"We are learning, but in a different way." That is how Colin Richardson's pupils sum up the success of their teacher's approach - and explain why they are often to be found jumping for joy in the classroom. Colin Richardson is Year 5 teacher and ICT co-ordinator at St Monica's Primary School in Liverpool, and winner of the Transforming Teaching and Learning category of this year's RamesysTES Learning Environment Awards. Since November, he and his pupils have been working together to embed ICT in classroom life. They began with literacy, and have maintained an unswerving focus on meeting the needs of the individual learner. Formerly reluctant young readers have developed a voracious appetite for books, and discovered with delight just how talented they are as writers.
The exercise began when an interactive whiteboard was installed, enabling the whole class to use ICT together. In their first project, they used a digital camera to record activities on a Victorian-themed excursion to Tatton Park in Cheshire. They displayed the photos on the whiteboard, using Microsoft Publisher software to organise them into a timeline to help with writing a report. "A lot of my pupils need to talk about things before they begin writing, and they were able to discuss the photos," says Colin. "Many are visual learners, so the pictures provided a lot of input for adjectives and verbs."
When they compared the reports with previous work, the children agreed that the exercise had helped improve their writing. When asked what was particularly useful, they said:"We had all the information we needed - we could have forgotten things, but we had captured them in the pictures."
The next project focused on instructions, and drew on the children's love of TV by featuring star instructors Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver. Colin says: "The exercise wasn't just about writing instructions that someone else could follow. I wanted the children to see that instructions are valuable."
The class looked at examples of written instructions and identified key features, before watching videos of Delia and Jamie and identifying imperative verbs. Colin says: "The children were putting their hands up and saying: that's one! They came up with a list of 50 or 60 - even Jamie, who is quite informal, uses a lot of imperatives."
Their mission was now to document a recipe that could be followed by their counterparts in English Martyrs Primary School, also in Liverpool. In a live cookery demonstration, they watched their teacher make peppermint creams without saying a word. The class told him what they thought he should be saying, consulting their list of verbs for help. The exercise was recorded and they watched the video, working in groups to write the recipe.
They sent lists of ingredients by email to English Martyrs, then read out the instructions over the phone.
"The other class was asking: what size of bowl, what kind of spoon?" says Colin. "Our children were giving the answers, and making a note of the changes they would have to make when they edited the recipe. Afterwards, they said the feedback was much more valuable than me writing my comments on their recipes." As a grand finale, the class made their own cookery videos.
The children's appetite for books was first whetted by videos which Colin and his artist girlfriend Nicky Kellett made to promote titles featured in the BBC series The Big Read. "We did George's Marvellous Medicine, pouring potions into a big cauldron, reading our favourite lines and explaining how exciting the story was. The children decided they really wanted to read it, and I couldn't get enough copies." Suddenly, it was cool to read. He began making e-books, using PowerPoint to add animations to the text. In 10-minute morning and afternoon starter sessions - once devoted to silent reading - the whole class now reads together from the whiteboard. More than 30 e-books have been devoured since November, many titles being suggested by the children, who swap reviews by email with their friends at English Martyrs.
Recently, Colin has added audio to each e-book. "We choose some parts to read, and others to listen to," he says.
One of the children's favourite pieces of software is Kar2ouche Composer, which allows them to storyboard their creative writing, creating backdrops and adding characters, props and sound effects on the whiteboard. They can read their stories aloud, recording and re-running them to help with editing. Colin says they really latched on to storyboarding after watching a Monsters Inc video. "There was a section called The Story is King, which explained the importance of constructing the story and the characters - without them there would be no animation. The children thought: if Disney does it, then we should do it. Now they always say: we will have to go back and re-edit our story to make sure it is good - the story is king!"
Kar2ouche is also used for word and sentence-level work. "We can quickly animate a simple sentence, such as 'Cinderella is eating cake', which helps us think about how to make the sentence more powerful and tell the reader more."
St Monica's pupils evaluate the success of every new ICT venture in their classroom and review new software to assess its value for money. For two years the school has run a program on emotional literacy, and pupils are very aware of their own learning styles, as well as the need to cater for their classmates. Colin says: "We receive a lot of software for evaluation, and first I give it to a small group to review. They might say: 'This is really good, but we think it's a bit young for us', and recommend it for another year group. We also look at software as a whole class.
"They are really shocked by the price of some software, because they think in terms of pound;40 computer games. They don't see it as ICT money that's being spent - they treat it like their own money, and they are keen on getting the best value. They have a lot of respect for the computers. They say: make sure you close the lid of that laptop, because it costs a lot of money."
The school's prize of pound;3,000 will be spent on a new server to support a major push into media such as digital video. The win also provided the stimulus for including some of Colin's work in the St Monica's development plan, for use across the whole school.
He says: "The children love the fact that all their work has been recognised. We always tell them they are the best, and they can achieve anything - but the award has provided an extra incentive."
* The RamesysTESawards have been incorporated into the Becta ICT in Practice awards, worth pound;2,500 to each individual winner (and pound;2,500 to their school or institution). Information and forms from Becta, nominations to be in by July 23. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org