Patrick McGrath

What is the recipe for success in schools?


Ask this question to any number of educators and my guess is you’ll receive some fairly consistent answers. Read on to discover why the humble pencil case may not, but should feature in the list of answers. 


An open book with a Texthelp writing with a pencil

The list may include ‘Quality of Leadership and Management’; vision; passionate teachers and perhaps effective learning spaces. For others they’ll mention access to technology, creativity and collaboration, quality resources or parental engagement. It’s a long list and proof that there is no one ‘magic bullet’ to whole school success. 

It’s a combination of these, together with many other factors and dynamics that contribute to whole school success.
 

The humble pencil case

There’s one thing though that you’ll rarely hear on this list. The humble pencil case. Yes, the pencil case. Twenty years ago, a researcher at University College London suggested just this. At first glance, it’s hard to see the potential impact of something so simple. Think deeper though and it starts to make sense. 

Building the right tools into that case can make a real difference - the tools that every student needs to enable and support their learning every day across every subject. The pencil - picking the right one is essential to help with handwriting development, selecting the correct grading is key for art and design class. 

Add to that the ballpoint pen and students end up with essential tools for writing, drawing and annotation. For literacy, for creativity and across any subject. Open up any pencil case though and you’ll find a wealth of tools - highlighters for study and research, eraser, coloured pens and correction fluid. Then of course there’s subject specific tools like the compass and protractor. Everything needed in one place.

The point of course is that students have a set of tools plus the independence to use the right tool for them at the right time. Sure, they’ll need guidance, but at the heart of learning they're able to make decisions to suit their particular needs - across ages, subjects and the entirety of the curriculum. 

It’s true of course that at times there are more tools than are needed - the protractor is a case in point. That’s not going to come out in English class, and even in maths it won’t be out all the time. The fact though - it’s there, in the case, ready for when it’s appropriate and useful for learning.  

Fast forward 20 years from this study and education has changed. The widespread use of digital technology is making a huge impact across our schools, colleges and universities. Yet still, despite this shift the trusty pencil case with its range of tools is an essential part of every students life. 
 

The digital equivalent 

So whilst we all focus on ‘moving to the cloud’, enabling 21st century skills, personalised learning and building new opportunities for learning, we shouldn’t forget that students need the digital equivalent of the pencil case - essential tools for learning in our digital world.

That’s where Texthelp has the solution for every student, school wide. Take Read&Write - in one location it provides all the tools students need for support and for learning. At first glance, you’ll discover text to speech. That’s great for Dyslexic students, right? Absolutely - it’s essential. But it’s also useful for the A Level student working towards a History exam, listening to questions to help understanding then listening to complex answers to proof and improve. Either of these students can take this one step further and use the Audiomaker tool - downloading an MP3 file of their notes - any subject, any content. Add our writing tools like prediction and Check It for help and support anywhere they are needed. The dictionary is right there too. Highlighter tools are great for study for summarising notes, for researching or for simply drawing out key terms. 

Drama students can use these digital tools to identify lines, or even combine it with audiomaker for rehearsing dialog. An incredibly powerful tool is the vocab builder. EAL students use this across subjects to prep for classes in advance with new words, and we’ve seen students who study technology use this to identify and note lab equipment or signage. Chemists use it for chemical symbols to link them visually. All useful tools at any age, or across any subject.

Thinking back to the protractor and our EquatIO product that adds a dedicated set of maths tools to our ‘digital pencil case’. Specialist maths ‘pencils’ allow students to type, dictate or write on a touchscreen. Draw graphs without graph paper with Desmos and access manipulatives digitally. Physicists can easily draw and create circuit diagrams, lens or forces and chemists have access to express complex maths content easily. 

It doesn’t stop there of course - making a presentation for Business Studies? An essay for economics? Definitions sheet for geography? Equipped with Read&Write and EquatIO, students have the tools they need to succeed digitally.
 

Universal Design for Learning 

Good practice and practical examples aside, Texthelp products are grounded in the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), providing every student with multiple means to express and engage with content - on their terms, and in a way that suits them. It’s a framework that promotes and enables inclusion. 

You see, we don’t think of the traditional pencil case as something that’s there for students with individual needs - it has inclusion built in as standard. So why not think of amazing digital tools like Read&Write or EquatIO in the same way? They may be necessary for some, but they are useful for all. We know that the pencil case and our tools can be and are used by every student including those with high ability, those studying for exams, those that are creative, or those that rarely ask for help in the middle of your classrooms.

It’s vital that digital tools are used in a meaningful and relevant way to be effective, and at Texthelp we want to help educators and students explore our tools, and be empowered to use them every day across every subject. 


Tools for independence

So let’s equip students with the tools and skills they need to be more independent, to find new and creative ways to learn and study more effectively. Our range of resources and support can help you achieve this and build Read&Write and EquatIO into your own recipe for success - for every student, regardless of age, level or ability and across every subject.   

At Texthelp we provide all the digital essentials, in one place and on any platform, giving everyone the opportunity to achieve more.   

Discover the digital tools/ features offered in Read&Write and EquatIO. We have made both FREE for teachers! This means you can get premium subscriptions to one or both of these products at no cost. If you’re interested in getting set up with a free teacher account for either product, click through to our dedicated Free for Teachers page.  
 

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