During programming sessions I tend to get a clear gap between those who get it, and those who don’t. Pupils who understood the key concepts will charge on ahead and complete the tasks I set, while those who don’t are left standing still. With the best will in the world I don’t have the time in the lessons to sit and work with each of these children. Some are going to slip through the net. Missing these key skills, or not getting a firm grip on how they work means I’d be struggling again and again with these pupils too. All children learn and develop their skills at different rates. Sound like a familiar problem?
So in the Spring I introduced Paired Programming to my classes. The idea is that, in partners, the children both get a chance to work at the computer together to solve the tasks you’ve set. One of them is the ‘Driver’, working the computer, mouse and Keyboard. While the other is the ‘Navigator’ who guides, helps and directs the driver. I took a fair bit of time deciding on the pairings, thinking about how well they’d get on together, behaviour, and most importantly their current ability level. I wanted to pair a lower ability child with one of my higher ability children. I wanted the ones who struggle to learn and develop by working with my high flyers, so they can watch, learn and engage with their friend. The children are given 5 minutes each to be the driver/navigator and then swap over. However, plot twist, the pupils don’t really get this amount of time. The HA only get 4 mins, while the LA actually get 6 mins. This time difference isn’t ever really noticed by the pupils, and it means my lowers are getting more learning at the PC. It works like a charm!
I actually stole the idea from the wonderful Alan O’Donohoe. Working in Bradford means a few perks. We have the Science & Media Museum, excellent curries, and Alan just round the corner! He introduced me too it while working with a group of adult learners and I saw the potential straight away.
The impact has been great in my classes, and I really can’t recommend it enough. The talk it generates in the room is just fantastic, and I can see it developing their speech and language skills in every session. The higher ability children often find it a bit frustrating if their partner isn’t doing it right, or isn’t getting it, so they have to think of new or better ways to explain. This is all part of the challenge though, and helps to get the most out of both pupils. The lower ability pupils have a lot more confidence in problem solving because they know they’ve got a partner with them for help at any time, and I have seen an improvement in their work when using programs like Scratch or MinecraftEDU.
I love that paired programming also works with almost anything I do in the classroom. It could be creating a virtual robot in Scratch, or it might be a paper computer from Hello Ruby, the principle still works. One guides while the other drives. You do have to watch out for the odd layabout kid who wants to take advantage of their partner though. The ones who will happily let their friend do all the work. On the flip of that you also have to watch out for the bossy kids who like to take control! They are the ones who I make sit on their hands when they’re the navigators!
It’s definitely going to be a big part of my teaching style from now on, and I’m looking at how I can bring it in to different subjects in my school.
1. Pick partners Carefully
2. Alter the times to get the most from your pupils
3. Watch out for the bossy kids taking over!
4. Watch out for the lazy kids doing nothing!
5. Enjoy the talk/discussion in the room