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Archive for November, 2014

It had to happen. After two years of thinking about it, I’ve finally integrated the amazing CSI web-based learning adventure into an English class. And what better time of year to trial this than the end of the year when keeping students engaged becomes more challenging than ever.

I’ve posted about CSI before. I became interested in the principles of game-based learning and decided this web-adventure could be used as a spring board for creative writing for a range of reasons. I’m acutely aware of the difference between game-based learning and gamification. I’ve probably gamified the learning process more than created a genuine game-based learning opportunity BUT I’ve attempted to balance engagement, skill development and assessment in the context of creative writing. The benefits of using games in the class include:

1. The popularity of online, interactive games  – engagement

2. Rewards-based activities incentivise learning – in CSI, students gain instruments when they complete a section of rookie training.

3. The opportunity to reinforce core values around digital citizenship introduced through our wide reading blog – managing passwords and accounts, staying on task, using several sites consecutively (dictionary.com, virtual thesaurus and CSI)

4. Problem solving – one of me, lots of you means try to work it out yourself OR ask a friend first!

My learning outcomes were also linked to the NZC as creating meaning through creative writing is probably one of the most challenging aspects of the English curriculum to teach. Through embarking on the CSI web adventure I aimed to:

1. Give students a range of concrete nouns to include in their writing through creating individual glossaries of new subject specific words.

2. Provide a tangible setting for their writing – as they explored the labs and crime scenes, they were exposed to places they could describe in their stories. If they struggled to transfer that to their writing, they were also encouraged to use settings more familiar to them (Peter Johnstone Park, the Octagon, etc).

3. Introduction to a range of potential narrators through the game – students were given the choice of writing from one of the character’s points of view OR to imagine themselves as a rookie investigator as part of the team.

4. Sew the seeds of potential narratives as they took part in the interactive case studies .

5. Opportunities for cross curricular learning – the CSI game offers resources for a range of subject areas, especially Science.

Over the past few weeks, my two Year 9 classes have completed Rookie Training and at least two case studies, created a glossary of new words (the goal was 15 words) and set up Google doc accounts. I’ve also trialled using Kaizena to give verbal feedback to several students. Kaizena enables students to share their docs with your profile. You then highlight words/phrases and give feedback on improvements needed. There’s a great introductory presentation available here. I’ve found I provide more feedback and it’s highly personalised so it becomes instantly more meaningful.

We then revised characterisation and narrative structure and, discussed a range of potential hooks to draw the reader in which I modelled on the board using the CSI theme.  I got students to complete a planning sheet of ideas (who is your main character, what happens, and then…) as like most of us, the hardest thing about writing is starting.

Every one of the 58 students has submitted drafts at varying stages of the writing process.  I’ve been blown away by some of the drafts. Given the stage of the year, I fully expected to have to closely monitor laptop usage but have only had to reprimand one student in the whole two weeks for not being on task. They’ve been genuinely riveted (and at times frustrated) with the game and have taken that level of engagement through to their writing. Given that I have students working from Level 2-5 of the NZC, I’m happy with that outcome.

I’ve got a planning unit available for anyone interested in giving this a go. Over the next few days, I’ll also seek permission from a couple of students to publish their work here. Watch this space!

Screenshot 2014-11-30 21.07.38

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Earlier in the year, I posted about my attempt to encourage wide reading with junior students via the Taieri Hotreads blog. As the year thunders to an abrupt halt, and after sharing this information at a recent Educamp session in Dunedin, I thought an update was timely.

Firstly, I used wordpress! No surprises there. I chose WordPress because I have experience using it for on c21learners for personal reflections. Anyone interested in using this platform just needs to visit WordPress online where online tutorials take you through the basics. I find it easy to post to, add links and tags and embed images and videos.  I’m aware that other schools have blogging facilities available through LMS systems, Google and Onenote. These would be great if you want/need to keep your site private and could well be easier for students to use if they are already familiar with those systems. I opted for a public site in the hope that it might attract comments from a wider circle of people than myself and classmates to further inspire/motivate reading.

I started by introducing students to the concept of blogging, discussing how blogs differ from other formats, showed them examples and discussed in groups acceptable rules for commenting. Those rules were then displayed in class to ensure we were all on the same page. This seemed to work well as there were no silly/nasty incidents (phew). I also created a handout summarising the steps in how to write and submit a post which they referred to while blogging (happy to email that to anyone if you are interested, just leave a comment here with your email). I know handouts are old school but when you’re working with 30 kids in a lab and they are all asking the same question three times an hour, “refer to handout” is the way to go!

Students were invited to join the blog via their school email accounts. Initially I set deadlines (2 posts and 2 comments per term) and displayed their progress on a chart in class. We used our school labs and library for blogging but ideally, my aim was to get them blogging independently.  Some did and are still happily blogging away, others have struggled to complete blogs for a number of reasons. These include lack of familiarity with using digital tech, literacy issues (writing is not a forte for some) and the fact that some of them are not reading independently beyond set class texts. At all.

Successes have included:

  • students who have become engaged in blogging and are writing good posts on their own
  • students making links between texts
  • students engaging in conversations about books
  • students learning how to be good digital citizens
  • students having an opportunity to write in a new (digital) format
  • students discovering new books to read through the site
  • Students loved getting personalised feedback on their posts, I’d always comment before publishing a post
  • Encouraging critical analysis of texts and introducing the making links concept is a good way to prepare students for NCEA tasks and terminology
  • Using tech angels – students who had successfully set up posts, added links or pics were able to help others
  • Encouraging problem solving – when there is one of me and lots of them, sometimes they have to work things through
  • creating a culture where the importance of reading is regularly, passionately and unreservedly promoted and rewarded

Downsides have included:

  • students taking ages to sign up due to inexperience using school email accounts
  • students inadvertently setting up a blog site rather than accepting my invite (easily fixed by deleting the site in settings options)
  • students defaulting to visual texts (I relaxed rules to allow one each when it became clear some would never experience blogging at all if I was too rigid and stuck to novels!)
  • too many posts on the same text  – not sure if this is a negative in terms of my aims but it did make the site repetitive for our followers
  • cutting and pasting comments on novels/films from the internet into posts – Grrr. The old authenticity chestnut but again, good for junior students to learn about this issue now rather than miss a senior assessment later for trying the same
  • overly simplistic comments – “cool” “nice one Snoop Dog” “you rock” etc etc. Because I was the site administrator, I would  go back to the author and request better responses
  • students not having the confidence to experiment with the full range of functions available such as adding hyperlinks
  • having to moderate each post and comment – yes time consuming

What would I do differently?

  • ask students to supply the email account they know how to use – gmail, hotmail, whatever
  • ensure students are invited as contributors not followers
  • create credit card sized cards for each student to record their user name and password on – so much time was wasted having to rest passwords! Suggest they make it the same as their email accounts so this is less likely to happen
  • create categories together to ensure everyone is using same archival system
  • limit tags to text titles and authors to avoid tag cloud explosion

At the end of last term, the most prolific bloggers were rewarded with a book each in recognition of their efforts and next week, I’ve organised a pizza lunch for those who met the deadlines. It would be great if students continued blogging at the end of the school year (that’s my utopia!) but I won’t hold my breath. I will certainly keep sharing my (young adult) reading with them over summer and if it inspires even one student to pick a book they might not have otherwise read, I’ll call it a win.

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