,  shows how you can use wikis inside the classroom (during a lesson!) to encourage reasoned arguing. I quite simply do not know why I haven’t used them more often…