Testing the Digital Leaders

Many aspire to the badge, but not all can attain it…

#28daysofwriting Day 10

I made a mistake last year in my digital leaders programme. I interviewed each boy (remember – my school is a boys school, so I am not being sexist: there are literally no girls to choose from) based on their technical prowess. I chose them from that, and also a little bit of they’re-not-involved-in-anything-else-so-I-feel-sorry-for-them.

I didn’t look for their ability to work in a team. You’ve probably heard that phrase: ‘you can’t have too much self esteem, you can just wear it badly‘. Exactly. I had a few boys who wore their self esteem badly. Let’s face it they were just plain arrogant. They ended up abusing some of the privileges they had been given and being banned from the computer room.

So this year, I have been choosing the digital leaders more carefully.

Out goes the one-size fits all interview. In comes a presentation session in which they all have to present to each other about why they should be a digital leader.

This was most enlightening.

I actually had one boy declare to the other boys that he was a ‘child genius’ and that’s why he should be a digital leader.

What was even more enlightening was how they listened to each other. Some hung on every word of the other presentations and clapped enthusiastically at the end of each one. Some couldn’t be bothered until it was their turn.

Next I have given them the task of supporting the Year 1 boys in making a ‘Dinosaur Fact website.’ This was interesting as neither the Year 1 boys, nor the Year 6 boys had seen Google Sites before, and yet the Year 6 boys picked up the logging in quickly (the biggest barrier is logging in) and were all pretty good at supporting the younger boys.

My final challenge will be to work on their own ‘Digital Leaders website’, in which each one will have their own section. This will be interesting to see how they collaborate, because it is quite easy to sabotage someone else’s work when building the same website together, and I can imagine it being tempting to do that so that your own pages look the best. But of course I will be looking for good teamwork as my driving criteria.

And soon I will have some Year 6 boys who are no longer ‘Provisional Digital Leaders’, but actual ones.

Learning not to schwa

Perhaps the biggest challenge for me since starting my new job has not been the step change from leadership to teacher, nor the move from state to independent sector, but the move from Junior to Infant (or Prep to Pre-Prep as we would say in my school). And in this move teaching phonics has been the single biggest difference.

The principle of teaching phonics is simple enough: teach phonics well and children will read. They can use their phonic knowledge to decipher, sound out and blend words, becoming increasingly fluent. When I started teaching twenty years ago (admittedly in Year 4) I remember hearing readers and teaching them to look for contextual clues in the pictures or the sentences they had previously read. Not so anymore: phonics is king.

And I thought I had a pretty good grasp of phonics myself, until a teaching assistant pointed out that I sometimes ‘schwa’ my letter sounds. Schwa may be a word you have not come across before. Mr Thorne (my go-to Youtuber for all my phonics teaching) gives a pretty good explanation of the schwa here. If you watch the video you ‘ll see that obviously learning where a sound is a schwa is really important. But I was adding schwas to letters I shouldn’t have been.

For example when I said the sound for the letter ‘S’ I would sometimes say ‘suh’ not ‘ssss’. Or I would say ‘huh’ instead of the breathy ‘hhh’ for the ‘H’.

As I write this, the school leader in me is screaming ‘Teacher Standards’, because as everyone knows a good working knowledge of phonics teaching is part of the 2014 UK Government Teacher Standards document, teachers should:

if teaching early reading, demonstrate a clear understanding of systematic synthetic phonics

Well. I’m working on it.

The problem for me is that I’ve come down to Year 1 from older years. Many year 1 teachers come up to Year 1 from Reception and have taught the phonics knowledge that children learn right at the start. I’m lucky though because I have a helpful and experienced team around me who all have excellent knowledge of the Early Years curriculum and I’ve been enjoying learning off them!