Digital Literacy; Another passing phrase or a concept with meaning?

In the last of our core CILT sessions we looked at digital literacy in the realm of primary teaching.

Digital literacy.

What does that even mean?

Wikipedia defines it as;

“The ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies”

Douglas Belshaw (2011) outlines eight core concepts that surround the idea;

  1. Cultural – We need to pay attention to the culture in which the literacies are situated
  2. Cognitive – We can’t just consider the procedural ways in which we use devices and programs. It’s the way we think when we’re using them
  3. Constructive – We can’t be passive consumers of technology/information. We should strive to use digital tools in reflective and appropriate ways
  4. Communicative – Digital tools and power structures change the way we communicate. An element of digital literacy is how we take command of that structure and use it to communicate effectively and contribute meaningfully
  5. Confident – in order to be a proficient user of technology, one must have the courage and confidence to dive into the unknown, take risks, make mistakes, and display confidence when “messing around” with new tools
  6. Creative – from his research, Doug says “…..the creative adoption of new technology requires teachers who are willing to take risks… a prescriptive curriculum, routine practices… and a tight target-setting regime, is unlikely to be helpful.” Conlon & Simpson (2003)
  7. Critical – Digital literacy involves an understanding of how to deal with hyperspace and hypertext and understanding it’s “not entirely read or spoken.” Can we critically evaluate the technologies we’re using?
  8. Civic – many schools are beginning to embrace technology to improve our lives and the lives of others in the world

(http://blogs.ubc.ca/dean/2013/03/what-is-digital-literacy-eight-8-essential-slements/)

“Literacy” in itself is an interesting term. During this session we discussed what, exactly, is meant by the term “literate”. Of course, in primary education the term literacy is used to referred to reading and writing. So, with that in mind, we could assume that Digital Literacy is the idea that we are learning to encode and decode technology and use it more proficiently.  Just like one can be illiterate (unable to read or write), one can also be “digitally illiterate”; being unable to use computers and/or other technology.  Belsaw believes that the eight elements he mentioned do not compete with one another. Instead, they work together and are interwoven.

During our session we also (in groups) worked with an iOS app named “Puppet Pals”. This application allows you to create basic animation using predefined resources (and the ability to use your own). What was interesting to note across all the groups was how easy most people found it. There was a time when technology was, indeed, very difficult to break into. Nowdays, however, with the advent of smartphones and tablets, computing simply as a “nerds pastime” has practically been eradicated. If you have a phone, you’re a computer user. If you play Angry Birds, you are a computer user.

So what has bridged the gap here, exactly? Well, ease of use is certainly a huge determining factor. If I want to make a puppet show with that application then I can simply tap the icon on the home screen. If I had wanted to do that even five years ago people would be laughing at me. If I wanted to do that with a class of 36 noisy 7 year olds, I’d never have been taken seriously.

Burn, A and Durran, J (2007) state that, when teaching digital literacy, you are enabling children the chance to be expressive, anarchic and subversive. Many would see these words as fairly offputting; Who wants to allow children to be “anarchic” in the classroom, especially if they’re already not the most well-behaved group? However, the concept that you are giving children the tools (and freedom) to express themselves is, in my opinion, crucial to a child’s learning. Allowing children to take these iPads, computers, phones and everything else, working with a teacher and having the chance to work with little creative limitations is an idea that is quite foreign in many schools. For many, school is about instilling facts and the ability to recall them. However, with technology gaining a tighter grasp on the education sector each year, it’s only a matter of time before repeating facts gets swapped out for making hilarious puppet animations with an iPad..within an educational context, of course.

Children need to learn these skills in school, lest they leave education not being able to make use of them wherever they may end up in future.

References:

Burn, A, Durran, J, (2007) Media literacy in schools: practice, production and progression. Chapter 3. Paul Chapman, London.

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Safeguarding and Wellbeing of Children

The subject of this week’s lecture was one of great importance within the profession of teaching. Providing for children academically is just one aspect of teaching. We must also provide for the safeguarding and wellbeing of children, because emotional and social development is just as important as academic development, and some might even argue more so.

Policies and practices are continually being put in place to provide guidelines for effective action, with different organisations coming together to provide specialist support for children in need. Safeguarding children is something that is everyone’s responsibility, particularly professionals like teachers. This responsibility is not restricted to the classroom. Teachers should also attempt to safeguard children in the wider community, by educating them in the risks and by being observant and willing to listen.

An example of safeguarding children in the wider community is to educate them on the importance of e-safety. Schools have filter systems on their networks to try to avoid children encountering inappropriate content online. Blocking certain sites to protect children whilst they are on the school computers is an important and necessary tool, but what about when they are not in school? Who blocks sites when they are at home, on their iPads, etc.? What the lecture and Allen et al. (2012, p.216) taught me was that it is important to educate children in the dangers or inappropriate content online so that they can make informed decisions about their actions on the internet, and for them to recognise and feel they can report an inappropriate site themselves. As Byron (2008, p.2 in Allen et al. 2012) said, “children and young people need to be empowered to keep themselves safe.”

With regards to safeguarding in teaching, McPherson (2011) identifies three dimensions to be considered: emotional, legal and professional.

The emotional dimension refers to the emotional climate the teacher creates in their classroom. Teachers, in their own classrooms, have the opportunity to create an atmosphere in which their pupils may feel comfortable and secure, and in which they and their pupils can develop close relationships. In such a situation a child may feel the teacher values them and what they have to say, and so they may tell the teacher if something is wrong. The most important thing is that the teacher is committed to being available to a child in need.

The emotional dimension also refers to how we deal emotionally with a child’s situation. There are a whole range of emotions we may feel if a child is being mistreated in some way, from feeling upset and overwhelmed to feeling frustration and anger. There is a fear of not dealing with the situation in an appropriate manner, or even not knowing what to do. It is suggested that the teacher should always work with and get support from colleagues in such a situation (McPherson 2011).

The teacher should also always follow the schools policies with regards to safeguarding, and this leads us into the legal dimension. Teachers need to be aware of their schools’ safeguarding and child protection policies, as well as general government policies, such as  the Children’s Acts. As well as being aware of policies the teacher has the obligation to notice when something might be wrong, to record such instances, noting and dating what is said, heard and/or read, and to report it to the designated teacher for safeguarding in the the school (McPherson 2011, p.139).

The legal dimension is a complicated one, however, because there is often such a fine line between what is okay and what is not. One aspect that is particularly controversial is that of physical contact with a child. It goes without saying that a child should never be touched in a sexual way, but people judge what is inappropriate in so many different ways that it is hard for one to know if they have stepped out of line. There is no escaping the fact that a child will try to hold a teacher’s hand or give their teacher a hug. What do you do in this situation? Some schools do not allow such contact, not even allowing a teacher to touch a child when they fall over. Other schools are not so strict. It seems so emotionless and inhuman to deny a child any form of affection or comfort. Surely it would be damaging to a child’s wellbeing to pull away from a child who tries to hug you or not to comfort them when they are hurt? McPherson’s (2011) advice is to just think carefully about the context, whether you are alone with a child or who is initiating contact.

Finally, the professional dimension refers to the relevance of safeguarding in terms of the Teacher’s Standards. It also refers to treating all children equally and not having obvious favourites, which is not always so straightforward. A teacher may not always want to have a certain child in their class, but this should never be made apparent because the child could internalise this and it could be detrimental to their wellbeing.

 

I leave you with a quote that I think is very important in showing the need for teachers to take safeguarding seriously as part of their job, since a teacher is the one adult in particular who a child can form a close relationship with, aside from in their home life :

“Every child should be safe. Sadly, not every child is. Shockingly, some children are at risk of harm from the very people they should be able to rely on for love and care. We all have a responsibility to do everything possible to protect those vulnerable children.”
(DFeS, 2009 in McPherson 2011, p.135)

 

Allen et al. 2012. “E-Safety” in Primary ICT: Knowledge, Understanding
and Practice (5th Edition), London: Sage

McPherson, P. 2011. “Safeguarding Children” in Primary Professional Studies.
Hansen, A. (Ed.). Learning Matters Ltd: Exeter.

Theories of Child Development

The models of some our most influential theorists in education over the past century were the main subject of this tutorial. Despite the fact that many of the theories stem from the last century and are by no means recent, they are still very much the structure upon which much of our education system is built. The three main theories that we examined were behaviourism, constructivism and social constructivism. The main protagonist of behaviourist learning theory was an American called B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) who, through research mainly on animals, found he could manipulate and control behaviour through a system of rewards and punishments. The theory requires a level of passivity from the learner, whose motivation is extrinsic by nature- to gain rewards and avoid punishments.

Examples of behaviourism are very easy to spot within most classrooms. Many primary schools use a system in which children receive rewards in the form of stickers or merits for good behaviour and for good work. My own experience in a Year One classroom has been to witness children being motivated to do well purely for the satisfaction of receiving a sticker and feeling thoroughly demotivated if a sticker is not earned.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss developmental psychologist who  viewed learning as an individual child centred process, in which the child discovers the world for himself and makes sense of it mostly through play and experimentation. It is interesting to note that his theory of four cognitive developmental stages: 0-2, 2-7, 7-11 and 11-16 coincide very closely with our division of key stages throughout school life, with the stages of pre school, key stage one, key stage two and key stages three and four( secondary school). Constructivism can be seen in many primary classrooms with areas of the room being set up with interesting and stimulating activities for the children to discover and learn from through play.

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a Russian psychologist whose theory had much in common with Piaget but he saw a child’s development very much in terms of its social environment. He saw the need for teachers and carers to speed up and facilitate a child’s learning by targeting teaching to their individual levels of competence and knowledge.  He saw the relationship between the teacher and student as a partnership. He introduced the notion of the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ which described the gap between what the child is achieving by themselves and what they have the potential to achieve with adult assistance.

Examples of social constructivism can regularly be seen in the classroom with use of targeted questioning by teachers to encourage the pupils to engage further and be challenged by what they are learning. Pupils are regularly grouped according to ability in order for the teacher to adapt the teaching to individuals’ levels of ability.

Jerome Bruner (b.1915) is an American psychologist who has built on the work of Vygotsky and Piaget. He introduced the idea of ‘spiralling’, where the learner revisits previous learning at later stages to reinforce and further his previous learning. He emphasised the importance of language interaction from a very  young age, thus citing the role of the main care giver in developing these language skills. He acknowledged far more than any of the other theorists the social factors that would affect the child’s ability to learn and be successful in the school environment.

I think that it is very interesting to study the theories of how children learn and develop and examine how they are still in use in classrooms across the country today and a healthy mix of different tried and tested means are very effective tools in school but it is also essential that we recognise the individual needs of every child and that one way of teaching/learning may be very effective for some children but of little value to others. We need to take a long hard look at how children learn today and at what skills they will need for their futures. We need to realise that education is not just about what goes on in the classroom but also how we relate that to our place in society today and in the future.

“For education to help us continue our evolution we must ensure that it helps us to develop that sense of who we are and how we fit within a wider community. For that reason LEARNING TO LEARN AND LIVE must form the foundation of our educational experience.”

Gerver, R. (2012). Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today. p.110

Lecture session1: First thoughts on pedagogy

Today’s lecture highlighted some really important and relevant points for me when considering teaching and the pedagogy of teaching.   The three main points  discussed during the lecture included, what makes an effective teacher, learning in the digital age and what constitutes effective learning.

The lecturer suggested that effective teaching consists among other things, of observation and questioning. The video that we watched confirmed to me how important  speaking, listening, sharing knowledge and questioning are when children are learning, forming connections and thinking creatively and outside of the box. The children in the video were encouraged to engage in the process of learning, having to think for themselves and make connections to prior and other people’s knowledge. This technique allowed the children to internalize the subject matter. I found it quite interesting that some people in the audience were debating whether questioning is actually teaching.  In my opinion questioning is central to teaching as it facilitates a deeper more internalized understanding of what is taught. Teaching without questioning is surely facilitating the skill of memorizing without any scaffolding or scope for development or creativity? Dawes 2010, as cited in Arthur and Cremin 2010 draws attention to the fact that children do not just learn through experience or observation, but by talking in-depth about what they are doing or have learnt.

The lecturers pointed  out that  when questioning  you should allow time for the children to think and respond and not make hasty answers for them, and that you should be fair in the selection of who will answer ( citing the lolly pop sticks as an idea). In the video we observed the children were allowed to talk freely, though the down side to this was it led to some of the children dominating discussions. Turn taking would be the obvious solution to this, though the lecturer pointed out that this can sometimes hinder learning, thought processes and creativity. I’m not sure what would be the best approach, maybe it would depend on context and the nature and maturity of the group of children? Medwell 2010, as mentioned in Arthur and Cremin 2010 suggests that questioning is only one tool  and that we need to be careful not to place too much focus on the child. Food for thought.

I found it very beneficial in my personal development as a teacher, to have a chance to reflect on the use of information technology in the classroom and the pros and cons of this. In conclusion to these discussions I felt that information technology is a tool to aid learning and should be seen as having it own limitations and benefits in terms of learning. For me information technology is central to our society and is therefore important in schools, it can enable the acquisition of information and skills, but can not in of itself facilitate deeper or creative thinking and understanding. So you may have a programme that gives you the opportunity to create some fantastic artwork, but the inspiration for that art work needs to be on a much more internalized level gained though practical experience and interaction . Fisher 2010, cited in Arthur and Cremin 2010 believes that computers do not themselves enable learners to think and make connections, therefore it would be very unlikely that they support higher order thinking and creativity. He goes onto suggests that computers can develop thinking skills when used as part of a larger dialogue and discussion and that good teaching is helping children to think for themselves. Can the computer not be a tool for this? Surely video conferencing enables dialogue and social discussion.

On the other hand information technology can make learning much more accessible for many  students. It is interesting that the students in the video conferencing section during the lecture felt they would not be without information technology. The children who took part in  Cambridge Review 2010 were also very keen to have the latest technology. The review suggested that for sustainable and effective innovation to take place in primary school, teachers needed greater engagement in the learning potential of ICT. In summary  I believe that to create deeper thinking and learning, information technology should be used as a tool to facilitate this process and to be used to evoke rather than limit discussions, social interactions and practical real life experimentation and creative exploration.

In the final part of the lecture Sheena brought to light for me the importance of recognising and enabling effective learning through some simple considerations. Offering children the chance to play, explore, make connections, be active learners and think creatively and critically. I found in poignant that she used a baby’s learning to demonstrate these processes, highlighting that leaning takes place from birth not just five. I think I will find these considerations a great source of help when  planning effectively. Giving the children the chance to explore and investigate on their own by making lessons practical. Facilitating them in making connections through discussions and questioning. Providing them with the motivation to learn by making the lessons fun. By enabling creativity and critical thinking by offering them opportunities to explore their own ideas. Robson 2006 as cited in Hansen 2011, suggests that learning is a necessary consequence of thinking, which includes the use of imagination, playful dispositions, persistence and the ability to learn with and from others. Hansen 2011 believes it is therefore important for you to be aware that children are not merely recipients of learning, but that they are active partners and investigators.

Great lecture; some food for thought.

References

Hansen, A (2011) Primary Professional Studies. Learning Matters Ltd: Exeter

Arthur, J & Cremin, T (2010) Learning to Teach in the Primary School. Routledge: New York.

Alexander, R. (Ed) (2010) Children, their World, their Education: Final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review. Routledge: New York