Yasmin Valli has been at the forefront of ICT innovation for some 20 years

Dorothy Walker finds out how she has built cultural bridges in the classroom and at professional level with her community website Teacherworld

"I must have been a pioneer, but I didn't think so at the time." Yasmin Valli is recalling one of her earliest projects, but she could be describing any one of the inspirational ICT initiatives she has led over the last 20 years. Today Valli is still breaking new ground and winning awards for her skill in using ICT to bring together communities.

Valli is senior lecturer and route leader for ICT with English at Leeds Metropolitan University's School of Education. She recently won a Windrush Education Award, presented by the Teacher Training Agency to the educators from minority ethnic backgrounds who have done most to benefit their communities. Her website, Teacherworld, is designed to attract ethnic minorities into the teaching profession. And it is the latest in a long series of successes which began when Valli herself was a newly-qualified teacher.

Valli first discovered the power of ICT in 1984, when she began her career in Blackburn, teaching pupils who had English as a second language. Keen to find exciting ways of helping reinforce their learning, she realised computers could provide the key. She says: "Computers were creeping into the classroom, and often they just sat gathering dust. But I felt they could provide powerful visual stimuli to engage second language learners. So I taught myself the technology, and made resources."

Valli employed the Concept Keyboard which allowed pupils to write on the computer, producing a word or a sentence at the touch of a single key. Soon the children were enthusiastically writing about the characters from the stories Valli read to them, moving on from practising their vocabulary to learn about the art of storytelling. Valli says: "I used the keyboard to help with sequencing skills - what happened first, what happened next? By seeing the structure set out, pupils were encouraged to think in a sequential way, which helped produce coherent writing."

The following year, Valli decided to broaden the scope of her work. "I wanted to use ICT to spread cultural as well as linguistic awareness, and venture into schools where there were no ethnic minority pupils." The result was a pioneering project to link two Lancashire primaries - one a village school, the other an inner city school in Blackburn. In the days before email, Valli ferried letters and disks between the schools. She helped the children enter details about themselves in a database and paired pupils up as penfriends, encouraging them to write to each other. "At first, some couldn't tell whether their friend was a girl or a boy, as the names weren't familiar," she says. "After they had exchanged letters, they used a simple graphics package to draw a picture of their friend, and colour it in. The response was fascinating. One Blackburn girl said: 'I love your picture of me, but actually my skin is brown!' Children were keen to let their penpals know they were culturally different and were beginning to engage at a personal level."

In 1988, Valli was appointed as an ICT advisory teacher for Lancashire and embarked on another trailblazing project, this time with the help of email. Ten schools joined forces in a collaborative writing exercise, each adding its own chapter to a story as it was emailed from school to school. "The children loved it when this serious piece of writing appeared - there was a sense of mystery about it, which was very appealing. It helped them collaborate and work in groups - all the social skills that ICT is so good at developing."

In 1992, Valli took up her post at Leeds Metropolitan University, focusing on helping trainee teachers gain the ICT skills they would use in schools. She suggested a website would ease the sense of isolation among new recruits, the Teacher Training Agency funded the project and Valli built Teacherworld.

"I particularly want to target sections of the community where educational opportunities are very limited," she says. "We need to make people more aware of the worth of education, and how it can enhance personal development."

www.teacherworld.org.uk

September 23-24

Education Northern Ireland

Try out the latest products and services from more than 140 educational resource suppliers.

Cost: Free

Venue: The King's Hall, Belfast

Register on www.eni.org.uk

September 25-26

SETT 2002: Scottish Education and Teaching with Technology

Exhibition of 100 educational ICT suppliers plus seminars and keynote addresses from Stephen Heppell of Ultralab, Alan November of Renaissance Learning and Meg Ormiston of Tech Teachers Inc.

Venue: SECC, Glasgow

Tickets: 0870 429 4490; www.settshow.com

October 18, November 22, February 21

Promoting Effective Practice with ICT

The Teachers' Online Project (TOP) has organised regional "face-to-face" networking events for key stage 2-3 teachers on the theme "I can do that!"

Attendees register for one of these: numeracy, literacy, science and ICT.JThe courses share venues with ICT Roadshows organised by Cambridgeshire Software House.

Cost: Free to TOP members (membership is free)

Respective venues: Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, Aston Villa FC, The Guildhall, Winchester

top@becta.org.uk; www.top.ngfl.gov.uk

November 4

Teaching Music using ICT

Free online inset day for key stage 2-3 teachers based on an online package of teaching materials, Music Technology in Action, available free in advance for download. On the day, participants can ask the producers of the materials questions through the BECTA website.

top@becta.org.uk; www.becta.org.uk; www.top.ngfl.gov.uk

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