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.