ICT - Not present, but correct

14th January 2011 at 00:00
Online teaching isn't only for snow days, and it now comes in a variety of forms, including live classes, blog sites and VLEs. And, as George Cole reports, it is proving especially successful in raising literacy levels

Emma Barker is taking a literacy lesson with her class of 30 Year 6 pupils. After getting the children to add punctuation to sentences, she uses pictures to stimulate poetry and story-writing.

As in any classroom, the teacher regularly praises and encourages the pupils, who respond with comments on how hard they are finding the work. The difference in this case is that none of those taking part are in the same building, let alone the same room. Ms Barker, a teacher at Netherthong Primary, near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, is taking the entire lesson online. And when thousands of schools are closed due to snow, it is one way of making sure children do not lose a day of education.

"I got the idea of doing online lessons from other teachers on Twitter," she says. "I found a great piece of software for doing them, called Cover It Live. I also did a similar thing when we had snow the previous year. The children really enjoy the online lessons."

There are many forms of online learning, including live online lessons, such as Ms Barker's, blog sites where resources and assignments can be accessed at any time, and virtual learning environments (VLEs). Some schools use more than one online system. Netherthong, for example, also uses blog sites and a VLE.

With many pupils now spending much of their time in front of a computer screen, online learning is a natural development for them and is something schools should be encouraging, says Dughall McCormick, e-learning consultant for Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire. "This is about literacy: it is important to know how to write emails, or use Twitter or a Wiki. Literacy is not just about putting things on paper - it is about preparing children for the world."

Mr McCormick has created a shared community blog site for Kirklees primary schools, which he calls "St Dughall's". Teachers and pupils can log on and do myriad activities. During the school closures, Mr McCormick created Snowy Days, which offered a range of online activities for pupils to do at home, including snow surveys, quizzes, discussion forums, drawing and writing.

He emailed headteachers about the site and they then contacted parents and pupils, using email or text. In less than four days, Snowy Days had more than 14,000 hits, with some pupils posting video messages. One headteacher posted: "I am squealing with delight at how brilliant this is! The Snowy Days activities have been an absolute hit."

David Mitchell, deputy headteacher at Heathfield County Primary School in Bolton, runs a very active class blog with his Year 6 pupils. "A lot of learning comes through the blog," he says. "The students do around 10 to 15 blogs per night and three of them are using it to write novels."

Mr Mitchell says that blogging has played a part in helping to raise literacy standards in his class. "Year 6 pupils have made two years' progress in writing, on average, and the children are publishing their work to the world," he says.

Each class at St John the Baptist CofE Primary School in Hampshire has its own blog. Ian Addison, ICT co-ordinator, says that while some schools have done fantastic work online, in others there is little online work.

Mr Addison believes that school leaders need to support online learning and teachers should be given enough time to invest in it. He also thinks some teachers may be put off by the idea of running a live online session. "My advice is to ignore the pioneers and start small," says Mr Addison.

Peter Richardson, a Year 1 teacher at Walton-le-Dale County Primary in Preston, runs a blog called "Primary Pete", which offers teachers ideas and advice for online work. Mr Richardson says that schools need to carry out an annual survey to see how many children are online at home, and, crucially, whether they are allowed to use the internet.

"There are three quick and easy ways into online learning," he adds, "Create a front page, which provides a focal point for your blog; ensure that you and your pupils are well versed in e-safety; and start with a simple activity like Wordle, which lets children create word clouds."

Nicola Stables, a Year 3 teacher at Holmfirth Junior, Infants and Nursery School in Huddersfield, got interested in class blogs after hearing about them from other teachers.

"I didn't know how to blog at first, but then I found a tool that let me showcase the children's work in maths," Ms Stables says. "The parents also log onto it, and it helps them to understand what their children are doing in lessons."

Ms Stables also uses her class blog to help keep the children focused on classroom tasks. "If we're doing some research on, say, the Serengeti," she explains, "I can put useful web links on the blog so the children don't have to search through lots of sites on Google. The class blog is a real asset."


Heathfield County Year 6 blog: http:y62011.heathfieldcps.net

Holmfirth JIN general blog page and Year 3 blog page: http:nabbschoolblogs.net; http:y32010.nabbschoolblogs.net

Netherthong's open blog: netherthong.kgfl.digitalbrain.com

Primary Pete: www.primarypete.net

St John the Baptist CofE Primary blog: www.stjohnsblogs.co.uk

Going online

- Carry out a class audit of who has online access at home and who is allowed to use the internet.

- Lunchtime access to the ICT suite and computer clubs can help to cater for children without home internet access.

- Make sure you and your pupils understand e-safety.ThinkUknow (www.thinkuknow.com) and Ceop (www.ceop.police.uk) both offer useful advice.

- Start small and let your blog and the scope of your online activities develop over time.

- Publicise your blog using text messages to parents, email and school website links.

- Try to get some pupils to help you to run the blog.

Useful online tools

Aviary Education - includes image and audio editors, www.aviaryeducation.com

Blogster Resources - for creating blogs, www.blogster.com

Cover It Live - for live blogging, www.coveritlive.com

Glogster - for creating online posters, www.glogster.com

Voice Thread - allows audio comments to be added to various media, http:voicethread.com

Wallwisher - online noticeboard-maker, www.wallwisher.com

Wordle - for creating word clouds, www.wordle.net.

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