Our LA are about to begin a VLE Pilot, and some time over the next two terms some of my younger students will be required to engage with that QCA or LA unit on E mail, as part of our schools' scheme of work. I have often thought about why we teach this unit where we do, and why E mail, a device with such powerful potential seems to be used so little as a learning tool in the classroom.
We use e mail with students in schools largely it seems as an ICT only resource, a device where skills based teaching takes priority over context, meaning and purpose. Yet without purpose and context there is no meaning to learning about or with E mail. In literacy sessions we work with our students to develop their letter writing skills, hopefully in situations where they have a particular audience and purpose for the final outcomes. Within an email environment then we should be expecting the same thing. For sure there are skills specific to emailing which need to be taught and learned, but why are we sending an attachment, what is it's purpose, who am I writing to and why.
I do not feel, that students should only encounter e mail as a subject in the context of ICT. Students and teachers alike would find E mail as a tool more exciting, if units were regularly planned, to include email as part of simulation activities within theme based and topic work. For this to happen we need to see email as more than a unit we teach at year 3, but as a supporting structure for wider curricular activity, which could start through the use of email simulation software in Key Stage one, and develop through shared class work as a starting point or stimulus for ongoing classroom activities with the real thing. I have published a bright ideas page to my website today, what a fantastic christmas present this was, to share some of my thoughts. How about an online interview with Henry VIII at yourschool.org.uk, or keeping in touch with that roving reporter Barnaby as he trots around the globe? What if we could talk to Katie Morag, as a pen pal? Recieve a mysterious time warped message from a Saxon Villager or Roman Soldier stationed at Hadrian's Wall or Caerleon?
A favourite session we ran with Key Stage 2 students a number of years ago, involved a simulated hot air balloon flight. Set up by colleagues from a local secondary school, the students used simulated data, collected by a local ballooner to track his mystery journey from Bristol, until he landed. Within the simulation they were required to keep in contact with him, imaginary flight controllers, the local police and to write and submit press releases for a newspaper we published later to a set deadline in school for parents and other students. It was great fun.
All of these things obviously take time to set up, but as with most ICT resources, once collected, made and saved, sample texts and materials are there to be developed, changed and extended for later reuse. With a view to developing creative curricular and the new longer unit formats for the Primary Literacy Framework, perhaps their is a place for email as a learning tool within these areas, acting as stimuli as well as the ICT tool it is often considered solely to be.