Sunday, 25 November 2012

Write Now 1000 - Kids Writing for Kids

My school, Sinarmas World Academy has started on a huge publishing project called Write Now 1000. The aim is to publish 1000 books over the next 7 months! If you want to read up about this project - take a look here Write Now 1000.

I am proud that this project is a direct result of a Publishing Project sandbox that I led from January to May, 2012. I worked with several students to create and publish iBooks to the Apple iBookstore. This resulted in the publishing of 10 books, some were written by students and some were written by me. As well as the 10 that were published to the iBookstore, there were about 70 other books created by students that were published to the school website.

In my own current class of Grade 4 students, I have been working with the class to write non-fiction books about the latest Unit of Inquiry. Each student has written their own book on their iPad. We used the app called Book Creator for iPad.

The difference ...

I have witnessed the awesome difference when you put publishing in the hands of students. 

My students are each creating a resource that will be available for download across the world. This is authentic learning at its' best. My students have a voice. The books that they are creating are giving them a platform to share their work as a finished product. Writing a book is a very different experience to writing on a website or blog. The book is created as a finished product - it becomes an artifact. 

Writing a book is a fantastic way to make connections in learning and to reflect on learning. Each book in my class has been research-based, includes student created photos, videos, voice recordings and hand-drawn diagrams. The students have learned about cover design, contents page, how to cite information, layout, font, color, relating pictures to text, creating accurate diagrams and how to put it all into a sequence from the beginning to the end of the book.

I am witnessing some deep thinking and there is such an excitement about the books. I am constantly seeking different ways for students to communicate their learning. I use a LOT of visual learning. In these books the students had to really demonstrate their understanding of their chosen body system by creating diagrams to go along with their text.

Each student wrote an explanation about a body system and an information report about a focus part of that body system. To go beyond the text, each student had to draw accurate diagrams to accompany their words. They also had to create a movie showing an experiment or demonstration that linked to the body system. As well as this they also took their iPads home and took pictures showing how they can actively keep their body system healthy at home.

iPads are so great for this. They are easy to use, capture is so immediate and creating dynamic digital inter-actives is very easy to do. It changes the whole way we think about learning. So much of education is text based. I love being able to create opportunities for my students to communicate visually.

Recently my class had the opportunity to share their books with a younger class. They were so excited to show their books and talk about the body system that they had researched. Each of these books averages at about 35 pages. It's become a very big task but a very interesting one.

Mind you I have read the books many, many times to check for spelling, grammar, factual text, that the facts have been reported correctly and information cited properly. I also have to check the quality of the images (not blurry and connects well to the text), that the font is consistent and easy to read. I also check that the layout is balanced. Even that a good contrast between text and page color has been achieved.

My students are fortunate that they also have access to Ms Ade (Indonesian teacher with Science background) and Mr Lindsay (our grade level EAL teacher) who can check their writing and give valuable input.

Like I said, it is a BIG process but then again we are really publishing these books and putting them online.

The system that I use is as these children are under 13 years old, I invite the parents to come to school where I help them to set up the iTunes and iTunes Connect accounts. This means that the parent becomes the publisher and has full control over the book accounts.

Here below are two of the books that I have already uploaded to the Apple iBookstore. 


All the information in the books has been written by the students themselves and all the images and movies have been created by them as well.

My students are 9 years old but I have taught them a simple referencing style with author, year, book title and page number.

This week I hope to upload some more books to the iBookstore. Every book created in my class will go to the School Bookstore as a part of the Write Now 1000 project.

It's such an exciting process. The parents are really excited too and I look forward to blogging about the books after Apple has approved them.

The Ups and Downs of Being Back in the Classroom

This year I am back in the classroom full-time. I have been the Technology Coach at my school for the past four years and felt that I was getting too removed from teaching as a homeroom teacher. Last year I was back in the class part time but I really needed to go back in full time so that I could have the full responsibility for the class.

It has been four months and I need to reflect on my practice ...

Homeroom teachers are very busy people. There is so much to juggle but at the same time it is all about setting routines and sticking to them. Sometimes I do well and sometimes it's very hard. I am constantly struggling with keeping a balance, hitting all my goals and keeping it on track. I also work as a part of a team which can be very hard as we are all busy, all have commitments and all have different teaching styles and opinions.

The Ups ...

I love being able to connect with the students again. I am getting to know them more and more everyday and starting to see some progress. What I love is seeing how the whole writing process has gotten so much easier. At the start of the year I was lucky to get a few sentences from each student. Now most of my class can write in greater detail and much more quickly. I am even getting some consistency with paragraphing.

I am very proud of my students' most recent work which was to each write a digital book on a body system. They created these books on their iPads. Each student has written a book which is research based, includes a video, voice recordings, hand-drawn diagrams and photos that were taken by the students themselves. I have uploaded the first two books already to the Apple iBookstore and we now wait for them to be published. This week I hope to upload three more. 

Writing books is a very big process, especially when the books are research-based. I have proof-read these books over and over and over and yet I still find small errors. I have had to check each fact to make sure that the students have not changed the meaning when writing it into their own words. I have also had to check that they cited the resource correctly. I will write about this process in more depth in the next blog post.

In Math we started with a geometry unit which was fun and very practical. The following unit was measurement which has shown me how many students needed some explicit teaching but - now we are past that and into the final stretch. The upcoming unit is number which is proving to be more challenging. I have started some PD on my own which has already taught me so much. A colleague of mine put me onto this resource - NZ Numeracy Project. I have started to diagnose my class through a series of personal interviews. Wow! I am learning so much. It does take a long time to get through each one but I feel that learning about how my students actually think when working with numbers is invaluable.

The Downs ...

Differentiation is hard. I have a typical class which as you know has students who can work easily and those who struggle. There are learning needs in the mix that are really challenging me. I can ability group and I do but sometimes it is hard to work with groups that have such a great need for explicit teaching. I try hard to give personal attention to each student but often my focus will drift to those who have the greatest needs. I strive to give ample focus to the top students as they deserve attention too. Ohhh it's such a balancing act!! I often feel quite frustrated but this just makes me like it all the more. Teaching is the hardest job I know and that's exactly why I do it.

Now that I have settled into this year, I feel that the hard work is just about to begin and I look forward to the challenge.