Friday, May 29, 2009

I have been discussing with our IT Tech Angela about ways in which we can get more people involved in the online reflective feedback. We are getting viewers from all around the world and would like to be able to encourage them to share their comments as well. We think we will create a separate sign in link that gives them a link to ask to be invited onto our site. We will still be able to moderate what their comments are so it will remain a safe option.
I love Thursday mornings because of our class computer time. We have 16 computers in our suite which means most of the children can go on at the same time and finish updating then uploading their stories.
Our computer time is often when our Prinicpal John Cubitt wanders through to see what we are up to and how the project is going. My class are very good at getting John involved in their wikis. One of the children has shown John how easy it is to blog so we will be setting him up with his own sign in next week and give him a more intense lesson so that he can participate in the online feedback. John is very impressed with the progress of the students writing.
After our computer session I had a quick look at the changes then discussed them with the class. A few of my students have commented on their frustration at the typing. They are not fast at it and their stories don't get up to date compare to whats in their books or that it takes them a long time to try and edit all of their work because have too many mistakes.
I have decided I will rewrite them online over the weekend as best possible then upload them into their wiki page. Hopefully they will also get more online feedback because the audience can actually read it and make constructive comments.
Some of the children feel they are ready to move onto the next part of their story. Several have decided they need to work out how to create a second problem and its solution. Having the children use a traditional fairytale as their basic framework, with a New Zealand twist, has been an easy way for them to remain focussed. It has been interesting to see how some of the stories have evolved from the basic fairytale into something quite different and intriguing. I am looking forward to seeing each new development in their stories.
This last week the children have been busy trying to edit their work, making changes from the online feedback and class feedback. We had a discussion which I remembered to video about how they felt getting feedback online. It was really interesting and filled with positives. They get excited when we are viewing the blogs. They love seeing their names and wonder who some of the audience are. They also think its great when we look at the traffic feed and see that we have had hits from all around the world , including South America.
The children are really understanding how important it is for their stories to make sense and tell a great story rather than just get to the happily ever after bit. They are beginning to make real connections with their writing and the writing process including the conventions of print. When they have had to read their stories back to their buddy word for word they realise there are bits missing and that punctuation does have an impact on their stories.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Thursday is always our computer session and the students know they must have their work ready to upload the next draft. We initially thought the stories could be scanned from their draft books but then realised some of the handwriting is difficult to read so they are publishing their stories in a Word document first then also save it as a pdf to upload. We used the pdf so that no changes can be made by the audience.
We have printed their stories so far and they are editing (especially spelling and sentence structure). The students then make changes on the one of the two computers in the classroom, also making changes from the online or buddy feedback.
The online audience are becoming more involved and are becoming more confident with their comments/ feedback.The students or should I now call them writers, know that the online feedback is about their story not about their spelling (thats my job and theirs during the editing process - which some are still learning).
I have also found it interesting that the students are experimenting with the different text styles and still keeping up with the task. Some have chosen old style writing and when asked why, they could justify it "It looks like the olden days and fairy tales are stories from the olden days". (They are getting it)
Sue from NZCER spent the day with me. The children showed they understood what they were doing through each stage of the writing process. The children are really involved in their writing and have become writers in their own minds.
Sue interviewed two groups after spending the first part of the morning observing and connecting with the children. My boys creative thinking was on fire. They were coming up with adjectives they thought might work in their stories. I have found it rather interesting working with these boys. We have been building on their story setting and have continued to use Ali Baba as the story to base their own fairy tale on. While we are working together and recording their ideas onto the easi speak, the boys stories vary. They listen to their recordings and copy it down (which one boy told Sue "we aren't learning anything we are just copying"!! Thankfully the other boys set him straight and said the stuff that they are copying are all of their ideas for the story (Yay)).
The other group Sue interviewed could really articulate their thoughts about the writing process and how important the online community and feedback is for their story writing. As writers they know reflective feedback is essential because they want the audience to enjoy their stories.
I have been working with the class reflecting on their fairy tales so far. I wanted to observe the students with their peer buddy to see how effective their reflective feedback is at present and to work on the areas that appear to be less helpful.
Prior to working with their buddies we revisited what effective feedback is and why it is important for their story writing. The students could articulate how useful it has been so far and they like it because people are being honest and helpful by giving some very helpful suggestions. They also have time to record the suggestions in their draft book before they listen to the other writers story. They said it was good because it keeps them focussed on their stories and they know they don't have to rush through just to get the job done.
We also reviewed the stories that have already been uploaded onto their wiki story page - the children immediately went into visualisation mode (they shut their eyes and really listen to the narrator trying to visualise the setting and the first main character). It's great to see Year 3 and 4 children can become completely absorbed into the stories being read.
We also discussed what feedback they have already received and how they think it has helped improve their descriptive writing. We also discussed how important it is to focus on the WALT and not on the spelling or punctuation for this online task.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Today my boys from yesterday worked independently but with the easi-speak to review what their ideas were. It was great to see them so involved in their writing. When they came back to conference with me they were reflective about their writing. They decided their fairy tale was sounding rather spooky and more like a scary movie. We discussed ways in which they might change it. We also looked at other fairy tales that might have caves in them to help guide them with their actual story line and message. I read them Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. They could see some similarities with their setting and thought it might be good to use some of the ideas from this story but with a New Zealand theme to it.
We also reflected on why they thought their story was developing so quickly, what was helping and what else they might need to do. Some comments were "the easi-speak was good because we could just keep telling our story and we didn't have to stop and write", "the plan was good with all of the brainstorm ideas - it meant that we could look at the keywords and come up with other ideas". "We liked it that we didn't make a mess in our books because of our spelling". "It was good to make up a story together because we could use all of our ideas and make them better together. We didn't have to think up the whole thing on our own". "I liked it that I could hear my own ideas on the easi-speak".
I noticed some of the children were having difficulty thinking about their story problem and message. We had had a discussion yesterday about what direction they wanted to take in their fairy tales. Some wanted to write their own others wanted direction, so as a guide I have suggested they choose a fairy tale that has some similarities to their plan, use its message but use a New Zealand theme and animal characters ie tuatara, kiwi etc. This seems to have helped them refocus their writing.
My second aha moment reinforced how important peer feedback is. We have been practicing writing descriptive settings over the last week. I have explained how the reader needs to be able to picture the setting. We practiced this by getting the children to close their eyes and visualise the scene that I read to them. We began with very basic settings then discussed what might make it more effective. The children very quickly understood and participated. I then paired them up, reminding them of the learning intention, then share their own stories expecting reflective feedback from their peer. This was an excellent strategy - the children used the feedback, made changes and swapped roles. Most of the stories improved.

At the end of the session we reflected on the feedback strategy. One child (Year 3) said "It helped because I could go back and really focus on the parts of the setting that wasn't very descriptive. I liked the suggestions and it helped me come up with better language".

I have noticed the specific reflective feedback session has already helped focus the peer discussions. It has created some very constructive debating and the children justifying their suggestions.
Yesterday I had 2 aha moments.
The first was when I was working with a group to help them plan their fairy tale. We brainstormed some setting from fairy tales they have read. I scribed for them so they didn't have to worry about the spelling or getting all of the ideas down. They then decided which setting they would like to further develop - a cave. The boy began to talk about what the cave could look like and what might be in it. I told the boys we would record their thought on the 'easi-speak' so we didn't miss anything ( a real brainwave that was). We decided their fairy tale will begin with once upon a time ...The boys agreed to put their hand up when they wanted to share their ideas. This worked a treat as they became so involved in sharing their story idea so that the story could develop. We then replayed their recording and I scribed it. The boys then reread their story and came up with more information and recorded it. I have downloaded their recording into their ICT folders so they can listen to it or use it at a later date.
Having used the easi-speak often in the class the boys were not phased by its presence in our writing planning session. It also reinforced to me how effective a tool it is to get our reluctant writers to share their ideas. The language these boys used was brilliant.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Had a good session on character desciptions. The children are beginning to feel more confident in sharing their ideas with their peers. It has been good listening to their discussions about how to possibly improve their writing. Some are still needing a bit of direction, mainly because of their age or writing level. They are making very good connections with the huge range of fairy tales available in the class for reading session. Tomorrow we have our first parent/ grandparent in to read fairy tales to the class. It will be great for the children to see how different people can bring the characters to life.
Tomorrow we will continue to develop our characters and our settings. Not sure if they will use these pieces of writing for the main story or if they will just be practise pieces.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Our learning intention today was to make a list of adjectives to help describe a setting.We started looking at adjectives and descriptive sentences for the beginning of the fairy tale and describing the setting.
We began by talking about places we liked to visit around our region. After some thinking time, the class were asked to write down their favourite five places ie: Kihikihi Speedway, Lake Whakamaru, Waitomo Caves, The beach etc.
From their I modelled and asked them to brainstorm words that would describe: what it looks like, how it smells/ feels, and where it might be. I worked alongside my lower ability students supporting them by encouraging them to visualise and verbally describe their place. During this brainstorming stage I realised it would have been a great video session and I didn't have it set up (Note to myself - get the video set up before school each day ready for these teaching moments).
We shared some of our places and the keywords. We also shared some of the beginning words for fairy tales ie: Once upon a time, A long time ago etc.
The Learning Intention for this piece of writing was: to write a descriptive beginning of the story so that the audience can picture the setting;to write 2 - 3 sentences adding some of the adjectives to introduce the beginning of their fairy tale.
The children were asked to decide on a starter and then using some of the keywords begin to describe their setting. After they had written 2 - 3 sentences we came together to share our beginnings. I got the children to think about giving reflective feedback (refer to Shirley Clarke - Unlocking formative Assessment - Chapter 4 Feedback) specifically to do with the WALT. To do this we modelled the process by asking 2-3 students to share their piece of writing. When each child was sharing their beginning, the children were asked to shut their eyes and try to visualise what the reader is sharing. This strategy worked really well as you could see students facial expressions when they were confused or understood the readers description. The children were honest with their feedback and gave good suggestions which helped the writer make improvements confidently. I then got the students to continue with this strategy in pairs. I have given further feedback for their next writing session.
My reluctant readers have been reading and practicing fairy tale plays which has been a great way for them to understand sequencing, the importance of expression, getting the message across and have fun with reading.
We have also been discussing the online fairy tales that some of the children are reading for home learning. I asked what they found good about them. I received comments like: "my brother will help me with the hard words because its on the computer"; "I don't have to worry about looking for my books somewhere in my room"; "My dad wants to see what I'm doing and comes over and reads with me". "We don't have many fairy tales at home so its good because I just need to go online".I also asked them if there was anything that could make it better: "The pictures could move to help us with some clues for the words"; "The text size could be bigger"; "I would like to have a sound button for the really hard words, in case no one can help me"; "The story could be recorded and play at the same time as the text".
Listening to some of the parents, the online fairy tales has had a twofold effect. Firstly the children are motivated to get their reading and home learning completed and secondly the parents are becoming involved in the online activities and familiar with the class wiki.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This week we are looking at fairy tale settings and characters. The students are reading and making comparisons between a range of fairy tales, particularly focusing on settings and characters. They will be given their learning intentions over the next two days to begin to plan their modern fairy tale using a story plan template. The children will be expected to use a wider range of adjectives to make their story more interesting and visual.
A couple of my parents have commented on how good the online fairy tales are to encourage their children who are reluctant readers, into reading. Hopefully this will flow on into their writing.
The children are beginning to make the connections between fairy tales and other narratives. They have also realised that fairytales generally have a message which is appropriate for them to take notice of as well. We have begun to link the messages to the key competencies and our school values. We have also been reading narratives that have a biographical background. The authors have used cars as their main characters with very human personalities and actions which the children can realate to. It is great to see the children making these connections without having them pointed out.
Our team are looking at Inventions for our Inquiry and have been visited by people that have vehicles across the ages for recreational or practical purposes. Yesterday we had an ex pupil bring in her horse and gig which she uses for competitions. The students were able to make the connections between the way we move around now and in the past. They were also beginning to discuss which fairytales had horses and carts in them. Yay.
Today we had a local businessman land a helicopter on the school field for them to have a very close look at. I overheard one child say Cinderella could have gone to the ball in it (Yay another connection). One of my boys was given a ride in it overlooking Te Awamutu. (I also got a flight - Thanks Bryce). The language used to describe how it felt flying around, taking off and landing was fantastic. It was a great hook to begin developing a poster of adjectives in preparation for their writing tomorrow and next week.
On Friday we are continuing with the transport theme by having my friend bring in their speedway vehicles for the children to have a closer look at. Next week we will have motorbikes on display and a local business putting on a motorbike demonstration.
By using these visits and the vehicles as possible focuses in their story development, I am hoping that the childrens writing will begin to show richer language and encourage them to share some of their visual experiences. I guess we will have to wait and see our first draft.