Insights From A Service Learning Project: Creating Digital Projects with iPads to Encourage Safe Driving

A new post by Jill Castek

Melanie Swandby, a 7th grade teacher at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, CA was conducting a service learning project geared toward promoting safe driving habits.  Melanie was happy to explore digital content creation with her students, extending her original vision for the project with the goal of producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style were appropriate to task, purpose, and audience (CCSS Initiative, 2010). She invited Heather Cotanch and I to explore the use of iPads to create digital products that would resonate with teens and the wider community. We were excited to witness the content creation process which included elements of collaboration, experimentation, and flexible grouping to support peer facilited tech-help.

Why Digital Content Creation?

Digital tools are transforming what it means to be literate in today’s world. In the past, it may have been that decoding words on a page was enough to consider a student literate. Today, we live in a world with ever increasing importance on digital tools and technologies as a means of accessing and sharing ideas.  Students need to become facile with the full range of communicative tools, modes (oral and written), and media. Having the ability to comprehend, critically respond to, and collaboratively compose multimodal texts will play a central role in our students’ success in a digital information age (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007; IRA, 2009).

Setting the Context for Digital Content Creation

Melanie’s class  worked to actively create projects that resonated with their intended audience without needing elaborate direction with the use of iPad apps. First, we provided a basic overview of the affordances of three digital composition apps (ShowMe www.showme.com, VoiceThread www.voicethread.com, and iMovie for the iPad www.apple.com/ipad/from-the-app-store/apps-by-apple/imovie.html – these three content creation apps were chosen because they allow users to integrate still images, include a drawing tool, and have the capacity to include voice and sound effects).  Then, we shared an example product from each app and students were off and running. They soon discovered many features of the apps themselves as they worked.  This new knowledge was distributed throughout the classroom as peer support and flexible grouping was implemented.

Students completed digital products can be viewed from their student-created website Hitting The Road Safe http://hittingtheroadsafe.webs.com and at Safe Driving VoiceThreads https://sites.google.com/site/swandby/safe-driving-voicethreads and also ShowMe http://www.showme.com under the username jill.castek@gmail.com and password safedriving.

iMovie. While using iMovie, students worked in groups and took on different roles such as creators, actors, and editors. Collaboration came in many forms, for example, some students did not want to appear on camera, but were willing to write a script and film a partner.

 Other groups took turns incorporating found pictures and discussing sequencing to communicate a strong, clear message. Because of the ease of use and multiple options within the iMovie app, the editing process can become never ending.  To support a more skilled use of the app, we pointed students toward a YouTube editing tutorial. Students who found themselves with extra time added captions or experimented with the background music offered within the tool. These “extras” gave the movies a professional feel while extending the students’ knowledge of the technology and supportive the processes of reflection and revision.  While the iMovie app proved easy for students to navigate, explore, and edit, teachers would be well advised to guide students through ample planning of their project during their first few interactions with this tool.

ShowMe.  Possibly the greatest successes were achieved with students use of the ShowMe app. Like iMovie, it produces a video, but its affordances allowed students to deliver the most complete, succinct messages of all three tools (student work is available at showme.com under the username jill.castek@gmail.com and password safedriving). During the showcase at the end of the project, the student audience commented on the ability for students to appropriate humor about a serious topic to be showcased. This was achieved through the use of voice, drawing, and integration of selected images. This app has limitations in the amount of media that can be uploaded and may have prompted the students to choose wisely from their options, making the message clear rather than being lost in elaborate visuals.

From the first introduction of this app, the students demonstrated an eagerness to peruse the tools and begin incorporating images, drawing and voice together rather than compiling images for a later use (a pattern we noticed with other tools). Even after several projects were lost due to glitches with the system, students simply started over learning from their mistakes, making strategic use of the drafting process, and integrating their new knowledge into final products.

VoiceThread.  This tool offered the most structured means of conveying ideas and the students took to the tool readily.  Once slides containing images were created, they could be moved around as the message was drafted and revised. Once sequenced, students could voice over the visuals to communicate their message.  Completed VoiceThreads can be viewed at https://sites.google.com/site/swandby/safe-driving-voicethreads.

Students created multiple drafts of their VoiceThread project and practiced their voiceover several times to ensure the tone and quality of the message was spot on. Unfortunately, the VoiceThread interface selectively saved some of voiceovers, which required students to re-create their projects more than once.  However, this redrafting wasn’t something students balked at and the message conveyed in each subsequent draft was more extensive, and richer in vocabulary and details.  The limits of the technology were not discouraging, but rather a valuable introduction to the process of creating technology-based multimodal products.

What Did We Learn?

Students completed projects included a logical sequence but also incorporate personal touches through the use of music, voice, sound effects, and pictures remixed and used in creative ways.  By including a specific focus on intended audience, Melanie’s students were readily able to form and frame a persuasive message. For example, students who chose parents of teen drivers as the target audience drew on experiences from their out-of-school lives and combined them with statistics from a school-based text. This resulted in charts and graphs representing percentages, an articulated message free from teenage jargon and pictures free from gore (as opposed to an increased shock value to presentations geared toward teen drivers).

Collaboration is key. Collaboration was widely fostered by encouraging students to turn to each other as resources and to help each other figure out how to accomplish their goals. For example, one group of students was using the ShowMe app and wanted include text in their presentation (there is no feature in which students can type using a keyboard). Students offered each other a workaround demonstrating the use the notepad feature and taking a screenshot to import it into the project. Other students offered another option and hand-wrote text on a piece of paper in bold marker and took a picture to import into the project.  Still others shared how to use their finger to write the message manually. As was the case here, students often knew what feature that they wanted and found innovative ways to use the app to meet their goals. These observations reinforce the idea that step-by-step instruction by a teacher is not necessary before students use new apps.  We discovered taking the time was not worthwhile and may, in fact, detracted from the collaborative and discovery nature of the work and curtail digital competence.

Time for experimentation is vital.  We recognized at the outset of the project thatstudents were eager to learn how to use the apps offered to them in the act of content creation.  While our instincts told us to model for students, it became increasing clear to us that experimentation with the apps supported student learning much more efficiently.  It became evidence that when technology is being used, a new role for the teacher is created.  She is no longer the “sage on the stage” and must be more comfortable circulating to support implementation by being the “guide on the side.”

Creativity and humor were strategically to convey ideas. As students created their projects, they infused persuasiveness through their use of creativity and humor.  Creativity extended well beyond being able to draw well.  When asked to reflect on the project, students reported being more engaged in the digital creation process, than the paper and pencil task (even though they needed to develop digital skills quickly to use the tools).  They also enjoyed viewing the projects created by other classmates (even though they were very familiar with the content contained within them).  Students created multiple digital drafts of their project (and were glad to do so).  They appeared to use the multiple drafts to improve the project iteratively.  If a student wanted to revise or rethink a portion of the digital creation, the opportunity to do this was manageable as opposed to the static poster version from which the students began. As pairs worked collaboratively, new ideas for improvement were shared amongst partners, which led to subsequent (improved) drafts. Even though students might have stumbled through the first couple of tries, they got better at it each time. Persistence was key!

Student Insights

Through the implementation of this project, we aimed to test a process by which students could create digital products (including drawings, images, and voice)  that could be shared with a school and community audience.  At the end of the project, students were asked to share what was different about digital content creation. One student remarked, “It’s more creative and more fun to play around with. It’s more exciting. You can put your voice into it and you can make it more fun.” This student aptly points out that digital projects are flexible.  If a student wants to revise a portion of the digital creation, this is manageable. In contrast, changes on a static page can be messy or difficult and offer little room for rethinking of an idea. Another student shared, “You can use funny pictures but you can still have a serious message.”  This learner points out that students could develop and incorporate their own multifaceted literacies. Although humor was never mentioned as a component of the project, students freely infused their personalities through media to reach their intended audiences on a level that demonstrated a high degree of literacy skill. A third student pointed out, “It’s a lot faster than when we usually do projects, you can write in different ways like voicing your message.”

Communicating with a Real Audience

In viewing the final projects,  the audience (made up of members of the school and community) found the addition of suspenseful music, images, and the story-lines conveyed through multiple modes generated a tangible impact that was memorable. Witnessing the audience’s reaction interaction was one way that the students owned their success. It was clear that all students felt accomplished and through the act of digital content creation, they became more skilled in the digital literacies that are a vital  part of our 21st century world.

References

Common Core State Standards Initiative. 2010. Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Available at http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

International Reading Association. (2009). Integrating literacy and technology in the curriculum: A position statement.  Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2007). Learning for the 21st century. Available at http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/reports/learning.asp

Using Strip Designer for Literacy Learning

Using Strip Designer for Literacy Learning

“In order to be read, a poem, an equation, a painting, a dance, a novel, or a contract each requires a distinctive form of literacy, when literacy means, as I intend it to mean, a way of conveying meaning through and recovering meaning from the form of representation in which it appears.” (Eisner 1997, p. 353)

It has been 15 years since Eisner eloquently reminded us that we are moving from a text-based world to a multimodal one where we learn to learn from a fresh variety of sources and communicate generatively with a vast array of tools at our disposal. Schools around the U.S. have not always been quick to adopt such new tools and in some cases have moved to discourage the use of new literacies and evolving technologies in the classroom. In other places, such technological innovation is not only welcomed, but also supported.

We find a welcome case of such support in Napa, California, where a non-profit institution, NapaLearns (napalearns.org) has become a benefactor of technological innovation, providing grants to schools in the area for the purchase of tools and training. You may learn a great deal about the efforts of NapaLearns by visiting their website.

Here I would like to highlight one of the projects that NapaLearns funded. The project takes place in a public school and in the Kindergarten classroom of a very talented teacher, Ms. Martha McCoy. Martha and I became acquainted through her graduate program in Innovative Education at Touro University, where I taught research methods last spring.

In Martha’s words:

This year our kindergartners embarked on a great journey to explore the ways technology can be used to enhance their learning. In addition to crayons, paper, pencils, playdough, puppets, puzzles, play, manipulatives, and realia, we are learning with iPads.

Our students are primarily English Language Learners, 100% of whom are living in poverty based on qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Less than 2% of the students’ parents graduated from high school in the U.S. and 17/18 students only speak Spanish at home.  These students are at the greatest risk of school failure.

The strategy for use of the iPads was to provide early academic intervention focused on building English language vocabulary and school readiness in our most ‘at risk’ students. The iPad enhanced kindergarten project began as a partnership between NapaLearns, a nonprofit organization, Calistoga Family Center, a family resource center, and Calistoga Joint Unified School District. The partners share in NapaLearn’s mission to “re-imagine learning for all children in Napa Valley …to promote implementation of education innovation and promote student- centered 21st century learning…so our students can compete in a fast paced technology enhanced world.” (NapaLearns Mission Statement, 2010).

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Martha completed an action research report to ascertain the effects of a partnership in her school between her kindergarteners (who knew iPads) and 6th graders at the school (who knew about writing). The Kinders and the 6th graders worked in cooperative pairs to create comic strip posters to show preschool children (who would be in K the next year)  what a typical day in Kindergarten looks like.

The Kindergarteners used their iPad cameras to take pictures of typical scenes in a Kindergarten day. They also drew pictures using Drawing Pad (see screen capture below).

 

 

The drawing pad application costs $1.99 and I purchased it to try it out. Don’t laugh (I’m not an artist!), but learning the program was simple and here is a terrible example.

For those of you who know my husband, Marc, he is well represented by a firetruck (we own one from 1949). Me, I’m always up in the air.

The students put this photos and text together using another iPad (and iPhone) application called Strip Designer (see screen capture below). This program costs $2.99 and I also downloaded and tried it out using photos.

Strip Designer also has a tutorial and is relatively easy to learn.  I’ve done a couple of the comic strips, but instead of sharing mine, I have Martha’s permission to share one her student did:

But probably the best way to get the essence of Martha’s work is to view her Animoto on the project, also created for the Innovative Learning program at Touro (under the auspices of Program Director, Dr. Pamela Redmond). You can view this at http://animoto.com/play/xLgpKJU7wrQjLe1qaVfWuQ.

You can also get more information about Martha on her weebly website: http://msmccoysclasswebsite.weebly.com/

One project is complete, but new learning continues. Martha is busy planning new efforts for this academic year. She has already designed lessons on digital citizenship for the K-6 team. She plans for 6th graders to learn about Internet safety, cyberbullying, and respectful (and responsible) digital behavior to prepare for teaching their Kindergarten buddies.  Then they will design posters, digital books, and skits with their Kindergarten buddies about how to be safe and respectful online. Martha plans to weave elements of Internet safety throughout their projects all year long and build it into their rubrics.

I can hardly wait to see the results!

In the meantime, I am planning a little research of my own with the collaboration of four high school teachers who will use Strip Designer to scaffold the literature they will be using in their classrooms. Much more on that later.

There are so many ways that the above two inexpensive programs can be used to scaffold our students’ learning. The Drawing Pad art can be emailed and archived, as well as placed in “albums” and books to be viewed online or printed out. Strip Designer is very productive also. I have written before with colleagues on the uses of graphic novels in special education (Smetana, Odelson, Burns, & Grisham, 2009; Smetana & Grisham, 2011), while having used them with mainstream classes. Storyboarding and graphic novel writing is made easy with Strip Designer. There must be many more uses of this that readers of this blog can envision! A very positive part of this is that one iPad can be used to do all of this. Martha has iPads for all her students, but even if you have one in your classroom, you can provide enormous benefits to your students with very little expenditure.

What are YOUR ideas for using these new tools? All ideas and comments are very welcome!

References

Eisner, E.  (1997). Cognition and representation: A way to pursue the American Dream? Phi Delta Kappan, 78, 349-353.

Smetana, L., Odelson, D., Burns, H. & Grisham, D.L. (2009). Using graphic novels in the high school classroom: Engaging Deaf students with a new genre. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy, 53, 3, 228-240.

Smetana, L. & Grisham, D.L. (2011). Revitalizing Tier 2 interventions with graphic novels. Reading Horizons, 51, 3.

Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age

a post from Bridget Dalton, Aug. 7, 2012
book cover of"Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age"

Dana Grisham and Thomas DeVere Wolsey’s new book, “Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Techniques for Grades 5-12”. is a wonderful resource for all of us who are striving to integrate technology and writing instruction in ways that make a meaningful difference for our students. I was honored to write the foreword for this outstanding volume and have provided it below for your information. I’ve been re-reading the book in preparation for the fall semester and was struck by its timeliness and relevance to the Common Core State Standards. This adds even more to its value!

The book is available at http://www.guilford.com/p/wolsey

From Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Techniques for Grades 5-12 by Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham. Copyright 2012 by The Guilford Press. All rights reserved.

Foreword
My friend calls out, “The water’s amazing! Jump in!” I hesitate. “Hmmmnn, shall I? It looks cold. Are those clouds on the horizon? I like to swim, but snorkeling is relatively new to me.” I stand at the edge of the dock, watching my friend enjoy herself. I know she is an experienced snorkeler and this is one of her favorite spots. I grab hold of my gear and step off the edge. “Okay, here goes, I’m JUMPING! Wow, this feels great!” And away we go, my friend and I, swimming over the coral reef, ready for an adventure together.

Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham have written a book about technology and writing that invites us to “Jump in!” and join them in the adventure of integrating technology into the teaching and learning of the millennial generation. They invite us to jump (or step, if you are feeling a bit more cautious) into the exciting and sometimes turbulent waters of teaching writing in today’s schools. They guide us to focus on what’s important about writing, learning, and the role that technology and media can play in improving the quality of our students’ compositions, their use of writing to transform learning, and their engagement with academic literacy.

Leaders in the scholarship and practice of digital literacies, DeVere and Dana are expert guides who share the wealth of their knowledge and experience in this book, which is designed to help teachers take the next step forward in using technology to engage students in writing that is worth doing. The book artfully combines theory and practice, presenting numerous examples and vignettes to offer a vision of what is possible, along with the concrete suggestions and practical tips that are essential to success. I had barely started reading the manuscript and taking notes to prepare me for writing this foreword when I found myself opening a second document file to take note of teaching ideas, digital tools, and resources that I knew would be useful to me in my own work. The book had a larger effect on me, how- ever, stimulating my thinking about our underlying models of composition in a digital world and the urgent need to improve both theory and practice. It also reinvigorated me. The status quo is not working for too many of our students. It’s not working for many of us who are teachers. Using technology to help students create, communicate, connect, and learn is one way to change things. I believe that teachers, literacy coaches, teacher educators, and curriculum specialists will find this book to be a valuable resource, one that provides multiple entry points and pathways to follow in accordance with their individual goals, subject areas, and levels of technology expertise. In the following section, I highlight some of the key features of the book that I think make it a particularly valuable resource.

Student learning and writing pedagogy drive technology integration, not the other way around.
I love “cool tools.” In fact, my colleague Debbie Rowe and I lead a multimodal composition research group for doctoral students that begins each session with one of the members sharing a digital tool that has interesting implications for research and practice. DeVere and Dana offer a rich array of digital tools and resources throughout their book. However, it is abundantly clear from the Introduction through to the last page that their book is about writing, is about learning, and is about engagement. Technology and media are essential to making that happen. We need the nuts and bolts to build something, but we also need to have a vision for what we’re building, to understand why it’s important, and to know how we go about constructing it. Before we begin, we want some evidence that what we’re doing is supported by previous experience and success.

Dana and DeVere set their vision in the Introduction and then extend and apply it in each chapter. They draw on Bereiter and Scardamalia’s (1987) models of writing as either “knowledge telling” or “knowledge transformation.” While they acknowledge the role of “writing to tell,” their passion is in helping students use writing for knowledge transformation. I appreciate the way they structure each chapter to open with sections on “What is it?” and “Why is it important?” before moving on to how technology can help. Theory and research are embedded throughout (and where the research is limited, they suggest practices that are promising). The continuing message is that technology is both medium and message, and that it is their particular use by knowledgeable teachers and their students that will move us forward.

Writing is not just for English; writing is discipline specific.
Often there is a divide between folks who love to teach writing for literary purposes and those who love to teach their content and view writing as a vehicle to communicate learning. DeVere and Dana offer a more integrative perspective. They make a strong case for why writing is part of academic literacy. Writing is not just a matter of genre and text structure; rather it’s a way of thinking and using language and symbol systems to communicate within our community. A real strength of this book is the range and depth of examples from English, social studies, and science classrooms that illustrate how technology and media can transform the learning process and offer new opportunities for students’ creative expression, social interaction, and learning. Students compose to grapple with challenging content and accomplish purposes specific to the subject matter. While composing tools might be considered somewhat generic, Dana and DeVere illustrate how it is what you do with them in relation to particular academic content and skills that can make all the difference between a “just okay” and an “amazing” student- learning experience and outcome.

We’re all in this together, or teachers and students are making it happen.
In public speeches about educational reform and in professional devel- opment efforts, we often hear that teachers are leaders and that our notion of “what works” should expand to include practitioners’ expertise and expe- rience. The democratization of publishing on the Internet has offered many teachers the opportunity to communicate directly with an audience that is interested in learning from and with them as they go about the daily work of teaching in schools. Blogs, websites, and wikis are just a few of their online venues. However, teachers’ voices are less well represented in published text- books. One of my favorite features in this book is the inclusion of in-depth classroom examples in each chapter. Some examples are written by teachers, whereas others are written by DeVere and Dana at a level of detail that shows their intimate knowledge of the teacher, his or her classroom, and students. It is the combination of Dana and DeVere’s expertise with the expertise of some amazing classroom teachers that give this book depth and credibility.

Affect matters—for students and for us.
Have you ever taken a course or a workshop because of the way the instructor teaches, as much as the content of the course? The importance of affect and the social basis of learning is just as true for adults as it is for children—perhaps even more so, since we bring firmly entrenched beliefs and dispositions along with vast stores of knowledge and skills to each learning encounter. Clearly, DeVere and Dana are highly expert and experienced in the field of writing and technology and there is much to be learned from the information in this book. They are somewhat unusual, I think, in the way that they have shared some of who they are through their writing of this book. Their writing style and tone are conversational as they think out loud, conjecture, joke, and share strong feelings and convictions. They respect teachers and children. They understand and have experienced the realities of real teaching, real kids, and the unpredictability and promise of teaching with technology. They are resilient and hopeful about the future of students in our schools and the role of technology and writing in making change happen. By the end of the book, I was very glad to have had Dana and DeVere’s guidance and to know that they are continuing their adventures in writing and technology. Jump in and try an adventure of your own—I know I will.

Bridget Dalton, Ed.D.
Vanderbilt University

Order Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Teaching Practices That Work on Amazon.

Supporting English Learners’ Literacy Development in a Digital Age

A new post by Jill Castek

Lit Beat is back in action!  It’s wonderful to have had a bit of the summer to relax, refresh, and explore new ideas.  Wishing you an upcoming school year filled with promise.  I hope this post sparks your thinking.  Please post a comment to share additional connections or implementation ideas.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Supporting English Learners’ Literacy Development in a Digital Age

The diversity present in our classrooms requires us to think differently about the literacy instruction we offer our students. We need to offer new opportunities for students learning English to enhance and extend their language, literacy, and content learning.  This new post suggest ways to (1) use digital videos and animations to promote students’ vocabulary development and content knowledge, (2) use bilingual texts to encourage language and content learning across the curriculum, and (3) involve students in sharing ideas with the aid of digital tools.

Using Digital Videos and Animations to Promote Vocabulary Development and Content Knowledge

ELLs benefit from a multi-faceted approach to learning that makes use of interactive visuals.  The Internet offers easy access to a great many of these visuals across a range of topic areas. Providing students opportunities to view media that presents ideas both textually and visually creates a meaningful learning context that supports the acquisition of academic vocabulary in writing and speaking (Dalton & Grisham, 2011).  Using digital resources brings concepts to life for students. Pairing them with opportunities to read, write, and share ideas helps support and enhance ELL’s content understanding.

Sea Otter Interactive

Children of all ages and backgrounds seek to better understand the fascinating animal species found in our world.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium, home of several sea otters and other marine creatures, makes reading about animals an adventure.  The Sea Otter Interactive http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/media/all_about_otters/whatsanotter01.html  is one of many resources that will spark students’ curiosity about the natural world.  The visual support offered by the animated otter, along with the illustrative diagrams and animations, provides visual support that aids students in making connections across languages.

Sea Otter Interactive developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Providing opportunities for students to discuss the interactive in their native language before participating in whole-class discussion can reinforce these connections.  The native language discussion serves as a form of language rehearsal where students can organize their thinking, plan, test their ideas, and make appropriate revisions before sharing their thoughts with the whole class. Discussion techniques such as Turn and Talk or Think-Pair-Share are some examples of ways to provide opportunities for language rehearsal.

When introducing a new interactive to your class, set up a digital projector and talk through one part of the resource as a demonstration while generating guiding questions together as a class. Then, offer students time to explore the digital resource in small groups during literacy center time.  This second self-guided viewing will provide a means to read for a purpose, investigate the questions posed, and deepen students’ interest.

Below is a brief list of videos and animations that connect to common content topics covered in elementary and middle grades:

BBC Schools Science Clips

Carbon Cycle

Discovery Dino Viewer

Endangered Animals 

Habits of the Heart

NASA eClips

PBS Play Amazon Explorer (Rainforest) 

Water Cycle Interactive from Discovery Education

To locate additional resources in curriculum areas you teach, search Google by typing in your topic area + interactive (e.g. solar system + interactive).

Using Bilingual Texts to Encourage Language and Content Learning

Effective literacy instruction makes connections to students’ linguistic, literacy, and cultural resources. These resources can be used to support learning in their second language. Utilizing educational resources in both languages builds students’ cognitive flexibility and increases meta-linguistic awareness (Gort, 2008). Bilingual websites such as Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Pup’s Supper/La Cena del Cachorro http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/lc/activities/book_pups_supper.asp encourage home school connections and encourage learning across the curriculum.

Bilingual English/Spanish e-book about Sea Otters developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium

NASA’s Sun-Earth Day Multimedia Children’s Books http://sunearthday.nasa.gov/2006/multimedia/books.php are free animated multimedia books that present concepts both visually and textually.  Because these resources make it possible to see and experience phenomena such as aurora, they support the development of language, literacy, and content simultaneously. Accessible in both English and Spanish, each book poses essential questions and presents concepts that help students address them. Related resources such as an image gallery and dictionary, extend ideas presented in the text.

The Rainforest Alliance Virtual Story Books http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/kids/stories offer engaging and colorful fiction and non-fiction books in three languages English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  These texts engage young readers by introducing them to children who live in areas that surround rainforests.  The imagery and first hand accounts captured in these unique texts make students more aware of these diverse environments and the wildlife that inhabit them. Exploring these engaging texts extends emergent bilingual students’ comprehension and vocabulary while helping them make connections between languages.

The International Digital Children’s Library http://en.childrenslibrary.org/ is a portal site that makes children’s books from around the world available in a variety of languages. Over 2,800 books are available in 48 languages, free of charge. The simple search feature makes it easy to find books that match the age range and interest level of all students. Each text includes a feature that allows the reader to switch the language for instant translation. Because the books on this website do not require a trip to the library, students can access them at school and at home.

Sharing Ideas with the Aid of Digital Tools

The Internet has made it possible to write in a variety of forms and reach a wide audience almost instantaneously. By introducing new outlets for sharing ideas, ELLs can make important connections between reading and writing.

Wordle http://www.wordle.net/  is a resource that makes it possible for students to generate word pictures using an assortment of words that they chose (in any language).   How frequently the inputted terms appear determines the size, placement, and prominence in the final product. The interface eliminates common words such as “the” or “and” so that key words take on greater emphasis. The selection of layout schemes can be used to highlight ideas and relationships among terms.

This easy-to-use resource provides students a powerful tool for expressing their developing understanding of words, concepts, or ideas in a motivating and engaging way.  For example, Wordle can be used to extend quick write activities.  For example, after reflecting, students can be paired up in small groups to input their writing into the interface. Printing out students’ Wordles and creating a gallery walk can be a useful review and reflection activity to summarize what they have learned about a topic they’ve studied. Repetition of similar learning statements in this case would be beneficial since key concepts would pop visually and aid students in recalling important ideas. These alternatives for formal writing activities would also provide teachers a way to formatively assess students’ understanding of content studied.

ELL students can create Wordles in their home language.  Below is one that Iliana created to reflect the concepts she had learned about the sun and its importance the solar system.  She placed a tilde ~ between words that she wanted displayed together, such as sistema~solar so that these terms would appear side by side.

Iliana’s Spanish wordle about the sun and its importance the solar system

RealeWriter (“Really Writer”) http://www.realewriter.com/ is a free Web site that invites users to upload images or drawings, write their own text, and publish professional looking books that can be printed or posted online. Educators have used RealeWriter to author books collaboratively as a class project and also as a tool for individual student authors. Innovative educators all over the world have used these resources to help students express ideas.  The ease of the software enriches the writing experience and helps English learners find their voice as writers.  RealeWriter  turns writing into an experience that is enjoyable, authentic, and social.

To get started with RealeWriter, explore the wide selection of student published books.  Topically focused texts can be found by typing key words into the site-specific search engine at the top of the page. Clicking on the featured or popular books tab to view examples that will appeal to all ages and interest levels. El Mercado  is a delightful Spanish/English bilingual book that takes readers on a trip through a market place in Mexico City in search of a birthday present for six-year-old Sean.

Reflecting on Implementation

As new technologies continually emerge, new skills and strategies will be required by students to effectively make use of them. Though many teachers have yet to possess these skills themselves, it is nonetheless our responsibility as educators to provide an educational context in which all students can acquire them.  Extending these digital learning opportunities is central to students becoming participatory citizens and achieving success in school, higher education, and the workplace.

References

Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. (2011). eVoc strategies: A dozen ways to use technology to build vocabulary.  The Reading Teacher, 64, 306–317.

Gort, M. (2008). “You give me idea!”: Collaborative strides toward bilingualism and biliteracy in a two-way partial immersion program. Multicultural Perspectives, 10(4), 192-200.

The 4 R’s of Collaborative Writing: Reading, Rating, Remixing, and Revising

A new post by Jill Castek

For the past several months I’ve been working with fifth and sixth graders in two urban schools in Berkeley and Oakland, CA. The project is designed to enhance integrated literacy and science learning and to explore how iPads can be used to support student engagement, self expression, and learning.  Although I’ve been involved in using laptops extensively with students in classrooms, shifting to explore science learning through iPads has been a true learning experience.

I’ve discovered that many applications and strategies for collaboration I’ve always drawn from aren’t directly transferable to working with a small touch screen.  However, because collaboration is a vitally important part of learning,  I’m dedicating this post to  approaches for facilitating collaborative writing.

One free platform I’ve used for collaborative writing is Mixed Ink www.mixedink.com.  This educator friendly tool allows small groups or the whole class to reflect on several versions of a text written on the same topic and to weave ideas  from peers’ work into a single text that credits multiple authors.  An overview of how the Mixed Ink tool works can be seen in the short video clip below entitled Mixed Ink for Educators.

Collaborative Writing with Mixed Ink:  A 5th Grade Example

Ms. Kretschmar’s students completed a waste audit to analyze the waste their school produced. Prior to beginning the collaborative writing assignment, students discussed their experiences with the waste audit and shared ideas about how to communicate the surprising results they found to the school and community at large.  The five phases  the class engaged in as they documented and shared their experiences included:  1) writing;  2) reading; 3) rating; 4) remixing; and 5) revising.  Not only is each aspect an important part of productive collaborative writing, these steps also address the Common Core State Standards that emphasize the use of digital technologies for reading and writing as support process skills such as collaboration, listening, and speaking.

Ms. Kretschmar’s students draft their waste audit letter to the school community.

With the aim of helping the school and community become more mindful about their output of trash, Ms. Kretschmar structured a five paragraph writing assignment for her students and assigned each table group to complete one paragraph.  Once she distributed Letter4School (a set of graphic organizers to support students when drafting), she encouraged table groups to discuss ideas before writing their paragraphs as individuals. Then,  students used the graphic organizers and iPads to complete a first draft.

Next, students learned about online collaborative writing using Mixed Ink and discussed the process of peer support for adding content, revising language choices, and reorganizing their presentation of ideas.

Then, students read each other’s work (staying within their original paragraph groups).  After presenting the purpose of reading and rating, Ms. Kretschmar had students rate each other’s work using a system of stars which ranged from 1/2 star (needs more development) to five stars (very well developed).   As students read their peers’ work, they looked out for ideas  and language they could incorporate into their own piece to improve it.

Using their peers’ pieces as mentor texts, students remixed new drafts  by incorporating in elements of each others’ wording and language into their own piece (creating co-written pieces with multiple authors).  The image on the left shows how the crediting process works (with each author recognized as contributing an element to the piece).

Students then rated each of the new paragraphs again.  Mixed Ink uses a specially designed algorithm that surfaces the most complete and well-written piece based on student ratings.  This featured “featured” version can then be discussed in terms of its organization, use of language, organization, or other characteristics.

With help from the students, Ms. Kretschmar compiled the top rated five paragraphs into a completed piece that incorporated all students’ voices.    The final version can be accessed by clicking on 5thLetter2Community.  It takes advantage of the collaborative writing process in the creation of a well-organized, well-structured final product.

A full set of slides documenting  Ms. Kretschmar’s collaborative writing lessons can be viewed here.

Collaborative writing in a digitally enhanced way has several benefits.  First, it is a process that draws upon the strengths of the collective. Although one student may be stronger in critical thinking skills, another may excel in organizing or adding detail to a piece. By working in groups, students learn from each other while they complete an assigned task in ways that benefit the whole group.  In addition, students working in collaborative groups can take advantage of other group members for  peer review as they complete writing projects.  More and more workplace activities involve working in these sorts of collaborative project teams. Giving students opportunities to work collaboratively can help prepare them for the advantages and pitfalls of collaborative work on the job.  I’ve seen collaborative writing activities such as the one featured here, support students’ abilities to work together and problem solve while providing the context for content-rich conversations.

We are eager to promote an exchange of ideas on this forum.  We invite you to please add a comment to share experiences you’ve had with collaborative writing.

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