Writing a Collaborative Class Novel GETCA

Here are the story details we came up with from the “Writing a Collaborative Class Novel” session today.  Remember, I will create our final compilation if we can get at least 5 stories together and submitted.

 

Our Talisman

Rook from a chess set

-metaphorical barrier or something that frees you
-made of wood
-chipped corner
-purple
-once owned by a great man
-under the chip, other colours of paint
Characters
Rottweiler 
-nervous
-talks, has a history with
-found the piece in the park
-missing a piece of his ear
Benedict
A great man
-has a stutter
-world champion chess player
-leads a solitary life, antisocial
Mildred
80 year old Ex-con
Tattoo that says ‘checkmate’ with a yellow king and a purple rook
Evelyn
7 year old girl who likes to paint
Rex King
Jazz musician
One legged
Dying of cirrhosis of the the liver
Settings and overall story lines are up to you, we discussed some initial plot lines in the session.  The only requirements for your story is that it involve the Talisman and at least one of our characters. Due date is Friday March 7th.
Happy Writing!
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If they think it, learning will come…

If they think it, they will learn

If they think it, they will learn

I love speaking at teachers’ conventions because it gives us as professionals some time to have deep meaningful discussions about our practice and the time to reflect and process those discussions without having to run off and teach a class afterward.  One of the sessions I am presenting this year (writing a collaborative novel) inspires some great discussion around the use of time in our classrooms.  Teachers are often hesitant to start big collaborative projects because there is so much that can go awry with the processes and results.  We feel it is better to dole out learning in small, digestible chunks and ensure that students eat each piece.  What we miss in this perspective is that it does not give students the comprehensive picture of the discipline they are learning.  Inspiration is the driver for learning, and if we can inspire our students, they learn with hardly a lesson from us.

I would rather inspire students to drive their own learning than to be docile and ‘receive’ their learning from me.  I want curiosity, spark, innovation, passion in learning, as I’m sure we all do.  However, that kind of learning is messy and takes time, time that we often assume we cannot take.  When I was on the fence about project-based learning, about our ability to write a novel as a class and the time it would take, I thought how can I reach all of those outcomes I have to reach spending this much time on one section of the curriculum.  Yet when I sat down with a plan to make it happen, and I saw the students engaged in the work, it was easy to check off sections of the outcomes, because they dove further than I could have hoped, they involved themselves as I wouldn’t as an adult.  Our students, when inspired, will make a project a 24-hour a day obsession and give you everything they have.

If we can inspire them. 

That ‘direct teaching’ part? It still exists in a project-based classroom. Here’s the difference; instead of me sitting down to ‘teach a lesson’ and keep passive students engaged, students want the information because it helps them progress in their projects. It’s a wonderful shift for students and inspired by inspiring them to think, instead of forcing them to ‘learn.’  They are asking me to support them in finding information, solving problems; and I get to be a learner too!

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Dealing with mobile devices in the classroom

Trapped in PhoneI had a great conversation with a teacher at one of my sessions a couple of weeks back.  It was in the middle of my iPad Oddities session, and I had made a comment on the need to have expectations for effective mobile device use in the classroom.  When I told the group of educators that I had no problem with students using personal devices at certain times during class, this teacher wanted clarification.  For him, turning off a personal device was a matter of respect for the classroom, and what he was teaching.  It’s a scenario that I hear about often when I am doing these talks, and so I took a few minutes to distinguish for him, and the group, an important distinction we are making when we ask students to turn off cell phones; and why it may not be in our best interests.

Cell Phones as Extensions of Self

Today’s students see their devices much differently than any generation previous. No longer are they items of convenience for many of them, they serve as items of personal extension and connection.  So rather than being ‘relieved’ to turn off a device, as many of us might be, they feel cut off from their world.  Though the merits of this can be debated, the truth is that not having a device on and near them may be as much or more of a distraction to some of our students than having them on and actively used.  Our students want to be tapped in, and will worry about that connection when it is not present.

It also heavily concerns me whenever I have to put myself into conflict with a student. I abhor doing it, as my job as a teacher is to inspire and champion students.  As such I don’t want to create forced compliance within the classroom, I want to have processes that are natural and make sense to everyone in the room. Also, simplicity in this process works wonders with students who need reminders from time to time.

Developing Etiquette 

My discussion partner mentioned that students have a responsibility to learn etiquette in social situations about the use of mobile devices, which I agree with.  However, the difference may be that we need to instruct students on when to use devices instead of not using them.  I likened the scenario to the session I was speaking in.  Individuals were focused, attentive, and certainly not being rude as far as I was concerned.  In fact, it was a very engaged group, yet I know many of them were using their devices in many ways around the room.  It was up to them to decide if a given text message was important enough to draw them away from what was happening in the session, and I would hazard a guess that many of the attendees were still arriving at the learning they expected even with all the ‘distraction.’

This is not to say that students should have full reign with their devices, far from it in fact. What we need to understand is that just because their ‘off’ switch and impulse control may not be fully developed, doesn’t mean they are not engaged.  I spent many years at the back of the classroom drawing in a notebook long before mobile devices were an issue in schools, and no one thought to take away my paper and pencil.  I had teachers who would ask why I felt the need to draw and try to engage me in drawing things focused on what we were learning so it was a rehearsal of the message.  Perhaps this is the better way to look at these devices in the classroom. How can we use our students’ constant connection for benefit instead of distraction? We also must remember that we need to strike a balance with this.  There is a difference between a presentation on iPads in the classroom and learning how to deploy your parachute during a skydive.  We have the right to require specific attention at some times, but we may find that gaining attention for those times comes easier if we meet our students halfway during times when the requirement isn’t as heavy.

What works?

I don’t propose to have all the answers on this issue, but I have had success with a rather simple process. Whether using school-owned or personal devices, students are to leave them face-down in front of them on their desk (I usually say top right.) I discuss with students the very issues I have already raised in this post, then tell them that they are allowed to use their phones in a reasonable manner, as long as they are engaged in the classroom.  So, if their phone buzzes (not rings since it is on vibrate), they can pick it up, reply quickly and put it back down.  As long as it isn’t pervasive, there is nothing wrong with that.  Conversations are best left to other times, but just as many of us would in a meeting, PD session or many other circumstances, a quick text shouldn’t be an issue. I also ask out of courtesy that they use the devices above their desks.  In this way, they self-monitor better as well because there is no hiding what they are doing.  It makes a big difference when the use is a little less private to how much they are willing to engage in it.

Overall my goal is a happy classroom climate where we can all get to the exciting job of learning. I know I will never get 100% ‘compliance’ with cell phone use, but if that’s not what you’re shooting for then a functional and positive classroom simply becomes a nice place for everyone to work.

Thanks for reading!
Derek

Writing a Collaborative Classroom Novel: A Presentation

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 10.39.22 AMAs with my other recent posts, this is a presentation given for a local teacher’s convention in Alberta, this one for the Calgary Teachers. My presentation on Scribd can be found here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/207208600/Writing-a-Collaborative-Class-Novel

This presentation is focused on working together in the classroom to meet our goals for young writers by having them consider and write long-length fiction. This process is highly effective in allowing students to understand the craft of the writer and overall structure of extended fiction.  We collaborated in the session on a truncated process like the one that may be used in class. Forthcoming will be a series of stories based on the following details we created.  Check back to find an updated post including the stories and final product.

Ralph 

  • sage like elderly man
  • long beard
  • isolated hermit
Gertrude
  • elderly woman
  • cantankerous
  • separated from Ralph in separate huts same forest
Sally
  • young hero
  • poor bumbling girl
  • simple,plain
  • pure heart
Bruno
  • conniving Uncle to Sally
  • dark
  • eyepatch
  • bald, goatee
  • local mayor
Little
  • Sally’s friend/pet
  • miniature talking ox
  • ridable by Sally
Talisman (object of power or interest)
  • golden orb
  • size of an apple
 Settings
  • Forest with huts
  • Town (medieval) Wexlin
  • tavern
  • main square or plaza
  • town hall
  • market
 Our connecting message (theme)
  • collaboration to accomplish a goal

Why Stepping Back is So Important

I had to “step back” today and go back to the beginning with my class around research.  We have been doing inquiry projects all year, and they have done fairly well with many of them.  However, this time around I made the questions a little more abstract, and the content a little more difficult to find.  They struggled.  Some students were simply typing their open-ended question into Google, and others were looking in the textbook for a section they were sure had to be there.  Oh so young to be trained to look for a specific answer! So today we went back to basics and read two articles that were seemingly unrelated to the topic the students were studying.  We broke it down and I gave them a three step process to figure out the meaning of the article, the connections to their work, and ways to possibly use their findings to guide where they looked next.  Then we were back to that magical learning process, and they understood research again.

Had we talked about all of this before? yes. Had they heard it from me several ways before? yes. Did that matter? no.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if we have explained a concept 100 times in class; if students aren’t getting it, we need to take a step back. This goes for elementary social studies, high school english, or middle school science. We simply need to step back far enough every time so that the students are with us and can reach the concept we are putting out there.  It’s what Vygotsky talks about as the zone of proximal development, and it is our responsibility to get them to where they have the ability to understand. Even if we just taught it to them yesterday.  

I enjoy stepping back in my class, as it gives me pause to be creative and come at something in a new way.  I relish those ‘aha’ moments as I know many teachers do. Sometimes it’s nice to “Step Back” and write a blog post about it too.