During recent work using Branching Databases; to help my students understand how to develop null questions, I made a Smart Notebook that included simple two branch trees, and collections of similar themed objects to be sorted. In between each tree page I added 2 others and from the clip art gallery inserted a treasure chest and a recycle bin, which became background images for each of these. The file can be downloaded by clicking this link.
We began by dragging objects from our theme sets to the top of the branch and practiced asking and testing questions which we thought would split the pairs. As the session progressed questions which were found to work were dragged from the tree page to the treasure chest, and those which didn't were dragged to the recycle bin. We went on to use the questions in the recycle bin, as discussion points to help identify, the features which made good null questions. The challenge for the group was how we might change these recycled questions to join the treasures, that we already had available for use in our sorting trees.
This strategy has since been used in guided and shared writing sessions. Working with partners to create "Super Sentences" and "Story Openers, students were encouraged to discuss, rehearse aloud and then draft texts on small whiteboards. These were then shared and recorded on a blank notebook page. Drawing on a recent INSET session, where we were encouraged to "steal" super sentences, for display as models for later, I used the treasure boxes and recycle bin instead as tools to collect and sort both the super and the not so super sentences. Rather than rejecting them, the not so supers, became a focus for task extension and discussion. What might be done to them, so that they might be promoted to become treasures? The children suggested improvements, involving reordering words, adding WOW words etc, and revised sentences were promoted to the treasure chest.
Models of quality work are great, but heavily dependent on our student's ability to see and understand what made them great in the first place. Working and reworking texts and text elements on screen together, I feel really helps to support emergent understanding, of what makes a good text. Through shared evaluation we can begin to understand what the song sheet we are being asked to sing from really means. It also illustrates in action the potential benefits of using ICTs within the writing process. In contrast to using ICT solely as a publishing tool, text input is not seen as an end in itself, something to get finished before we move onto the next thing, but rather as part of an ongoing process. A starting point to be revisited, edited, revised and improved as part of an ongoing series of activities, and where the relationship between reading and writing becomes an explicit element of the activities and discussions which evolve. Engaging children in the review and revision process encourages ownership of class texts, as shared works as children see their "bits" transformed with the support of others. Combining this type of activity with the wordprocessor, through for example the use of drop downs, values the shared resources present within the class as a community of writers.
Using Dropdowns, which I have written about in another entry, enable children to use individual and paired activity to engage further with these shared resources, considering personal or group preferences for word and phrase choice. Despite all working from the same text elements, being able to mix and match phrases, actively engages students in reading and rereading, and creates a diverse range of outcomes. Students are frequently surprised at how different, individually published texts are, even though they began from the same starting point. But what is the high point for me of such activities, is how even the most reluctant recorder is able to develop a text of which they can be proud, and are keen to celebrate their success through the sharing of their outcomes with others.