Scottish Learning Festival - Storytellers given untold boost

17th September 2010 at 01:00
With 200 exhibitors at this year's Scottish Learning Festival, there are plenty of new products and zones to choose from

The P2 children disagree about what marks out of 10 to give StoryPhones. Responses vary from 100 to several thousand. But when asked whether they are happy to be using the headsets again, a resounding yes fills the room.

St Monica's Primary in Coatbridge is one of several North Lanarkshire primaries which have been using StoryPhones, an award-winning digital audio system by Durham-based firm Ameeca, which allows children in primaries and nurseries to listen to stories and make their own recordings on wireless MP3 players.

Six-year-old Rhys Allington talks excitedly of the various stories they listen to - "The Three Little Pigs", "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", "Jack and the Beanstalk" - while Madison Hamilton shows me how they work and what each button does. "They are really, really good. We never get fed up. They tell you what to write, so you remember the story."

This excitement is key to StoryPhones' success in the school and the reason for their return. Owen Dunn is part of the authority's SAM Group (support by assistive media) and was instrumental in bringing them into the schools.

"When you have enjoyment, you will get improvement," he says. "My focus is on children with reading difficulties. StoryPhones is for all children and I am happy that children experiencing difficulties are being included. In the past, we have used listening units where they have to sit still. With these, they can move around."

Jackie Duncan taught last year's P1s and used StoryPhones in various ways. "We started with them listening to downloaded stories. We didn't give them a choice at first, but then later I put them into groups of three, where they had to work together to decide on a story. It worked well," she says.

"We got them to record re-telling stories in their own words, using the Easi-Speak microphone, and to record interviewing each other about the weather and what they did at the weekend. We linked some of the recordings to reading books, and they had to talk about how they would like to see the story progress and what happens next.

Ms Duncan found the ideas for read-to-write activities endless: "They would listen to a story and then we would focus on the beginning, middle and end - the structure, putting the story into their own words, discussing the beginning, how the storyteller told the story. They would discuss with a partner or the teacher and report back to the class."

Groups were targeted differently, depending on ability. "Some drew pictures of what was happening," says Ms Duncan. "Others wrote a relevant word, or put sentences in order. We encouraged note-taking by getting one group to write ideas on whiteboards. Later, they wrote about the story, and answered questions on it.

"It was about working together, increasing vocabulary skills. We saw improvements in structure and there was a definite improvement in less able and more able. It gave them confidence in what they can do and let them show off to the class. The kids love to use them. They are easy and straightforward, and can listen at their own pace."

Today, StoryPhones have returned and so have the ideas.

"We are going to get the P7s to write books for the P1s, and we will put them on StoryPhones," says depute head Gillian Hanlon. "We are also thinking of having the P7s take them to Kilbowie to make diaries of their time there. Then the P6s can listen to their accounts. We are also going to use them more for peer assessment. Children can comment on their partner's reading.

"We can see the kids on task, working co-operatively," says Mrs Hanlon. "They are interested in it, and not just because it is something new. They take ownership."

As Ms Hanlon points out, children rarely hear themselves, or hear story tapes with Scottish voices, and the school has found many ways in which the children can use StoryPhones: "The ideas are only limited by your imagination."

StoryPhones are on the Ameeca stand in the Early Years Zone, EY3

scoted@tes.co.uk.

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