Reading, Writing and Breathing: Mindfulness in the Classroom

Category: VLEs

Published: October 26, 2016

The sight of high school pupils sitting motionless with eyes closed is becoming commonplace in classrooms across the UK and beyond. The practice of meditation or ‘mindfulness’ is being taught to help children deal with stress and to help them focus. While some old-school educators may see this as an excuse for pupils to stop working and mess about, studies are confirming that the effects of meditation have numerous positive effects.
The practice of being mindful is generally attributed to Buddhism, although other forms of meditation are linked to Hinduism and Taoism. The practice of modern mindfulness tends not to be spiritual in any way. The purpose is to focus the mind on breathing and the five senses, letting thoughts drift in and out passively.


Apart from psychological effects, physical changes take place in the brains of meditators. An eight-week Study by Harvard University at Massachusetts General Hospital found that grey matter actually increased from regular meditation sessions. The increase was sited in the area responsible for memory and learning. A study by UCLH discovered that people who regularly meditated for twenty years or more had better preserved brains than people who did not. While data on the effects of mindfulness on children is limited, an extensive meta-review compiled the results of 15 studies covering 1800 pupils from the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, Taiwan and India. They found an overall improvement in well-being, social and academic skills. Furthermore children reported higher levels of optimism and self-identity. Meditation appeared to help them cognitively as well, with improved processing, focus, memory and creativity.


The Mindfulness Foundation is a founder member of the NCB Partnership for Wellbeing and Mental Health in Schools and is running the Mindfulness in Schools Campaign. The Mindfulness in Schools Project is a charity who support the teaching of meditation in schools. They run courses for teaching the techniques to pupils from 7 to 18 year olds. Even adults who have never meditated can learn how to teach the techniques in just a few days.


There are some interesting and useful apps on the market, specifically aimed at meditation for young people. Smiling Mind is a free app that has been developed by educators and psychologists to help bring balance to people’s lives. There is also now Headspace for Kids, a subscription-based program that’s split into three age ranges: 5 and under, 6-8 and 9-12. The availability of apps means that children can choose a guided meditation that suits them. For those teachers who don’t feel comfortable leading a guided session, classrooms that use iPads or have a BYOD policy can have pupils plug in and just ‘be’. Schools could also easily create their own mindfulness programs and deliver them via a flexible VLE.
The message is that pupils find the sessions calming and focusing. They report that they consider their actions more, resulting in better behaviour. The overall positive effects aren’t just beneficial for pupils; the knock-on effect must improve the lives of teachers and parents as well.

Closing the Gender Gap in Literacy

Published: July 19, 2016

As a retired primary teacher I find it unsurprising that numerous studies show a gender gap where girls are significantly outperforming boys in literacy. One of the latest studies, commissioned by Save the Children, has found that the female advantage is established even before they step foot in the classroom. Understanding the Gender Gap in Literacy and Language Development was undertaken by researchers from Bristol University’s Graduate School of Education. Apparently in the 2014/15 school year, one in four boys were behind in language at age five and started Reception without being able to follow simple instructions or speak a full sentence. The report also states that for those children who start school behind, few will catch up.

While the gap appears to exist for all socio-economic groups, it was wider for those children eligible for free school lunches. Whereas the overall ratio was 25% of boy starters unable to answer simple “how” and “why” questions compared to 14% of girls, this escalated to 35% and 23% for lower income families. Several of the schools where I taught had ‘breakfast clubs’ before school, run by volunteers. It was a sad fact that this club was bursting at the seams. Whether this was simply due to poor time management by parents or because of economic factors, cereal and toast were gobbled up greedily. Once the children’s blood sugar levels rose, behaviour improved and they stayed on task longer. But where gender difference is concerned, evidence from the Save the Children study couldn’t definitively point to biological, developmental or social causes. An earlier study in 2008 by the Institute of Education (part of the Millennium Cohort Study) found that for both sexes attainment was better for children with two working parents, particularly if they held qualifications. Pupils in stepfamilies or with one parent had lower achievement.
Department for Education
The DfE produced a report in 2009 entitled Gender and Education – Mythbusters Addressing Gender and Achievement: Myths and Realities where they tended to refute most of the gender gap findings, however the evidence spoke for itself when it came to girls attaining higher in English. At key stage two, the gap is considerably wider for writing than reading but this is hardly news to me, as I repeatedly felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall trying to get boys to write. The DfE say that increased provision has been made for Early Years practitioners to try and redress the gender gap but is it too little, too late?
I recall an old study that maintained girls were better communicators because female babies tended to be carried facing inwards, whereas boys faced outwards. Facing inwards allowed babies to see their parents’ faces and be spoken to directly. They would learn to read facial expressions and understand nuance more quickly than if carried outwards. Somewhat controversially, the Save the Children study advocates treating boys more like girls. Girls tend to be sung to and have nursery rhymes recited to them. The researchers want to boys to experience this in equal measures, as well as having storybooks read to them and being given rewards for good performance. More creative activities such as painting and drawing are also seen as a way to help with cognitive development. But is it fair to lay all the blame at parents’ feet for the gender gap in attainment? Schools need to build a trusting relationship with parents and carers, working with them to promote the importance of one-on-one activities at home. Pupils need to be taught the value of being self-reliant and independent learners, which will raise self-esteem.
Role Models
There are relatively few male Early Years practitioners in UK schools. It’s more typical for men to teach at secondary level, with a view to obtaining headships. With so many single parent families where dad is seldom seen, a positive male role model is vital. In my last primary school they had no less than four male teachers out of 12, one of whom was in Early Years. This state school had some of the best behaviour I’d experienced and the male teachers certainly contributed to that. They provided a different caring style and allowed children to see a more natural gender mix, representative of society. Surely the DfE should do more to recruit male teachers into primary and particularly Early Years.
Methods of Delivery
There is little doubt that even the youngest pupils relate to technology, as it can be exciting and varied. In my KS1 class, while girls would often grab a book and sit in the reading corner, the boys competed for the two computers where they could play games, albeit with an educational objective. More provision should be made at Foundation Stage for pupils to have access to a virtual learning environment. Lower achievers could work through specially designed modules to help them catch up with language skills. As many schools may not have the funds to provide sufficient portable devices to use, a BYOD (bring your own device) policy could be introduced, so that pupils could bring in a tablet or smartphone from home. If boys are more reluctant to read and write, interactive storyboards and gamification could provide the catalyst needed to spark their interest. The beauty of BOYD is that any elearning content can be easily accessed at home as well as at school, hopefully encouraging parents to get more invested in their children’s education.

Create a self-marking quiz with Resources

Category: Customer Training

Published: March 3, 2016

You might have heard a lot of talk about School Jotter’s function as a VLE. While a repository to store learning materials is all well and good, a VLE really needs a way to actually assess students’ learning – it’s a good thing, then, that Resources and Learn (bundled together) offer this capability!
First of all, you’re going to need to go to the Resources app from your School Jotter dashboard (you can also create Quizzes from within Learn itself, but we’ll do it this way as it’s much the same method). Click Create Resource at the top of the page, then choose Quiz from the dropdown.

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Top 5 Do’s & Don’ts of Teaching

Published: February 2, 2016

Teaching requires a great amount of patience, mindfulness, compassion and commitment. It is not an easy job as many would assume. Teachers usually have to play many roles and show many faces to enhance the student learning experience.
With that in mind, we have done some research on the top do’s and don’ts of teaching in the classroom, which we hope new teachers will find helpful.

Make your life easier with School Jotter, a great content management system and hosting solution that provides you with the necessary tools and apps to make your teaching outstanding.
Imagine a classroom, seemingly ordinary, where every student is deeply engaged, their eyes alight with curiosity. This isn’t a scene from an idealistic movie; it’s the reality created by a teacher who understands the subtle art of influencing young minds. This teacher knows that in the world of education, akin to Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of the ‘tipping point’, small things can make a big difference.

 1. Do: Connect Beyond the Curriculum In a small town, there was a teacher who found a way to reach a disinterested student by talking about skateboarding, a shared passion. This simple connection transformed the student’s attitude towards learning. Like the ‘stickiness factor’ in Gladwell’s theories, personal connections make ideas and lessons more engaging and memorable. Teachers who find common ground with their students create an environment where learning extends beyond textbooks.

 2. Don’t: Underestimate the Power of Expectations Consider the ‘Pygmalion Effect’ – a psychological phenomenon where higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. A study once showed that students, randomly selected but touted as ‘likely to succeed’, actually performed better. This wasn’t due to their inherent abilities but the changed expectations of their teachers. In teaching, the expectations set can either be a barrier or a catalyst for student growth.

 3. Do: Embrace the Mavericks There was once a student who constantly challenged conventional methods. Instead of suppressing this unconventional thinker, a perceptive teacher encouraged this curiosity. This encouragement led the student to excel in a project, inspiring peers to think differently. Like Gladwell’s ‘law of the few’, a teacher’s support for the mavericks can create a ripple effect, fostering a culture of innovation and critical thinking in the classroom.

 4. Don’t: Neglect the Small Moments Gladwell’s concept of ‘thin slicing’ – making quick judgments – is often seen in teaching. A teacher’s spontaneous decision to praise a student’s work can boost confidence significantly. These small moments, though seemingly insignificant, can be pivotal in a student’s academic journey. Teachers need to be mindful of these interactions, as they hold the power to change a student’s perception of learning and self-worth.

 5. Do: Cultivate a Culture of Curiosity A creative teacher once turned a rigid lesson plan into a journey of discovery, allowing students to explore topics beyond the syllabus. This approach resulted in heightened student engagement and deeper understanding.

Teachers who encourage exploration understand the ‘law of the few’; they act as connectors, mavens, and salesmen, spreading the virus of curiosity among their students.

In the world of teaching, just as in the dynamics of social change that Gladwell describes, the smallest actions can be the tipping points.

Whether it’s through creating personal connections, setting high expectations, encouraging unconventional thinking, paying attention to the little things, or fostering curiosity, teachers have numerous opportunities to make a significant impact. Just like a carefully placed domino can set off an entire chain, a teacher’s actions, no matter how small, can set the course for a student’s future.

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Children don’t have too much tech – it’s just not being used right

Published: August 27, 2015

Government advisor Tom Bennett was recently on Good Morning Britain, discussing with the hosts the issue of school students and gadgets – 20% of whom will have over £400 worth. Bennett seemed resolutely opposed to the “creep” of technology into schools, and as an education technology provider, we’re here to fight the corner of the tablet and the laptop in the classroom.
Before we start, I do want to note that Mr Bennett isn’t entirely opposed to the idea of having tablets in classroom (and indeed his ire is focussed far more on mobile phones), and happily says that an iPad could be there if teachers have “strong reasons to use them” – additionally he’s willing to be proven wrong if in five years’ time everything turns out well. However, we rather think that Bennett’s definition of “strong reasons” might differ somewhat from ours!

As an advisor on bad behaviour, Bennett’s key objections with mobile devices seem to be how open they are to abuse, and I’ll concede this is a fair point, especially with mobile phones. Their smaller screens and boosted connectivity (with mobile broadband allowing kids around school filters) provide a less-than-ideal working environment. A tablet, however, can mitigate many of these problems, especially if provided by the school and connected to the school’s managed Wi-Fi. Distraction will always be a problem, but to assume kids will automatically get distracted just because they “can” is to do a disservice to their intelligence. If a child wants to learn, they’ll learn – why not give them the best interactive learning environments possible?
I’m particularly confused as to Bennett’s problems with a viewer whose school has gone paperless, and whose homework is now set via an app. Would he rather teachers instead deal with illegible handwriting, endless paper and cramped hands from manual marking? Setting homework and assignments online can save everyone – teachers, students and parents – time and effort – indeed according to ITV, 33% of respondents are now doing just that. Teachers can even plan out a term’s worth of work ahead of time, to be automatically assigned and even, in some cases, graded. Perhaps this can’t be the case for longer, essay-based work, but why mark a worksheet manually when you can have a VLE mark 30 of them automatically, instantly?
The problems, though, come when this tech is miss-used. We’ve got customers around the country (and indeed the world) happily tapping away on iPads and laptops, utilising their VLEs without the problems Bennett seems to think all gadgets bring. As ever, it’s important to note that none of these schools have got rid of textbooks or face-to-face learning, and this is never something we’d advocate.
Interested in finding out how you can better engage pupils using your VLE and a bring-your-own-device policy? Contact us for a free consultation at

A Virtual Learning Environment fits in your resource cupboard

Published: May 15, 2015


“A VLE would take too much time”

“We’ve never used one before so we don’t need one”

“My staff aren’t so confident with ICT so it’s not for us”

Do these statements about Virtual Learning Environments sound familiar? I’ve heard each of them countless times over the course of my teacher training, subsequent years as a teacher and especially as I’ve delved into specialising in their usage.

It is very easy to label a VLE in the same way you would some unnecessary paperwork or a new fad dreamt up by a politician.

What if a VLE was labelled the same was as any other resource in the school resource cupboard? It becomes much more valuable and less scary when staff in school start to realise that a VLE is simply a tool that can be brought out when the occasion suits, which doesn’t have to keep chugging along behind everything you do, keeping everyone back at school an extra 30 minutes a day (even as ‘someone who knows’ about VLE’s, I can think of a hundred things I’d be better off doing as a teacher than being sat behind a computer updating a VLE on my own at 5:30).

The weighing scales in the resource cupboard; do you use them every day? Every maths lesson? Even the counting blocks have their time and place. A VLE is no different. In exactly the same way that you decided to use a physical resource, a VLE can be picked up and dropped into the curriculum as and when it fits you as a teacher and your children as learners.

Perhaps you’re onto Report Writing this half term. It would be great to compare the difference in format between newspaper articles and website articles, and then have the pupils write their own on an online Portfolio. They can even then peer assess the articles right next to professionally written articles at the touch of a button. Then, say, next topic, you are studying Shape Poetry. It would be fantastic to LEAVE THE VLE OUT COMPLETELY! Shape Poetry can be so beautifully written on huge pieces of A3 paper and coloured more creatively than a computer can handle.

Therein lies the secret of VLEs. They are brilliant when you use them as any other tool in your cupboard. Learn their advantages and disadvantages. What advantage will a specific function give to your class and your lesson? That Wiki tool will be brilliant for the collaborative writing part of the next topic.

After all, would you really shoehorn the weighing scales and counting blocks into taking your registers? Teaching Shape Poetry? You could, but you’ll hear “That could take too much time”, “We’ve never done that before so we don’t need to”, “My staff aren’t confident in doing that so it’s not for us”.

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Here at Webanywhere we developed School Jotter a VLE which is developed by educators, for educators.

Website Updates & Redesigns | Webanywhere Blog

Published: October 20, 2010

As you will have noticed we have now completely redesigned our main interface to provide clearer signposting of our main content areas. Over the next few weeks we’ll also be launching new versions of our product-specific microsites for Learnanywhere, Student Jotter, School Jotter, JotterCMS and Payschool.

We’ll be adding blog posts detailing new product functionality as when it’s available so why not bookmark this page.