Last week I saw Picasso in Leith. Now before you send staff in white coats to take me away, let me explain. Picasso is a software program which allows pupils, parents and teachers to write personal learning plans (PLPs) together.
In its programme for government in 1999, the Scottish Executive committed itself to "providing personal learning plans for all pupils by 2003 in order to ensure that all children fulfil their potential at school".
The approaches taken to the development of personal learning plans in schools across Scotland have varied but there is a growing recognition that the use of information and communications technology can give pupils greater ownership of the planning process as well as higher levels of motivation.
I had not followed the development of PLPs and could not envisage how we might go about producing such documents for all of our pupils. So when Alan Wait and Mark Cunningham, the producers of this software, gave me the opportunity to preview the Picasso package, I was intrigued.
Picasso was designed originally to support the transition between primary and secondary education and a personal learning planner was one of a number of tools that pupils could access in the software to provide support and advice in making the change from P7 to S1.
However, the power and flexibility of the personal learning planner meant that it could be used with great success at earlier stages: pupils at P4 have been using it for target-setting.
Picasso has a number of innovative features. The interface is attractive because it has been designed with younger children in mind and makes extensive use of graphics and digital video. The entire 5-14 curriculum has been converted into child and parent-friendly data sets that pupils use to evaluate their strengths and areas for development before setting improvement targets.
Unlike many PLP developments that address only language and mathematics, Picasso covers all subjects in the 5-14 curriculum so that pupils are able to carry out self-evaluation and set targets in, for example, science, social subjects, expressive arts, ICT, personal and social education and health.
The adaptation of the various strands and attainment targets has made the language of 5-14 much more accessible to pupils and their parents.
The differences between functional, personal and imaginative writing, for example, are clearly explained and contextualised at every level of 5-14 writing. In addition to audio help, there is more than an hour of digital video with pupils giving advice about study skills and techniques such as how people learn, how to recognise your own learning style, improving your memory, studying and homework, mind mapping and setting goals.
Picasso encourages pupils to evaluate and set targets in a number of other areas such as working with others, attendance, behaviour, self-esteem, diet and fitness, and hobbies and interests. There is an electronic progress diary that enables them to chart their progress towards and provide evidence of improvements.
The software was originally designed with the primary-secondary transition in mind, so there are a number of tools that help to prepare P7 pupils and their parents for the move to high school. Again, pupils from S1 and S2 provide help and advice through movie clips about key areas of transition such as preparing for the change, the S1 curriculum, the first day at secondary school and where to get support and help.
There is also a virtual tour of each department in a secondary school so that P7 pupils know what to expect in art and design, craft, design and technology, modern languages, physical education and home economics as well as how they will continue their 5-14 work in reading, writing and mathematics.
Perhaps the major feature of Picasso, however, is that it genuinely promotes partnership between teachers, pupils and parents. The software is designed so that pupils can transfer their files electronically between a school and a home computer, which allows parents to contribute to their children's self-evaluation and target-setting activities, and monitor progress. It is suitable for pupils from P4 to S2.
As staff training days approach at this time of the year, we start the annual round of auditing where we are now and begin to think about making adjustments to our three-year development plan.
Last session we noted that this would be the last year of national testing as we know it. We are now ready to re-align that plan, but I still have little idea of what preparations we need to make to get ready for this change.
If PLPs are part of the next phase of assessment, then I will be glad of a tool like Picasso to help.
The writers of this software are the same team who produced ELVIS, the development-planning software, but I could not possibly end by saying that last week I saw ELVIS.
Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in Edinburgh. If you have any comments, e-mail email@example.com. For more information about Picasso, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org