Monday, July 14, 2014

Exploring Digital Storytelling

I've just returned from a workshop on Writing Through Technology at Bard's Institute for Writing and Thinking. Throughout the week we examined various methods of digital storytelling (video essays, podcasts, digital poems, blog posts enhanced with hypertext and media), and, of course, we were also tasked with creating our own piece of digital writing. Like many of my classmates, I spent a few hours on false starts as I explored different digital tools. I considered iMovie, but felt it would be too time consuming to use given the constraints of my English curriculum. Blogging and Tweeting were appealing options, but as my students and I already do quite a bit with those mediums, I put them aside in search of something that would be new to them and me.

As I thought back to my first year of associate teaching with Monica Edinger, I remembered a project she led in her 4th Grade classroom using ComicLife. It was easy to download a free trial of the app to my laptop, and even easier to sort through their modular and customizable templates, fonts, captions and word art. ComicLife allows users to incorporate a variety of images (personal photos, drawings, images from the web, snapshots from the laptop's camera) into the pages, and users can create text boxes and speech bubbles as they see fit. I based my comic book on a story I had written earlier in the week, and found myself surprised at how many 'writing skills' I relied on in order to tell a primarily visual story.

My hours spent in ComicLife reminded me that I need not always use pencil and paper (or word processing) in order to encourage my students to improve and refine their writing skills. Indeed, despite this being a digital project, I still spent quite a bit of mental energy on plot development, pacing, tone, organization, and language.

I'm already thinking about digital writing assignments I can use this fall. I think it will be difficult to move away from traditional writing as the first step, and indeed my ideas thus far use digital storytelling as a companion to more traditional writing. However, during the week at IWT we had great fun mapping out our ideas with storyboards (which students can fill out with writing or drawings), and those may be a happy compromise for my hesitancy to jump straight into writing through technology.

For those who are curious, my IWT project, Evocative Eels:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Middle School Author Visit: Monica Edinger

This year our 5th and 6th Graders welcomed Monica Edinger, children's book author, blogger, and 4th Grade teacher, for a book talk. Ms. Edinger spoke about her recent children's book, Africa is My Home, which was inspired by the her own experience in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone. The story takes place in 1839, when a 9-year-old girl named Margru is taken captive in Sierra Leone and put on board the Amistad. After older slaves aboard the Amistad gain control of the ship, Edinger tells the story of Margru’s long journey home, enhancing her fictionalized narrative with primary sources like news clippings and engravings. As my 5th Graders were deep into their own Historical Fiction unit in Writers' Workshop, Ms. Edinger's visit was a perfectly timed treat. My students had been learning about Kenya, gathering historical details and developing composite characters, and listening to Ms. Edinger discuss her writing process, the research that went into her book, and her experiences working in the historical fiction genre were enlightening. As any writing teacher knows, it's always fantastic and inspiring when our students can hear from, and ask questions of, published authors. Since Ms. Edinger is a veteran educator, she was an absolute pro with our students, reminding them of the hard work and sweet rewards that come to dedicated writers! 

Figuratively Speaking

After their study of figurative language and literary devices, my 5th Graders began expertly incorporating simile, metaphor, hyperbole, onomatopoeia and alliteration into their writing. They've also become quite skilled at noticing when published authors use these devices, which adds a new layer of complexity to the annotations they make in class novels. A sample of a few strong (and entertaining!) examples written and illustrated by our 5th Graders: