Digital Tools Invite Writers to Compose – #NCTE13

20131201-213255.jpgGoogle technology for technology’s sake and a myriad of articles will appear about the pitfalls of this practice.  I’ve seen first-hand how purchasing technology just so a school can say they have the latest technology for student use doesn’t make sense. I’ve consulted with schools where every classroom has an interactive whiteboard, but it isn’t being integrated into all teachers’ workshops due to a lack of teacher training.  I’ve also walked into classrooms where all of the kids had an tablet, but the kids weren’t really writing because the teacher hadn’t set clear expectations of how to use the iPad for each part of the writing process. However, when technology is integrated into writing workshop in a meaningful way (i.e., teachers are trained on the tool, students know how to use the technology for educational purposes), engagement and learning take place.

Two of the sessions I attended at NCTE in Boston helped me think about ways two digital tools could be meaningfully integrated into early childhood and elementary school classrooms to engage young writers. The “Exploring Collaboration of Multimodal Literacies in Early Childhood: Digital Filmmaking, Designing, and Co-Authoring” panel discussed the way digital video cameras (e.g., FLIP Cameras) could enhance learning, while two of the presenters in “Writing Workshop Is for All Students: Using Visuals, Oral Language, and Digital Tools to Maximize Success and Independence for English Language Learners” suggested the incorporation of digital cameras.

Digital Video Cameras: Christy Wessel Powell presented about “Media Moments with Young Children” in a panel presentation. A group of educators wanted to weave in technology and media into the curriculum periodically during the early childhood school day since they felt it would:

  • Honors children’s interests and experiences outside of school
  • Engaging
  • Opportunities to collaborate and problem-solve
  • Social skills development through play (Husbye, et al. 2012; Wohlwend 2011)

Wessel Powel talked about a movie making center that was implemented in several early childhood classrooms. Essentially, early childhood teachers put a variety of toys and Flip Cameras on a table that they named the movie making center.  Children were given two rules to follow:

  1. Toys must stay at the table (you can bring props over if you want).
  2. Cameras are not toys. They are tools for filming only.

During the session, we watched videos of young children making movies in dyads and triads. Wessel Powell showed us how the children’s videos evolved from videos of silly noises and faces to kids saying things to documentary style videos, which were steady shots of them intentionally showing things in the classroom. While there were some issues that arose from having a movie making center in the classroom, the benefits were great.  The ones Wessel Powell presented that I thought were most significant were that the children embodied literacy practices through play/storytelling, and they began to develop an foundational awareness of who produces media.  (To read the rest of my notes from this session, click here.)

Digital Cameras:  During their part of the “Writing Workshop is for All Students” session, Patricia Martinez-Alvarez and Maria Paula Ghiso talked about the way they used cameras as tools to make meaning in the classroom.  Early elementary school students were invited to take home a digital camera to take photos of things they wanted to discuss in the classroom with their peers.  The children took photos of their homes, neighborhoods, churches, family members, etc.  Martinez-Alvarez and Ghiso suggested the following ways to adapt writing workshop with photos:

  • Use children’s pictures to make a chart of writing ideas.
  • Take a sequence of pictures about one particular expert topic and use it to model writing.
  • Use sequenced pictures to write a “how-to” or informational story.
  • Ask students to match pictures with the appropriate academic vocabulary (ex., first, then, next, last).
  • Have students match provided vocabulary words with parts of the picture. You can give clues if necessary.
  • Have students tell the information that goes with each picture (ex., teaching each other).

In addition to the ideas above, Elisa Waingort, who has done the Slice of Life Story Challenge, was sitting behind me had another idea.  The photos Martinez-Alvarez and Ghiso showed of one child’s trip to the laundromat reminded her of a slice of life story.  Her comment made me think one way teachers can use photos in the classroom is by giving kids cameras and asking them to take photos about what’s important to them.  Then the students can bring the cameras back, talk about the photos they took, and this could lead into slice of life writing.

How have you used digital video cameras or digital cameras in your classroom?  Please share your ideas by leaving a comment.