Finding out how its pupils learn, and starting them young, has paid dividends for a first school in Worcestershire. Dorothy Walker reports
Technology is opening doors for our pupils," says Calne Edginton-White. "It is also giving teachers a better window on how the children learn."
Calne is head at Lickhill Lodge first school, in Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, and was runner-up in the Foundation Stage and Primary Leadership category of the 2005 ICT in Practice awards.
At Lickhill Lodge, ICT is a natural part of learning and teaching, even for the youngest pupils. "By starting children young, we are giving them tools that can help demonstrate their knowledge and skills, even though they may not yet have the ability to put things down on paper," says Calne.
"Teachers can see the links a child is making and the learning that's taking place."
ICT is employed to help provide a multi-sensory experience in class. "One of the first things we do is talk to parents to build up a profile of how children engage with learning. Do they like puzzles? Are they active? Do they enjoy talking? We use the information in our planning, and we aim to give pupils a variety of ways to access materials."
Interactive whiteboards play an important role and key stage 1 children delight in using touch-sensitive models they can operate with a finger.
Calne believes the boards are "worth their weight in gold for hands-on learning" and have produced many memorable moments: "There was one little boy who struggled with any pencil-and-paper activity. He wasn't able to write his name - we didn't even know whether the letters meant anything to him - and he wouldn't engage with print in any form.
"One afternoon he came up to the whiteboard and with his finger he outlined the letters of his name. He then produced a copy on the printer and presented it to his teacher. She asked what it said, and he replied: 'Scott, it's my name.' It was such a breakthrough."
Whiteboards were introduced three years ago."We gave the first set to Years 2, 3 and 4 because we wanted to provide continuity and progression for the children, and allow teachers to work together to select what they could use. Staff here won't slavishly follow a scheme of work from start to finish. The needs of the child dictate where you go, and groups change."
Calne cites the example of one group a few years ago that contained 18 boys and only six girls. "That totally altered our approach. In Year 2, we used to take pupils on a geography field trip to look at our locality and they'd come back and make a map. But the teacher realised this wasn't going to excite these boys, so she looked at what was available and decided the children should take digital cameras on the trip."
They incorporated their photos in a presentation, recorded their thoughts in a voice-over, and staged an on-screen tour for the head. "Not only were they bubbling over with enthusiasm, but we could also see exactly what the children had observed and taken from their environment," says Calne.
ICT is coupled with more traditional resources for use in tasks ranging from reviewing library books to monitoring rainfall readings from the school's weather station. "Pupils can see the station on the roof, they can use the console inside school, and no matter where they are, they can see live weather data being recorded on our website. For children who are at an early cognitive stage, it's important to make links between practical resources and what they see on a screen."
The school has gained the ICT Mark, and Calne says that Becta's Self-Review Framework provided an opportunity to stand back and look at what had been achieved and think about where the school was heading. "It was important to see where we were, where we go next and how we get there."
There were no surprises, but the framework did help the school move ahead in areas which were already earmarked for development. "We need to extend learning further into homes and the community, and that is a big challenge.
"Secondary schools have learning platforms that link school and the home. We want a platform too, but we have to ensure that we help parents. Our surveys show that although some parents are comfortable with using computers in the workplace, they feel out of their depth trying to use ICT to help their children learn. So we have started looking at homework strategies that will use email or the web to offer support," says Calne
* We began the SRF by looking at leadership. That had already been looked at in detail for the ICT in Practice awards. We moved on to extended schools, which we knew we had to develop. The strands of the framework are interrelated so as you work on one, you find evidence that helps with others.
* We shared our experiences with colleagues in other schools. It was useful to talk about what they were doing and where they thought they were.
* The SRF made us think carefully about assessment. We looked closely at how we gather evidence. For example, how do we judge whether it is the child or the teacher who has initiated the use of ICT?
* We wouldn't want schools to think: we have got to get the ICT Mark or else we haven't arrived. However, if you use the framework as a development tool, I believe you will reach a point when you say: 'I feel good about what we're doing, I would like to benchmark the school, so we might as well go for the ICT Mark.'