External constructs?

Just been doing the rounds picking up loan kit from schools, wiping it, then redistributing. I always try to ask for some quick feedback from the schools and I am promised a bit more detail (and examples of work) over the next few days via email.

Briefly though, the set of 12 pads were in a year 5 class. The teacher tells me that she was astonished how quickly the children got to grips with using the apps to create their work. In a sense the playing about bit took no time at all as the children immediately homed in on what the app would do to support the work. She particularly mentioned Strip Designer (as usual) that helped her class with story writing. She told me that traditionally the children would story map the ideas for a story then write each section. With the iPads they constructed the story map directly into Strip Designer as the layouts naturally formed a clear construct into which their ideas needed to fit. For many of the boys in the class creating a story map that has a clear structure is a real challenge and the fact that the app did it for them meant they could really focus on content. They used freeze frames (via the camera featuring the children) to then add  a key moment for each part of the story and of course speech balloons helped to refine the key idea further. This was then used not as a finished piece of work (although they looked nice and professional), but as a support for the writing they were doing in their books (we still do a lot of writing by hand as the children will be tested in that way come May of Y6). The teacher commented on how much better than usual their work was in terms of a clear structure. Here are some examples of the work in the child’s book that was stimulated by the Strip Design:

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This chimes with a lot of work I have been doing using media literacy over the last few years. Giving the children pictures  to work with or video, gives them something concrete to work on. They don’t have to hold an image in their head then build up the text from it, they can see an object or a character in a picture, put their finger on it then  start to form sentences. I know when I was teaching full time I had to get myself out of the habit of asking children to add more description to a piece of work that was pretty bland as they would simply add “very” or several colours, e.g., “The boat was on the sea” became “The very big red boat was on the deep blue sea”. What I learned to focus on was relevant detail, getting the children to identify an object or character trait in that scene that would lead to the next part of the story, refer back to one earlier on or hint at themes to come e.g., “The boat bobbed gently on the sea in the strengthening wind…a storm was coming.” I always tried to get the children to draw the scenes, or close their eyes for a few minutes (put that pencil away!) and imagine sitting at the cinema watching that scene in the film. The pods allow that process to happen much more easily as they can draw directly, photograph or copy objects from the web (or a book) or have examples emailed instant via the teacher (or increasingly, friends). With the image in front of them they can literally point to something and build a sentence around it.

Now there is a caveat with this approach. For developing writers who need that structure it works wonders and the results are noticeable, for writers who can already visualise internally it is often a limiter to their work. This is where the skilled teacher needs to be the guide, not the straight jacket. Identifying what works best for which children is imperative.  I have used the structured picture approach many times and must admit that when I made the whole class follow the same structure the better writers did not shine. Typically such children like to get their ideas down on paper as words then revisit them, redesigning a sentence here, adding a character trait there. The use of the device then allows them to work with the text, editing and rearranging. Sadly, this real world approach to writing (as opposed to how people in the real world used to write) isn’t allowed in an English SAT test so all devices must be taken away. However, the aim is to get the writer craft and confidence developed throughout the years so that when they do sit down for the tests it is merely an inconvenience to have to use a pen.

The second school that I picked up form also had pods in Y5. They had borrowed them short term to use for structuring instructional writing around making bread. Again Strip Designer is ideal for this but I know the school also used Storyrobe which is a great way of making a short narrated movie about a subject (this particular school last borrowed the iPads to complete a short narrated piece of the history of the universe up to the formation of the earth).

The work done behind the scenes for a story robe can be immense with draughting and re-draughting essential. The fact that there is a clear audience for a piece of work like this (I tend to use Youtube but many schools also use children’s work like tis to display on the increasingly common entrance hall plasma screen) seems to raise children’s quality of work.

On that note the teacher at the first school also mentioned one of her girls in particular. She is a child with very low motivation, not really interested in school or any task that is given to her. Apparently she has been a different girl since the pads were introduced, even to the point where she has been volunteering to help other children and discovering novel ways to produce a piece of work. This slots into some interesting discussions I have seen recently that seem to suggest that iPads raise engagement and motivation yet this doesn’t reflect in children’s test scores. This intrigues me as being a teacher I know fine well that when children are motivated they perform better. Maybe that is the problem though. The tests we are using are testing such a precise thing that the fact that the children are learning and showing more interpersonal skills, independent learning skills and problem solving (how do I get my work to look like that..). Now I don’t know about anybody else but if I have two people being interviewed and one is bright, motivated with great social and problem solving skills up against someone who can recite Yeats and has the certificates to prove it…who do I pick? It depends on the job and I don’t mean this to be a political rant but I think sometimes the actual ability of a “level 3” child are underestimated. Of course you aim as high as you can with every child but behind the headlines of what percentage of children leave school without basic literacy and numeracy are many children who are are capable of competing in a real world situation where technology is the norm but struggle when asked to work in a mode they will rarely use again in their entire life.

Hopefully I shall have some examples of work within a few days to add to this post.

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