Lyfta provides us tools to not only work across the curriculum but to transcend it, by carol allen & john galloway
It is difficult to define what it is that makes a resource ‘inclusive.’ It might be the level of fascination it provides: its ability to draw learners in and encourage them to explore and to find out more. To feed their curiosity.
Or it could be the degree of independence it offers them, providing opportunities to follow their own path with minimal guidance from teaching staff.
We might also want it to provide multiple means of engagement, that is, children and young people can approach it in different ways, whether that be reading a text, watching a video, focusing on a soundscape, or interacting with the screen. This variety also provides a range of teaching opportunities, whether that’s individuals following their own path, or in groups around an interactive whiteboard lead by a teacher. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to utilise the rich media input to facilitate activities such as building, creating and acting with no technology at all.
What’s exciting about Lyfta is that all these elements are there. Whilst it is, essentially, an online, on-screen experience, with good quality virtual reality (VR) throughout, it also supports getting out into the playground, getting messy with paper, sticks and glue, or even focusing on what happens in the dining hall. It could be useful in any classroom, with any year group, regardless of learning needs and pupil abilities. Because in essence it is a means through which children and young people can explore ‘humanity,’ what it is to be human.
THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE
What Lyfta provides is first person experiences through which they can learn about the lives of other people in very diverse situations, and through discovery and reflection, gain a deeper understanding of themselves.
It does this in a non-judgemental way. There is no particular agenda. Just stories told and explored through the accounts of their subjects. They include big themes, such as democracy, enterprise, body image, prejudice, forced marriage and family planning, which might prove difficult to frame in the normal run of the timetable. But when brought up through the voice of a 15 year old schoolgirl, a 56 year old taxi driver, or a ballet dancer at the peak of his career, pupils can connect with those experiences, at whatever level they are working at, and ask further questions of each other and their teachers.
When sitting down for dinner with single parent Muhammed and his 9 year old daughter, in Virtual Reality, there is no need for a translation or transcript, just being in the same space as them is powerful enough. It is a scenario that we can all relate to, but one which we will all experience differently, albeit with universal themes. Not just the daily questions about school and work, or catching up on news of friends or family, but also the sense of sustaining and nourishing each other, of caring about our families, and the roles of parents and siblings.
The materials themselves provide a rich, multi-sensory learning environment, which can be further enhanced with a little thought and planning. The weaving room of Awra Amba provides a background rhythmic tattoo of looms clattering and shuttles running through threads which can be recreated with sticks and stamps in the classroom. The cloth they make can be felt and smelt, rubbed and pulled apart before weaving your own with paper strips or string.
RICH, ACCESSIBLE CONTENT
Families’ meals can be recreated, following the steps outlined on the screen. The various assets from the films – video, images and sound files - can be drawn together with participants’ own words to create simplified versions of the stories, or big books, or the backdrops, effects and the outline for short dramas to encourage empathy and deepen understanding.
The videos are presented in the speaker’s language, with subtitles to translate that into English. This could be a barrier to access for those who might struggle with literacy. However, the richness of the content can encourage extra effort to understand, and a prompt for discussion about the meaning of more difficult vocabulary. The films could also be presented in a group with the teacher reading them aloud, pausing to talk about the content, or maybe using a series of screengrabs in a PowerPoint to pick out the key points. Even when learners struggle to grasp the detail of what’s said, or written, the experience is such that they want to explore further, constructing their own meaning from the variety of material available to them.
LINKING TO THE CURRICULUM
There is a rich menu of comprehensive lesson plans and assembly plans (which would also work extremely well as PSHE lessons). While each educator and school will find their own way to successfully embed the materials in their curriculum offering, the plans offer a suggested route and certainly are not short of teaching and learning ideas to use and/or adapt.
These materials have a number of themes, but they also make us think about our values, not just British ones, but those that are universal across the planet. In doing so, they give us tools to not only work across the curriculum but to transcend it. To move beyond content and processes to develop an understanding of what it is to live in this world and clarify the experiences and beliefs that unite us, regardless of where we find ourselves.
By Carol Allen and John Galloway
Carol Allen is an education advisor for ICT and inclusion, having taught since 1980 in both mainstream schools and schools for students with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties. Recognising, as an English specialist, that communication lies at the heart of all effective teaching, the majority of her work has centred on creative and engaging use of technology to support communication in its widest sense. Carol works in partnership with many companies in the educational technology field as she holds a strong belief in sharing and collaboration across all participants in order to maximise the potential opportunities for her students. All work centres on easy to replicate practice which is fun, achievable and creates communication enhancement opportunities.
John Galloway is a specialist in the use of technology to support the inclusion of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the curriculum. His work covers all phases of schools and learners with a very broad range of SEND. Alongside providing advice and assessment for both groups and individual pupils, he also gives training, as the biggest barrier to success is often the skills of those who teach the children. He also runs curriculum projects alongside classroom teachers using technology to improve inclusion, particularly in the Computing curriculum. For many years, John has as a freelance consultant with schools and local authorities across the country. As a teacher educator he has devised and delivered courses at post-graduate and foundation degree levels, and taught teaching assistants at many different levels, including NVQ. He has written several books and co-authored, ‘Learning with Mobile and Handheld Technologies’, which was winner of the Best Book in the 2015 Technology and Innovation Awards.