Category Archives: Language

TEDxKids@Sunderland – the start of the story

TEDx shapes appear at every authorised TEDx event

Pupils making the freestanding TEDx letters which appear at every licensed TEDx event

Anyone who follows my twitter feed – or that of Ewan McIntosh or Tom Barrett of NoTosh probably couldn’t miss that last Friday, 27th May 2011, was the day Year 3 and Year 4 students from one primary school in Sunderland, UK achieved a remarkable event – their own TEDx developed, organised, performed and documented by the pupils in those two classes. Through a wonderfully pupil led project those young people approached a task many adults would think twice (and maybe more) about.

TED is a global phenomena – inspirational talks presented at TED events but made available through the internet. In their words: “TED’s mission is spreading ideas. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building  a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”  TEDx is: “designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.”

The first of the audience arriving for TEDxKids@Sunderland

So how did a group of pupils in Sunderland tap into and respond to this? In this first of a number of posts I’ll be making about the project I’ll describe a little of the early part of the journey. This journey that led pupils to be delivering talks about their passions and concerns, talks including: Why you should raise money for Cancer Research…Why my Mum is my best Friend… How big are families?…What are you doing about car pollution?… What would it be like to win Wimbledon?… Why slugs have slime… Do you know what it is like to be me?

In its final year of the Creative Partnerships programme, the TEDxKids@Sunderland school wanted to continue with a strand that had run across the two previous year. The enquiry question summarised this as: “Can more opportunities for ‘speaking out’ support pupils in extending their vocabulary and understanding situation appropriate language, and support the understanding of body and facial expression?” They particularly wanted pupils to be able to better understand the range of appropriate language forms that exist and to be able to modulate between them successfully – thus extending their speaking skills to benefit both their literacy skills and to support them through life.

One of the joys of working as an Agent on the Creative Partnerships Change School programme is it giving me a three year relationship, assisting schools to build enquiry based creative programmes (supported by creative practitioners) which aim to respond to key objectives within their school development plan. My knowledge of the pupils and staff grew and with that an understanding of approaches that would challenge everyone but also energise them and stand a good chance of being deliverable. But there are never any certainties in a process which encourages appropriate risk taking.

In Spring 2010 I had the opportunity to see Ewan McIntosh speak at a conference. I was inspired by his emphasis on learning for purpose and willingness to challenge school leaders about their fears of new technology. I immediately applied for a bursary to secure some mentoring support from him – around building knowledge of use of social media and wider technology (It was successful – hurrah!!). In spending time with him I came to learn that language was something Ewan was passionate about so it occurred to me that he might have an interest in the school’s  enquiry. The response he came up with was a brave one, and he enthused to me (on my mobile phone at a service station carpark!) “wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when you offer young children a format like TED, what would they make of it? How far would they take it? How might they respond to it?”

I hope you can see that right from the start it was a curiosity about the pupils response and actions – it wasn’t ‘lets organise a TEDx’ but ‘lets see what the pupils want to do with this.’ This pupil led approach was perfect for the ethos of Creative Partnerships, and taking it back to the school it was greeted with enthusiasm from the Head, who turned out to be a TED lover already, and with a deep breath, and some intrepidation,  we were off…

Art, Science and Language

On Thursday I went to a talk by author Ian McEwan at Newcastle University. It was part of Parallel Worlds a weekend of events looking at the relationships between art and science. His new novel Solar has a, very humanly flawed, nobel prize winning scientist involved in research on climate change as its main character. I am a McEwan fan, from the extracts read it seems a wonderfully amusing book, in addition to the usual detailed observation of  human behaviour and endeavour. It was a fascinating event, in which McEwan shocked me by saying he felt too much contemporary literature was studied in schools and called for students to have extensive knowledge of the older literary cannon.

Prior to the event I had my own linking of art and science courtesy of the very large concave mirror sited in the Herschel building, the location of the event. The mirror was gifted to the Physics department by “Sir Howard Grubb Parsons Co Ltd”, a once famous local engineering company, in 1967 (co-incidently the year of my birth).

I loved the distortions that it created and soon gathered a crowd around me as I began to investigate its qualities – people who had passed it by only moments earlier hardly noticing came back to ‘play’ themselves.

What had captured my interest was a potential link to a school project I’d only been discussing a few hours – which is based on the theme of The Madhatter’s Tea Party. I felt quiet Alice like being distorted by this enormous mirror.

Leaving the event another item in the building caught my and my friend’s eye – now how often is it that you see the word ‘egress’? Maybe we had stepped into a parallel universe after all. We started to talk about all the alternative words that could be placed around a school building, in response to the frequent pleas of teachers for pupils to extend their vocabulary.

What words would you put up? I’d love to compile a list of appropriate ones – do help me out.

Expectations are high after award winning DVD

Tomorrow sees the start of my planning meetings with schools for this academic year.  I’m looking forward to the discussions with Dormanstown Primary School, near Redcar. In June they were winners of a Northern Grid Learning for Learning Award for best use of ICT in Modern Foreign Language and runners up in the Subject category.

The entry was from a Creative Partnerships project  we worked on which saw digital artist Rosie Davey support Year 2 pupils in making an interactive DVD/game – in french! At a time when policy makers are commenting on the lack of take up in language study these 6 year olds showed great enthusiasm for it.

You walk down the street and visit each building along it - interacting in french as you navigate the various activities offered in each.

The DVD provides a computer based environment that enables the ‘player’ to explore a scene and make decisions about where to go – built into the environment are many activities developed by the pupils from games to language tasks. The environment itself was also created by the pupils. This format allowed a wide range of approaches and materials to be used from collage to computer animation, and included speaking and listening activities.

The class teacher Sue Skillcorn was a key part of the delivery team, she feels the project supported not only pupil development but expanded the teacher skill base – she explains:

Increase in pupil confidence and self esteem has been a major outcome, pupils normally reserved in class have become speakers and used techniques like talking through masks to build that, the confidence to speak has transferred into writing approaches and improvements have been seen across literacy areas.

The project gave pupils different ways of presenting their knowledge, in a fun and highly engaging way. Pupils  worked together very effectively, they negotiated, debated and reached conclusions that are based on compromise to a higher level than we usually see in classroom. There was a willingness to share skills, for example a pupil usually quite self focussed offered to support and advise other pupils on using the ICT.

We teachers have become significantly more confident in using ICT across the curriculum and are increasingly planning it into teaching delivery, from using computer through to video cameras. Staff have a better understanding of what pupils are capable of technologically – which is far in excess of what we assumed.

Teachers have also learnt new ways of building individual pieces up into collaborative end points and have begun to use those techniques in different curriculum areas, such as story-writing. The school has a far wider understanding of what ‘arts’ might mean in the school. It has inspired and given permission to staff to think in cross curricular topic based planning.

Redcar and Cleveland Education Authority are so impressed by the children’s DVD that they now want to roll it out to the other Primary schools in the area.

I’ll let you know what the school gets up to this year…..