I Had My Doubts...

Last week Year Four, as part of their unit on persuasive texts, explored Film Trailers and the use of Rhetorical Questions. On Monday when I was timetabled to work with them, they were in the process of completing group storyboards for their own, using speech bubbles to script proposed voiceovers. The idea was that the outcomes should form a wall based display, I suggested it was a shame that such work should remain on paper and how it would be really exciting to have a go at bringing some of their work to the screen, from here they could actually discuss the effect that their writing had, and identify where the projects had been successful, or how their scripts might be improved, by seeing them in context. Photo Story was suggested as a tool that might support this task. Perhaps they could download supporting images from the internet, record their voiceovers and add transition effects, in order to support the images, before finally saving their projects as video files to be shared and reviewed . While waiting for the morning session to begin, and the students to arrive, I downloaded a collection of images from the internet, from the movie Shrek II, which they had used as a focus, cropping and resizing them before importing them to set up the Photo Story Project File which I wanted to become the focus for our Literacy Session.

I began the session by reviewing the work they had begun in the previous sessions as I returned the storyboards to the group. Drawing on the students comments I used My Photo Story Project and the IWB to focus on the purpose of the devices they had raised and were trying to use, modelling how this tool, might help us see how to bring their storyboards to life. The students helped me choose which images we would keep in the storyboard, and we deleted those we didn't want, we then discussed what might be said to engage our reader with the text we were trying to create. What I soon discovered was difficult for the students was not the choice of vocabulary, or even the genre, but actually linking the purpose of the text they were writing, with the intended outcome.

Over the course of the Literacy Strategy and its implementation we have focussed strongly on developing students as "traditional writers" in a range of genre, we have equipped them with the structural tools, grammar, and strategies to place our desired outcomes on the page, but in my humble opinion have neglected the most important aspect of writing and that is purpose. Writing is for life not just SATs. We do not write just for our teachers, or to ensure we have content in our Literacy Books, in life writing is used to share meanings with others. Meaning is not always represented as words on a page, in our multimedia world it often represents a preparatory stage for some other mode of representation. In the case of a Film Trailer, the written word plays a supportive role in preparing and planning, but a subordinate role in the final outcome which involves the combination of moving image, spoken word, and music to invite our readers to engage with the movie we have spent a small fortune to create. In using Photo Story as a tool I sought to help make this link, by playing the silent trailer we had just created, and inviting the students to use their previous experiences to discuss, rehearse and record the script which we might say in order to accompany my lifeless text. The students were encouraged in pairs to work on and record their written proposals in the writing frames provided and during the plenary, to share their voiceovers out loud as my previously lifeless trailer was played to the class. I discussed after the session how the students might use the template file in small groups to record their voiceovers on the class PCs, saving the project to the network for sharing later in the week.

One of my biggest problems in developing and embedding ICT in the classroom for learning has been the idea that class based PCs can and should be used for independent small group work within the timetabled day. I think this is largely due to perceptions that they will require teacher time to maintain and support children working on tasks, that will detract from other things. ICT is frequently seen by some as disruptive rather than supportive. One of the difficult things about not having my own class this year, has been the inability to follow things through to completion, and the students this time around did not have time to apply their scripts to the template file we had developed. The fact that they hadn't however was quelled by the excitement created during the course of today, as they and their teacher used a different tool for a similar purpose.

I spent half an hour last night with my colleague, introducing her to Podium, Softease's Primary School Podcasting Solution. She had been working for the remainder of this week with the class to develop scripts for Radio Advertisements, and decided she would like to give the students the opportunity to perform and record these. We talked through the interface and the process of setting up a file in the environment, looking at some of the features such as the scripting tool, and chapter tool. I suggested that as this was the first time the children and she had used the tool it might be a good idea to split up the script into chapters, and use these as a tool to support the students in turn taking as they recorded their voices. Each chapter could then be edited individually, or deleted and rerecorded in the case of problems. We plugged in a headphone mike set and recorded a simple sound file to demonstrate the process. As she became increasingly confident that the process of using Podium was less complicated than she thought, I suggested we might attach mikes to the classroom PCs and her Laptop and that she introduce the environment to the children using the IWB, and that during the course of the day, groups of children should be encouraged in pairs to "draft their recordings." We discussed how we might organise this with pairs who had begun and completed a file, working with new pairs until they were happy with the tool and how it worked, and the idea that as this was our first time, we might see this as an opportunity for the children to explore how the tool works. The session went much better than I think was expected, the students rising not only to the challenge of using ICT in a new way for them, but also in seeing the scripts for their purpose, something to be performed. During my PPA time this afternoon I was able to drop in and see how the students and my colleague were getting on with the environment first hand, and to find one very animated and excited colleague, as the students were working. Not only had they come quickly to see the value of breaking their project down in to chapters, to support turn taking they were beginning to discuss problems they were encountering as a pair, such as the volume of input from one partner opposed to that of the other, the length of run out and run in tracks, they were beginning to be to identify these on the visual track representation and to compare the volume of one user with another, and using this to help edit and crop tracks. The students were enjoying themselves enormously and were equally animated in thinking about how they would articulate the script, and reading with expression. I am confident from the reaction that this has had, and the quality of learning already evident from the task that this tool will be used again in literacy sessions, and hopefully as a result of the success she will try more small group ICT focussed outcome based tasks.

Popping into the pub on the way home this evening I was talking about the task with another colleague, who is currently developing our New School Project, and I guess excitement is infectious as he began musing about how he might like to use this tool with his group. This however will be another story, as I have wanted to discuss podcasting proper with him for a while to support multimodally the project he is developing. The success of today has got to be credited largely to the effective design and simplicity of Podium as an environment. I have created a Wilbur Helps Out guide, to support the introductory use of Podium. This can be found in the ICT resource section of our school site, and has been found to be useful by colleagues within our LA, in introducing podium to colleagues. Experience tells me how quelling the doubts of one colleague often have a cascade effect, on others. Hopefully this is only the beginning.

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