A Potted Guide: This week we have mostly been writing instructions

This week we have been mostly writing instructions in Year 3. But what use are instructions without an audience and a purpose? And how have we used ICT to help? Rather than starting with the perfect instructional text, we began with our student's prior experiences of the genre.

Bringing into school a few potted plants, old plant pots and a bag of compost, I began the session by telling a tale, the story of how I had tried to re-pot the plants I had with me. Being concerned to get it right, I had emailed my friend for advice, but the instructions they had sent me, had left me confused, and my kitchen in a real mess. It was now the cleanest it had been in a long time, but this was only after I had managed to get water and compost everywhere. What I had managed to figure out from my friend's letter was that the things I had with me would would help me to finish the job I had started. Our mission as a class this week was to reshape the email, and create a good set of instructions that we could publish to help other people learn how to pot their houseplants. The publishing format I left blank...

Preparing for the first session my colleague was great, helping out by flanneling and sending the woolliest letter she could imagine, actions completely jumbled and out of sequence, and rather than telling me what to do... she had made suggestions about how I might like to do it. I made two copies of the email. Placing each on separate pages in a Smartbook. One copy was the entire letter as a block of text to share and discuss. The second a version of the letter was split into dragable sentences. Beginning with the block text, we checked through it together using this to unpick problems through discussion, and highlighting issues as we went, while we began thinking about how my friend's email should have been written. Using the dragable text and suggestions from the students we tried rearranging pieces of the letter to see if it could be changed to make more sense. This acted as our first class draft. Using this set of class instructions the students repotted some plants in small groups. As the students worked a digital camera was used to photograph the steps they followed. To end the session we reviewed the draft instructions, and began to edit them on screen, taking out the "suggestions," made by my colleague's email and replacing them with "command words," that drew on the practical experience to describe what had been done. We also added additional steps that we thought were missing, eg putting down newspaper to keep the surfaces clean.

For our second session, the digital photographs taken during the first were imported to the smartbook, and used in a storyboarding activity. Using this new "dragable" tool we revisited and thought about the sequence and order of activities we carried out in the previous session. As visual prompts our photos were used to scaffold a "talking for writing" session. The photographs had been inserted in a random order, so we needed to rearrange them in a chronological sequence. Then the storyboard that resulted was used to rehearse aloud the text we might use to produce clear " instructional sentences" to support them. The onscreen story board as well as being a visual class prompt, modelled the table top, storyboard activity the students would use during the lesson to plan the sequence of Instructions they would use later to write and publish.

In our third session we looked at a set of prepared instructions, and pulled out the key features of the text type. What would a good set of instructions include? We would need a clear title, and would need to split our text into sections, "what you need" and a "what to do." The to do list was identified as a list and we discussed how this could be laid out across the page using commas, or down the page using bullets. We closed the session by looking at how the sentences began, and had a quick look at our storyboards. Did each of our instructional sentences begin with a command word? The model we had explored and developed on screen, became a writing frame, and the students worked individually during the remainder of the session to draft their own set of instructions drawing on their storyboards, to help, but being encouraged to refine their text as they worked. The outcomes are great, and next week will be including one or two in our blog.

Writing is for Reading...

Extending the written instructional text activity, I worked yesterday with a small group of students using Microsoft Photostory, to create a simple vodcast. Using the photographs taken earlier in the week, and instructions written by the students they added voiceovers to image clips, before exporting these to video in .wmv format.

I uploaded these later to Zamzar for conversion to Quick Time's .mov format. I have set up a class account and podcast page at Podomatic, and have published the video file to this space. As I mentioned in an earlier post about using PhotoStory for this purpose, it all may sound a bit complicated and convoluted , but with a little practice the publishing process is quite straight forward. This was my first attempt in class at doing this particular type of activity, and a process that was completely new to the students. I was really pleased with the video outcome it is a little rough and ready in places, but I think it models really well what can be achieved using tools such as this in a classroom context. You will notice the background hum from the classroom where it was recorded. Real children working together, as this group record their file. I like the count in, as one of the students leaves a run in space at the beginning of his voiceover track, not realising at this point that his count is also being recorded. The idea of students taking turns is also inherent in the file as they swapped places and the mike to each record different sections. As a first attempt, there is much to discuss. Asking the class what we might do to reduce the sound level, when we are recording in class. Perhaps reviewing the process of authoring a text like this by asking about strategies we might use to carry out the count in which was so important. Do we need to designate roles in the process, and have a director or software operator as well as narrator.

I have experienced many times from colleagues "the its alright for you but.." statement, But I think this is a really exciting way to work, not only for me but the students too. Learning to use PhotoStory does not take long, but it is a potentially powerful device. If you would like to watch our vodcast file you can find it by following this link. I look forward to any comments or thoughts you may have.

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