Teaching Narrative Writing

I have always enjoyed teaching narrative writing. It is definitely one of my favourite subject areas and one which I see all children succeed and allow their personalities to show through. I have tried many different approaches to teaching narrative writing; in both upper and lower primary and definitely feel I have developed my own personal beliefs abut what works and what doesn’t work. I know I am definitely still on a journey and don’t have all the answers. However to help sort out my own thoughts I wanted to try and articulate these ideas as best as I can.. So here goes…

I have been influenced heavily by Debbie Sukarna and Donald Graves. Both of these educators have helped me to form my own ideas about teaching the craft of writing. I have loved using the Writer’s Workshop approach with students from prep to six and have seen first hand the enjoyment all students have towards this approach. I love it when the students are begging for Writer’s Workshop and are disappointed when it is not on the daily schedule!

I whole heatedly believe that students should determine the content of their writing, I don’t think that we as teachers should dictate what students have to write about or what genre or style they should use. I think it is important that students are exposed to different styles and genres but this can be done through shared reading, explicit mini lessons and modelling from the teacher. Students can be encouraged to try different styles but ultimately the content choices should be left up to the students. In first term I trialled a genre study unit and whilst it was successful and the students did produce quality writing I didn’t feel like they were passionate about the task I had set them. Now that students are controlling the content and genre of their stories they are demanding to take their books home and work on their stories or continue them on google docs. Their writing is lot more creative and from a teachers perspective a whole lot more interesting! I am amazed at the wide variety of story ideas they have chosen to pursue. Much more interesting that reading 27 stories which are the same!! Student attitudes towards writing seem a lot more positive and you would be surprised at how infrequently a child doesn’t know what to write about. I have seen many more meltdowns and refusals when student are forced to write about a specific topic. I think we often underestimate children and their desire to have a voice in this world. I think this process really does work to stimulate creative thought and reflects an authentic writing process.

I do believe that modelling is a very powerful part of the writing process and that students learn a lot from seeing the teacher model writing but also and (maybe more powerfully) they learn more from listening to other student’s share their writing. This brings me to my next writing epiphany… I have always liked the idea of writing conferencing. I have read a lot about Donald Graves ideas about writing conferencing and was really keen to get these happening in my classroom and I have tried and tried but I never felt that were as successful as I had hoped. It would take me a long time to get through each student and I never felt like I was seeing each student enough. So this week with my grade 5/6 class I decided to try small group conferencing. While the rest of the class were working on their stories I selected four students to work with me. I deliberately chose mixed ability students. Each student read our their piece of writing and the other three students provided feedback about the piece;things they liked and the things that were a bit confusing. This was an extremely powerful process. Simply reading the piece aloud help to fix any grammatical errors and omitted words but more important the other students gave absolutely fantastic feedback… In kid friendly language… That made sense to the other student! They were extremely respectful to each other, positive and encouraging but also helpful! It was such a great experience. The conferencing took about fifteen to twenty minutes and in the hour session I was able to do a ten minute mini lesson of explicit teaching aimed at the whole class at the beginning and then two group conferencing sessions with a final reflection at the end!

Well there are some of my thoughts about writing. This is not an exhaustive list or is it any way a complete piece. I understand writing is only one piece of the puzzle and I have only began to scratch the surface here!! Love to know what you think? What are you thoughts about writing?

To design or not to design?

We have just finished another session now with the students; in this session we had a “game maker” come in and present to the class. I think this was a really worthwhile session as the students enjoyed hearing about the real life world of the game making.

He also had a really interesting perspective on the process we were undertaking – I guess we had gone down the path of getting the kids familiar with the programs before we started any serious game making and allowing them to explore the programs and discover things for themselves – we are definitely trying to focus on creating that community of knowledge and sharing. He had the belief that we should do all the designing/planning before we even touched the game making programs. I can see the merit in this idea as I can see how program could stifle their imaginations and force them down a particular path. I guess it makes sense to design first rather than be limited by what is possible with the program or their own abilities to use the program. He also stressed the importance of team work and the power of collaboration in the work place.

I am interested in the idea of taking the children on the design journey and I can see some great thinking coming out of this side of the project. As Paul explained he considered 99% of the work went into the design phase and 1% went into the actual game making. I could now see us spending the next few weeks in this “design phase.” I could see the class working on a design brief for their game. By the way: Does anyone have one of these?

I think it would be cool to spend time making characters/settings and producing some high quality work either through drawing/clay/computer programs and really getting the students to write a narrative  for their game and then story board the levels and quest of the characters. And other things such as creating sound effects and designing pick ups, Enemies,  Easter eggs etc.

My only concern is whether or not the students will be able to replicate these ideas using the computer programs after the design phase. Will their skills be sufficient? And if not, does this matter? Is the fact that they have produced high level thinking in the design phase enough? Can they then go back to create simple games? Are we setting them up for a fall? Or should we simply allow the students to experiment with the programs and create games “on the go” without the forward planning? What are your thoughts?

Game Creation

Today I started team teaching with my colleague Kynan Robinson @kynanr based around the idea of game creation. We have 23 boys and 4 girls in a class of grade 5/6’s. These students have been selected based on their interest and aptitude in the area of ICT and gaming. We will be working with them an hour a week for the term.
We started off with the question “what makes a good game?” Students worked in groups to answer this question.  Here are the student answers to what they believe makes a good game;

  • A good game needs good graphics, regular updates, multi player and allowing the player to control where they go and what they do.
  • Good characters, good levels, new items, unlocking achievements,
  • Learning about real life, targets, relationships between characters
  • Good graphics,

An adventure, a moral to the game, and a virtual game

  • Things happen that isn’t expected. Effects, levels, different versions
  • Games that are addicting
  • Characters with personality
  • YOU choose what the character looks like.
  • Multiplayer (Games when you can verse or play with people around the world OR with a friend.)
  • Characters that you can control or use as an avatar
  • Games that get harder and more challenging as you play.
  • Games that you can learn from.

Some of their own questions that the students came up with were –
What makes games so addictive?
What makes a good character in a game?
What makes a good baddie?
What makes a good team player in a multi-player game?
What makes a game fun to play?
Why do people play games?

Our plan is for students to begin to design and create their own games. The students have had some experience with Scratch but we would like to find other platforms to design our games. I have been doing a bit of research about Game Salad and would be keen to find out if this is a worthwhile program? I have read a little about Stencyl and Game Maker however would love some more information about these programs or any that are better? Any ideas? Anyone had any experience with these programs?

Term 3 Blogging Challenge

Well with the holidays drawing to a close it is time to think about what I would like to achieve with my class this term.

I guess my main aim is to really sink our teeth into blogging! My students are very familiar with blogging and are now quite savvy with their blogging skills. To this point our blogs have been mostly “show and tell,” a place when students retell the events of their school life, share work and photos with family and friends. I would like to keep this side of blogging but would also like to take their blogs to a new level. I would like the students to move towards interest blogging; developing a more narrow focus on their blog about something they are interested in and passionate about! I think this is a more authentic blogging experience and also one which is modeling more readily in real life. I think this could also work to support a more ‘problem based learning’ experience.

Kynan Robinson @kynanr & Richard Olsen @richardolsen introduced me to this whole idea about authentic blogging. There is a great post about it on the Kynan’s blog http://kynanrobinson.wordpress.com

They have really forced to me to think about how we are getting students to connect, collaborate, communicate and act collectively through blogging.

My plan is to really get my students to think about;

  • What is the purpose of blogging?
  • Why do people blog?
  • What do people blog about?
  • What makes a good/interesting blog?
  • What can we learn from blogging and other blogs?

Students will chose a topic they are going to base their blog around and then create a mind map showing what information they will include in their blog. What will the structure of their blog be like? I want students to think about a “big question” to base their blog around. I think this might help to give their blog greater purpose, direction and longevity! Fingers crossed!

I would really like to base my reading program around blogging as well. I want my students to be reading other blogs and using these posts as models of quality writing (or maybe as examples of what not to do!). If you have any examples of great blog posts suitable for children please let me know! I would love some more examples!

Wiki Spaces – a great tool!

When I started this project I was struggled with which medium I should use to get the students to reflect on their learning. I wanted to move away from reflecting on paper but didn’t want to lose the good they came with that process. Wiki spaces was recommended to me, I had never used it before but decided that it sounded perfect for the project. I am really glad I went with Wiki Spaces. Thanks Ty for the idea!!!

It is a great tool, which allowed the students to quickly and easily set up their own page on the 5/6D Sim City Page I was able to create. Now each student has their own campaign page. I really like that the pages are all in the one place and students are able to move freely between each other’s pages and I can quickly check that they have all completed their tasks! I like that they can use the discussion function to respond and create discussion. I found that several of my boys started a discussion about strategies for playing the game without being prompted by me! I found Wiki Spaces really easy for the children to use and allowed them freedom to embed Extranormal mayor’s speech and google presentations. I will definitely continue to use Wiki Spaces and see that is a fantastic educational tool. It was worthwhile requesting the “educational upgrade” which allows you to use the multiple user creator – which saved me a lot of time and effort!

Here are some examples from our Wiki Page….

Picture 1 Picture 2 Picture 3

Hot Tip success…

We are approaching the business end of the project and I am feeling really happy with the way things are going. The hot tips posters were a great success. I handed out post-it notes to the students as they were working and if they had a good idea they wrote it down. I would then stop the game play and that student would share their idea with the class. This worked really well. On the flip side if a child had a problem or an issue we would stop the class and ask for advice about how to deal with this issue. I really liked the sharing of ideas and the sense of community that has developed! I have also spotted kids referring back to the “tips” chart during their game time when they are having trouble. ! I think the “hot tips” is a really transferable idea that would work in many tasks and I will definitely use it again.  I think it really helped kids to verbalise their strategies and their metacognition. It also acted as a model for the other kids who didn’t have a strategy and I think helped to make them more away of the notion of strategizing.  These were our first tips…

IMG_0447 IMG_0452 IMG_0451

I have also been doing mini mayor interviews during the game play time.

Sim City Update

Today we had a great session; students worked really well. I feel the children have reached a really comfortable place with the game and the learning environment I have been trying to facilitate. The constant chirping “I can’t do it” has stopped, all students playing successfully (variety of levels), are persisting with their problems and are turning to each other for help – something I have been really trying to push!!! I really wanted them to see that I didn’t have all the answers and that they would have to problem solve, read the manual and ask each other! I also wanted them to understand that failure was ok and that their city didn’t need to be perfect the first time. They were ok to start again and try new approaches!

It is so interesting to see how different students operate – some are so haphazard about their approach to building their city and if it is successful it seems purely by luck! They are unable to articulate why they made choices and what they will do next time. On the other hand there are some students who are so strategic, they have a firm plan about what they want to achieve and are able to articulate clear their reasoning and opinions. It is amazing how they can then reflect on their learning and be continuing improving on their play.

Sim City Rich Task

For anyone who is interested this is the unit we have created for our Sim City game play around. We are looking at the concepts of leadership and government. Students will run a mayor re-election campaign based on their term as mayor. Students will need to justify their leadership style, why they are a good leader, what they have done for their city and what their plans would be for their second term. We are also looking at the issues of social media in government and campaigning. Students will write press releases, speeches and twitter comments to name a few. Any ideas most welcome…

SimCity Leadership rich task