Storytelling: Podium and Talking Texts

Last week we decided to extend the work we have been doing with our students on Talk for Writing by developing a series of sessions focussed on Oral Storytelling and Performance. The students have enjoyed using the storytelling and oral recount process during previous narrative units to rehearse and frame ideas before writing, and we wondered how they would react to developing one story in detail, where the "writing Outcome" would actually be an Audio recording of their performing it. The Story we chose to use was The Glass Cupboard By Terry Jones. As a tale with a moral it relates closely to work we had been engaged in on recycling and sustainability, but would also give us an introduction as we moved towards next terms exploration of stories with dilemas.

My Students have had a great deal of experience using Podium, the Educational Podcasting Tool developed by Softease (now Lightbox). Prior to this week the work they had done with the tool was largely based on Scripting, rehearsing and then reading their work. This time however I decided to take a different tack. During our unit of work on Persuasion and the making of the video I had noticed how some of the students had begun to read on during the performance of their script, including additional words and phrases that seemed to make sense to them as they performed and were arising naturally from the context. This however had affected their natural flow, rather than carrying on with their innovation, they had tended to go back and correct themselves, disrupting the flow and making their presentation less clear. What would happen if they didn't have a formal script I wondered?

The week began with my playing an audio performance of the story I had created, and the students listening to it. We discussed what the children thought of the presentation? before introducing the idea that this week they were going to try to improve on my performance. Did they recognise the performer? How had he tried to make the story interesting? How might they achieve this? After a couple more play throughs the children were asked to retell the tale as they had heard it to their partner. How did it vary from one child to another? As a class we shared the main points of the tale by "boxing up" the events and charting these as simple drawings. We then listened to the story again, picking up on points in the story we had missed, and adding these to the plot that was unfolding as a simple story map on the whiteboard. With these elements in place I modelled a retelling of the story, using actions we had previously borrowed from Pie Corbett's work to help, eg opening a book for once upon a time, Standing a gape for surprise, or all of a sudden. I also added actions of my own such as bending my arms to show strength, and placing a crown on my head as the king appeared in the story. In pairs the children were encouraged to work together to think about what actions they could use to help with their story telling, and to help me add these to the class storymap.

In the second session the children were encouraged to draw story maps of their own, as they listened to the audio file I had created, played several times on a loop. As the session developed the children who were growing increasingly familiar with the tale, were able to predict and record what would happen next in their own story maps. We worked as a class to tell the story aloud before the children were asked to retell their stories to each other using their maps and actions to help. Their partners were encouraged to review the performance by pointing out things they had missed, or sharing ideas about additions they could make. The children were also encouraged to draw on our learning wall, to consider choices of story opener and wow words they would like to include in their telling, words and phrases that would link sections of their tale or add interest to it. They were encouraged to jot these in the parts of the story map where they thought they would help their story along. One or two of the students wanted desperately to write sentences, but were encouraged not to, since this was not the purpose of the activity. As a plenary to this session the children were asked if anyone would like to have a go at telling their story to the class. We had three volunteers and it has to be said they were not three bad.

During session three the class was split into two halves, by now the students knew the story really well. While half of the class worked on another activity the others were encouraged to work in pairs to rehearse, refine and perform their own version of the story, using storymaps and actions to scaffold, before using Podium to record and save their performance.

Session 4 was set up as a carousel session, in order to allow the students to listen to and review each other's Podium Performances. Laptops were placed on table tops and the students worked in home teams to open up and play the stories created by the others, rotating from table to table when they had finished. The students were quick to notice how even though we had all told the same story each was incredibly different. The examples of what could be taken from the cupboard in the introduction to the story varied from recording to recording for example, but also the reasons for why the king went on his journey (I like the one where he went to his nans for tea), what happened when he got back and how the length of time was exaggerated while the greedy robbers raided the cupboard. What was really interesting for me was also how the means of presentation changed the way the students used language structures. All of the students engaged with the use of expression as an integral part of the performance process. Both I and the children thoroughly enjoyed the process, and the outcomes are really interesting too. They can be found as part of the May 2009 archive on our class Podcast Station as a series of files called The Glass Cupboard Retold. This is a process I will be using again, and sharing with colleagues. Great fun.


Lego Digital Designer: Another LEGO based CAD environment.


LEGO Digital Designer : Virtual Building Software

This tool and free download has been all the rage in school recently. Discovered by a couple of our Y 6 students, who having used it at home managed to download, install and get it to run from one of the shared drive spaces on the network, it initially gained attention as the focus of some firm but I hope fair discussions about our acceptable use policy and argeement.... The ingenuity of it all!

I hope you'll agree with the resolution, too good to miss as a tool, but also because I want our AUP to work within the realms of trust, I agreed to download and look into an installation of the tool for them to use, on the proviso that in future, they should share tools like this that they would like access to in school with me first. This situation was an ideal opportunity to discuss the reasons why we do this and esafety issues such as licensing and copyright.

The Demo provided by the students and the brief play I have had with LEGO Digital Designer only scratches the surface of the potential uses I think it could have. It includes an extensive library of components that include Mindstorms and Creator kits. On a basic level the tool could be used in ways outlined in this previous post about the Freeware tool BlockCAD. Digital Designer is quite a different beast however, and with the inclusion of Technic and Mindstorms components could be used to support design work or recording from control activities using nxt. In addition the interface allows the user to switch betwen a number of different onscreen viewing modes.

  • Build mode where models can be developed from existing prototypes or from scratch,
  • Viewing mode where the model can be placed on different backgrounds, rotated, exploded and in some cases animated,
  • Building guide mode, where completed models can be put together step by step, using a walk/step through video presentation, or building guides exported in HTML format.

My brief engagements with the tool don't as of yet I feel do full justice to this potentially powerful freeware platform. To get your imagination whirring and creative juices flowing I'd recommend you download it and check it out for yourself. Certainly the students who recommended it to me, J and T love it and this has got to be the best starting point for thinking about how the tool might be exploited further engage them. I would love to hear your thoughts, and ideas about where and how you might use the platform.


Bees In A Pod: Our New Class Podcast Station

Last Summer I began a series of posts, exploring how I intended to use Blogger as a podcasting platform. At last I have managed to clear some space, transferred the content my students had previously published to Podomatic to our school's web host and got this new space up and running.

Today alongside existing content I have begun to publish some of our more recent video work too and later today am hoping to complete final file conversions from Podium, to add our recent adventures in Storytelling.

It has been interesting today listening back over these episodes, to hear the progression that has been made in performance and production since we began using audio and video to support and develop our reading and writing outcomes. This post is a thank you to everyone who has visited, subscribed to and followed the student's work to date, and an invitation to join us on our new Podcast Station at The Buzz (Bees in a Pod) where we hope you will continue to enjoy our work.


Getting Persuasive: Creating TV Style Advertisements with Photostory

This term we have been working on a science based theme around materials and their properties. To engage our students with cross curicular persuasive writing we decided to adapt parts of this to focus on the "three Rs." Hmmm Back to basics ay! A real vote winner in the past, but in this case not "readin' 'ritin' and 'rithmetic" (though we have done lots of this too) rather the Three Rs in question have been how we can "reduce, reuse and recycle."

Getting Persuasive

We began our literacy unit by reading and reviewing a range of texts, posters, leaflets and letters, and using these to identify features of the text type that drew our readers in. These included visual and layout features such as
  • headings
  • emboldening
  • the use of logos
  • slogans,
  • and bulleting,
that would identify these text formats as being part of the non fiction genre. Moving on to identify language features such as
  • emotive imagery,
  • the use of rhetorical questions
  • cause and effect and logical connectives.
  • and looking at how these devices were used to support the expression of opinion
Literacy sessions have taken on a slightly different perspective here focusing on developing and engaging with the "functional aspects" of the text type, and considering
  • What persuasive texts look and sound like?
  • Who might write these and why?
  • and How they work?
It is difficult to be passionate about something unless you have experience of the ideas behind it. In order to give context and purpose to the outcomes we wanted to develop the students were immersed in "topic based activities" beyond the literacy hour to support their knowledge and understanding of the key ideas they would need to engage with in the process of writing.

Persuasive writing is an interesting and complex sub genre, in that even though classified as Non Fiction, texts are constructed around the feelings of an author. They may appear to find their origin in "fact" but are usually driven by the emotions and opinions of an author based on their interpretation of facts as they see them. They may appear to be objective, but usually present only one side of a potential argument. Helping students to understand this, requires that they attempt to put themselves in the shoes of their audience and begin to develop some empathy with the other side of the case, inorder to choose relevant ideas they can express that appeal to both sides or those without their experience.

To help with this and our exploration of the genre we presented a simple "marking ladder" that we could use to help evaluate the texts we engaged with, and that could be unpicked and developed as we worked to reflect the key features of a persuasive text as we saw them. This included ideas presented above, but also set out to frame generically success criteria for the writing outcomes that students would develop later, and that could be used to frame comparison between their work and the texts we had explored. These texts we decided should
  • Open with a strong statement of opinion
  • Provide 3 key points to support this supported by facts
  • Close with a reassertion of the opening statement using either a slogan, an assertion or a question.
Within the overall process of exploring texts and developing our writing, we made audience the key focus for our work. Moving into phase two of the unit we gave the students an audience and practiced and applied the ideas we had been developing through the guided and shared writing of letter to our caterers. This sought to persuade them how composting of food waste was a great idea, giving our reasons why, and inviting a response. We know that many of the materials we discard in school are recycled or reused, but what about our food waste? Our new grounds are vast, so we decided to look at how composting as a process could be used to enhance our surroundings rather than perhaps ending up in a landfill? To make these more "official looking" the students also wordprocessed them, allowing them to use some of the visual features we had discussed to be included during the publishing process.

Working Towards A Digital Writing Outcome

In building up to our final Writing Outcome, which was to produce a TV advertisement or Video Presentation, we also read these British TV advertisements with voice overs by Eddie Izzard and Jane Horrocks, as well as this interesting stop motion project by simondo89 I discovered on You Tube.

Refering back to our Marking Ladder and success criteria for "writing," we investigated how these videos used similar ideas to persuade. The students identified the use of slogans and Logos as key tools to stating opinion and asserting ideas, but also how the use of visuals such as gesture alongside music were used to persuade us that "recycling was cool." We used comparison charts to review the three videos gradually over several sessions, looking at one initially to identify features that supported our big idea. If the advertisements are telling us that recycling is cool how are they doing this? What makes us think or feel this way?

In The Eddie Izzard Example, the voice over was seen as cheeky and quirky, presenting a casual almost throw away idea. We got to this point via the expression by one of my class that the voice over was "idiotic." This invited discussion around what she meant by this, and lead to time spent unpicking the idea and why the voice might have been prersented in this way. In addition students mentioned the type of music chosen, the bright airy look of the scenes, the shiny newness of objects and the fact that the "new everyday objects" presented were highlighted in the video as the cans they were made from. This added to the "coolness" because no one would have anything like them in their homes. The young fellow who was the focus of the story told also had a slinky, casual way about him strutting about the scene, casually casting his can into the recycling bins, and going about his business as if it was everyday. I was really pleased when a number of students after several readings mentioned how the advert also began with the character throwing away his can and ended in the same way... The advert itself was "kind of recycling." As can be seen in the outcomes later, many of the ideas in this video were borrowed as available designs to use in the works that developed as a result.

Looking at the other 2 advertisements we began with these ideas looking for similarities. The Jane Horrocks Advert from the same series used very similar ideas, Here the character from the previous video was seen playing a computer game, skateboarding and collecting points as he collected bottles to recycle. As a result the "coolness" of recycling glass was expressed in almost identical ways, but also afforded the questions around the idea of audience and who the advert might be aimed at? Using clues such as continuity of the central character, the music and visuals we decided that the video was probably directed at us, and how we could persuade our parents and grandparents to recycle. Though the main idea that it was cool, the use of the game perhaps lead us to see how recycling needn't be such a big thing, or get in the way of how we usually behave.

The final stop motion project, I think really excited the students as they had recently done some stop motion work, and could see how this advertisement had been been put together. A fantastic tool in as it turns out for engaging them crosscurricularly with the oft neglected ICT curriculum strand 4 statements around "Reviewing, modifying and evaluating work as it progresses." In this video using simple visual tools such as the recycling symbol, items from the bin, an image of the world, lettering from an old newspaper, and a piece of carefully selected music, a really simple message was transmitted by reusing material that could have been found in our bin to persuade, no voice over just a litter dance using throwaways, slogans and captions. The message portrayed used a number of familiar processes, and as such enabled them to begin drawing on prior learning to begin discussing how this had been achieved. It also began to open up the task we wanted the students to carry out. Helping identify with them the transferable skills we could use from a variety of ICT based processes such as animation, podcasting, video storymaking to contextualise the writing outcome.

Getting Persuasive with PhotoStory

The final phase of our Literacy Project was to make a short TV style advertisement./video presentation aimed at persuading our parents and other adults that we should recycle. For this we decided to use PhotoStory, the reasons for this I hope will become clear as the process is outlined and you view the completed outcomes .

In making the advertisement the children worked in groups of 4.
  • Firstly they planned and then scripted their voice overs using the structure and success criteria above.
  • Using the script as a frame we used Flickrstorm and Google Images to locate and save 5 images that we thought would support and help express our ideas.
  • These images were imported to Photostory and sequenced.
  • The text tool was used to place our slogans or key message on the first frame and to add credits to our final one.
  • The children then rehearsed there voice overs, considering how they would express their ideas before..
  • Using the inbuilt voice recorder and microphones to record each child's contribution over the appropriate image.

I love the outcomes of which these are only three examples. They are starting points on a journey that I feel reflect the children's emergent and growing understanding of how these text types work.
  • Slogans and opening statements include ideas like "Don't Turn Away," "Prepare to be Amazed," "Our World Could Look Like This." Attempts to grab attention!
  • An appropriate choice of Emotive images or bold and borrowed ideas to open and close their advertisements.
  • Use of simple cause and effect sequences such as, how composting feeds worms, who feed the birds and this is Good for them and must be "GOOD FOR YOU!"
  • and assertions of ideas such as "It is up to you!"
  • The sense of fun in the experience from a student perspective is also eveident as they attempt to include features they experienced in reviewing advertisements eg singing part of a script, and how their reading process is developing with experiences from storytelling and podcasting sneaking in as they find themselves inadvertently inferring and improvising through prediction rather than verbatum use of scripts.
These videos were entirely self produced and I feel indicate an increasing understanding of how advertisements use paritcular features to atttract an audience in order to persuade. Underpinning this is the student voice and their rehearsal of concepts and ideas from beyond the text as they work to organise their ideas as sense making structures. They are I think nice examples of first steps in the use of video as an independent tool to express ideas, and as starting points for evaluation and review as we plan the next steps in our learning.

In supporting the development of this unit, the immersion of the students in a theme,
  • involving visitors,
  • auditing classroom and staffroom bins,
  • asking questions around school about what happens to our "rubbish,"
  • discussing and exploring how materials can be reused, the process of recycling materials and the possible consequences of not doing so
have developed a sense of ownership around the work we have developed. The students have begun offering their services to help recycle, if other classes sort their rubbish, delivering it to appropriate places around school during break and lunchtimes.

As a result of a "bin audit" from the staffroom this week, students have suggested the need to create posters that offer advice to staff and other students about how they can improve their 3 Rs. Our completed advertisements have been placed on the VLE to share with our parents at home, though not being able to wait it seems one student arrived yesterday, knowing we were about to make our advertisements with a flash drive, so she could take her group's home to share after school. Another student out ill yesterday, but knowing we were going to be making our advertisements yesterday, used photostory on his home PC and sent the result to me by email. The students have clearly been excited and highly motivated by the projects with the images throughout this post reflecting the level of engagement and fun associated with developing the outcomes. Next week following the excitement of this process we hope to launch our campaign a little wider with a first public airing during assembly.

These videos also present themselves not as an end product but rather potential starting points for future work as reference tools for others as well as ourselves. I was privileged last week to experience some of our secondary students working on OCR Nationals coursework, and in addition to use within the Pimary Phase, have begun wondering how as an all through school, these could be used to promote and support continuity and progression, acting as evaluation tools and starting points for older students to evaluate and develop video based projects of their own. The idea of beginning with the work of other students regardless of age, in order to illustrate processes and identify steps for self improvement and development in the quality of outcome would be fantastic. In an all through environment such as ours it would be a really exciting to involve older students taking on and helping to move forward the work of their younger peers, extending work such as this and developing it for their own benefit, while perhaps sharing and presenting new resources that can further enhance the learning and experiences not only of themselves but other students and the colleagues who are learning alongside them. Perhaps in closing my thoughts truly are running away with themselves... However in recycling these videos the Possibilities do seem truly endless.