@GiraffeClass: Twitter with 5 year olds

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I have been on Twitter for just over a year now and continue to find it the most amazing resource. It’s like a virtual staffroom where I can access a stream of links, opinions, ideas and resources from an interesting and informed group of fellow educators world-wide. For someone working in additional support needs, dotting between 42 schools, it’s the staff room I most frequently inhabit.

 

And it’s a very special staffroom as there I find people all passionate about their area of interest, keen to learn and share – and support. One could not say that about all physical staffrooms! I have learned more about how to enhance my teaching this year than ever before through Twitter.

It’s educational (and a bit of social!) networking at its very best.

I hadn’t however given any thought to using Twitter with youngsters. Thanks to @literacyadviser I recently came across a fabulous connection to a class of 5 and 6 years olds who are Tweeting, @GiraffeClass. I gather that a different child has the responsibility to record what the class has been doing that day – as you can see from the screen shot.

What a wonderful idea. How delighted the parents must be to see such immediate evidence of thinking and writing and how valuable for the teacher to have such data.

This demonstrates to the little ones and their families how their literacy skills are developing. It is also a great method of showing how connected we all are today. Tweeting must also develop the children’s media literacy skills: ‘viewing, analysing and discussing a wide range of texts and using available technologies to create text in different formats’.

Later on, the discipline of the 140 characters will help the children to be precise in their writing, teaching them in a very real and unthreatening way that revision of ideas and careful word choice is essential to get your message across. It also encourages development of keyboard skills. Feedback (I don’t really know how that works with Giraffe Class to be honest) can be immediate. There’s nothing more exciting than having your thinking validated by a comment – especially if it’s from someone you haven’t met!

Finding this cheered me up no end!

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Inanimate Alice and Me 4: New Media Literacies

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Thanks to http://www.freerangedesigns.co.uk for the picture of the Storytelling Chair.

I really want one.

Henry Jenkins  on New Media Literacies proposes a set of new media skills, including Play, Performance, Simulation, Collective Intelligence, Visualisation, Transmedia Navigation. I shall use these ideas to think about how I help my students to go about creating their own digital stories.

This week the P7’s andI  focused on ‘Transmedia Navigation’: the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.

We are beginning to identify narrative elements that are common to and also divergent from books and digital stories. The overwhelming sense, unsurprisingly for these learners with significant literacy difficulties, is that ‘books are boring’ and that this form of accessing story is ‘cool’ and ‘magic’. At present they perceive working with Inanimate Alice as ‘much easier’: we are still in the first flush of enthusiasm where content rather than decoding is emphasised. They haven’t realised that this way of storytelling can also be challenging; that it just requires a different set of skills.

This might all change over the next couple of weeks when we delve into the convergence of text, sound, image to create our own story. We need to be careful not to get so carried away by the production that the fundamental elements of telling a good story are lost.

The story must be engaging, with a beginning, a muddle and an end. It must be told with as much detail as to make it coherent without becoming impenetrable. The story needs to flow, and sound and images must reflect, enhance or stand alone to move the story on. Adding gizmos because it’s possible will be very tempting, I’m sure and we may have to accept that less is more. We will have to ensure that we carefully consider what is an appropriate and engaging medium for each part of the story and eliminate extraneous extras which might detract from the whole tale.

First and foremost, we need constantly to be aware of our audience and ensure that the story has a clear purpose and narrative.

I also have to be conscious of balancing the necessity of learning how to use the tools with the demand for a compelling tale. The Tale is the thing!

Upper or Lower Case?

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An interesting post discusses the merits of teaching capital letters before lower case  to children in the early years with ‘dyslexic tendencies’.

The post ends describes a reaction to a workshop:

We had a preschool teacher get upset with our suggestion of studying the uppercase alphabet first. She said  all their teaching materials used the lower case letters first and she insisted the lower case was easier to learn.  The reasons I listed above that make the lower case confusing for a Dyslexic are probably beneficial for left brain learners because they are similar and fewer shapes to learn. The preschool teacher was adamant we were wrong.  This is unfortunately one of the viewpoints of teachers that make it so difficult to help Dyslexic students learn the alphabet, spelling and reading.

It’s so sad when professionals dismiss what can be be simple and obvious ideas. It sounds as if s/he was trying to fit the child to the curriculum rather than start from the child’s learning needs. So, change the teaching materials!! And open your mind a bit!
Surely knowledge of and adaptation for the strengths and difficulties of each individual is paramount – in every, but especially early years, setting.
For pre-schoolers in particular, it’s so important to assume all children will have some dificulties in cracking the code, whether it be sequencing, focusing on what appear to be irrelevant details (‘can’t see the trees for the wood’), symbolic learning, motor skills, etc. If they manage easily that’s great. If not then any potential problems can be identified and addressed at this vital stage.

An interesting post discusses the merits of teaching capital letters before lower case  to children in the early years with ‘dyslexic tendencies’.

The post ends describes a reaction to a workshop:

We had a preschool teacher get upset with our suggestion of studying the uppercase alphabet first. She said  all their teaching materials used the lower case letters first and she insisted the lower case was easier to learn.  The reasons I listed above that make the lower case confusing for a Dyslexic are probably beneficial for left brain learners because they are similar and fewer shapes to learn. The preschool teacher was adamant we were wrong.  This is unfortunately one of the viewpoints of teachers that make it so difficult to help Dyslexic students learn the alphabet, spelling and reading.


It’s so sad when professionals dismiss what can be be simple and obvious ideas. It sounds as if s/he was trying to fit the child to the curriculum rather than start from the child’s learning needs. So, change the teaching materials!! And open your mind a bit!


Surely knowledge of and adaptation for the strengths and difficulties of each individual is paramount – in every, but especially early years, setting.
For pre-schoolers in particular, it’s so important to assume all children will have some dificulties in cracking the code, whether it be sequencing, focusing on what appear to be irrelevant details (‘can’t see the trees for the wood’), symbolic learning, motor skills, etc. If they manage easily that’s great. If not then any potential problems can be identified and addressed at this vital stage.

 

Jack and the Giant: a Crime Story

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When Jack swaps his cow for a bag of magic beans, he could never have imagined the things that were to happen next. Download the whole story to your Kindle here.

The children in P2P at Sanderwsons Wynd School heard from the mysterious Keeper of the Stories that the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk was missing from Fairyland and that he needed help to replace the story of Jack that had gone missing from the Land of Fairy Tales.

During their term-long Storyline project the children learned:

about creating the characters of Jack and the Beanstalk  with ‘wow’ words; to use more connecting words in a story; how to write a story and you have to put in full stops at the end of the sentence and capital letters at the beginning of a sentence; that we can make model castles out of cardboard; about plants at the Botanic Gardens; that beans grow with soil, water and light; how to measure beans and make a bean graph; how trees grow at the Botanic Gardens; how to make cakes with real vanilla beans and what a vanilla plant looks like and that rainsticks are made from cacti; and how to build a castle and Jack’s cottage.

And last but by no means least, how to make an ebook and it’s for sale on Amazon. 

The children would like to send the profits from this book to a children’s charity because, now they’ve got to know Jack, they’d like to help poor people like him.
Go along to the class blog to see what they’ve been up to.

Many congratulations for this fantastic piece of work to the children of 2P2, Ms Pearce and Mr Bird (no mean crime writer himself) for all their hard work.

Read more blog posts by  Naomi Johnson and Steven Wray on this wonderful initiative.

When should children learn to type?

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This video has some useful tips, tricks, and ideas to get children started keyboarding who may not be ready to touch type.

I’m a great believer in ensuring that children know their way around a keyboard very early on: from 7 years old ideally; though it’s generally believed that they may not have the motor coordination or finger span to truly touch type until about seven or 8 years of age.
However, children of any age can begin exploring keyboards, letters, and screens.  It is an essential 21st century skill that people don’t learn automatically: they need instruction and practice.

Learning to type saves enormous amounts of time and enables us to communicate more proficiently and effectively; cognitive automaticity. With typing we are freed from the slowness of handwriting, allowing us to get our ideas down at the speed of thought.  I haven’t written by hand for years, except for my signature and the odd shopping list.

Ultimately, typing for authentic reasons is the aim but children benefit from a touch typing course (we use BBC Dance Mat as it’s free) where they learn to type without having to compose at the same time.

It is said that 8 year olds can write between 14 – 17 words per minute; with regular practice a child that age could be able to type about 30 words per minute. Devoting 10 minutes once or twice a day is the most efficient method; and it can help children focus in the morning or after lunch or at home. That tiny amount of time can have great payoff by the end of the year.
Along with learning the keystrokes it’s important to emphasize good posture, choosing the right height of chair, taking breaks every 5 minutes, moving and looking away from the screen, etc.

We also need to make time to teach all children (as we tend to do with learners with dyslexia already) the skills of planning and organising a dictated composition. Typing may well be regarded as outdated as handwriting in a few years time when voice recognition software is ubiquitous.  For many of course, much writing is performed on hand held devices with thumbs alone.

I suspect, though, that individuals will choose what style of ‘writing’ suits them best as long as they have the knowledge and understanding of the benefits of all methods of different forms of communication and access to all available tools – and the flexibility to explore new ones that we haven’t even thought of yet.
Thanks to the innovative educator blog for the stimulus.

Ministry of Stories launched

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I wrote here some time ago about Dave Eggars’ project, stemming from his passion for the power of reading and of writing, to establish places where children can come after school for help with homework and to learn to write stories. Now Nick Hornby has set up a similar venture in London.

The Guardian reports on this exciting venture:

The Ministry of Stories Literacy Project will turn an empty shop in Hoxton, east London, into a purveyor of monster supplies intended to draw a stream of young people across its threshold. Once inside, the children will find, in Hornby’s words, “a ministry of stories secreted behind its humble facade”.

Acclaimed fellow writers Roddy Doyle and Zadie Smith are backing the scheme, which has been inspired by the success of the American novelist Dave Eggers’s 826 National movement.

And now Hornby has put his money where his mouth is, bringing Eggers’s crusading spirit to the streets of the capital in an effort to make writing a universal skill. As the American writer said this weekend: “The most democratic means to self-empowerment is through education and the written word and a centre like the Ministry of Stories will be life-changing for the youth of London.”

Lovely.

The New Literacy

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When I was studying for my PG Diploma in (as was) SEN, we were told that a characteristic of support for learning teachers was their ‘low ego needs’. Now I am not sure this is true in general, but we are a tribe accustomed to seeing others take the credit for what was once our suggestion. Colleagues don’t do this deliberately to put us down; it’s just that any positive contribution we have made to improve provision for those with difficulties is frequently adopted without attribution. And quite rightly so.

For example, for more years than I would like to count, I have been recommending the use of comics – both for reading and writing. While these are incredibly useful for engaging reluctant readers, I have long believed that everybody benefits from composing in this format. The ability to write succinctly is one of the most important tools of any writer.

(I have to admit that I avoid graphic novels for myself. I was given a version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and am struggling with the format. But I know several young men in their early 30’s who avidly read a wide range of such novels so this might be an age/gender thing.)

So it is pleasing to see that reading and creating graphic novels are at last becoming part of mainstream activities. I mentioned a terrific example in my last post and also wrote about them here.

And here is another fantastic example from the Craft, Design and Technology department of The Royal High School in Edinburgh. They have been encouraging the Higher Graphic students to create graphic stories for children.

Krysia, the teacher, writes:

This is quite a departure from the leaflets that pupils have produced on the Higher Graphics course over the last few years.  All pupils were given the option to create a leaflet instead of a book, but all opted for a story book.  A considerable amount of extra work was needed to realise their books, but almost everyone rose to the challenge, and will have an unusual portfolio piece to take along to university interviews in future.

I am in awe of the immense amount of work that has gone into this project. And thrilled that this appears to be true inclusion where all are able to express themselves in true 21st century style.

This certainly is literacy across learning.

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