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.