I came across this article from TES today (15th March 2020) and wish to share the content with you.  It is called – 7 Tips for Using Online Learning Journals in EYFS  By Helen Pinnington who posted it earlier today.

Helen uses Tapestry.  If you are considering Tapestry or are using it, based upon the article, I wish to share how spark can help you.  I will add a short film at the end that highlights our values.

Do feel free to contact me directly with any questions!

The subtitle of the article is –
‘Platforms like Tapestry enable online recording of learning in EYFS, but just because we can, does it mean we should?’

Yes, yes, YES!  There can be so many advantages.  However, do make sure that your choice is for the right reasons; and that may not be spark.  Write down what you would LOVE to achieve:

    • What are your challenges now?
    • What would you like to overcome?
    • What would you like to do better?
    • What is your dream for your business?

spark has been used for over 25 years and helped me to evaluate or suppress the challenges I had (while owning and running four settings!) and we would love to welcome you to spark. BUT – only if we are aligned.

Helen asks – ‘Are they safe?’

spark is very safe.  It is hosted on Microsoft Azure servers and backed up regularly. We have never lost any data.  To logon to spark, there are two sets of passwords and security systems to prevent hackers.  When not used, the software also logs out automatically.  All data is encrypted as it moves around the cloud.

You must have that reassurance.

‘How will teachers be able to interact with the children?’

sparkUSERs (as they are known) can interact with the children all the time.  Interactions can continue with minimum disruption.  As children flourish with spark, they almost fall into achievements because it supports children’s learning so well.  Therefore, the educator is just ‘waiting’ for success and can capture each moment photographically (again with minimal disruption). Learning and development can be supported and extended naturally with suggestions from the software of mini next steps building upon what the child already knows.

‘What about the quality of observations?’

As spark continually guides practitioners, these are all relevant as they holistically scaffold children’s learning across all Areas of Learning upon their current knowledge and skills.  There is no need for cross-referencing, such as to the Characteristics of Effective Learning so that the learning flow can continue. Each also, with sparkPRO, the observations are linked to other frameworks too, for example, Sustained Shared Thinking Strands and ECaT.  As such, observations are complete and evaluated efficiently.

‘Don’t children need to see adults writing?’ 

Yes, but they also need to see digital recordings and maybe take part with these.  Writing can be facilitated in other ways; illustrating ‘work’ with the child’s voice, scripting stories and through modelling; tallies, ‘writing’ in the sand or gloop … these marks are made perhaps in more meaningful ways for the child’s perspective.

‘Online learning journals: the benefits

Firstly, there is huge potential for powerful parental engagement. Teachers work with a range of different parents from all walks of life. Some parents we know struggle with literacy and are reluctant to fully engage with school. ‘

Yes, we would agree, but how do you or can you measure ‘engagement’?  With spark, we have a differentiated way of working with parents.  We don’t believe on a ‘one size fits all approach’ with children and enable this same principle in encouraging parents to work with practitioners. We aim to help get them all engaged, can measure that, and hopefully, they can become more and more part of their child’s education.  Parents are encouraged to show (rather than write) what the child is achieving at home.  They also have the option to share other information.  Often they don’t know what to write about, so spark gives them prompts; this provides the setting with useful information to consider.   Perhaps this is about a scenario at home, the child’s current interests, or what happened at the weekend, all points can be encompassed in planning for the child in the setting.  Sometimes, it is easier for parents to write things down than tell someone at a busy drop off/collection time.

‘Tapestry and platforms like it are really accessible for everyone because they offer similar communication features to social media – for example, parents can browse photos and click to ‘like’ an observation. ‘

spark focuses upon helping parents understand their child’s development and provides them too with a choice of learning steps.  Parents all want their child to do well, but they don’t necessarily instinctively understand development.  For example, the skills needed before their child should be trying to write formally.  spark supports them.  It gratifies them and sets appropriate expectations for the child and consistently with the setting.  It also helps set a precedent or expectations that parents should be involved (beyond ‘liking’ a photo).

‘For the hard-to-reach parents who may not attend parent’s evening, it is really beneficial.’

Often parents’ evenings of settings that use spark are more about supporting parents as a group or a social occasion.  Parents have information all the time as they are involved.  Face to face communication with Key Persons is likely to be around feedback about progress rather than a “He’s had a good day” approach.  Each party will give each other tips for learning opportunities to help the child achieve.

As spark monitors parent participation, it is obvious on which parents need support with this and can be given appropriate assistance. After all, the brain is rapidly growing and if we can help parents understand their input is valued and important, then the child will be more likely to be reaching their full potential.  Our own research has shown that children do much better when parents are involved and for this reason parents are integral to our ethos of providing more than a lip service to this aspect of the EYFS.

‘Other parents really do want to know exactly what their child is learning. They can enjoy sharing the photos and observations with children when home. We have found online learning journals also enable parents to feel involved in the learning and it encourages parents to extend the learning into the home environment. 

They might see their child had been counting at school and decide to help with practice at home.

For the anxious parent, particularly through the settling in stage, it is also hugely reassuring for them to see a photo of their child happily playing with other children or just smiling on their first day, when the last image they had of them was their child wailing at the door at drop off. ‘

Yes we agree.  On spark, we also provide the facility to provide parents with Learning Stories so they can see how their child has learnt a skill or enjoyed an activity.  As they are a sequence of photos, they really engage both parties to talk about the subject matter.  Children often will ask to show their parent what they did.  This not only encourages quality time with the parent but also extends language and communication skills.  Older children can upload and sequence these photos themselves.  When children are settling in, a series of pictures can be taken throughout the day to give ongoing reassurance.  Parents get photos instantly on spark.

‘But is it more work for teachers?

The simple answer is no. The biggest selling point for teachers is losing hours and hours of cutting and sticking – I don’t think I need to say anymore!  Time can be much better spent.’

Yes, readily agreed but Key Persons using spark need not spend any of their working time away from the children as everything can be done ‘on the go’.  I say ‘need not’ and ‘can’ because you could if you want to, but that is a waste of money and staff resource in my view.  Being together all the time, strengthens adult-child relationships, ensures the child’s teaching and learning needs are met on an ongoing basis and impacts positively on the feelings of job satisfaction.  Who wants to be catching up on paperwork (and that can be on a tablet)?  Nothing needs to be done at home either.  spark isn’t just about making a digital version of the old fashioned way of observing; it is about working smart.

‘For teachers in a job–share it also works brilliantly: both can access one another’s observations very easily and keep up to date with the children’s learning.  There is no struggle to deliver a pile of books to one another between shifts!

As with any aspect of teaching and learning, each school can fine-tune the way that they work with this kind of tool. ‘

Yes.  spark’s backbone is the observational journey; mini next steps that build to enable Development Matters Statements to be fully achieved (if you wish to use them).  If the Key Person is away, someone else, who may not know the child at all can take over and give appropriate support.  Management can concentrate on moving practice and the setting forward as they don’t have to check everything before it goes to parents.  The literacy skills of staff are supported throughout the software.   spark organises the team, and as it is flexible, it is used in different ways by a variety of early years settings; schools, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders.  Furthermore, each setting can decide which features they wish to use, and so far, nobody has grown out of it!  spark enables, evaluates and enhances all aspects of an establishment offering the EYFS; with core and bolt-on modules to fit your needs and budget.

‘Top tips for learning journals

Over the years I have learnt how to get the best out of the programme. We may not work in the exact same way as other schools, but it works well for us. So here are my top tips.

1. A dead iPad is even more frustrating than not being able to find a pen! Get in the habit of checking and charging the iPad every day at the end of school.’

🙂  Another advantage; all the information is in one place rather than on scraps of paper or post-it notes – sparkUSERs don’t need these.

‘2. Don’t fall into the trap of taking the photo and then writing notes to type up later. You will not benefit from saving yourself time. Always capture in the moment (note-form on the device works best).’

Everything is really quick on spark – shoot and store it immediately would be our advice.  Delete all the photos on the tablet at the end of the week (be GDPR compliant).  No need to write things up later (unless you want to!).  Our focus,   to give your time to the child’s future learning and development rather than the past.  Their physical learning journey (including the one online) will be professionally presented illustrated with your photos (and hopefully parents’ photos too).

‘3. Ensure the whole team starts with good habits of spending a few minutes checking and editing observations at the end of each school day, rather than leaving them to catch up with weeks later.’

This isn’t necessary on spark.  We would suggest the staff look at the choices of next steps under each Area of Learning. Then consider how to integrate these via the continual provision.  Where does the child gravitate to play?  How can I facilitate this via the current interest?

‘4. Avoid having lots of additional workbooks alongside the learning journal. This duplication works against the principle of all the learning being recorded in the same place. ‘

Agree.  Everything is on spark already.  Practical learning through play first, and if you choose to add phonics and more formalised concepts, it is available in a stage by stage approach; plan, facilitate/teach and evaluate progress and your practice.

‘5. Work with SLT to make evidence easily accessible for subject monitoring.   Subject specific observations can be downloaded for moderation or staff meetings.’

All information can be shared with external professionals.  They also can participate online.  We are always happy to receive ideas from experts (and customers) to improve and extend our features to support all children.  It is clear if staff are not using the software appropriately, moderation is not needed.  Downloading is possible, but equally, all can be viewed online and is easy to understand.

‘6. You can still review the observations without the need to allocate a judgement to every single observation.  ‘

Not necessary.  spark is totally accurate and gives precise information that is appropriate, easy to read and useful.  However, spark encourages individuals to evaluate their own strategies based upon what is and isn’t working for particular children.  Management can then take this information together with tracking information to pinpoint training needs.

‘7. Remember the principles of good practice shouldn’t change.  Regularly review journals with your team to ensure quality and purpose to the observations. ‘

spark upholds best practice in all respects.  Educators are encouraged to review children’s progress regularly and in various ways.  Management has time to evaluate at a glance or in-depth, in a straight forward way.  The staff team are also monitored and ensures all children have equal opportunity and interventions are quickly put in place for those being left behind.  The overall results will always allow for continuous improvement goals to enhance practice and the business overall.  In both cases, (Key Person and Management) should be confident in showcasing and talking with Ofsted.  All sparkUSERs have to date gained or maintained a good/outstanding Ofsted result (March 2020).

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Catherine – Founding Director

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