Category Archives: education

My Grown Up Weekend part 2 – Festival of Education : Technology and Education

As regular readers will be aware I am very interested in the use of new technology in early years classrooms.  I was pleased to see therefore that the Festival of Education at Wellington College Crowthorne had a number of sessions relating to education and technology.  As usual at these events most of the content was aimed at working with older children but I found a number of ideas/materials that could be adapted for use with younger children.

Jan Webb  from Microsoft gave an interesting talk outlining many of the free resources available to teachers and the ways in which she had used them in the classroom.  Many of the resources were used to link up with schools in other countries to add another dimension to project based learning.  This could be used really successfully in an early years classroom, using video chat to talk about and demonstrate concepts such as snow to young children who may not have seen it before.

Jan explained that the Partners in Learning Network provides free downloadable software for use in the classroom.  I got up and showed off my singing talents to demonstrate Songsmith – for creating music (ok it was only Happy Birthday).

Shireland  Collegiate academy demonstrated  their learning gateway .  Though this is a secondary school and would be used very differently in an early years setting, I saw merits in the way that staff could share planning and assessments, as a means of getting parents involved in their children’s learning and making learning visible to them.

There was an interesting discussion at the end of the day about what we could teach the Facebook generation.  There were some interesting points regarding worries about the ever growing use of technology and social media.  On the positive side was the idea that worries about technology are similar  to worries about the novel in the eighteenth century and that whatever children are interested in will become the dubious thing.  I think that is an interesting view and that we should be using children’s interests to stimulate meaningful learning , rather than threatening to ban things. Another point made was that in this generation the most important skill we can teach children is to take charge of their own destiny. Some felt that this generation were in danger of losing social skills and that technology should be limited to allow children to spend time reading.  A straw poll was taken as to the preference between physical books and reading them electronically.  Personally for me I would much rather have a kindle with hundreds of books in one place than have to find or carry real books.  I suppose there is still some sentimentality about having books on a shelf, but is that because they are precious or because we want to show others what we have read?

I have many links and inspirational practice to look up as a follow up to the festival, these will appear on the blog in due course.

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Is there any value in pre-schoolers using iPads?

 

As you may have read in previous posts I am very interested in harnessing technology to engage children in early literacy.  I have been reading a number of articles about using iPad with pre-school children and am still yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion. 

In Maine there is an initiative to give iPads to  pre-schools in the hope that it will open up new worlds of learning for students.  It is recognised that this it will take a great deal of thought to achieve optimum benefits.  The hope is that it will be used to open up new avenues for exploration and not purley for entertainment.

 http://new.bangordailynews.com/2011/04/22/education/ipad-use-among-kindergartners-sparks-debate/

This is where I struggle.  My 7-year-old has just been allowed a DSi and I had hoped that she would use it as a camera and music player, creating projects to share . As yet I have only seen her engrossed in solitary activity and pushing her younger sister away.  I fear that this could also be the case with iPads if the applications are not creative and far-reaching enough.  Are there any applications that promote creativity and open-ended activities?  Are there any that are designed to be used with groups of children collaborating on tasks?

I have looked for many recommendations but have so far found that most involve variations on the same theme.  The kind of things that have been around on children’s websites for years – memory match games, puzzles, flashcards, colouring in, matching and tracing. Also I have seen a number of interactive books which are great on some levels but would worry that they would replace important aspects like bedtime stories.

So I’m very much on the fence at the moment .  If anyone has experience of using an iPad with pre-schoolers (particularly in the classroom) or has found any ground breaking applications in line with an active, play based,creative and interactive classroom I would love to hear about your experiences.

My Thoughts on the Tickell Review of the Early Years Foundation Stage

I usually approach such reading with trepidation, however when Jonathan Douglas Chairman of the National Literacy Trust described it as ‘exhilarating’ my ears pricked up.

The Review recognises the success and popularity of the EYFS and that it will be some time before this will be fully embedded in practice.  It therefore does not recommend radical change, but maintaining  EYFS in its current form whilst  fine tuning certain aspects.  I’m sure this will be a relief to many who are only just getting to grips with the EYFS and dread being faced with even more change. The tone of the report feels very much as though Dame Tickell has listened to the many individuals and organisations involved in the consultation and shows a commitment to the importance of early education. The review supports learning through play, active learning, creativity and critical thinking as characteristics for effective teaching and  recommends  that the EYFS remains inclusive and mandatory.

There are a number of recommendations in the review including:-

  • A greater emphasis on parental partnership .  The EYFS should be more accessible to parents by making sure it is in plain English.  I also think this would really help with the wide range of people that use it and help to remove any ambiguity .  In addition an online interactive version of EYFS is recommended that would be accessible to parents.
  • A reduction of the Early Learning Goals from 69 to 17, with a simple scale defining the skills needed for emerging, expecting and exceeding each goal.  Anything that reduces targets has to be a good thing in my opinion and the examples of the simple scale are very clear.
  • A commitment to greater clarity on the level of paperwork required, alongside the suggestion that paperwork should be reduced.  This sits alongside the recommendation that Ofsted and the Local Authority work together to ensure that no unnecessary demands made.
  • There continues to be an emphasis on formative assessment based on observations of daily activities to illustrate children’s learning.  Summative assessment (the Foundation Stage Profile) will be significantly reduced and there is a call for stronger links between EYFS and KS1.
  • A call to investigate as a matter of urgency the suitability of a ratio of 1:30 in reception classes.
  • A commitment to recruiting a professional and highly qualified workforce including a review of Early Years training courses and a clear progressive structure for qualifications.  I just hope that this quality is maintained by providing financial incentives.
  • A recommended change to the areas of learning. This would create 3 Prime areas – Communication and Language, Personal, Social and Emotional and Physical and 4 further areas through which these will be applied. These would be Literacy, Maths, Expressive Arts and Design and Understanding the World.  I am undecided as to whether the separation of Communication and Language from Literacy will lead to a greater emphasis on speaking and listening or whether it will detract from the interdependence of reading, writing, speaking and listening.  I hope that there will be clear advice as to what early literacy is .  I am a little disheartened that literacy is defined in terms of reading and writing and that definitions have not been reframed for a new technological age.  I am also unsure about the change from Creativity to
  • Expressive Arts and Design.  I am certain that it has been changed to avoid ambiguity, but creativity encompasses so much more than art and design, that I would hope that this would be fostered in diverse ways.  It is good to see that technology has a specific mention in Understanding the World.
  • A review of children’s development at aged 2-2.5  sharing knowledge from all agencies.

The examples of good practice in the appendices make good reading and there are some thought provoking quotations interspersed throughout.  Reading the whole document takes some time, but is worthwhile.  If you didn’t want to read the whole review the summary of recommendations in Annex 2 will give an overview.

I watch with interest to see how policy makers will adopt these recommendations for the new EYFS.

The full consultation report can be viewed  here http://www.education.gov.uk/tickellreview

Can Technology Engage and Improve Boys Literacy?

How many times do you hear stories about boys falling behind girls in their literacy scores?  In the last 2 years the Foundation Stage Profile Results ( assessment at the end of the child’s first year in school) show that girls are outperforming boys and that Communication, Language and Literacy has the widest gap.

My opinion  is that to a large degree it is down to the fact that boys are not motivated by literacy, because it is not taught in a way that is relevant or interesting to them.  It is important that this is addressed at an early age, rather than once they have already lost interest and are failing.

Children are growing up in an increasingly technological world.  Think back to how much has changed in the last 10 years and we can not possibly imagine what life will be like for our youngest children by the time they leave school.  There is no doubt that children’s experience of literacy in the future will be very different to the pen, paper and print concepts they learn about today.  

 Children’s experiences with technology in the home are generally incompatible with  what they see at pre-school or nursery.  In my experience, having visited many nurseries, technology is generally used in a piecemeal way.  If  I compare this to my children’s  experiences at home it is vastly different.  At home my children play on games consoles, operate the television by remote control, talk to family via video chat, watch cartoons on the laptop or mobile phone, take photos and videos using a mobile phone, record their voices onto a laptop or mp3 player, draw pictures on a drawing tablet, play games on a mobile phone, search the internet for information and much more. The richness of their home experiences are not reflected in their learning at pre-school.

Often this is based on fear, an uncertainty about introducing children to technology (especially screen based) because it will lead children to become lazy and replace more healthy, active or outdoor pursuits.  I recognise those fears; none of us want our children to grow up as screen junkies or for technology to replace important things like reading to your child.  However, I would argue that as technology is evolving, it is becoming more accessible to pre-school children and the opportunity to use it in innovative ways in a play based setting presents itself.  Technology is an ever growing part of their lives and it is important that it is utilised as a natural part of children’s play in pre-school settings.

Boys generally love anything technological and lack interest in reading and writing – this is a generalisation but on the whole it is the case.  I hear people ask all the time ‘ how can I get my son off the computer?’  So maybe instead of trying to ban the things they are interested in we should be using it to our advantage.  I was told a story just a few days ago about how a boy aged 11 who could never understand how anyone could choose reading or writing as a pastime and had joined a computer club at school.  The teachers had shown them how to create animations and story boards.  Following this he has gone away and invented characters, writing comic books and animated stories with such enthusiasm that he couldn’t get to the club quickly enough. 

If we can encourage this enthusiasm at pre-school, maybe we could avoid many of the negative feelings that boys have around literacy and inspire them to be literate in a different way.

This premise forms the basis of my proposal for Phd research ( subject to finding the necessary funding). The hypothesis is that if boys were given opportunities to learn the foundations of literacy through technology, then they would be motivated to learn and this would in turn improve their literacy outcomes.  I would  create a play based environment whereby children could explore the underpinning skills of literacy, through the medium of technology.  This would occur alongside more traditional activities to see whether the technological experiences were more engaging. Technology would be integrated into ongoing practices of teaching and learning.  Each classroom would be designed around the needs and interests of the children. Technology would be freely available and would be used both indoors and outdoors.  I would hope that it would also inform those who create technology, software and applications highlighting possible future developments.  To work together to provide suitable experiences for our youngest children that would reframe  long held notions of literacy.

Turning 40 Part 2 – Is Eeyore in his 40’s?…. and more thoughts about Eeyore.

eeyore14

I picked up a book in my doctor’s surgery , ‘Forty-fied – How to be a Fortysomething’ by Malcolm Burgess.

I loved this quote

Eeyore is probably 40, seeing that his stuffing is falling out, he’s terminally depressed and surrounded by annoying energetic younger things who know that the only way to cheer him up is to give him a nice jam jar with a burst balloon for his birthday, about which he is expected to be sadly euphoric

I don’t feel like my stuffing is falling out but after having 3 kids,  I look at pictures of myself when I turned 30 and compare it to the tired woman with grey roots, developing wrinkles and a post baby tummy and wonder if we are the same person.  I love the stuff about presents which are also discussed elsewhere in the book.  I keep getting asked what I would like for my birthday but I don’t really want or need anything.  I’d quite like a boob job but at £5,000 that’s a bit above most budgets, permanent hair removal,  decent hair cut, a trip somewhere?  I’m doing quite well with presents from my husband, I have a spa day, haircut and photo shoot and tickets to see Rufus Wainwright and my neighbour has bought me tickets for the ballet – so I’m far from Eeyore’s realm.

To be honest I’m actually not that depressed about turning 40 – it’s a turning point for me.  The end of my childbearing days hence a chance to get my figure , career and social life back on track.  Maybe not straight away (I still have 2 children under 5) but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope I’m not an Eeyore.  In Benjamin Hoff’s wonderful book ‘The Te of Piglet’ ( a follow up to the’ Tao of Pooh’), he describes the Eeyore effect.  Those in life who enjoy being unhappy, who are so obsessed with the bad things in life that the good things pass them by.  The most poignant part of his Eeyore discussion  is that of the Eeyore educators.  These try to force too much inappropriate information on children too soon, so that children get stuck.  An Eeyore educator’s answer to failing test results would be to send them to school earlier,  taking away their creativity and play .

Piglet

picked a large bunch and trotted along, smelling them, and feeling very happy, until he came to the place where Eeyore was.

‘Oh Eeyore’, began Piglet a little nervously, because Eeyore was busy.

Eeyore put out a paw and waved him away.

‘Tomorrow’ said Eeyore. ‘Or the next day’.

I think we all recognise this in our busy lives, how we often say ‘In a minute’ but for the child who lives in the moment, that moment becomes lost. Hopefully turning 40 doesn’t mean turning into Eeyore, but rather being a Piglet or a Pooh.  As Piglet says in the closing line of ‘The Te of Piglet’

For me, it also seems like a beginning.

Who are the experts?

A recent TED talk about the limitations of experts led me to pose the above question.  In the education of our children – who are the experts?  For some it is the teacher’s job to teach reading , writing  and good behaviour and it is felt they cannot be questioned  because they are the experts.  For some teachers it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children to behave properly and encourage enthusiasm for learning, so when this doesn’t happen it is the parents’ fault.

As parents we are all experts on our own children, we know them best, their likes , dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and what makes them tick.  The expert teacher may say, ‘he doesn’t join in at music time, I don’t think he likes singing. ‘ The expert parent may reply – ‘he sings the songs all the time at home, he just isn’t comfortable in a large group.’  In contrast, the parent may question  their child’s inability to write his name  and the teacher is able to explain all the things that their child is doing in their play that will build the underpinning skills that are necessary before this will occur.

This highlights to me that we are all experts and as experts together, we need to question and challenge each other to provide the best possible education for our children.  If we believe that we are the only expert with a valid opinion and don’t listen to those who question us, we limit the possibilities for our children.

Of course this creates challenges for schools, nurseries and parents.  In a busy school day it is difficult to find time for parent/teacher discussion so we need to challenge ourselves to find  new ways to share expertise.

http://www.ted.com/talks/noreena_hertz_how_to_use_experts_and_when_not_to.html