Honeycomb 7: Writing like an Agony Aunt

Today the students didn't actually work in Honeycomb, but rather the "static site" and comments we created during our previous sessions were used as starting points and stimuli for the session.

To begin this morning we read together and shared the comments and advice we had left for William, Greg and Claire in our previous sessions using the Honeycomb Worry Website as a shared text. The children were asked to work in pairs to identify the ideas that they thought the characters might find helpful, and then to work with me as a class to create a model opening for a letter to one of the characters. Prior to the session I had created a Smart Board Notebook, that divided the letter into the three sections I wanted the children to use in framing their response, within this I provided sentence/paragraph openers that they could choose from, to discuss and develop as they wrote.

Using their Asus Web books in pairs the children were asked to open the wordprocessing package "write" to create their own advisory letters to the story character of their choice. They were allowed to "steal" openers if they felt they needed to and encouraged to use, add to expand and improve the ideas modelled by their friends to support the advice they gave. Throughout the session the students were stopped and encouraged to read aloud their letters as they developed. Suggestions were sought as to where they might go next, while this process also offered opportunities for other children to reread, review and edit their works in progress in response to what they had heard.

To end the session students were asked to attach and send their letters by email to me for moderation, review and printing. As web books the Asus Ees do not have a direct connection to our school network or print solution, they are intended to be used to support use of local applications alopngside the online learning tools and storage spaces we are providing such as the VLE. Drop boxes are the main vehicle for doing this in our current environment, however as I have mentioned in previous posts I really want the students to see our VLE as just this a Virtual Learning Environment, and a social tool to boot. The drop box approach seemed somehow not quite right contextually for this activity and the type of work the children have engaged in. The emails and letters are currently sitting in my inbox, awaiting a response. Being concerned not to lose the enthusiasm that this process has evoked, I am thinking after all their hard work that the pairs of students should recieve a reply from the characters they have sought to help. This should not be too difficult or time consuming, drafting a short standard reply from each character, that can be copied, pasted and edited to provide a little personalisation . Keeping the children hooked in this way I hope will be a really cool in and starting point to the next phase of our writing process which will involve the children using the ideas we have developed empathetically to write their own dilema based stories on these characters and evolving around similar themes. It will be interesting to see what response having an email from either Wiliam, Claire or Greg will have on Monday Morning. Hopefully next week we will be able to upload our letters to the class blog and share some of the outcomes. In the mean time here is a taster offered by two of the boys...

Dear Greg

We are sorry to hear that you have been having girl problems. This is something we don't usually have. We both have a sister and know all about the problems that girls can cause.

Why don't you start by talking to her at lunchtime. You can find out about her and see what she is in to. After that you can ask her out then if she says yes, you can take her on a date somewhere she might like to go. Perhaps you could go to the movies or for a walk in the park.

Good Luck

J and B

I wish I'd had friends like them when I was at Primary school.

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Honeycomb 6: Collecting Ideas For Empathetic Writing

The students had a fantastic time today using our Worry Web to engage with character problems presented from the text we have been sharing this week. I was beginning to worry myself that the work done over last weekend to set up the static site model would flop disasteroulsy if I couldn't get the technology to work for me rather than against as seemed to be the case yesterday.

The problems/dilemas the children were asked to consider were those of three children

William who thinks he is useless at everything...

Greg, who says "I like this girl. I like her very much. I want to be her friend. I want to be her BOYfriend. I've gone all red and shuddery and yucky just typing it! I hate all this lovey-dovey stuff. It really sucks. I don't want to feel like this. I generally HATE girls."

and Claire who says "I have this nightmare. Its really scary. I don't know what to do. I dream it every single night. Does anyone else have nightmares or am I the only one?"

The three problems stirred up active discussions, and it was interesting to see this evening which of worries the children had chosen to respond to in most detail, and how responses had divided along gender lines.

Greg got some really interesting responses from the girls, who interestingly set about replying by changing the perspective for him by reviewing the problem and presenting a way of dealing with what he wanted to do from their point of view. Several of the responses included a "Well as I am a girl," viewpoint, while sharing with him their wisdom and outlining some of the things they thought he might do.

Claire seemed to gain most responses from the boys, who were quick to point out she was not alone, they too had nightmares or bad dreams, they tended to explain the reasons they thought they had "bad dreams" and made practical suggestions about how they had overcome these. These included sitting down and trying to relax before bedtime, emptying their minds and thinking happy thoughts. Perhaps the problem stemmed from the things she was watching on TV. One of the students explaining how he asked his mum to help him decide if the things he wanted to watch might be too scary if close to bed time. There were also some interesting suggestions about what to eat and drink and ideas about how to make yourself comfortable before trying to go to get off to sleep, perhaps taking a waterbottle and teddy to bed, putting luminous stars on the ceiling and so on.

It has been really interesting reading the responses to see how the nature of the space seemed to affect the boys partiucularly in terms of the things they said. The sympathetic and open way they said they too had nightmares, and the suggestion of a teddy bear is something some of the "cooler" guys would probably not have suggested so matter of factly. There was none of the switch to "she could" we would have gained in discussion, but more of the "why don't you.?" or "you could try.." type of response, that is exactly what Iwant to develop in our writing outcome.
I am really pleased about how the task and environment engaged the students empathetically with the talk for writing process. It also began the initial drafting of models we will draw on for our guided write tomorrow.

During our writing task I want to build on today's using the comments collected as scaffolds to help us write Agony Aunt type responses to the characters. When we planned this process I was thinking how interesting it would be for the children to work with the responses we collected to write a Dear Claire, William or Greg Letter. I am now wondering about having the children create these collaboratively using a word processor and offering two publishing outcomes. One to be printed for display, the other publishing to their Blog spaces, in order to extend the conversation and commenting process as part of an AfL and review activity. Encouraging review of each other's letters not only in terms of the content or how they feel about the advice. But also in terms of our ongoing writing targets while extending our ongoing work around reading for meaning.

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Honeycomb 5: Beginning our Role Play Task

Today during our literacy session the students began their work using the version of the "Worry Website" I created in Honeycomb over the weekend. During this session our focus was on writing in role and how we might begin a conversation or response to character's problem. If these students/characters were in our class, how might we encourage them to talk or listen to us and the things we had to say?

The session was slow to start, even though the students are now familiar with the log in process to access our Wireless network and VLE from their Asus Ees, today was the first time we had visited Honeycomb in a while, and the first time we had visited it from the direct hyperlink added to our class page. Hopefully tomorrow the process will be quicker.

We did encounter a problem today however which we struggled to find a work around for, and currently I am not sure whether this is an issue with Honeycomb, something we will have to think about when using the Asus, or perhaps a combination of the two. The comment box in Honeycomb is fixed and does not float, its size in the browser, combined with the inability to scroll within this page element meant that the add comment button appeared in most cases out of view in the browser window. Thinking on my feet I was able to rescue the situation suggesting that for today the children draft their comments to Use on our Worry web pages in "write" to transfer later. This will mean students either going through a slightly extended process of tranferring these files to the network, and so as not to lose the work and impetus from today, adding these comments when we complete the task and engage with our comment reviews tomorrow.

One or two of the machines seemed to give different renderings of the environment, allowing use of the add comment button, and I thought I would share a couple of the outcome comments generated as part of the task today to give a flavour of how this task is beginning to effect the student's thinking process.

What I am really pleased with in these examples is the apparent empathy that the environment has begun to create in the two student comments. They have begun to put themselves in the shoes of Claire, and to draw on their own experiences as they offer advice and support about the problem using
  • "the you are not alone perspective," sharing how a similar event has affected them
  • "the in my experience approach" offering practical suggestions about the things that have worked for them.

It is still early days for this activity but these comments are useful beginnings to support the discussion I want to generate around language choices when we respond to others.
They also offer models we can develop or use to frame our agony aunt responses during this week's writing outcome.

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On Screen Sand Art

Loving playing with this creative space, a cool pick up from Twitter this week.

This image was captured from the space using print screen and then pasting to Microsoft Paint. Wondering what our students might make of this environment as part of creative afternoon sessions.


Honeycomb 4: Thinking Through an Online Role Play Project

This term we have begun to use our Asus Ees in the classroom, and during one of our VLE blogging sessions the students began asking when we were going to be working in Honeycomb again. Well guys the answer is this week, and here's some of my thinking as I am preparing the tools I want to use with my class.

At the moment we are working on an extended literacy unit based on stories with dilemmas, and during our planning time last week, my partner teacher suggested using the text "The Worry Web Site" by Jacqueline Wilson as a stimulus. I loved the idea and an immediate thought was how much fun it might be if we could get the students to begin interacting with the text as if they were "Agony Aunts." The writing outcome we have proposed for next week after we have engaged with some of the children's dilemmas together from the book is to have the children draft a reply, to help a character overcome their dilema. Thinking about this for the last couple of days and how cool it would be to bring a version of the worry website to life that they could engage with in real time I wondered first of all about our VLE and creating an imaginary user space. But then I began to think about Honeycomb.

The space we need for this doesn't need to be all singing and all dancing, but does need to provide an environment where the children can interact together safely and socially, while experimenting with their thoughts and how they communicate their ideas and structure how they might offer their advice. I have put together 3 simple pages to act as a stimulus for this, all of them are simple web page like mockups.
  1. The Worry Website Home Page
  2. and 2 based on the Worries of two of the characters in the book Greg and Claire.

My original thoughts were to create a Wiki and allow the children to engage directly with the page adding their ideas as the week developed, however after some thought I began to see that maybe this might not work in quite the way I wanted the sessions to develop. I began to think instead how this might be an ideal opportunity to develop the space for "Role Play," as an interesting situation for the children to practice their commenting skills.

Honeycomb does not currently allow the creation of internal hyperlinks between a users pages. But colleague John Sutton has suggested a neat workaround for this. By saving the Home Page I have made as a Honeycomb Blog I can transfer the contents of each page in the model "Worry Web" I have already made to create a post and so allow navigation between the home page and the individual "worries." This has involved a little reworking of the material I made earlier, but now I can use this space to encourage the students to work together to plan and share their comments for each of our "worriers."

Commenting on Blogs is a real skill, and something I am not very good at myself. It should be really good fun to work with my students as they practice this skill. I am really looking forward to exploring this process with the class this week. Perhaps using it as part of our "Speaking and Listening" focus to develop a list of dos and don'ts that can help us work together more successfully in our other online environments.

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