My last post discussed some great progress my students have made in their reading this year through making and broadcasting podcasts or short Digital Stories. Recently I have seen some great things happen with the student’s writing as well.
Last week my class went on camp, the first time most of my students had been away from home without their parents. It was a really good camp and a great experience for these kids. On returning from camp every teacher faces the choice of what to do with a groups of tired students in the days that follow. Traditionally teachers wheeled out the good old ‘let’s write a report/summary/diary entry about camp’. As a kid I always remembered dreading and hating these sort of activities, it was like we couldn’t do anything fun without teachers needing to spoil it by making us write about it.
Now I’m a teacher I can see why my teachers always used to do this. Writing about a shared experience, such as a camp, presents a great opportunity for teachers to get even reluctant writers producing good work, as they are excited about what they are writing about. But I still remember hating it and always feel like the kids I teach today would feel the same. Luckily, now technology gets us around this problem. You see, there’s no bigger motivator than the kids seeing a point or reason to what they are doing.
These days its so easy to give students a reason for doing something, because its so easy to provide them with a real audience for their work. Web 2.0 has made it really easy to broadcast student work to a real life audience, and students get excited that the work they are doing will really be viewed and looked at by people out in the real world.
Yes, I got the students to do the age old thing I use to hate as a kid – write about camp. But this writing was not a pointless report to be seen by no one but the teacher’s red pen; it was a script. They would write a script for a Digital Story they would produce about camp. They would then join with a partner, read and edit each other’s scripts, choose the best bits, match them up with photos taken on camp, and narrate to an audience their experiences on camp. I say audience, because the kids would then publish this work and embed it on their wiki page, meaning it was up on the internet so that anyone they wanted to show it to, anywhere they went, could see it.
The great thing about writing a script as opposed to a report is that scripts have to be read. Words need to be spelled correctly or at least close to correct for people to be able to read them easily. Punctuation needs to be spot on, otherwise your voice over will not be fluent and smooth.
The rule was that your partner had to read your script, and no one could pause or take a breath when reading a script unless there was a a full stop or a comma allowing them to do so. This made for some very blue faced kids during the editing and rehersal process, but it was great, because the kids were editing their own work and seeing the purpose behind accuracy in spelling and punctuation.
In terms of content, the students were reminded that they needed to properly explain and describe their experience on camp because their audience isn’t the teacher who was on camp with them, it’s a whole set of people that weren’t there and won’t know what you’re talking about unless you describe it properly.
I didn’t need to correct one piece of writing in the following week. The students did it all themselves. Occasionally I sat in on a group and facilitated them seeing a few points of need in their writing, but generally once kids got the idea they were away.
The results were just awesome.
The quality of writing and reading blew me away. The kids were then really excited to embed their ‘Camp Vodcasts’ onto their home page on our class wiki, and to go home and show their parents, and probably anyone else who would watch!
I contrast this with a lot of technology based projects I’m seeing coming out of schools recently that are really not of a high quality at all. These are generally projects that are approached from the perspective that ‘we need to do something with technology this term’. This is a chronic problem in schools, and is completely opposed to how our thinking should be.
That is, start at the point of what you are tying to teach, then choose the best tools to do it – technology or otherwise.
Technology should never be ‘the point’ of anything. It is a tool, a fantastic medium (and only a medium) for the same messages that teachers have been trying to get across since the beginning of time.