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Taking a frog home

Taking a Frog Home
A brief paper about young children’s emerging literacy and their use of ICT...

Albert Walsweer, MEd, educational consultant NHL University, Institute for Education and Communication, ECNO,
Leeuwarden, the Netherlands
Piet Rodenhuis, MA,, lecturer NHL University, Institute for Education and Communication, Teachers Training Department, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands



Abstract:
In this paper the autors present a pilot study wich started in august 2005 in a primary school in the bilingual Frisian part of the Netherlands. Based on new concepts about learning and pedagogies, emerging literacy and the use of ICT a framework was constructed, wich was used as a the starting point to develop activities to stimulate young childrens emerging literacy with the use of ICT.


1. Preface

In primary education a pilot project with four different primary schools started in 2004, in which successful learning, excellent language learning and the use of ICT were the central issues. The project focused on the early language learners: children of five till seven years of age.
In this paper we zoom in on one school, a small village school in the centre of the province of Friesland. The project got the title: “Taking a frog home”. The children take a puppet frog home, where it takes part in all their events and adventures. The frog is used as the anchor for the early language learning process

2. General issues

In Dutch Primary Education there are a number of issues and problems that need to be addressed. First of all there is a discussion going on about what do we know about how children learn best and how do we implement this knowledge in daily educational practice. Secondly, at this moment Dutch schools do not succeed in learning children how to use complex language strategies within reading and communication. It is assumed that our teaching is too much split up in strictly separated subjects. As a result children are not able to transfer skills from one subject area to another. And last but not least, we find it difficult to give ICT a place in education where it has added value to the learning process. Huge investments have been made in the ICT infra-structure, but we have not yet done enough in the field of functional use of ICT.

Regional and school specific issues
In our region we meet a number of issues that are specific:
- Our province is a bi-lingual province, the Dutch and the Frisian languages are the two official ones. In general young children enter primary school with one of these languages as their first language. It is the obligation of school to attend to the bi-lingual development of children. In general schools have dificulties to cope with this task.
- Delay in language development is measured in country schools throughout the whole northern region of The Netherlands. The reason for this lies in the children’s social backgrounds; in average parents are less educated and often we describe their use of language as poor.

3. Framework of this project

We formulated the next starting-points:
1. What do we know about learning in general and how do children learn?
2. What do we know about good language learning (= language acquisition)?
3. What do we know about new pedogogies and the use of ICT?


About learning

We based this project on the ideas about learning by Bereiter (2002) and we try to connect his theory of mind to the twelve principles of how children learn (Vosniadou, 2001):



The assumption is that learning will be successful when the twelve principles are in balance. The principles form a coherent framework in which learning can be planned, executed and evaluated.

In planning we use the well-underpinned frames of direct instruction and a safe pedagogical learning environment. On of the important statements we use is that we have “high expectations from each other: teachers, parents and children”.

About Language Learning

As we said earlier, one of the main problems in Dutch Primary Schools is that language learning is been organised in separate subjects. Essential for successful interactive language learning is that it takes place in a social environment, with meaningful activities and a focus on strategic learning. It is important that teachers are aware of the importance that (young) children acquire strategies that teach them how to solve language problems in an efficient way.
Good language teaching means that children learn in a natural, but also in a planned and structured way. To reach this aim, the school should have a language policy plan. In this plan language-teaching is offered in an integrated way: It is both challenging and where needed structured and methodical. Essential is, that teachers are aware of teaching methods to attain this. For this matter we try to develop activities that are linked to the aims as set in the new National Curriculum (Paus en Oosterloo, 2005).

In our pilot school the project focus-ed in the year groups 1 – 3 (ages 4 – 7 years) on: early literacy, oral communicative skills and the bi-lingual situation.




About ICT and language learning
The most important findings/ experiences are put together:
• Literacy in the 21st century is not merely reading texts. It contains a large range of new media with which children are confronted at an early age.
• Aided by means of ICT in classroom activities teachers can connect in a better way to the wishes of children and the new means of communication that children use.
• In Kindergartens simple means of ICT can have a positive effect in the field of stimulating the acquiring of language. Live books digital cameras e.g. may be utilized here.
• Dyslexic pupils may be aided by means of ICT in many ways.
• Boys and girls have different attitudes towards the use of computers.
• Children experience finding and processing information on the internet as difficult
• Vocabulary, grammatical knowledge , the concept of storytelling and awareness of phonology may be improved with the aid of ICT
• Reading and writing skills may be improved using suitable means of ICT
• Social life of children happens partly by way of new means of communication as the internet and GSM/cell phones??
• Games may contribute to oral and written communication, and also in problem-solving and strategic-thinking skills.
In our project these ICT findings are put together with the concepts we’ve presented about learning in general and language learning.


4. Research method

Action based research
The research component within the project is based on the Action Research method. AR or Practise Based Research is part of the study program for teacher students. There are many ways of carrying out Action Research. But there are five major phases, which become a cycle of processes:
Step 1: Define an area of concern
Step 2: Collect and analyse data about the existing situation
Step 3: Plan action.
Step 4: Take action and collect data about the outcomes
Step 5: Analyse data, reflect on the write about emerging understanding.
Step 6 (= step 1): Redefine area of concern...
5. Taking a frog home

The project is based on the framework as outlined above. This means that in planning and implementation as well as evaluation the frameworks in learning, language and ICT are used as instruments. In actual fact we designed the following:
At the school a project group has been established which consists of the headmaster, the teacher
(Of groups 1, 2 and 3), the tutor and two attendants from the university of higher education. We agree to
the ideas on education of the school to realize the project with experience-related education as a starting point. This means that learning is organized with a view to the experiences and the surroundings of the children themselves. The project is aimed notably at the development of language of (young) pupils and the enlargement/increase of knowledge of the world around them. The project should as well lead to a greater involvement/concern of parents with education and the acquirement of language. Research shows that stimulating at home (for example by reading and telling stories) gives children a head start in their school careers and often they are able to increase their lead.

In the age groups 1, 2 and 3 (children in the ages of 4 to 7) education of language is issued from meaningful themes. These themes are put forward by the teacher as well as the pupils. The central focusing point is the anchor ‘frog’. This frog goes through all kinds of adventures and accompanies the children to their homes. The adventures are reported by way of digitally produced photographs. In the classroom these pictures are used to tell stories (by means of a whiteboard), together with other items collected by the children they are shown on the ‘theme-table’. Letter books are fashioned, and read. Now and then children have little excursions, e.g. to horticultural markets, the supermarket, their own and other villages.
Other fixed arrangements have been made concerning the use of the letter wall (pasting of pictures) and the use of ‘talking dice’.
All activities are reported on at the website. By talking, listening, reading and writing about ‘frog’, the children are actively obtaining language in the widest respect.

Classifying the activities according to linguistic domains is shown as under:

Oral communication

• Talking in the small group
• Talks at the subject table
• Talks while working together
• Talks with the teacher and the
tutor on actions, strategies and
such
• Talks based on talking dice Vocabulary

• Target words
• Word web
Literacy

• Use of the letter-wall
• Use and produce of letter books
• Use of the news board ICT means

• Active whiteboard
• Website
• Digital camera
• Digital video
• Content

The teacher’s activities are planned by use of ‘anchors’ and ‘routines’. A (digital) anchor is a common starting point, a rich meaningful context which evokes tuitonal questions at the children. Activities in the teaching group are attuned to the areas of interest of the pupils. They take the initiatives to suggest subjects and intimate what they would like to know. Working with an anchor is a form of didactics within interactive language-learning. An anchor may take the form of a story, an outing, and a part of a video presentation, a Punch-and-Judy show or a digital picture.
Routines are identifiable circumstances that lead to meaningful language activities. They are ever-returning fixed educational situations which incite to communication. As the situations are recognizable in their form, the children
are able to pay close attention to what exactly happens in these situations. They may especially be concerned with
the contents.
First AR-cycle in this project

As we said, the cycle of action-research is the way we plan, act and check in this project. In the following we give an example of how cycle 1 was described.
During the previous stage we started bringing into action ICT-means in the first year groups to bring about literacy-development. Two clusters of activities are brought into play.
• Activities as a result of having a cuddly toy that can be taken out to stay with a friend. Frog goes home with the children. They or their parents make pictures of their adventures. The pictures are inducements to various linguistic activities.
• Activities centred on letters. Children produce within a certain context pictures of e.g. objects or persons in which the see or hear a certain letter. The pictures may procure the starting points of various linguistic activities.
The various activities have been devised and put into motion. We described them in terms as anchors and routines.
During this first cycle we want to take care that the depicted anchors and routines grow into a way of work that is structurally embedded within the practice of every day in the lower grades and within the language policy of the school.
At stake here are the following anchors and routines:
• Anchor A: Adventures of one of the children and Frog
• Routines
A1 Pupil takes Frog and the camera home and takes pictures
A2 Pupil takes Frog and pictures to school
Teacher or group-assistant talks about the pictures, tries to incite linguistic responses.
Teacher or group-assistant choose pictures and determine their order.
Pictures are put on the site.
A3 T. or gr.as. discuss with pupil which words or phrases match the pictures well and thus
produce/invent a story to go with the pictures. Pupil dictates the teacher or writes it
him/herself.
Text accompanies the pictures at the site.
A4 Pupil arranges a subject-table, a FROG table
T. and gr.as. produce cards to go with the table, bearing words or sentences.
A5 Pupil copies letters/words/phrases while writing, imprinting or typing
A6 Pupil tells to the other children/group members a story illustrated by the pictures

• Anchor B A certain context (anchor) gives rise to choose a certain letter and put it in the centre of attention. Within this context the pupils go to work with the chosen letter. The contexts are always related to their own surroundings.
• Routines
B1 Finding words in which the letter can be heard. Making pictures of the objects. These pictures are put in a letter book on the site, together with the written word and the letter clearly marked.
B2 Exercises are done with the pictures, words and letter: where do you hear the letter/sound, at the beginning of a word? Where at the end?
B3 Finding words in which the letter can be found.
B4 Looking at pictures and gathering the meaning of the words/phrases in which the letter is found.
B5 The pupil copies the letters/words/phrases while writing, typing or stamping.
B6 Pupils and teacher (or group-assistant) choose words for the letter wall. The words are put in their correct places on the letter wall.
B7 In consequence of the story-telling circle phrases are chosen for the news board. The children say the phrase and the teacher writes it down. Children who want to try or do it themselves can have a go at writing too.
B8 Activities with “the letter of the week” In which the letter is used in a creative way.
With regard to the policy of obtaining language all this means:
• Putting the linguistic activities, anchors and routines in the classroom roster of proceedings
• Putting the activities in a reasoned- out offer of language and ict.
• Developing and executing a linguistic policy plan.
Concisely put: in the first cycle we aim to embedding within the classroom-activities two kinds of anchors and routines, in which ict has a distinct role.

6. The output

The output of this project is hypothetical at this moment, as no ‘hard’ results yet shown, but:
• The headmaster of the school now works with a meaningful framework, from which education will be planned, executed and evaluated.
• The teaching staff works within (didactical) frameworks that are theoretically underpinned and have been developed in practice. They can be used in concrete situations.
• Pupils are highly involved; their involvement should lead to better educational results in the end.
• Parents are involved too.


7. Further research

Further research will possibly lead to a greater utilization of the theoretical framework at other schools, as regards to planning, developing and evaluation of educational operations. We will show if the afore described concept as regards to language policy plans and linguistic domains positively affects the didactics of teachers and the educational results of pupils. We believe the concept offers sufficient possibilities in the field of multilingual development of the children and hopefully we will also demonstrate if the use of ICT in education gives a better output.

References:

Alltrichter, H & Peter Posch, P.(1998). Lehrer erforschen ihren Unterricht. Eine Einführung in die Methoden der Aktionsforschung.
Andriessen, D. (2004). Making sense of intellectual capital. Designing a method for the valuation of intangibles.
Bereiter, C. (2002). Education and mind in the knowledge age. Mahwah, New Jersey LEA Publishers.
Bronkhorst, J.(2002). Basisboek ICT didactiek. HBuitgevers, Baarn.
Coombs, S.(2003). TT380 Work-based Action Enquiry 2003/2004. Bath Spa University College, Bath UK
Harasim, L. Hiltz R.., Teles L., Turoff.M. Learning Networks. A field guide to teaching and learning online. MIT-press. Cambridge Mass. 1997 (third printing).
Oosterloo, A. & Paus, H. (2005). Taal aan bod. Leerplan Fries voor het Primair Onderwijs. Enschede, SLO.
Ponte, P. (2002). Actieonderzoek door docenten. Uitvoering en begeleiding in theorie en praktijk.
Shrader, G. e.a. (2001). Participatory Design of Science curricula. The Case for Research for Practice,
Design-based research: An Emerging Paradigm for Educational Inquiry. The Design-Based Research Collective 2003 in: Educational research. Jan-febr. 2003.
Walsweer, A., et all (2003), Lettermuur, NHL University, ECNO Department, Groningen, The Netherlands
Vosniadou, S. (2001). How children learn. Educational practices series, 7, The International Academy of Education (IAE) and the International Bureau of Education (UNESCO).



For further information:

Piet Rodenhuis MA: p.rodenhuis@iec.nhl.nl
Albert Walsweer MEd: a.walsweer@ecno.nl
Website NHL University Project:: www.frieslandleernetwerk.nl
Website pilot primary school: www.opefeanhoop.nl

Acknowledgements:

Head and staff of Op ‘e Feanhoop Primary School


 

Workdocument on a self-evaluation list, based on Vosniadou

Workdocument / draft

How children learn: 12 principles of learning
Based on Stella Vosniadou
Learning environment
+ +/- -
1. Active involvement
Learning requires the active, constructive involvement of the learner.


• I avoid situations where the students are passive listeners for long periods of time.
• I provide students with hands-on activities, such as experiments, observations, projects, etc
• I encourage participation in classroom discussions and other collaborative activities.
• I organize school visits to museums and technological parks
• I assist students in creating learning goals that are consistent with their interests and future aspirations.
• I allow students to take some control over their own learning.

2. Social participation
Learning is primarily a social activity and participation in the social life of the school is central for learning to occur.

• I assign students to work in groups and assume the role of a coach/co-coordinator who provides guidance and support to the groups.

• I can create a classroom environment that includes group workspaces where resources are shared.
• Through modelling and coaching, I can teach students how to co-operate with each other.
• I can create circumstances for students to interact with each other, to express their opinions and to evaluate other students’ arguments.


3. Meaningful activities
People learn best when they participate in activities that are perceived to be useful in real life and are culturally relevant.

• I can make classroom activities more meaningful by situating them in an authentic context
• I look for starting points in real live situations
• I consider and respect cultural and ethnic differences and see them as strength to build on
• I provide challenging and open learning situations

Cognitive factors

4. Relating new information to prior knowledge
New knowledge is constructed on the basis of what is already understood and believed.


• I can discuss the content of a lesson before starting in order to ensure that the students have the necessary prior knowledge and in order to activate this knowledge.

• I ask the kind of question that helps students see relationships between what they are reading and what they already know.

• I need to go back to cover important prerequisite material or ask the students to do some preparatory work on their own

• I need to investigate students prior knowledge in detail so that false beliefs and misconceptions can be identified
• I can help students to grasp relationships and make connections. I can do so by providing a model or a scaffold that students can use as support in their efforts to improve their performance.


5. Being strategic
People learn by employing effective and flexible strategies that help them to understand, reason, memorize and solve problems.

• I am aware of the important fact that pupils differ in the use of strategies
• I explicit in certain situations what strategies and models really work.
• I let pupils reflect
• I step back gradually to enable pupils to use strategies without my support

6. Engaging in self-regulation and being reflective
Learners must know how to plan and monitor their learning, how to set their own learning goals and how to correct errors.


• I teach to plan how to solve problems, design experiments and read books
• I teach to evaluate the statements, arguments, solutions to problems of others, as well as of one’s self
• I teach to check their thinking and ask themselves questions about their understanding— (Why am I doing what I am doing? How well am I doing? What remains to be done?)

• I teach to develop realistic knowledge of themselves as learners—(I am good in reading, but need to work on my mathematics )
• I teach to set their own learning goals
• I teach to know what are the most effective strategies to use and when to use them

7. Restructuring prior knowledge
Sometimes prior knowledge can stand in the way of learning something new.
Students must learn how to solve internal inconsistencies and restructure existing conceptions when necessary.

• I need to be aware that students have prior beliefs and incomplete understandings that can conflict with what is being taught at school

• I need to build on the existing ideas of students and slowly lead them to more mature understandings. Ignoring prior beliefs can lead to the formation of misconceptions

• I find it important to create the circumstances where alternative beliefs and explanations can be externalized and expressed

• I provide students with observations and experiments that have the potential of showing to them that some of their beliefs can be wrong. Examples from the history of science can be used for this purpose

• I present scientific explanations with clarity and, when possible, exemplified with models
• I give students enough time to restructure their prior conceptions. In order to do this, it is better to design
curricula that deal with fewer topics in greater depth than attempting to cover a great deal of topics in a superficial manner

8. Aiming towards understanding rather than memorization
Learning is better when material is organized around general principles and explanations, rather than when it is based on the memorization of isolated facts and procedures.

• I ask students to explain a phenomenon or a concept in their own words.
• I show students how to provide examples that illustrate how a principle applies or how a law works.
• I believe students must be able to solve characteristic problems in the subject-matter area. Problems can increase in difficulty as students acquire greater expertise.

• When students understand the material, they can see similarities and differences, they can compare and contrast, and they can understand and generate analogies.

• I teach students how to abstract general principles from specific cases and generalize from specific examples






9. Helping students learn to transfer
Learning becomes more meaningful when the lessons are applied to
real-life situations.

• I insist on mastery of subject matter. Without an adequate degree of understanding, transfer cannot take place (see previous principle).

• I teach for understanding rather than for memorization (see previous principle).
• I help students learn how to monitor their learning and how to seek and use feedback about their progress.

• I teach applying what has been learned in one subject-matter area to other areas to which it may be related.

• I show students how to abstract general principles from concrete examples
• I help students see the transfer implications of the information they have learned.

10. Taking time to practice
Learning is a complex cognitive activity that cannot be rushed. It requires considerable time and periods of practice to start building expertise in an area

• I increase the amount of time students spend on learning in the classroom.
• I give students learning tasks that are consistent with what they already know.
• I do not try to cover too many topics at once. Give students time to understand the new information
• I help students engage in ‘deliberate practice’ that includes active thinking and monitoring of their own learning
• I give students access to books so that they can practice reading at home
• I’ll be in contact with parents so that they can learn to provide richer educational experiences for their children

Teacher roles

11. Developmental and individual differences
Children learn best when their individual differences are taken into consideration.

• I learn how to assess children’s knowledge, strategies and modes of learning adequately.
• I introduce children to a wide range of materials, activities and learning tasks that include language, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, art, music, movement, social understanding, etc.

• I identify students’ areas of strength, paying particular attention to the interest, persistence and confidence they demonstrate in different kinds of activities

• I support students’ areas of strength and utilize these areas to improve overall academic performance
• I guide and challenge students’ thinking and learning
• I ask children thought-provoking questions and give them problems to solve. Urge children to test hypotheses in a variety of ways
• I create connections to the real world by introducing problems and materials drawn from everyday situations
• I show children how they can use their unique profiles of intelligence to solve real-world problems
• I create circumstances for students to interact with people in the community, and particularly with adults who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the kinds of things that are of interest to the students

12. Creating motivated learners
Learning is critically influenced by learner motivation. Teachers can help students become more motivated learners by their behaviour and the statements they make

• I recognize student accomplishments.
• I attribute student achievement to internal and not external factors (e.g. ‘You have good ideas’).
• I help students believe in themselves (e.g. ‘You are putting a lot of effort on math and your grades have much improved’).

• I provide feedback to children about the strategies they use and instruction as to how to improve them
• I help learners set realistic goals
• I provide novel and interesting tasks that challenge learners’ curiosity and higher-order thinking skills at the appropriate level of difficulty
• I refrain from grouping students according to their ability. Ability grouping gives the message that ability is valued more than effort
• I promote co-operation rather than competition. Research suggests that competitive arrangements that encourage students to work alone to achieve high grades and rewards tend to give the message that what is valued is ability and diminish intrinsic motivation

Piet Rodenhuis MA p.rodenhuis@iec.nhl.nl
Albert Walsweer MEd a.walsweer@ecno.nl