14.7.07 Student Voices Part 1

In many of my posts regarding I have talked about students communicating with each other using stickies. The image to the left is an example sticky, a virtual post it note, left by one of my Y3 students. Stickies are in essence asynchronous communication tools, in that the user sending them, completes their message and posts it to a page to be picked up by the recipient, however in realtime in our think spaces, they are I have found used as the student's first voice and choice for "talking" to friends and peers within the spaces. To this end they are often used in real time to share a discussion between students, as they work on think space content. The bizarre thing is that where in traditional writing media, we can struggle to get some students to record, with the sticky, in, I have found that students will work quickly to complete tasks, so they can "talk to their friends." I love this concept of "chat," many of our students its seems don't see the link between "talk" and "writing," (oral text) and yet here in this environment the two become interchangeable, and the students can't wait to do both. Engaging with students once they got started was a real challenge for me, as I am a non texter, and in order to join in I had to learn very quickly some of the terms I hadn't heard of. At one point durin the autumn term old fuddy that I am I had an open think space on one side of my monitor and an online SMS glossary I found to the other.

Motivating students to write who don't want to, or who find it difficult is one of our biggest challenges in raising achievement in "Literacy." The think space has been a real asset for increasing motivation this year among some of our lower attaining students. Firstly because students do not really have a choice other than to write, if they want to engage with others. The oral text based environment, although enabling the sharing of multimedia and images, requires engagement with others in the community if you want to share, or have them come have a "look see" at what you have been doing. Also if your peers don't understand what you have written they get back to you. This came as a bit of a shock to one of our Year 6 students, whose long over reliance on phonics to develop text, was greeted by a Year 5 student asking what he was trying to say, and requesting he get some help with the text he was developing, if she was going to be able to reply. From the mouths of babes. Trying to support him in his endeavours, myself and colleagues, had spent a great deal of time working to help him acquire spelling strategies, understand why he needed to learn spelling patterns, use word banks and so on, and in an instant, a real audience, was telling him why. Not overly delicately perhaps, but the student did understand what she was getting at after I had discussed it with him.

The sense of audience, creating purpose for writing, as a vehicle to share meaning, seems to have become increasingly lost recently in a writing process, more concerned with getting good levels in SATs as the reason why we write. If we don't understand that writing is for reading, and to express what we want to say, I guess we could quite rightly ask the question why am learning all of these WOW Words, being asked to insert full stops, capital letters commas, or use figurative language. (The use of punctuation has raised some interesting ideas during podcasting sessions too, so want to come back to this later) but as an oral text environment has enormous potential to support some of these questions, as we invite an audience to read what we are developing.
The idea of writing or authoring as a developmental process is an interesting idea to exploit in, it has challenged some of our students ideas about copying, particualrly it not always being a bad thing, but perhaps can be seen as learning from each other, by borriowing and sharing. I prefer in think to refer to writing as co authoring, since we can invite others to collaborate in our endeavours. We have used discussion boards, and students have worked with me to think about for example story openers, either adding their own, or expanding and building on the ones that are already there. We have experimented with chain stories, opening a text, and asking students to contribute what happened next, adding a simple or increasingly complex set of sentences to develop the narrative as a group. These have at times become really bizarre texts not only because they are developed in the reverse direction to traditional texts, and must be read back to front as new sections are added to the discussion board, but because if not reread first or if more than one contribution is being made at the same time, at a particular point, then the text can become really abstract. Some students have found this activity to be a fun way of engaging with the development or structuring of a story. And I have become excited by the potential of using such activities as starting points or preparatory activities during literacy sessions with either an IWB downloading for onscreen discussion and review or as a potential table top polishing task for revision within a big write activity, having printed out the text to be cut up and reworked.

Just to close this section of the post, there is an increasing concern with how we can involve students in self and peer assessment, or evaluation and review. At Easter I asked the Y5 students to tell me what they thought of the ICT year so far, and as evidence for my ICT file I made this screen capture, from a year group vote in Think. It is clear that the authoring work I have developed with students in this year group, online and multimodally has been a big hit. is particualrly popular as an environment not only with these students, but all who have engaged with it, as the year 3 sticky suggests b it's coolness. How useful might this tool be in encouraging others to evaluate each others work, rating the material presented.... Many of the students have already voluntarily used this device, to encourage others to rate their pages, not only inserting a vote, but in some cases including debate tools, which require visitors not only to say what they think of their pages, but also asking for suggestions to be given as to why or how they might be improved. This has lead to reciept of suggestions as well as aclaim for the work they are doing, and most cases where this has happened, subsequent visits have identified iterative review and development of the space in response to comments.

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