Home Learning, School Learning

An 8 year old boy impressed me today. For the first time at school, my P4 class was learning about Hanukkah as part of a series of lessons on Light Festivals. Before we had even begun, this boy was volunteering lots of information:  Jewish people have the same God as Christians but don’t believe in Jesus; they wear really small hats; Hanukkah is in December and presents are given; Jews have their own language (Latin? No, Hebrew). This same boy had also instigated some interesting discussions the previous week when we were looking at Diwali. He told us that some people don’t believe in a God or gods and they are atheists. He had asked if we were going to learn about atheism and paganism. This boy just sprang to life during RME lessons. I asked him today how he knew so much about Judaism. “A TV programme.” A pause. “I watch South Park with my dad.”

Class Blog

At the beginning of November, I introduced my P4 class to Edmodo with the aim of encouraging them to set up a class blog where they would post short diary entries about what they had been doing in and out of school. I explained that I hoped we would then want to open it up to parents for their comments when we felt we had interesting things to share.

My own blog experience and my reading of Marsh’s and Carrington’s tables (2008) in Beyond Current Horizons, had inspired me to try something different with my class. There are, of course, security issues to be aware of and overcome so I decided to kick things off with Edmodo, a very secure site where I could set up a password-controlled members only group. A separate password can then be given to parents, to view and comment.

There was great excitement when the children were introduced to Edmodo. They loved choosing an avatar and a quote which would represent them in some way. They loved trying it out and chatting with each other. A few of the eight year olds exclaimed how similar to Facebook it was. I was hoping the blog would inspire the children to write more, to express themselves, to communicate with a wider audience. I was hoping they would go on it at home, once or twice a week. However, things have slowed down a little. Some are very keen to use it but are obviously not certain how to push things forward, so I’ll need to add some more structure. Some of them have great difficulty remembering their usernames and passwords.

An article about Carronshore Primary’s class blogs in TESS (2 November 2012) has also thrown up a few more issues to consider. Their teacher, Margaret Vass, uses a public blog site, Edublogs, and just covers the safety aspects with the class. The class also progressed to setting up individual blogs after trying a whole class one.

At the moment, we’re enjoying playing about with it. It fits under Play in Carrington’s digital literacies table (2008) and also Collective Intelligence although the ‘fluid expert-novice relationships’ are short on the expert and heavy on the novice. I’m heartened by the fact Margaret Vass set her class blog up in 2006. It makes me feel that I’ve got a year or two to get something half-decent together.

Perceptions

When I was going to start a blog, I asked my 16 year old daughter which one I should use. I had heard of tumblr but she told me that in her opinion it wasn’t suitable for her mum writing about her uni course. She said something like, “It’s a photo site, people just upload photos  and add captions. It’s for hipsters, teenagers, alternative types, cult things. It’s not really for lots of writing in a news article style. It’s twitter for photos.” My husband disagreed, not least because he chose tumblr to create his band blog. Perceptions are a minefield. How important are they? I suppose it depends who you are trying to reach with your blog. At the moment, I’m not too sure if I’m trying to reach anyone but I went for a WordPress blog in the end.  I thought it might suit me better. But in reality, I have no idea.

Another Day, Another Framework

This time, it belongs to Eve Bearne (2009). Bearne has five categories in her framework and a couple of them are familiar:  Image (content, tone, colour, line) and Language (syntax and word choice). To these, she adds Sound/Vocalization, Gaze and Movement. She chooses to show all five elements in action via children’s PowerPoint presentation, storytelling and self-made picture book. The last three categories are, indeed, very important when assessing the impact of a presentation or storytelling. In school, sound/vocalization, gaze and movement are all common criteria that come under Listening and Talking in the Curriculum for Excellence (and in 5-14 before that). Literacy and English covers three areas and they are Reading, Writing and Listening and Talking. These three areas often overlap and naturally merge from one to the other.

The need to see the bigger picture by developing cross-curricular learning is strongly promoted in the Curriculum for Excellence. When learning about PowerPoint, there is an outcome in the ‘ICT to enhance learning’ section of Technologies: I can create, capture and manipulate sounds, text and images to communicate experiences, ideas and information in creative and engaging ways (TCH 1-04b/2-04b). When learning about storytelling, there are several relevant outcomes in Expressive Arts, particularly Drama. Learning is messy and it is often the case that when focusing on teaching one discrete area, other aspects of learning are also reinforced. There are points in the school year when exciting opportunities present themselves (or teachers, with pupils’ help, purposefully construct them) to bring a range of learning together in one creative project.

Bearne touches on the importance of cross-curricular learning when she says, ‘Although the analysis offered here has separated out the elements of image, language, sound, gaze and movement, it is important to see how these different modes interrelate to make meaning.’ Bearne watches and assesses completed projects, projects which would have been put together piece by piece over many days. On each of those days, a different skill would have been highlighted and taught, as Bearne acknowledges. I like Bearne’s framework but in terms of using it in the day-to-day teaching of literacy, I would continue to use the experiences and outcomes of the Curriculum for Excellence. I would then tend to use the same outcomes when assessing. This also provides great flexibility, to choose the outcomes best suited to the teaching, learning and assessment.

Bearne, E. (2009)’Multimodality, literacy and texts: Developing a discourse’ in Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 9(2) pp. 156-187.

A Few Friday Thoughts

1.  Re the framework of Key Competencies in New Literary Practices by Marsh (2007), below, which I like very much: I believe they nicely complement Callow’s framework (2008), a very good, practical, everyday guide.

2. “There are key barriers to progress that need to be addressed, such as the use of Firewalls by Local Authortities” (Carrington and Marsh, 2008). There is an understandable fear of sensitive information getting into the wrong hands, but how far is it practical to go to stop this happening? At work, we have been instructed to send emails only to other local authority colleagues, not to any external organisations. Any externally-bound emails are to be sent via the office as a security measure. This could really hold up the organisation of community-wide events in the classroom. The barriers to “a participatory pedagogy that prioritises communities of practice” seem to be great and I wonder if fear is unnecessarily cutting off communication.

3.  “With the advent of democracy and modern industrial conditions, it is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now. Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities.” (Dewey 1897). I have been reading Furedi again, where he talks of “the fetishization of change”. I felt quite relieved when I read it the first time, as if I wasn’t the only one who felt uncomfortable and unconvinced when watching another presentation about our impossibly fast-changing world. “The insistence that our current experience of global change is unprecedented is all the more surprising since literally the very same argument has been a recurrent theme in pedagogic debates for over a century.” It’s nice when someone has done some research.

Furedi, F. (2009), Wasted, Why Education Isn’t Educating, Continuum International Publishing Group, London.