(Posted by Dughall)
Last Thursday, I was at a regional Conference organised by YHGfL and titled ‘Learn to Love Your Learning Platform’ in Barnsley.
The day was organized with a couple of ‘whole-class’ sessions for the 120 or so delegates with 40 minute breakout/workshop sessions. I ran one of the breakout sessions.
The day kicked off with a keynote by a representative of Cleveratom. He referred to a couple of resonant statements made by Professor Stephen Heppell some years ago regarding aspirations for learning platforms. In particular, that learning platforms should be about ‘Me, We, See’. Me = A place for my stuff. We = A shared space See = I can publish my stuff more widely. I liked the simplicity of this, but thought for a moment that he might have been referring to ‘C’ not ‘See’ as I believe a learning platform should be all about the ‘C’ as in:
So I started my workshop by saying this. Yes, a learning platform can do things like provide online worksheets, links to external websites, SCORM-compatible activities, quizzes and so on. This is all very well, but I believe with a passion that it is about so much more than this as I said here at BETT earlier this year.
My workshop was then intended to take one feature that should exist in all learning platforms (regardless of supplier) and examine how that feature might be used to promote the ‘C’s. I focused on the use of Fora (Forums).
I started by describing what a forum is and why I like them. I described how I use various fora in various professional and social capacities including TES, Promethean Planet, UK Governors etc. I then went on to describe how a forum can be used in a primary school and suggested you think of them as ‘virtual carpet time’ – an online space to have those conversations, question & answer sessions, discussions etc.
I had decided to model the use of a forum ‘live’ in the session and (with the agreement of Netherthong Primary School) started a topic in their Year 5 class forum as follows:
Title: Help me out please Y5!
“Hi. Thanks for helping.
Would you mind making this boring sentence more interesting?
‘The cat walked into the garden.’
I then left it alone and went on with my presentation that included showing delegates the following real examples from schools in Kirklees:
- Foundation stage (Age 3-5) (1): ‘Draw a minibeast’ (Our learning platform, DBPrimary has a lovely simple drawing tool in the editor – perfect for very young children).
- Foundation stage (Age 3-5) (2): ‘What do you know about castles?’ This included a reply (amongst many) from a 4 year old as follows “casl has a drorbij”
- Mixed Reception & Y1 (Age 4-6): ‘What is your favourite toy?’ We got written and drawn responses.
- Mixed Y2 & Y3 (Age 6-8): ‘Tell us about your favourite things.’ ‘What do you know about the Romans?’
- Mixed Y4 & Y5 (Age 8-10): ‘Share a joke.’
- KS2 Book Club (Age 7-11): ‘Future reads.’ ‘Book reviews.’
- Year 2 (Age 6-7) (1): ‘Ice in the classroom.’ (What have you liked about it? Any suggestions for what else we could do with it? Answers included adding glitter, freezing milk etc).
- Year 2 (Age 6-7) (2): ‘School council suggestions.’ (Answers included “Can we have lipsil?” through to “Can we have more teacher training days?”).
- Year 2 (Age 6-7) (3): ‘Moving to Year 3.’ (A thread for children to share any anxieties or expectations about moving up to a new class and new teacher).
- Year 6 (Age 10-11) (1): ‘Macbeth review.’ (Answers included: “I enjoyed the workshop a lot, I would like to be lady Macbeth because I like that she is evil and can persuade her husband. The part I liked best was where lady Macbeth couldn’t get the spot of blood of her hands because it was quite spooky.” And “I loved the MacBeth preformance i think it was really good , and i liked it when she had the blood spot on her hands i would like to be………………lady MacBeth.”).
- Year 6 (Age 10-11) (2): ‘Predict what you think will happen in the class book and why.’ ‘Weekly brain buster.’ ‘Maths & Literacy ‘Countdown’ questions.’
- Year 5 (Age 9-10): I returned to the Netherthong Y5 class forum as it is a wonderful example of how these environments can mature with the right kind of nurturing from adults. This particular class tend to ‘run’ the forum themselves. The teacher (Emma Barker) said “They pretty much run the forum themselves now and I just monitor and comment.” This is true; her children start threads for each other on an amazing range of topics (including a regular feature where a child posts a picture for others to guess what it is). Having said that, I know Emma also runs focussed/objective orientated fora such as group reading etc.
I could have shown many, many more excellent examples but time was pressing. Now was the time to rattle through other ways that a forum can be used with primary pupils:
- Discussion of TV shows (X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent etc).
- Tell a story one line at a time.
- Anything relating to PSHCE (Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education).
- P4C (Philosophy for Children) – post a stimulus and children generate questions.
- What have you enjoyed about…?
- What have you learned?
- What do you already know about…?
- Ask a revision question. (I have seen pupils asking and answering each others’ questions with minimal intervention by the teacher).
- Transition, twinning, collaborations across classes, year groups, schools etc.
- Have a discussion with a ‘made-up’ character – Santa, Historical characters etc.
- Ask a controversial question. ‘Do UFOs/aliens exist?’
- School Council suggestions.
- Have a whole-school forum – ‘Do we have a problem with bullying?’ ‘What do you think of the uniform?’ etc.
- School trips/residential visits – ‘What are you looking forward to?’ ‘What are you worried about?’ ‘What did you enjoy?’
- Focus on literacy – ‘Write a sentence with…’ ‘Write a paragraph that…’ etc
- What’s in the news? – Discuss.
- Life’s huge questions – ‘Why is the earth spherical?’ ‘Why is the sky blue?’ etc.
- Post a picture, poem, other stimulus and invite pupils to contribute thoughts, adjectives etc.
In summing up, I made a few additional points about using a forum with pupils:
- The importance of giving pupils a ‘Chat’ thread and also to keep a balance between fun and focus in a forum.
- Remember that not all children will contribute readily (just as in ‘real’ discussions) so keep an eye on who is and who isn’t.
- You can get an awful lot out of pupils for relatively little input.
- You do need to keep gentle heat under a forum to keep the children involved and keep it ticking over.
- Online communication and fora are NOT a replacement for ‘real’ chat, communication, collaboration and carpet time. They add to the existing situation – in the same way that elevators don’t replace stairs.
- Teachers/adults will need to keep an eye on things, moderate etc.
Before closing, I was keen to return to the thread I’d started and was thrilled to see more than 30 replies! Here are some of them:
The cat creepily stutterd into the dark garden.
The sleek ivory cat sneaked discreetly into the garden.
The black sneaky cat stride through the forest like garden…
the scary black cat stroled suspiscoucly in to the big garden.
‘The cat strolled into the garden rather cautiously as if expecting a predator to pounce on it at any minute!’
Cautious, scared the black cat wandered into the garden where, as it had suspected, a fox waited, baring it’s teeth, ready for a feast.
As I scrolled down the list of replies, there then started to appear hysterical pictures of cats that the children had found and inserted into their replies. The audience loved these!
It was great to finish the session with laughter and I hope delegates went away with some useful ideas.