There has been a lot of negative things written about using video conferencing as a teaching tool in education, (particularly regarding Zoom). I have also seen several reasons as to why it should not be part of the lockdown offer for children in the Early Years, including the biggest worry – safeguarding. But by rejecting it so quickly, are we missing out on an incredible way to stay in touch with our children, to check in on them, and see how they are?
Two weeks ago, I was invited to observe a Zoom Poetry Basket session with children from Bishop Parker primary school. I found the use of video conferencing in that session both innovative and exciting, offering a range of creative possibilities for connecting with young children.
My son is really enjoying seeing everybody on Zoom. I’m so proud of how much more confident he was today. He even showed his great grandparents the mittens poem. That’s a huge thing for him.
But don’t just take my word for it – watch the video:
Reception teacher, Julie Herlihy from Bishop Parker primary school in Bletchley was the first teacher I knew to be using Zoom with such young children. She’s been doing it in combination with the Poetry Basket, and I was delighted when she let me come along.
What I witnessed had a profound effect on me, demonstrating the potential of this technology to support young children during this difficult time. Julie’s weekly Zoom Poetry Basket sessions ensure that children, parents and teaching staff keep in touch. But they also offer so much more than that. Video conferencing allows these children to share poetry, stories and the things that are important to them. Watching was like being part of an online circle time, where every child had their moment to shine in the sun.
It’s such a good idea having the zoom meetings and good that all the classmates get to see each other too.
So what are the secrets to a great Zoom session?
Julie manages the online sessions superbly. When the children arrive, they say their hellos, but as soon as they are all settled, their microphones are muted. This is something the host can control. The reason for muting is to drown out the background noise of washing machines whirling, babies crying or televisions talking. However, at certain times during the session, the mute button comes off, and the children get the chance to join in together in a wonderfully noisy, totally out of sync and beautifully chaotic reciting of one of the Poetry Basket poems.
During the thirty-five minute session, children joyfully recite one or two of these poems together. Alongside this, there are lots of opportunities for them to wave at the screen and be put in the spotlight to recite one of the poems on their own. Julie skilfully makes sure that anyone who wants to join in, is given the chance to have a go. At the end of the session, each child shares what they have been working on, a Lego model, a picture, some writing or a favourite toy. Every offering is welcomed and valued by the group.
In Julie’s sessions there are always two members of staff. While she runs the activity, the other person keeps an eye on the technical things, making sure that everyone is okay and that Julie hasn’t missed anyone waving at her. If there is any problems, it is easy for adults to communicate privately with each other through the text chat option.
To join the session, families are emailed each week with the newly created meeting ID and password. This is NOT made public, and it is NOT shared on the school website. The other important safety measure is that there must always be a waiting room enabled. In this way the host is the only person who can let people in. The horror stories of people gate-crashing Zoom meetings only happen when these safety measures are not in place. Responding to the criticism against it, Zoom now has waiting rooms and passwords set as the default option.
Attendance is optional, but Julie regularly has anywhere between sixteen and nineteen children attending out of a class of twenty-three. Parents are in the room with their child, and either a family member or the host can turn off the video if they don’t want someone to be seen. Because Zoom can be accessed via phones, tablets or laptops, it is highly accessible.
I think the biggest impact I’ve seen from The Poetry Basket is the boost to children’s confidence with their language, particularly speaking in public. I have also found it to be a wonderful link between home and school. It’s that age-old problem, ‘what did you do at school today? ‘Nothing’. Whereas with The Poetry Basket, the children were choosing to recite the poems at home. It has also had a massive impact on speech and language as well as vocabulary development.
With regards to Zoom, I’ve always asked children to give me a wave if they wanted to be ‘spotlighted’ to do a solo poem. In the first session one child wouldn’t come to the camera so I said not to push it, and to switch the camera off and just see. By the third session the child was waving and asking to perform a poem.
Having attended this session, and seen other ways that Zoom is being used, I believe it is a tool worth exploring. It holds more possibilities that I can begin to cover in this blog. But when Lockdown makes us sad and we miss the children we work with, maybe a half hour session will help us reconnect.
Attending Julie’s session left me feeling a little bit weepy. Happy tears. It will forever remain with me as one of the highlights of this time. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces that day, I have a feeling it will be one of the highlights for them too.