A teacher’s idea to use the latest technology to help improve early years’ literacy has become reality – and is now a growing business.
Eleanor Johnson was involved in an Early Years project when she recognised a number of problems using audio equipment.
So Eleanor began to find a solution by using MP3 players, and with the help of her husband Simon – a lecturer in electronics at Durham University –StoryPhones were born.
She explained: “Studies have shown that audio work is important when it comes to helping improve listening, language and literacy, and I was using audio games and activities as part of the Green Corridor Language Project, in County Durham.
“While working with children on a tape machine, some children got tangled up in power and headphone cords and it was always difficult finding a plug and getting a group of pupils together in the corner where the tape deck was.
“There was also the problem of finding tapes and I started to think of different ways that audio resources could be delivered.”
As cassette tapes are almost obsolete and tend to get damaged easily, Eleanor decided to look to modern technology.
“At first I thought about just buying MP3 players, but they are not child friendly and could only be used individually. They are too small and not robust, so I wondered if I could develop a new way of using them.”
Eleanor asked husband Simon if MP3 players in headsets were a possibility and after discussion, the pair set about turning Eleanor’s idea into reality.
Two years on, and StoryPhones is one of the most innovative education tools available and includes a host of features that were not part of the original plan.
“As time went on, we thought about new ideas and have included them in the product to make StoryPhones a unique product,” Eleanor explained. StoryPhones comes as a system comprising six headsets that are individual MP3 players plus a console unit which provides much of the additional functionality of the system, including an MP3 player with built-in loud speaker and remote control.
The headsets also use motion sensors which pause stories when the set is taken off a head and put on a desk.
As well being a listening device, the system can record a child’s story or ideas for playback to classmates, which boosts language skills.
Eleanor said: “It’s a very flexible piece of equipment that has much more in it than we originally planned, but we understand it has to be as useful to a teacher as a pupil.
“StoryPhones’ main aim is to help three- to seven-year-olds develop their listening skills at any level. But older children can use them to record stories for younger children, too.”
The County Durham-based teacher is keen to stress, however, that StoryPhones will not replace story-time.
She said: “Story-time is extremely important and StoryPhones won’t replace that. They are intended to help develop and reinforce children’s love of stories and storytelling.
“They can be used with children of all abilities for activities such as listening games, storytelling or podcasting. They can be used with small groups of children to do specific activities.” Since all of the MP3 players have rechargeable batteries, they are ideal for taking listening activities outside.
All audio content is managed and stored using simple StoryPhones software that acts like a bookcase. StoryPhones is in talks with major publishers about making MP3 audio books more widely available.
Eleanor added: “We are passionate about audio resources being used in schools and are championing the cause of audio books in digital format being available as a valuable teaching tool.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
For interviews and information, call StoryPhones on 01207 524866 01207 524866. For further information about Early Years literacy studies, contact StoryPhones’ Educational Consultant Kirstie Page on 01207524867.
Following the Rose Report of 2006, it was noted that schools needed to do more to boost listening and speaking skills across the curriculum. For instance, Ofsted noted recently in an overview report on English that:
Too little attention has been given to teaching the full National Curriculum programme of study for speaking and listening and the range of contexts provided for speaking and listening remains too limited.
Obviously, attention to speaking and listening at the earliest stages is especially important for children who enter settings and schools with limited language skills.
Without the available equipment, it is difficult for teachers to deliver such study. StoryPhones can be used to help to address this issue.
StoryPhones is a trading name of Ameeca Ltd, The Greenhouse, Greencroft Park, Annfield Plain, County Durham, DH9 7XN.