Monday, May 25, 2015

Late Bloomer

Meet Canadian author Alan Bradley

Cast out, called a bad boy, alone in a big city, discouraged early on about his career choice, ill with several childhood illnesses in a row.

But, he was reading at a very early age and spent a lot of time reading in cemeteries. He felt he didn't fit in. Mr. Bradley had his first Flavia book published when he was 69 and has since gone on to publish several more.

One of his book series has as its main character Flavia de Luce, an eleven year old girl who is "passionate about poisons" and from one reader's account of Miss de Luce the way Mr. Bradley thinks and writes the character is remarkable.

Let's be encouraged by Mr. Bradley's career choice in later life. And be pleased that he did not let the discouragements early on get in the way of  his motivation to be a writer.

Read the Toronto Star interview with Mr. Bradley.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Getting Boys Reading and Writing

I have just come across Gary Wilson's work. Mr. Wilson is a former teacher who noticed the gender gap in writing and has since gone on, in his retirement, to working with boys reading and writing.

He has a series of videos on boys' learning and each video includes a short handout linked just below the video.

Image Credit: Oxford School Improvement

Friday, February 15, 2013

Collegiate School

Collegiate School - NYC
It is an honour and a pleasure to be working with teachers today at Collegiate School in New York.

I can't think of a better place to share my passions of Digital Storytelling and Boys' Writing than at an all boys school.

During my school visit yesterday I couldn't help but think about Jeff Wilhelm's social contract. For without a social contract in place, I wouldn't have been able to sit with 1st grade students and have a discussion about their writing.

Here's a previous post that talks about the social contract and relationships.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Boys Need

I came across this terrific article by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail. She spoke with Ontario educators about Boys and their Boyness. Here are 7 of the highlights.
  1.  Boys need to have a good relationship with the teacher.
  2. Boys will only stay engaged as long as the work interests them.
  3. Boys need purpose, to make a difference, to know they measure up.
  4. Boys need challenge, above all, a need for a meaningful vocation.
  5. Boys need purposeful work.
  6. Boys long for to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
  7. Boys love rituals, trophies and tradition.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tech Class - Motivating Boy Writers

As a part of our province's professional teacher magazine, a new feature article will appear in each and every issue. The question: "How do we use technology to encourage and support our student learners."

In the first article "Tech Class" the OCT asked southwestern Ontario writer Gerry Blackwell to interview me on how I use writing and stop motion to motivate boy writers. Mr. Blackwell spent time at my Minds-On-Media station last fall and then conducted a follow-up telephone interview. Then Kevin Hewitt visited the classroom and spent the morning snapping professional shots of the kids in action with all means of technology.

On the day of the photo shoot, it dawned on me. The students really do have all manner of technology to assist in their learning. In one corner of the room sits what we call "The Mac at the Back", in another corner is a static animation station. There is a SMART board at the front and another computer attached to it. As well, we just crossed the 1to1 threshold a week or so back as all students, with school provided devices and BYOD, have their own device.

It just seems all so "natural" for the grade 6 students I teach every Day 2 to use technology. After all, technology support has been my vocation for the last 12 years or so. So why wouldn't it be a natural fit to use technology for all things in the classroom.

I'm a big believer in having students create an original artifact where none existed before. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

As Alan Luke has said, "Give the kids the gear, a webcam, a laptop and have them create".

Friday, January 13, 2012

Top Tips for Boys Writing - Lately

January is a month for planning and reflection as we look back on writing successes and look ahead for what will be.

In a previous post I summarized 23 Top Tips for Boys Writing from the 98 page Me Read? And How! document which has been the most popular post on this blog for months.

Since I'm back in the grade 6 classroom once a week for media literacy and technology instruction, I thought I'd list the top tips I've used during the first term, September to December 2011.

1. Boys who were allowed to choose writing topics showed increased motivation and engagement. Page 10

I've been a little conservative on this one but on occasion I've let boys, and other students in the class choose their own topics. To be fair, I come up with the structure of the writing during my day with the grade 6 students and the students provide the content.

4. Boys planned their writing using graphic organizers both individually and in pairs. Page 17

We have used SMART Ideas graphic organizer software on many occasions to brainstorm and pre-write our particular topics.

10. Boys use of debate to discuss authentic and relevant issues transferred into their non-fiction persuasive writing. Page 35

We did one debate in the classroom during first term. This is one the students enjoyed. I'll need to plan for another this term.

16. Boys like to write about exaggerations, humour, silly writing, rap songs, procedural writing, short scenes. Page 51

We had several of these types of writing assignments during first term including writing a step by step, "Teach Me Something" piece, a two-voicer radio commercial and some short scenes for anti-bullying videos the students created.

17. ICT in the form of computers, blogs, wikis, and digital voice recorders have been used with boys to reinforce writing skills. Page 53.

We use blogs, digital voice recorders and computers every day for our writing. In particular, we used Audacity voice recording software and recording headsets to record many of our writing assignments including our radio commercials and memoirs.

20. Boys who design and play video games develop sophisticated operational, cultural and critical literacy skills. Page 57

We started a video game design, review and evaluation unit just before the break. This is new ground for me. The students of course, love it.

So these are the top six that jump out of the page as I write this post. I'll need to incorporate more of the 23 top tips during my planning for second and third term.

How many of the top tips have you been using?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stop Motion Animation Storytelling

A piece I wrote recently about motivating and encouraging boy writers with stop motion animation has been published by Creative Educator Magazine in a feature article.

Here's a direct link:  Creative Educator Magazine.

During the last school year, I experienced success in motivating boy writers with the use of stop motion animation storytelling.

There is something magical about how imagination, a story, and technology can all come together to provide an engaging learning experience. In fact, just yesterday I continued to use stop motion animation storytelling as a motivator for a group of five boys at one of our school locations.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Boys - Literacy and Identity

Article Review:

"Boys who seem uninterested in literacy in the classroom may be enthusiastic readers and writers in different contexts.

Yet the literacy practices that appeal to some boys are not always valued in the context of institutionalized school literacy and may be overlooked, to the frustration of both student and teacher."

Quote: Page 512 Column 1 - Bronwyn T. Williams - Article

B.T. Williams presents a case in this article for boys and what some of them prefer to write about: action, adventure, violence and popular culture.

The author speaks to the fact that "some of our boy writers, who may be creative, passionate writers are being told, explicitly and implicitly, that the reading and writing they are drawn to not only has no value but is also potentially dangerous" -

Page 511 Column 2.

The author describes how the violence in boys' stories is not always about violence for the sake of violence but is included as part of a representation of violence during the story.

The second to last segment of the article talks about Action and its appeal. She says, "action-oriented literacy practices for boys is the way they can use them to make social connections" These type of social connections are very important for our boy learners.

Some larger questions are posed at the end of the article including:

Should I dismiss or prohibit the writing and reading that many boys are drawn to, and if so, why?


Newkirk (2002)
Smith & Wilhelm (2002)
Booth (2002)
Maynard (2002)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Boys and Writing - Action Research Reports

"the students displayed increased motivation to excel with class assignments and exhibited improved confidence with their perceived writing ability.

Source - Volume I: Page 43, " Visual Image Writing Prompts"

"the opportunity to share opinions and ideas globally provided motivation to write more powerfully and with increased confidence in this context"

Source - Volume II: Page 97, "The Power of Blogs"

The International Boys' Schools Coalition has put together over 20 action research papers all about boys and writing and has posted them in two separate volumes.

There are many hours of reading here. Lots of learning ahead as we read the research.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Writing on Personal Devices

Dr. Elliot Soloway asks a teacher whether using a personal device will benefit boys more in their writing.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Using Moving and Still Images

"Many teachers in the project found that giving boys access to visual images, both moving and still, had a significant impact on their engagement with, and understanding of, texts. This often led to increased motivation to write and a higher standard of writing."

Sally Wilkinson in her journal article "Encouraging Boys' Writing" writes about how the use of film and visual and still images encourage and motivate boy writers.

Here's a sample issue of English 4 to 11. The English Association and UK Literacy Association.

Ontario teachers can read "Encouraging Boys' Writing" on the EBSCO database.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Barry MacDonald - Implicit Social Contract

"Highly engaging visual ways of communicating thought" ~ Barry MacDonald

In this 90 second clip Barry MacDonald uses the concepts from Jeff Wilhelm's Implicit Social Contract. We all need to be making these types of connections with our boy learners.

First Mr. MacDonald speaks with the boy personally about his "trials and tribulations at school". This is first and foremost in Jeff Wilhelm's description of an implicit social contract, (Page 99) of Reading Don't Fix No Chevys.

Second, Mr. MacDonald zeros in on the personal concerns the boy has, "the boy feels like his intelligence isn't really expressed in his current environment, and has a written output problem" These are individual challenges the boy has. We know this as Mr. MacDonald explains specific examples.

Third, Mr. MacDonald asks the boy about his "discretionary passions", or in lay-persons terms, what the boy does for fun. The boy explains his personal interests include robotics, recording TV with a PVR and creating mash-ups and re-mixes using iMovie and uploading them to YouTube. This is the third important characteristic in Wilhelm's social contract: attend to my interests.

Jeff Wilhelm writes that if a teacher meets even one of these conditions, boys tended to respond positively and learn from and work hard for that teacher. So there is the challenge.

5 Steps to an Implicit Social Contract
by Jeff Wilhelm

1) To try to get to know our boys personally in a professional teacher/student relationship,
care about them as individuals and
3) attend to their interests. The other two are
4) help them learn and work to make sure that they learn and
5) teachers should be passionate, commited, work hard and know his or her stuff.

I try to at least meet one of the social contract indicators (but hopefully more) each and every time I work with boy learners.

Thank you Mr. MacDonald for sharing this powerful example.

Video Source: TedX - UBC

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Time to Talk with Camera in Hand

Yesterday I worked with a group of 6 squirming, active, interested boys as they are now at the stage of filming their anti-bullying themed public service announcement video.

My involvement with these boys, as a part of a larger group of about 60 middle schoolers has been great. The lesson had a lot going for it for boy writers.

First we started last week by brainstorming and writing scripts. Small chunks, short sentences and they had to "solve it in 6 frames". This solve it in six method is a method of problem - solution that I learned from Marco Torres a few years back. This short clear method of storyboarding makes the task more manageable. (watch the video in this post)

Second, it was hands on and an activity (the filming) where standing up and "acting" is allowed. Yesterday, I took a few moments to show the group how to load and unload a Mini-DV tape into one of our Canon cameras. Each of the boys took a turn to load the tape and then eject it. They got a chance to hold the camera, and get a feel for it before filming began.

As we walked to some of the locations for the filming, I remembered how important "the social" is for our boy learners. They were talking about how and where the scenes would take place. "In the hallway here, then the next scene is in the library", I overheard them say.

Who knows what this experience will bring about for these lads. Perhaps a new pleasure in the writing of a script, or the operation of a camera. Maybe one of the boys will become interested in film, or editing when we begin to import our footage tomorrow.

What I do know is that small groups, chunking and hands on, were the order of the day.

I wonder what I'll learn next time.

Video Credit: From Marco Torres Full Day Presentation at NECC 2006 in San Diego

Friday, November 12, 2010

Today's Session - Resource Links

First of all thank you to the 75 or so folks who attended my session today in the Aurora Room at the Sheraton Parkway as a part of the annual conference in Toronto. I really was surprised to see you all, especially since Dr. Thornburg was speaking at the same time!

I wanted to take a few lines here to provide links to some of the resources I mentioned today so it will be a little easier for you to find them instead of scrolling or searching the blog.

I was asked where to start if one was to read more about boys and writing or boys and literacy. My hands down choice is the book pictured above. Jeff (I call him Jeff) Wilhelm's book, "Reading Don't Fix No Chevys" was where I started. My favourite principal handed me a copy in 2005. Little did I know then that reading about boy writers would become an obsession.

Second, the writing continuum matrix (which was ever so hard to read on the screen). Here is a clean .pdf copy of it for your viewing pleasure. It really has been my bread and butter the last few years. It gets me in the door of more schools and classrooms to support our boy writers than any other document.

A few websites that may be hard to find on some of the research I quoted.

1. Caroline Daly's - Literature search on improving boys' writing
2. Boys' Writing Flyers - Talk, Visual Texts, Purpose and Audience, Feedback on Learning
3. Visualizing Literacy - Building Bridges with Media

Lastly, I was asked for my keynote presentation but after some thought I'll not be posting it for a couple of reasons. The first being the privacy part as I used quite a few student samples and second out of respect for copyright, I'd better keep asking my permissions so I will fall in line with what my friend @thecleversheep would advocate.

Again, thank you for the overwhelming response to my session today and please, by all means, join in on the conversation in the comments area. I'd love to hear about your triumphs and challenges with your boy writers and it will give us a chance to continue the conversation.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pink or Blue

I received this tweet from Mary-Beth Hertz this week. Once I've read the article I'll respond.

Should be an interesting conversation. Check back in a couple of days and join in!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Making Connections

I was very pleased to meet dozens of educators yesterday at my Motivating Boy Writers poster session at the International Society for Technology in Education conference in Denver, Colorado.

What struck me most in reflecting on yesterday's session was that the many teachers I talked with nodded knowingly when we talked about those few boys in our classes who are reluctant writers. As we talked further about boy writers, it seemed to me that connections were being made to the few boys "back home" for which writing is a challenge.

Another thing that struck me is the surprise folks had as they were walking by the session and read the title. Perhaps they had missed the session description in the planner as there are so many to choose from, but many stopped and repeated the title, "Motivating Boy Writers", and then said something like, "Well I have three boys at home and I know how difficult it is for them to write".

Also, fellow Ontario educational technology teacher, Jason Eygenraam, said it well when he tweeted after the session, "They talk about reluctant readers, but he's talking reluctant writers". I guess that is true. There are a lot of resources on motivating boy readers and I'm very pleased to have made the writing part of the equation one of my passions. I do realize that the two go hand-in-hand, but the many research articles I have read over the last two years speak specifically to writing for boys. So, thanks Jason for pointing that out.

There were many folks yesterday who handed me a business card or talked about making some kind of connection in the future. I am grateful for this as making connections are so important to keep this area of interest alive.

I hope those that did make a personal connection, will get in touch so we can keep the conversation going.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Poster Session Today at 11:00 a.m.

If you are attending the conference this year, drop by my poster session, "Motivating Boy Writers: Using Audio and Visual Media to Engage and Motivate" later this morning from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I'd very much like to have a conversation with you about boy writers.

Lobby A - Table P26

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Digital Persuasive Storytelling

Watch this Adobe Connect screencast to learn about a project which was created as a learning object during the Innoteach project.

Engagement and motivation during the writing process was very important in this cross-curricular project.

Just click on the image to view the screencast.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Boys' Voices

Watch as Avon Maitland elementary school teacher Trevor Hammer passionately describes his Boys' Voices project.

I had the opportunity to sit next to Trevor recently at a Learning Connections meeting but seeing his students in action provided me with a window into his classroom.

Video: Just click on the image and you'll be directed to Vimeo.

Monday, April 26, 2010

David Pena - Writer and Musician

Watch as high school social studies teacher Marco Antonio Torres explains how his former student, David Pena, discovers that re-writing John Williams music can lead to great things.

You can watch the full video of Mr. Pena creating his music at the SFETT website from 2003.

NMC video clip: Creative Commons 2.5 License.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Visualizing Literacy: Building Bridges with Media

Without a doubt the best article I have read in quite some time.

Author David L. Bruce, who is now at the University of Buffalo, completed a study of four low achieving boy writers. His research was published in the July 2008 issue of Reading and Writing Quarterly.

The research method used in the article is described and the best parts are the transcripts of his discussions and anecdotes from the boys directly. The boys share with the author their methods of writing using film, audio and media.

Perhaps your school district has a subscription service in order for you to read this 20 page article. Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions I am unable to link or post to the entire article.

Again, this is the best article I have read on motivating and engaging boy writers in quite a while.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Talk Drama and Writing - Social and Emotional Growth

I have found another gem in my professional reading collection.

Sheree North, Teacher-Librarian at The Sterling Hall School in Toronto, writes about drama's role in developing social and emotional growth for boys.

As always, there is added value in her article as she includes explanations about how talk and journal writing contribute to social and emotional growth as part of the process. Read the full article.


"...drama allows students to initiate meaningful talk, to explore the social functions of language" Page 60

"...for boys graphics, visuals, dramatic self-expression all have positive effects on boys" Page 60

Booth 2005

"...getting a boy into keeping a journal is a wonderful thing, we must help our boys make a story of their lives" Page 63

Gurian 1997

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Writing Through Visual Literacy and Drama

Drama, ICT, poetry and visual literacy.

This Boys' Writing Project from Lancashire County, based on evidence informed decision making "was designed to look at different teaching and learning approaches that would appeal to boys as much as girls."

The planning, lessons and illustrative samples are included in the study. As well, on page 29, the Literacy Unit Plan is included. Also, page 46 is the question and answers to the Writing Attitude Questionnaire which was given.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ISTE 2010 - Program Now Available

The program planner is now available for ISTE 2010 in Denver, Colorado.

If you are attending the conference this year, drop by my poster session, "Motivating Boy Writers: Using Audio and Visual to Engage and Motivate" sometime on Monday June 28th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I'd very much like to have a conversation with you about boy writers.

Only a short 4 months away.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Nazaury Delgado's work was showcased in the Sunday edition of the New York Times this past weekend.

These remarkable creations were not a part of the high school art curriculum or assigned work. Mr. Delgado created them on his own.

"While the art academy assignments had left him uninspired, the flexibility of Photoshop empowered Mr. Delgado."

As teachers, how often do we come across situations like this? Sometimes students' talents lie undiscovered or unnoticed until awakened or shared openly. Can you imagine encouraging all students to discover hidden or previously undiscovered talents?

The article describes how Mr. Delgado's teachers supported him, took a personal interest in him and helped him get into college: very inspiring.

Photo Credit: Mr. Naz Delgado
NYT Article: Jennifer 8. Lee

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

23 Top Tips for Boys Writing - Research

Building on the very successful "Me Read, No Way" document, the Province of Ontario released, "Me Read? And How!"

Provided for you below are 23 strategies and ideas to assist our boy writers.

I've included page references for each strategy so you can read more about them in the full document.

1. Boys who were allowed to choose writing topics showed increased motivation and engagement. Page 10

2. Boys are helped by experiencing examples of different text forms. This helped boys in non-fiction writing. Page 15

3. A "guys-only" writing workshop was initiated for a small number of boys. They came away very motivated to write as a result. Page 16

4. Boys planned their writing using graphic organizers both individually and in pairs. Page 17

5. When boys were given assignments with step-by-step instructions, clear expectations and a formula to follow, assignments were completed. Page 23

6. Boys were introduced to the "APE" (answer, prove, extend) strategy to help them to write at a higher level. Page 23

7. Boys saw the importance of an authentic audience and a real purpose when they produced a "Boys Writing for Boys!" newsletter. Page 23

8. Talk is an important scaffold for boys writing activities. Talk builds social interaction, and deepens understanding and is a precursor to writing. Pages 32 and 33.

9. Allow boys to share their thinking through talk prior to a written assignment. It will improve their ability to communicate. Page 34

10. Boys use of the debate to discuss authentic and relevant issues transferred into their non-fiction persuasive writing. Page 35

11. Boys welcome having male role models as writers. Page 39

12. Boys choice of topics for writing allows for ownership. Page 47

13. Schools can tap into the real-life connection by creating blogs for the students to use for class writing. Page 48.

14. Boys prefer to write about real-life and hands-on experiences. Page 49.

15. Boys' writing improved during activities that were highly motivating and grounded in the real world, coupled with direct instruction about the writing form and supported with the use of visuals such as anchor charts, word walls, and graphic organizers. Page 49.

16. Boys like to write about exaggerations, humour, silly writing, rap songs, procedural writing, short scenes. Page 51.

17. ICT in the form of computers, blogs, wikis and digital voice recorders have been used with boys to reinforce writing skills. Page 53.

18. Boys with special needs thrive when given the opportunity to work with assistive technologies: graphic organizers, dictation software. Write and edit in-class compositions electronically allowed them to receive immediate feedback. Page 53.

19. Teachers observed that when the number of paper and pencil tasks was decreased, students were more engaged during the writing activities. Page 55.

20. Boys who design and play video games develop sophisticated operational, cultural and critical literacy skills. Page 57.

21. Boys requested boy friendly topics, a clear outline of what is expected, a shorter writing process and fewer things to fix when they are finished. Page 66.

22. An emphasis on non-fiction writing (Reeves, 2000) Page 79.

23. Boys' teachers placed a heavier emphasis on oral assessment and performance-based assessment, such as drama activities rather than traditional assessments based on writing. Page 82.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Study - Role of Technology and Boy Writers

A study of survey data collected in May 2009 was recently released.

The Natioinal Literacy Trust studied young people's attitudes and behaviour and the role of technology in writing. The study includes some data about boy writers.

"by exploring a greater variety of possible writing formats. For example, technology based formats, in the form of text messages, blogs or notes on a social networking site, feature strongly as a vehicle to encourage pupils to write more widely.

By showing that websites, emails, blogs and networking sites were among the most commonly written formats outside of school, this study highlights the importance of technology in informing young people’s writing choices."

Source: U.K. Literacy Trust: Writing Survey 2009 Page 35

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Engaging Boys - Powerful Possibilities

Ontario's Ministry of Education released a video series yesterday all about engaging our boy learners.

The series is categorized into the following:

1. Overview
2. Research
3. Administrators
4. Teachers
5. Classroom Examples
6. Students

Thursday, November 5, 2009

International Boys' Schools Coalition - Action Research

The I.B.S.C. on boys' writing:

"Their ability to write a well structured, well organised, thoughtful, cogent, coherent essay is frequently poor. Boys have difficulty in responding to questions in examinations appropriately, constructing essays, researching topics in sufficient depth and detail and taking and keeping useful sets of notes. "

Source: I.B.S.C. Website

The International Boys' Schools Coalition has a wealth of information including two action research reports:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Road Ahead - Benefits of I.C.T.

"New media and technology provided boys with increased opportunities to become engaged. Videos, computer social networks, and computer games supported boys' literacy development. Specifically, blogs, wikis, SMART boards, interactive video/audio conferencing, and gaming activities stimulated and sustained interest and motivation."

Source: February 2009
7th of 8 Key Learnings - Executive Summary
The Road Ahead: Boys' Literacy Teacher Inquiry Project 2005 to 2008

I get excited when I read quotes like this from the research. This quote is part of a 2 page Executive Summary. The full report was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Eduation.

On days like this when I find a gem from the research, I'm encouraged that information and communcations technology is a part of the solution to engage and motivate our boy writers.

Update: Here is the segment of the research that describes how specific schools used the power of technology to motivate and engage boy learners.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bitstrips for Schools: Online Writing Environment

Recently a valued member of my professional learning network, Doug Peterson, announced a new writing environment was available for use by Ontario teachers and students.

Bitstrips For Schools was tested in a few of our Ontario schools and is now Ministry Licensed for all government funded schools in Ontario.

I'm looking forward to trying it out with a willing teacher and her class. We have a non-fiction writing focus in our district so I think Bitstrips will be a valued addition in our efforts to motivate and engage boy writers. There's a mention of boy learners in this post by one of the Bitstrips creators.

Thank you OSAPAC committee for bringing this on-line, creative writing environment to the teachers and students of Ontario.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Underachieving Boy Writers - Action Research

In response to the research "Raising Boys' Achievement in Writing" an action research project was established by teachers in Lancashire in the summer of 2005 to address underachieving boy writers.

Here's a numbered summary of the project.

1. 15 underachieving boy writers were identified and clustered into groups of five.
2. A team approach to intervention was established.
3. Tracking of the group of boys was conducted during the project.
4. A base line was established by having each boy complete a writing assignment.
5. The base line assignments were levelled.
6. Boys were given a pre and post questionnaire to examine their attitudes towards writing. [Page 16]
7. Initial training had a clear focus on planning and the inclusion of video/image/drama.
8. A three week unit plan was developed which followed the teaching sequence from reading to writing. [pages 24 and 26]
9. A "Planning Circles" framework was created to establish the teaching learning sequence [page 7]
10. Drama activities were learned and used during the process [Page 8]
11. Focus was on writing for different purposes: Headline and Short Report, An Informal Letter, Responses to texts and video excerpts.
12. Conclusion was that this action research was successful. [Page 22]
13. A list of the books and DVDs used is on [page 23]
14. Appendices include useful 3 week plan and and exemplar teacher plan. [Pages 25 to 29]

It is plans like these that make me happy to be a teacher! Well thought out, targeted at a group of learners and based on research.

Well done Lancashire Literacy Team and thank you for assisting and motivating our boy writers.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Speech Writing - Personal Stories

Updated: This is an updated post from the original last month. I'm updating it after reading Tania Sheko's post this morning about boys and oral presentations.

This story is one of about 8 stories from a group of 4th and 5th grade boys I worked with this past school year. I was contacted by a teacher who thought that adding original digital stills and voiceover narration to the speeches her students were writing would add to the experience. Boy, did it ever!

Note: I tried to muster all my strategies about working with boys: i.e., topic choice, interests, building relationships, etc., from my readings and research as I worked with these boys and have bolded them below.

1. I met with this small group of boys in the computer lab, but we didn't turn on any of the computers. Instead, I read a story to them called "Guilt Ridden". There were two ice hockey
goaltenders in the group so when I explained this was a story written by a hockey goalie, I knew I had their attention.

2. After I read the story aloud to the group, we talked about how hockey was a passion for the author and then we started talking about what they liked to do. The interests varied from riding dirt bikes to playing soccer.

3. We ended our short meeting with me explaining to the boys that they would be picking topics based on something of interest to them and that we would be using images/photos and their voice to make the story come alive. I asked them to think of something that they would be interested in for next time.

4. My day two with the group was all individual meetings. I thought it important to develop a one-to-one conversational relationship with each boy to allow them to open up a little about what it is they would like to write about. From this session all 8 boys were able to select a topic. We just talked a little about their lives. One by one, each boy came up with what they would write about. A dearly departed grandfather, a father who conducts rescue missions [above], a special moment as a guest speaker at a water park, were some of the topics. What struck me most is that each topic was personal. This made it real for these boys. A personal story where they have first hand background knowledge.

5. From here we started writing, actually the boys talked their stories [the importance of talk for boys] and I typed the stories as they told them to me. For most of these boys, the process of writing, either with a pencil or word processor is difficult so for them to watch their stories appear on the screen was very satisfying. I'd type a little and then they would read what I had typed aloud. They were O.K. with this as they trusted me by then and they did not have an audience. As the stories took shape, the boys' confidence seemed to grow.

6. The next step was for each of the boys to find some images/photos [importance of the visual] to go along with their personal narrative. This wasn't easy in some cases but we managed to find images for each story.They brought both digital images from home and paper snap shots we had to scan. In only one situation did we require the use of creative commons photos.

7. As the narratives were complete, we used Audacity voice recording [importance of audio] software to lay down a clean voice track. This part of the process was very engaging for the boys.

8. Then we stitched together all the images with the voice tracks using Windows Movie Maker.

9. Even though each of the boys, and the rest of the class had to "stand and deliver" their speeches without the use of their digital story media, the results were wonderful. The process of creating their speech using visuals and audio really was interesting to the boys and made their final product of an oral presentation better. The boys had an audience for their digital stories: classmates and family members.

10. One of the boys was actually "picked to go to the gym" as a class representative. Now would he have been picked to represent his class if he had not completed the digital story? Perhaps, but I know that he looked forward to each and every time I'd work with him to create the digital story and his topic was very compelling.

I had the parents of these students tell me what an exciting time their children had creating their "digital speeches".

In the story above, Nick describes a scene in the Arctic. He didn't have to search creative commons for the photos. His dad was the pilot of the plane and provided the photos from one of his search and rescue missions.

As Nick and I were finishing the story, his dad happened to stop by the school. We showed him the story. A very powerful and engaging 2 minutes of listening and watching followed. The look on the dad's face told it all.

Patrick Lowenthal's research on Digital Storytelling in the classroom, on page 252, Chapter 18 of "Story Circle, Digital Storytellling Around the world" supports this "digital speeches" project. Here is what he found:

Amplify Students' Voice

"Perhaps one of the greatest benefits is digital storytelling's ability to reach the many "unheard and unseen students" in our classrooms (Bull and Kajder 2004).

Storytelling gives students voice (Burk 2000).

However, digital storytelling can give students voice "in ways that are not possible without the technology" (Hofer and Swan 2006: 680)

because it can amplify a students voice. Further, it can help give voice to struggling readers and writers. (Bull and Kajder 2004)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Using Drama and Film - Research

"I've seen the difference that using film makes to motivating and involving boys and I will work to make sure it becomes part of my practice.... the "wow factor" works as the films are so much part of what my children know, they are starting from a stronger knowledge base."

The UKLA's research project "Raising Boys' Achievements in Writing" has a small section [Section 3, pages 36 and 37] about the effects of using film and drama to motivate our boy writers.

The section refers to the linking of writing, drama and visual texts across the curriculum. Here is a list of some of the findings:

1. Drama as a tool for learning and not a separate subject domain.
2. Commitment to plan for a slower pace in learning.
3. Provide more space for reflection.
4. Allow children more time to talk before writing and more choices about how to record their work.
5. A commitment to spend more time developing both drama and visual approaches.
6. The use of drama to motivate.
7. Clear commitment to integrate the visual, i.e., film, DVD, stills, pupil drawings into the curriculum.
8. Use of 3D stumulus, music and videos alongside books for both fiction and non-fiction writing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gender Gap in Early Education

"The widest gaps between boys and girls were in writing but girls also perform better in using their imagination in art, design and storytelling.

Louise from Australia alerted her personal learning network today about an article published today in the Telegraph.

The results are from the study of 230,000 children who are all five years in age.

As the article states, "Policy makers need to be aware .... and have to think how best to intervene." It speaks to how we should find ways to enable boys to develop fluency. The article stops short on explaining how we address the need.
Here are some of my thoughts and ideas on the matter.

Boys writing initiatives need to be shaped for boys.

An initiative that seems to address writing and literacy, and makes no mention of boys writing research will not work. The article speaks about cutting class sizes and giving boys individual attention. I'm not sure that this is the way to go.

1. Boys need an environment which is fundamentally different with what we have been offering them
2. Teachers need to start with developing a relationship with boy students from a very early age.
3. Find out what makes them tick
4. what they are interested in and go from there for starters.
5. Have them "talk stories" from an early age.
6. Record their oral stories from a very early age and write them down.

The article says that boys have trouble holding a pencil - - well, duh, no kidding. Is that writing? I think not.

7. Get them on a keyboard as soon as possible.
8. Have them become storytellers from day one. [bit of a repeat of number 5 but listed here for emphasis]

I have a tweet in to the DCSF about the location of the study on their website. I couldn't find it. I'll be posting more once I read the entire article. If you read this and can find the study on the website, please let me know.

Oh, and why don't newspapers, which are on-line, have a hypertext link to the studies, anyhow? Perhaps they are worried that once folks see the link they will exit the article perhaps.

Until then, thanks for listening.

Photo Credit: PA

Friday, July 3, 2009

Boys Writing Flyers

These flyers are from the National Strategies and Standards website in the U.K. They speak directly to how boys learn and write. Here are the four flyers:

1. Talk for Writing
2. Visual Texts
3. Purpose and Audience
4. Feedback on Learning

I've been starting my boys writing workshops lately with reference to these four writing flyers. I find it starts the discussion about teaching boys differently. We need to address the needs of boys if they are to become successful.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More on Relationships

From page 219:

" it is the quality of student-teacher rapport that has the greatest effect on boys' achievement"

In reading, Boy Smarts, I look for gems like the one above which either confirm what I already think I know, or explains something I did not know.

Here are a few more from page 6:

"boys are more fragile than they appear...the are often misread....they fidget, they tap their feet and they look away, which may be interpreted as defiance and arrogance rather than anxiety."

"their active learning patterns may be seen as threatening, their physical forms of bonding are perceived as aggression."

"The teacher kept saying his lack of attention and misbehaviour was stopping him from learning, but no one really understood how to teach him."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Me Read? No Way! - Welsh Edition

Our friends in Wales have republished, with a Welsh spin, our Ontario Ministry of Education guide to improving boys literacy skills.

I remember when the Ontario version was a focus in our school district a couple of years back. I was very encouraged by the resources however, I think a second edition is needed which expands on the boys writing segments.

Here's the Welsh abridged version. In the full version the localized content reflects Welsh test scores and illustrates the gender gap in literacy achievement in Wales.

Page 10 of the Welsh abridged version addresses technology. Again, this section needs to be re-written and expanded as it only addresses a few strategies.

You may wish to learn more at the Boys Literacy Wales website.

I noticed on the conferences segment of Boys Literacy Wales that Tim Rylands has three presentation dates beginning on June 9th, 2009. Folks from the U.K. will know Tim's work. If you are unfamiliar with Tim's work using the video game MYST as a writing visual environment his website is worth a look see.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Motivation and Engagement of Boys - Australia

Here's a comprehensive study from Australia about motivating and engaging our boy learners. As always, I begin my search for materials by reading the "Language and Literacy Strategies segment".

In this study, the good stuff begins on page 42 and runs until page 49.

I keep returning and re-reading this quote about meaning and multimodal literacy from page 46:

"Meaning is made in ways that are increasingly multimodal – in which written linguistic modes of meaning are part and parcel of visual, audio, and spatial patterns of meaning. Take for instance the multimodal ways in which meanings are made on the World Wide Web, or in video captioning, or in interactive multimedia [e.g. mobile phones], or in desktop publishing, or in the use of written texts in a shopping mall. To find our way around this emerging world of meaning requires a new, multimodal literacy. "

(Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, pp.5–6)

Here are some highlights from section 4.4.4:

The positive impact of an integrated culture of literacy – taking an integrated
approach across the curriculum

• effective writing strategies; for example, ensuring that boys understand the
technical skills of writing and understand the meaning and purposes of writing

• effective cooperative experiences – making reading a socially constructed
activity by giving the students the opportunity to discuss between themselves
the relevance of the text to other texts and to their lives

• the importance of oral language in improving in writing

• the value of explicit teaching of reading and writing – providing clear
objectives, a variety of text types, content that engages the interest of boys and
questions that promote understanding

• the value of teacher feedback – effective assessment and constructive feedback
from teachers

• the need for high but realistic expectations

• the positive impact of the integration of ICT

linking literacy to boys’ experiences and popular culture

multimodal texts and boys’ interests

• the dangers of generalizing content for boys

• boys and critical literacy.

Understanding Boys Underachievement - U.K.

In this Teachers.TV 4 minute clip our friends from the U.K. present how the gender achievement gap in the GSCE [General Certificate of Secondary Education] results effect how boys are prepared for the world of work.

Debra Myhill of the University of Exeter has been researching boys underachievement for years. In the clip she says there is an "increase in classroom achievement as students participation in class increases".

Here is Professor Myhill's list of suggestions for instructing boy learners [and all students]:

1. Have high expectations.
2. Monitor whether your teaching is stereotyped in any way.
3. Engage an active teaching model.
4. Make sure all children are involved.
5. Provide formative assessment so students can adjust and refine along the way.

The clip ends up with 3 suggestions for our boys.

1. Be interested in what they like to read and write.
2. Have the boys in our charge be more meticulous in their writing.
3. Encourage course work completion.

Concept Oriented Reading/Writing Instruction

Another area that C.O.R.I. has been successful in addressing is engaging boys to become readers. With the emphasis on non-fiction text, boys who may not read fiction are realizing that they too can become learners, thinkers, readers and writers.

Here is J. Guthrie's matrix to describe the characteristics of a motivating and engaging classroom.

In the video you'll see a classroom where the study of "Weather" becomes a reading classroom as students engage in non-fiction reading to learn.

21 Factors Towards Successful Boys Writing

Factors identified as promoting performance
by boys in non-fiction writing
- by Caroline Daly

1. Teacher confidence and expectations
2. Lesson planning and organization
3. Explicit teaching about language
4. A range of strategies for writing
5. Topic selection in narrative writing
6. Medium term planning
7. Oracy
8. The importance of literature
9. Planning writing
10. Drafting
11. Writing Framess
12. Active Learning Tasks
13. Discipline
14. Pupil consciousness-raising
15. The use of visual media
16. Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
17. Poetry Writing
18. Target-setting
19. Older pupils as male role models
20. Schools as learning organizations
21. Teachers' knowledge and belief systems about literacy

5 Tips for Teaching Boys to Write

More from Peg Tyre's book. From Chapter 11 Page 156 of "The Trouble with Boys" by Peg Tyre - - a reference to the work of Ralph Fletcher

Identify boys with poor handwriting and find them a keyboard.2. Allow boys plenty of choices when comes to what they want to write.3. Allow boys to use visual cues - - drawings, arrows, and signs.4. Teacher needs to appreciate the way boys write. i.e., boys use kid language not classroom language, stories are goofy, sarcastic, funny.5. Be tolerant of boys' topic choice: violence, mayhem, gore.

Peg Tyre - Interview

Peg Tyre's book is a good read.

I've been skimming through Chapter 11,
Boys and Literacy and have come across Peg's list of outstanding researchers on boys and literacy. Here it is:

Thomas Newkirk - University of New Hampshire
William Brozo - University of South Carolina
Jeffrey Wilhelm - Boise State University
Michael Smith - Rutgers University

Building Relationships with Boy Writers

Ralph Fletcher, in his book Boy Writers and Jeffrey Wilhelm in his book, Reading Don't Fix No Chevys write about building relationships with boy writers.

Jeffrey Wilhelm calls it an implicit social contract [Page 99 - Chevys] which includes several regular features:

1. A teacher should try to get to know me personally.
2. A teacher should care about me as an individual.
3. A teacher should attend to my interests in some way.
4. A teacher should help me learn and work to make sure that I have learned.
5. A teacher should be passionate, committed, work hard, and know her or his stuff.

Wilhelm writes that if a teacher meets even one of these conditions, boys tended to respond positively and learn from and work hard for that teacher.

Similarly in Ralph Fletcher's book, Boys Writing [Page 167] developing relationships are key. Fletcher's quotes,

1. "We're not teaching writing - - we're teaching writers".
2. "Writing is personal."
3. We want every boy to connect with writing in a personal way, to say to himself:
4. Yeah, I can do that. I'm a writer

Nurturing, encouraging and supporting our boy writers begins by forging strong relationships. Fletcher believes that every one of us can connect with our boy students.

And so do I.

Authors who write about Boys and Learning:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Adobe Connect Webinar - Upper Grand DSB

We just finished a live webinar hosted by Brenda Sherry of the Upper Grand D.S.B. on the topic of Motivating Boy Writers.

Brenda hosted an Adobe Connect on-line meet-up where we talked about some of the research on boys writing and looked at a few book titles that you may wish to purchase or check out from the library.

Here are the book titles from the keynote.

Reading Don't Fix No Chevys - M.W. Smith and J.D. Wilhelm
Going with the Flow - M.W. Smith and J.D. Wilhelm
Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry - J.D. Wilhelm
Boy Writers - Ralph Fletcher
The Trouble with Boys - Peg Tyre
Boy Smarts - Barry Macdonald

On-line Resources:

1. Caroline Daly's research review of Boys Non-Fiction writing and some related research on how the use of visual media and ICT can assist boys to write non-fiction.

2. Amy Dahm's Text Forms for Writing Matrix

3. Jeff Wilhelm's matrix for developing rich technology enhanced summative tasks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Boy Smarts

One of the session participants at my "Motivating Boy Writers" session at the Leading Learning Conference suggested the work of fellow Canadian, Barry MacDonald. His book "Boy Smarts" arrived today.

As is my usual practice, I usually turn to the chapter that grabs me the most. And I'm glad I did.

Chapter 7 is entitled "Improving Boys' Literacy". A couple of pages into this chapter, the author refers to an OFSTED report called, "Yes He Can: Schools Where Boys Write Well". A very good start as I had found this paper last summer during my boys' literacy immersion.

He then goes on to talk about "Multiple Literacies" Here's a quote:

"“boys will benefit if we expand our previous definition of traditional literacy to include
 multiple literacies; visual and technological literacy.... performing arts, storytelling, music and video.” Page 132.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this chapter and the book. I'm sure I'll learn lots. You can read more about Barry MacDonald's book at his website:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Let's Continue the Conversation

I had the pleasure of speaking to 25 or 30 educators this past weekend at the 5th annual Leading Learning Conference.

As I was setting up for the session, one of the conference organizers entered the room and asked me about my session topic. When I told him that it was about Motivating Boy Writers, his response was, "Oh, I've heard people talking about that one". My response was, "Let's hope the participants will be talking about it more after the presentation".

So this blog is what hopefully is a longer term solution to continuing the conversation.

What struck me most after the session, was that no one left right away. You know how conferences can be. Get out of one session to rush to the next. But no one left. They just sat for a bit before conversations began happening. When I mentioned this to Kathy, who had introduced me before the session began, her response was, "Yes, the topic generated an opportunity for people to reflect". Quite right.

The topic of motivating boy writers has been on many educators minds for a long time. To see the session participants talking about boy writers after the session was very satisfying. A couple of folks came up to talk to me afterward; one, to talk about the connection for kindergarten boy writers and the other to give me his contact information as this was a topic he has an interest in.

So, I'll be posting some of my thoughts and ideas here about how we motivate the boys in our charge to write. I hope you'll join the conversation.