Danger Dog, Pandora and a cast of thousands

The highlight of yesterday's student education conference at the University of Plymouth was the final keynote speech from Deputy Headteacher Dave Mitchell. Dave has carved out quite a reputation for himself as a champion of blogging for early years children. Much press and media coverage has celebrated the many and varied successes the school has achieved through good pedagogy and the appropriate application of social media tools. It was fitting then that he should have the last word at the #earlyyears event held in the Faculty of Education.

Dave (aka @DeputyMitchell on Twitter) talked about the way he has established blogging as an inspirational tool to promote more engagement in learning for primary school age kids. He documented the rise in success of blogging at Healthfield CPS, a Primary School in Bolton, North West England. From the early stages, where parents and peers were engaged, to the latter stages, where Year 6 children (10-11 year olds) are writing creatively for a worldwide audience, Dave explore the nuances and practices of educational blogging. Dave presented some astounding statistics for his audience. Since the start of this academic year, the Year 6 blog alone has received more than 200,000 hits worldwide, and over 4000 comments from readers in over 130 countries. Such an audience (some would argue 'community') of people does wonders for the self esteem and confidence of the young bloggers. They are articulate, inventive and fully committed to blogging their way to better standards of literacy, and in the samples Dave showed, they are clearly succeeding. From The Island and Pandora (Avatar alien planet) projects, to the random appearances of Danger Dog, these kids write about anything that grabs their interest, and the teachers turn these ideas into learning that locks into the National Curriculum. The children have even appeared live (at 0740 in the morning) on BBC's Breakfast programme, where they were interviewed as they blogged. But this is not the end of the story.

Dave Mitchell showed evidence that all Year 6 pupils in the scheme had each (through teacher assessment and the more formalised SATs tests) gained an average of 6.6 points on the literacy scale. This is equivalent to almost two years of development in writing and reading skills. Whilst it is important we don't point to the blog as the only catalyst in this amazing success story, it is clear that blogging has had a major influence on these young lives, and the audience they write for has more than an impact on their enthusiasm to learn. Dave finished his presentation by bringing in one of his small groups live onto the screen using Coverit Live. Through the posting of images and sounds, he asked his pupils to respond by writing live what they felt and thought. It was clear to the audience that this group of young people are just as articulate in their writing, using rich combinations of adjectives and syntax to convey their ideas to us, their new audience. Some have even broken away from the main school blog to set up personal blogs of their own, such is their passion for writing. Dave left us all, students and lecturing staff alike, with the impression that if the right tools are employed in the right place at the appropriate time, learning will have no boundaries.

Image source by Lee12 (Heathfield CPS)

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Danger Dog, Pandora and a cast of thousands by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Oliver said…
The Heathfield story is truly inspirational. What interests me most about it is the way a number of children seem to have really taken the tools introduced to them and made them their own, not only taking the initiative for keeping up blogging, but also playing withthe format.

Fern's story with a million endings (http://story.heathfieldcps.net/), where readers vote on the direction of the next chapter really excites me as she has been inspired to imagine and develop her own project with only the guidance, but not the instruction, of her teacher.

Powerful stuff!
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for the comment Oliver (I'm sorry I missed meeting you last week when you came to Plymouth!). Your point about ownership is vital - I think it is also safe to extend this to all learners, whatever their age. Ownership of the tools (and the concept) are one of the key components of personal learning environments.
DeputyMitchell said…
I'd just like to say how much I enjoyed the whole day! I love sharing the achievements of my pupils and other pupils at Heathfield. Very interestingly over the last week there have been a big step towards individual blogs for pupils. Like Oliver states, it really is proving to be a VERY powerful tool!

Thanks to you Steve and Pete Yeomans for arranging things that made it possible for me to get down to Plymouth.
Oliver said…
Totally agree Steve. Sorry I missed you too, hopefully meet you another time.

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