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iPad Classroom Visit Look-Fors

Lisa Johnson

TechChef4u CEO, Speaker, ADE 2013, Eanes ISD 1:1 iPad K-12, Social Geek, Mom of Two Mobile Natives
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photo of a student using a calculator and tablet computer

I think we would all agree that a classroom with iPads looks and functions very differently than a classroom without iPads. While many administrators and support staff complete standard walk-throughs, some of them struggle with what to look for beyond the basics when it comes to evaluating a classroom infused with iPads.

Recently, our district started offering iLEAP academies, which blend classroom site visits and in-house professional development for districts all over my state. Many of the attendees are administrators, support staff, and teachers that have limited familiarity with 1:1 classrooms but are seeking best practices to take back to their own schools and campuses as they implement a 1:1 iPad initiative or pilot. When I began searching for ways to facilitate this type of classroom visit, I happened on an excellent list of observation tips for a traditional classroom but found nothing specifically tailored to iPads.

Thus, I felt there was need to create a "What to Look For" list that would embody the behind-the-scenes and not-always-obvious instructional pieces to look for when visiting a classroom with iPads. These tips are very granular and specific to iPads, but could easily be adapted for other 1:1 settings.

Student Behavior

  • What are students doing? Are students engaged?

  • Are all students on task? How does the teacher know if students are off task? Are teachers using Nearpod or Casper Focus?

  • When do students use iPads during instruction? When do they not use iPads? Pay attention to what instructional tasks use iPads, which ones don't, and when the teacher allows the choice of iPad or paper and pencil to complete a task.

  • How are students grouped? How do they navigate groups? Does the 
teacher provide verbal directions and choice ("Silently make eye contact with someone that you'd like to be your partner") or use an app (like GroupMaker)?

Teacher Behavior

  • How do teachers access previous knowledge and reiterate student goals?

  • What verbal and nonverbal instructional cues are used?

  • What classroom management techniques are deployed? Classroom management can make or break a lesson, so tactics that work are always important to pay attention to. I have gleaned 12 specific Classroom Management Tips for iPads in this slide deck.


  • What tools do teachers use to conduct formative assessment and summative assessment? Consider That Quiz, CueThink, Socrative, Nearpod, Schoology, Poll Everywhere, or Padlet.

  • What class pulse strategies do teachers use (silent polls, thumbs up, fist to five, etc.)? How are these used in combination with some of the other assessment tools that the teacher employs?

  • What tools do teachers use to share and address student exemplars and misconceptions? Tools like Nearpod allow teachers to share out student work on the fly, and LiveSlide offers a feature that allows students to control the presentation.

Workflow and Materials

  • What tools and processes are in place for students to access instructional materials? Consider a QR Code, Augmented Reality Triggers, an LMS like eBackpack, a Google Site, a Thinglink, an iTunes U course, or a password-protected Weebly site to access textbook materials.

  • What tools are used for students to record their answers? You might try a website like Padlet or Todays Meet, an embedded discussion within a tool like Quip or iTunes U, or even an index card used in conjunction with Nearpod.

  • How does the instructor address technical glitches and student workflow mishaps?

  • What tools are in place for students to submit work? Many times, this is a combination of tools, depending on the type of media that students submit. It could range from eBackpack and Turnitin to Google Classroom and Mediacore.

Physical Space

  • What is the location of the teacher in the classroom during a variety of settings?

  • What is the arrangement of the desks in the classroom?

  • What is the flow of groups?

Behind the Scenes

  • What accessories are used with the iPads? Some possibilities include iRig mics for oral assessments, wired keyboards for word processing, or an iPad document camera for student presentations.

  • What technical professional development (if any) was provided to the students prior to the lesson? This might look like an app tutorial, a teacher-and-student Thinglink EDU account, step sheets for uploading videos to a teacher's folder in Mediacore, or mirroring student projects to the Apple TV.

  • What professional development (webinars, online tutorials, etc.) has the teacher received or actively sought out to support him or her with lessons?

Truly, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list but a good starter list for you to build on. What categories and look-fors would you add?

Author's note: Many thanks to Cathy Yenca, amazing teacher and fellow Apple Distinguished Educator, for letting me share snapshots of her 1:1 iPad classroom as a framework for my look-for list and this post.

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Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Hi Martin,
Realistically, these things are really about good teaching in general, and slightly more specifically about teaching with technology. This post was clearly written about the iPad because that's where the author's experience in particular lies. Which isn't to mean, of course, that the lessons learned can't apply elsewhere, but that writing more generally wouldn't be authentic to what the author knows.

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Hi Casey,
Thanks you for speaking up for our most disadvantaged students. It is indeed very important to make sure that all students get a solid background in the skills they'll need in order to be able to succeed with any device. As an elementary technology specialist, I would get new students from a wide range of technology experience, and I made it a goal to make sure everybody had the same base-level understanding of devices and apps we would use.

Vicki Decker's picture

I think the sections on student and teacher behavior are on the money, but notice the focus is not really on the iPad but on the basic pedagogy of instruction. Noticing when the teacher chooses to employ the iPad and what engagement factor that created, in my opinion is what to look for, or if the iPad is not employed what could have been done. The rest of the article seemed to focus more on a list of apps (solid apps at that) which are useful tools for different topics (such as classroom management and assessment) as opposed to necessities in a one to one environment. When observing 1:1 classrooms, I look for what a teacher does and then help them learn how a particular app might help make that more process more engaging to the student and classroom environment. As an example, a teacher may not need a classroom management tool as they have a great non tech system that works, but they may do a lot of vocabulary work (foreign language for example) where using a mind map app that students can all contribute to, may be a great use of the tool for that particular teacher. Another teacher may watch a lot of videos (like a current events class) where back channeling would be an appropriate strategy to employ.
When I think of what to look for in a 1:1 environment, I am not looking for teachers to be using a certain list of apps, but looking instructional strategies that could be employed or enhanced using the iPad. As an integrator of a 1:1 iPad system, I teamed up with an instructional coach and did some co observations. She would view the instructional strategies and I aligned the tech for that teacher that would help support the instructional goals that the coach thought could use some reinforcement. I guess my over all point is that for every class and every teacher what to "look for" in a one to one environment is different and should be based on the instruction not the tool.

Lisa Johnson's picture
Lisa Johnson
TechChef4u CEO, Speaker, ADE 2013, Eanes ISD 1:1 iPad K-12, Social Geek, Mom of Two Mobile Natives

Yes, Martin, after I wrote this and posted it - I could very much see it working with any 1:1 Tablet initiative. Good point ;)

And Dan, you read my mind - or took the words right out of my mouth. Much of my background is with a variety of iPad classrooms ranging from carts to 1:1. It is true that much of this should be just ubiquitous good teaching and that really the iPad should be invisible in these settings - just another tool. After all, there are very few articles on Mechanical Pencil Classroom Visit Look-Fors.

However, the iPad and mobile technology in the classroom is still fairly new and administrators not familiar with the capability of the device sometimes need some ideas for how it can be used purposefully in the classroom so that was really my focus for this article. I feel very passionately about how the pairing of pedagogy, iPads, and purposeful instruction can transform a classroom and have definitely seen it in Cathy Yenca's classroom. Honestly, with or without the iPad, she is an amazing educator. I think there are a lot of elements that make a successful learning environment and many are not as obvious as others. I am eager to hear which ones of these resonated with those that have similar classroom settings and what could be added to the list to make it more applicable for tablet-based classrooms in general.

Vicki Decker's picture

You have a great list of tools here. I love how you added CUETHINK, I am pushing that app right now with my district. There are a lot of great mind mapping apps like and sync space space that could be added and flashcards plus (which I think is similar to quizlet). Kahoot is one that is loved by my teachers for a quick pulse on class understanding or as a review game. When looking at older levels there are also some great content based apps like the Element 4D apps for science (which falls under the augmented reality section you refered to). LoiLonote, Documents5, Subtext, and Desmos are also good quality.

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Thanks for sharing some more great apps, Vicki!

Monique's picture

Hi Lisa,
I'm currently using 1:1 iPads in my classroom. I think everything you listed and explained is great! A very important part of using digital technology within the classroom is looking for students transfer of knowledge. I think having guidelines or supports to monitor this practice is crucial. I also think that teachers should look for programs that are designed to promote better readers, problem solvers, collaborators and thinkers & teachers should keep assessments/portfolios to "show" student's progress & learning.

Lisa Johnson's picture
Lisa Johnson
TechChef4u CEO, Speaker, ADE 2013, Eanes ISD 1:1 iPad K-12, Social Geek, Mom of Two Mobile Natives

Thanks so much Vicki for all of the additional resources. I think I could probably add another section on Note-taking and Critical Thinking that might encompass some of the Mind-Mapping / Visible Thinking apps like Popplet, LoiLonote, Desmos, Subtext, etc...

Lisa Johnson's picture
Lisa Johnson
TechChef4u CEO, Speaker, ADE 2013, Eanes ISD 1:1 iPad K-12, Social Geek, Mom of Two Mobile Natives

Monique, you are totally right! I added a section on assessment and workflow but should have probably addressed how the work was being archived as well as how the teacher was using the data that she collected with apps like Nearpod, That Quiz, etc...

Truly the article was never meant to be an exhaustive list but more of a springboard for administrators that were unfamiliar with what a classroom using technology in this way could look like. I truly appreciate all of the feedback and ideas that everyone has shared - they go a long way to polishing this content and providing a well crafted resource.

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