VLEs in EYFS and KS1
This article is similar to one by me that was published in Nursery World on 25th March 2010
There is the erroneous perception that virtual learning means children sitting at a computer all day, cutting children off from reality, and first hand experiences. Nothing could be further from the truth. VLEs mean that schools can involve parents in their children’s learning to an extent that was previously unimaginable.
VLEs or virtual learning platforms, also known as learning gateways or managed learning environments (MLEs), are online spaces where children, teachers, families and, to an appropriately safe extent, the community (including the global community), can access enriching resources, communicate, create, collaborate, record and assess all aspects of learning and teaching.
At all stages, including EYFS, the learning platform is having a dramatic impact for child and family engagement, personalisation of learning and child-led and teacher-led assessment – all leading to empowerment for life-long learning.
The nurseries and schools I speak to, that are already using virtual learning platforms, say they cannot imagine working in any other way. They have the potential to transform learning in the twenty-first century. American teacher Karl Fisch created a powerful and hugely popular film about the importance of educating the next generation in an information age. ‘Shift Happens – UK’, available on You Tube, confirms why all EYFS settings should use virtual learning platforms.
However, recent research by the government’s educational technology agency Becta, in partnership with the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), has found that only 42% of primary schools have adopted learning platforms and that 22% of all primary schools have no plans to develop one. Clearly, the government target for all schools to be making full use of the learning platform by 2010 will not be met.
In Scotland all schools already use Glow, the Scottish national learning platform. In England, despite the variety of learning platform providers, there is still a lack of awareness about the benefits, and a misconception that learning platforms are relevant only for older children.
Despite the patchy take-up, there are some inspirational examples of what can be achieved with learning platforms all over the country. They show that using learning platforms with young children does not mean sitting them in front of a screen all day.
To get a flavour of what can be achieved with learning platforms, Google the names of local authorities, followed by the words learning platform, e-learning or VLE. You will find case studies, descriptions of resources available through learning platforms and links to teachers’ ‘how to’ guides. The websites of learning platform providers also include examples of best practice and award-winning schools.
Learning platforms can help introduce young children to a new school. Just before a child starts they can be given their child-friendly icon log-in, and view, from home with their family, a special ‘room’ to welcome new starters on their ‘Big School’s’ learning platform. They can view scanned drawings, photos, videos and podcasts by older children about what school is like, for example ‘my first day’, ‘my favourite school lunch’.
Families can also help young children ask questions through the forum. The award-winning website of Staveley CE Primary School in Cumbria even has a fishcam – children can send messages to the fish from school or from home! Go towww.staveley.cumbria.sch.uk . To a child just about to start school, viewing the fish from home adds to their positive anticipation.
Liz Clover, Headteacher at Park Road Primary School in Trafford, is an enthusiastic advocate of the way in which learning platforms help schools connect with parents. Her school is currently developing E-portfolios on their Fronter platform for reception children whose families love seeing the photos and videos of their children at work and reading the teacher’s comments and responding to them online.
In East Sussex, Grays Nursery and Infant School’s Headteacher, Christine Terrey and her staff have used their Uniservity learning platform to incorporate their children’s Learning Journals into their E-portfolios. Every child is given their own icon log-in in the nursery class. Staff, parents and children contribute to these through the blog, adding photos and film and using the embedded sound recorder. In a film on the school’s website, all about engaging parents, a mum talks about her own mother’s delight in following her granddaughter’s progress using secure access from her home in India. Go to www.graysschool.co.uk .
In Blackburn, Emma Taylor, ICT subject leader at Audley Community Primary School, says that their favourite software is photostory3, which enables you to easily upload photos and scan children’s drawings to make a talking story.
Rachel Hancock, ICT co-ordinator at High Lane Primary School, Stockport, says that although the school has had its Moodle learning platform for only seven months, the carefully phased roll-out, with CPD support from their local authority, has resulted in a very successful implementation. This term the staff are planning to put a different Activprimary flip chart onto the platform a week after introducing it to the children, so that the concepts can be reinforced at home.
The learning platform is a powerful way to integrate a child’s home life, the inner world of their imagination, and school life; enabling children to develop a lifelong love of learning. This fits with the theory that learning does not just take place during school hours. Mike Prince, Headteacher of Staveley CE Primary School in Cumbria, says: ‘For all of us, the time to learn is when we need and want to, not when it suits someone else to teach us.’
A learning platform enables you to customise professionally-produced resources, to reflect the needs and interests of your children, families, school and community. In the North West, the Child’s Eye Channel, featuring documentaries for young children, is being trialled on local authority learning platforms as a catalyst for child-initiated learning. The films are based on classic EYFS and KS1 themes, and teachers are encouraged to add their own web links and upload related classroom-created videos such as the children’s role plays, animations, podcasts and musical performances. Families can also send in digital material created at home, for example photos of pets and festival celebrations, including those of relatives around the world. This deepens children’s understanding and enhances parental involvement. The school-generated resources can also be shared with other schools, locally, nationally and internationally.
- A child’s future reception teacher could send an email or scanned letter of welcome to the child, and upload a photograph of herself.
- Use your learning platform as a familiar component of your continuous provision, and as a catalyst for child-initiated learning, by creating a very child-friendly and accessible ‘go to’ area, using icons linking to commercial resources and websites. You will find that even the youngest children will quickly learn how to navigate their way.
- Create your own games, using 2DIY software. In some schools, Year 1 children are using this software to create the games themselves, and playing them at home, online.
- Let children use a digital camera at school and at home to freely take a set of photos of whatever interests them and consider adding these to their Learning Journal. Talking with the children and sharing a dialogue with home can provide insights into children’s current thoughts, preoccupations, schemas, plans and dreams. See the Dream Catcher project on the Futurelab website, for more ideas.www.futurelab.org.uk
- Ask children to upload from home photos of their favourite soft toys and to voice-record or write what the toys are doing, saying or feeling, and share these through the school blog. They could also share the adventures of your ‘travelling’ soft toy mascot.
- Let your children help create animated stories, using 2Create a Story, for example of their favourite bedtime story. See Marianne Sargent’s article, ‘Sound and vision’, on how to create a digital storybook with animation, in Nursery World, 10 December 2009. See also the animated story created by children at Staveley, of ‘The Snail and the Whale’.
- Invite community workers such as a firefighter and, after their visit, encourage communication between them and your children through your forum and blogs. Send them a video of your children’s role play and ask them to send special messages at particular times of the year, such as just before 5 November.
- Link up with an early years setting in another country through the Comenius eTwinning scheme and at festival times make a video of your celebrations to exchange with your twin. Send a puppet mascot to each other to make an appearance in both videos – each with a story to tell about their journey!
Ultimately, don’t be nervous about using learning platforms with young children. Once you have seen how they can engage and excite children and families about learning, school and the world beyond, you will never look back.
The Child’s Eye Channel offers the Child’s Eye View of the World series of documentaries, following the stories of young children finding out about the world around them. Themes include festivals, people who help us, keeping healthy and safe, and safari animals. The Child’s Eye Channel includes teachers’ notes and printable resources for children . For a taster of the channel , click on the link and view the ‘Teigan get’s lost’ film.
- Activprimary: flipchart interactive software for the early years www.prometheanworld.com
- Photo Story 3: free download from Microsoft to make a talking story www.microsoft.com (then type in photo story3)
- 2Simple Software: 2DIY: create your own games http://www.2simple.com
- 2Simple Software: 2Create a Story: children can draw pictures, and add text and sound www.2simple.com
- Clicker5: Book Making: facility to insert pictures, text and sound. Comes with a word bank.www.cricksoft.com