BECTA Filming, Podium and Oral Storytelling.

This week we were visited by a film crew commissioned by BECTA to document our use of Softease's BETT award winning software tool and podcasting platform Podium. The wider publication of which this is part will include other schools and tools who won awards at this year's BETT show.

I have made much previously of my commitment to using Podium as a platform for developing and supporting literacy across the curriculum, because of the effect I feel it has had as a tool on the confidence of my students as writers and readers for purpose and meaning. This has also taken me on a reflective journey exploring the pedagogical value the tool has added as a
  • writing tool
  • scaffold for writing
  • and supporting frame for performance and evaluation of outcomes.
In the multimodal world that we live in I feel the distinction between what we traditionally call reading and writing is becoming increasingly blurred, as I begin to unpick the relationships between modes of representation used and their potential for supporting and developing other more traditionally text types. Providing a challenge to what these processes look like in everyday practice and use, and increasingly providing a context where text development as a process can be seen as design as well as composition. I decided for the session to be filmed this week that I would draw on and try to pull together some of my thoughts, building on and using the ongoing activities of my students using visual storytelling devices to develop the tasks they would engage with.

On Monday we had just begun phase two of a unit of work around stories from other cultures, which is being iteratively designed as part of our wider theme about life in India It is intended to help our students learn about Hinduism as a major world religion contextualised in its country of origin. This week we were beginning to apply experiences from phase one, where we had spent sessions engaged with talking as readers around a number of Hindu stories, including the Ramayana, and for the day of filming I decided to set up a carousel of experiences using mixed tools to engage the children in a variety of visual and oral storytelling activities.

Activity 1 oral Storytelling with Podium

Prior to this session the students had created story maps and begun thinking through structured talk about how, when they write they could link the passage of their stories together. They had added their opening phrase to the story, eg Long ago and far far away... and begun thinking how their story might end. We had also talked about how in the oral tradition of stories, these frequently change over time, so the original tale may be very different to the one that was told when first written down to become a standard. This had been reflected in the different versions of the Rama and Sita story we had heard.

We have begun to use more widely work from recent CPD sessions to encourage oral storytelling as part of our talk for writing process. "Overlearning" of narratives, seems to help us develop a coherent plot for a story, enabling us to engage with the details of what characters might be doing within scenes that surround the events, and knowing the plot so well we have less incidences of "we don't know what to write." The problem within the wider scheme of things is that oral rehearsal of stories is usually transient and lost. “Evidence of outcome” existing only in the pictures we have drawn, and the long gone spaces between us and our friends. I have been worried for sometime about how I can evidence this to satisfy the observer, and so for this session set up Podium as part of a thought experiment to help.

Within the activity, the children worked in pairs first of all to set up podium to create a paired "podcast." Using the chapter tool, the children were encouraged to split the story they were about to tell into a number of sections coinciding with the stages in their story maps. In terms of writing this probably best equates to the planning of paragraphs or “boxing up” the plot. The story maps contained only limited text, the linking notes the students had made, around specific vocabulary choices they would like to include, and was to be told entirely without written text support.

Before beginning their recordings the children were encouraged to rehearse aloud each step in the story as a separate chapter (oral paragraph). In this way the children could edit each chapter after play back, considering use of author voice and how they might build on this in the next section of the tale.
  • Were they happy with their use of expression?
  • Was it interesting to listen to?
  • How could they improve this?
  • What additional story language might they need to include to help this?
  • How would they connect this part of the story to the next and so on?
The children were challenged by the process and really enjoyed it. The outcomes were lovely not only to listen to but also to see how the students reacted to what each other had "written."

Thinking about the overall process in retrospect, has provided an interesting perspective on the “rereading” process, since in this activity the reader's and teller’s voices became merged to form an audible author's voice. In the coming week we will be beginning to write our own versions of the Rama and Sita story, and as we work I am considering how to use the outcomes created by the students in Podium to help focus on the “writer's tools” that will to allow our readers to hear what we want them to. Using the oral text delivery of one student we could “box up” the story plot as a whole, one which through oral rehearsal the students are now familiar with, before using elements from the "oral" text to support guided and shared writing in the form of paired work. Part of our already established success criteria is how we want the student's characters to have a voice, but that the things that they say should be appropriate to them and their situation. Hearing what they say through the stories presented should be useful in identifying not only what we want them to say, but also in discussing whether the dialogue is apropriate to the situation and in considering the choice of speech verbs to be included, that willallow the reader to hear our intention.

Towards the end of the day I was interviewed and given the opportunity to express some of my thoughts about how the tool has been used in school and the effects I feel podium has had on the learning of my students. I hope that the outcomes of this reflect my feelings, and do some justice to the power of the tool. I know by this point in the day I and the children were exhausted. I would like to thank both BECTA and Softease (Lightbox) for the opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings.

Other activities that went on in class during the day were also linked to the ongoing unit of work and included

Activity 2. Even Potatoes have feelings an introduction to Clay Animator

Here a pair of laptops had been set up using clay animator and webcams to encourage exploration and familiarisation with the software tool to make an animated short entitled even potatoes have feelings. After a brief introduction the children were encouraged in small groups to explore how the tool worked building on prior experiences of using Stick Figure Animator. Using a potato, cocktail sticks and modelling clay,the challenge was to change the smiling features of the character into a face displaying a a change in mood. The reason behind this may seem a long way from the overall theme of the other activities, but hopefully will become clearer when combined with activity 3.

Activity 3 Making Stick Puppets

For this activity the children were provided with stick puppet characters from the Ramayana to decorate and assemble. Each puppet provided consisted of a number of pieces to be decorated, cut out and then assembled to construct the four key characters from the story. Possessing articulated limbs, these characters will later be used against backdrops created by the students in groups, to create short scenes that will be compiled to make a class movie. Using clay animator with these props I want to link their prior experiences with stick figure animator and immersion in the Rama and Sita story to begin exploring the differences and similarities between the flick book and stop motion approaches of the two packages.

The potato head activities, presented in (2) alongside immersion in the story of Rama and Sita will provide examples and talking points will also help us identify issues for later work when we consider planning our class movie,
  • establishing and framing scenes,
  • working together to develop these
  • establishing success criteria for our outcomes

Earlier Posts on Podium and Student response

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