Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RESOURCE REVIEW: Write About – A One Stop Digital Writing Community

By Dr. Rose Reissman

Write About www.writeabout.com
OVERVIEW: A Great Destination for Any Teacher who wants a quick start safe , secure and multi-optioned student writing community anytime anyplace- right away!

You are a brand new teacher educator with teaching writing as one of your grade school or ELA Middle school or SS Middle School or Secondary school responsibilities.  You are a competent as needed writer for your own professional level, but are not a writer per se.  Yet suddenly you have a slew of writing genres- informational, reflective, memoir, lists, persuasive, narrative and argument- which you not only must teach but will also have to maintain portfolios of your individual students’ work .  In addition, you have to develop growth metrics and data analytics of the students’ growth.  You want them to be truly engaged in their writing as well as develop a set of English writing conventions skills and have an authentic audience of their class, you and other readers you prescreen.  You want to supply them with writing ideas that stimulate varied credible imaginative responses and or detail backed reasonable positions on interesting topics.  But you are brand new to teaching writing per se and especially  writing genres that align to rigorous standards plus you worry about the privacy of their writings, how frequently you can make private comments on them and the danger of their being subject to unwelcome and inappropriate resources or reactions to their writings.  Of course , you are required to have a student digitally connected writing community with authentic feedback up and running within a few days and you must start accumulating data to substantiate your individual students’ writing skill progress plus your aggregate class process for school administrative and district review.  Your literacy coach is deep into test analytics, where are you to turn?

Go to www.writeabout.com.  This rich and ever evolving resource was built three years ago by two teachers who were grappling with the same issues that challenge you and even your veteran colleagues who are suddenly being asked to teach a specific genre of writing –informational or procedural or argument or reflection in their middle or secondary school content classes.  The site has a vast and growing collection of what they term IDEAS which are also prompts which are conveniently set up according to grade and topic or writing genre.  You can filter and choose those which fit to your necessary writing skills or curricula focus or other thematic goal.  You can easily set up individual student accounts with your managing them and levels of viewing them which include you and the student alone, other students in your class, selected invited others for authentic feedback and finally the public.  You can leave voice comments on your students work as well as written ones and your students can add in audio detailing their process, challenges and key points as they share their writing with you.  During the ongoing process which also allows for students to just post as they would journal their daily thoughts or experiences on their own demand and allows others if they like within your group to react to that post.  You the teacher will edit and control the sharing of the posts but as in any writing community student members can as they desire log in posts or react to a variety of idea posts you have shared or look among other groups whose work you preselect for them to comment on distanced peer class study.  What piqued the reviewer’s interest was a group writing about tech applications and one of aspiring authors, student community members can within groups you share select those they want engage with as digital writers.  For ESL newly arrived students or spatial learners or auditory learners there are available a spectrum of ideas that are visually delivered and students can react to them plus to other peers who have chosen the same Idea.

The site includes two case studies featuring teachers and students who are engaging successfully using the resource and loving it.  For the highly creative teacher who is perhaps also a writer outside of education or a veteran with tons of ideas he or she has evolved, the site welcomes contribution and commentary to grow its site resources as would any virtual writers’ community.  Teachers can become what the site terms as “Rockstar” contributors, plus students having difficulty with online writing can enhance their writing with visuals and audio in their native language.  Even more important for both student writers eager to build a portfolio of digital writings that evidence growth in metrics and in skills over time for high school and college  and for teachers who get transfer or students moving up a grade or academic class, the student portfolios can be transferred intact from school to school or within district.  A true authenticator and necessary product based outcome for students and teachers.

From me the veteran teacher reviewer and lifelong writer from childhood to you the new teacher or you the teacher new to mandated teaching of writing in ESL or SS or Science- This is such a rich source that you can so come to own, that it will excite and engage not only your students representing a broad spectrum of writing and reading achievement levels and interests, but will also captivate your veteran mentors as well.  So beat them to it and get started with Write About.  Let them follow your lead.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Human Teachers STILL Required

"...as any millennial teacher with a large format display at the front of the class and a connection to YouTube and its clones will tell you, storytelling and reader motivation has evolved digitally."

Human Teachers No Longer STILL Required:
Storytelling and Motivating K-2 Readers with YouTube Videos
By Dr. Rose Reissman

Back in the late 20th century my mother, an elementary teacher, loved to do expressive read-alouds with her class of youngsters. She’d read with theatrical storyteller voices and gestures, which she would accompany by singing music that she’d improvise as the story progressed.  If she was really into it, she’d play a record in the background to set the class’s mood.

My memories of mom’s performances, which were intended to motivate emergent readers to engage with text, are very fond ones. She had a gift for putting her theatrical side at the service of developing a range of reading, speaking and listening skills in her young students. And they loved the literary experiences they had in her classroom.

However, as any millennial teacher with a large format display at the front of the class and a connection to YouTube and its clones will tell you, storytelling and reader motivation has evolved digitally. Readily available media items make it easy to for a class to view an animated or live action film of a story being read.

Indeed,  even as best seller print picture books arrive on bookshelves or are read aloud to young readers on classroom rugs or in library reading rooms, their digital counterparts are available online. Further, the now near ubiquitous YouTube video connects classes to authors or actors reading and performing books. 
In fact, for most any well known author, living or deceased (death is no problem as YouTube renders authors immortal); there is not just a single, but rather, multiple videos of readings or talks or Storyteller versions available.

Either in anticipation of a work’s release and sale, or to get intended young audiences involved by engaging  their multiple intelligences (spatial, musical, and kinesthetic) many book publishers are developing video trailers similar to those that generate audiences for movies.

So who needs a human teacher reading aloud with expression, voice changes. and recorded music in her single classroom, when the Internet is full of You Tube storytellers that can be looped forever and read on demand?  Should the teacher and young emergent reader or older elementary child take cover and run away from these non-human, forever energized, click and play rivals?  Is it “Game over, humans!” for  teacher-reader and young learner audiences?

Of course not! Don’t think of these available videos as replacements for the teacher, think of them as resources that the astute teacher can use to provide richer and deeper learning experiences. And for those teachers for whom giving a theatrical reading performance to a class seems out of reach of their own talents, these videos can fill an important gap and fill it well!

Use these videos to engage, to motivate, and to enhance learning experiences directed at fostering critical and comparative analytical listening and speaking skills!! 
Case in point: The newly published 'Ada Twist, Scientist' (2016) is already riding the Children’s NY Times Best Seller list.  I was excited and enthused about it, when I first got a copy from the bookstore. Then, I went online to find its author and illustrator chatting away.  How terrific, since I could extract a mystery question from what they said on YouTube, or a question about their appearance, or reference to the book my grade two students would read.

I could use these found media items to excite them in connecting the story with its real life creators.  Interestingly, its now bestselling author, Andrea Beaty, no longer visits classes, not even by Skype.  But my students will be thrilled to see and hear her in person as well as sly illustrator David Roberts. With the aid of the videos my students can feel they “had” them, and conveniently, right after Ada Twist story time in our class.  I could even throw in the added experience of having the kids draw and talk as they imagined how Andrea and David would look and sound and then have them check their conceptions against the YouTube provided reality.

Even better, we could talk about how the story might be read aloud in a different, deeper, or funnier tone than I read and the students could generate a range of styles and tones that would fit this story of the never still, always inquiring Ada Twist, its principal character.  This wonderful twiss to this literacy learning experience is made possible by a mere click on YouTube that enables us to find and hear several variations of styles for reading the story - a range of speaking and listening and interpreting which support the text but make it lively and engaging.  The students can decide subjectively, but with reference to text and the use of illustrations – as a sequence or one by one- which video storyteller version is the most effective for them and why and justify that choice with a few illustrations or words from the print story that were well conveyed in the multimedia format.

Beyond that, I always have kids do a media transformation of a print text to a performed play or a storyboard sequence.  Why not use the digital storyteller version of Ada Twist and the YouTube trailer or any of the online interviews for it as an anchor and have students with an available video camera or audio recorder (every Smart Phone has one), design their own book trailer to help Ada Twist twist her scientist way to the top of the Best Seller list or at least enable young George Lucas, Disney, and Pixar creators to become digital literacy storytellers and children’s literature and literacy marketers, themselves!!

The sound of the expressive human voice telling a story and reaching out to the audience at his or her feet will never be stilled; nor should it.  But that voice can be joined and strengthened in its reach to engage every child listener and reader in the circle of literacy by now including YouTube videos that connect the circle’s members with authors and story tellers who never tire or die or fade away.  We human teachers have nothing to fear from the Digital Storyteller, which is just another tool to use to reach readers and invigorate reading, writing, speaking and listening.  We will always be needed, and in the digital age, more than ever!

Dr. Rose Reissman writes, reads, and treats herself to multimedia experiences every day.  She is the founder of the Writing Institute, which has added PS 135 K as its latest school with over 150 schools in network.  Dr. Reissman writes frequently for the NTA-New Teacher Advocate -Kappa Delta Pi.