From the monthly archives:
At a recent instructional workshop, educational consultant Mike Fisher was told by 2nd-grade teachers that Storybird might be too advanced for their students. In this guest post, Mike explains what happened next.
A couple of months ago, I was doing a workshop with 2nd grade teachers on Digital Storytelling. We spent a bit of time talking about research based instructional strategies and how we can re-invigorate the writing process using web tools.
Many of their concerns were about quality products, student engagement, and students coming up with ideas for writing, all done in the context of a writer’s workshop model. When I do workshops like this, I like to flesh out exactly what it is the teachers are after—what their primary objective is. I talk to them about having “toolboxes” full to the brim, so that they can choose the right tool for the job they have to do.
After we talked about what they already had in their toolboxes, I started to add a few more tools, including Storybird. They had never seen Storybird before and were intrigued by the notion of what I was calling “Visual First” Instruction. Since quality products and ideas for writing were two of their primary concerns, Storybird, I thought, would be the perfect online, collaborative, and interactive tool – giving these teachers multiple opportunities for 21st Century learning.
We went to the Storybird website, looked at the navigation, clicked CREATE and were off and running. I talked them through the process of choosing artwork, launching the writing dashboard, adding pages, choosing art, and writing text. That’s when we hit a snag.
The teachers thought the tool was cool, but didn’t think it was developmentally appropriate for their 2nd graders. They didn’t think they would be able to do it, or at least not be able to do it in the limited computer time they were dealing with.
I asked them to bring a student in.
A few minutes passed, and “Cal” came in. I gave him a brief overview of what we were doing and asked if he minded trying it out in front of us. He got right to work.
Ten minutes later, he had a finished product:
Cal went back to his classroom, and I talked with his teachers about what just happened. They were awestruck. In just a few minutes, with minimal instruction, Cal created a product of value online that could be reviewed and assessed in the exact same way as a handwritten product. Additionally, the service allows for continual revision and editing, as well as collaboration and presention.
We discussed the writing process: grammar, spelling, consistency of storyline, etc; the same things we would discuss with a handwritten product and where we thought Cal could improve on what he did.
The teachers were literally blown away. They loved the service, they loved the opportunity to see it in action, especially after not believing it would actually work with their students; but what they loved most of all was the fact that the student that was selected to come in and write actually sat down and worked.
Unbeknownst to me in the moment, Cal was selected because he had been removed from his self-contained classroom because of continuous disruptions and misbehaviors. Cal was behaviorally and emotionally handicapped and had a lot of trouble with extreme impulsivity and loss of focus.
That prompted a further discussion about the power of engagement and motivation in the learning process, and how Storybird is the right tool for this task. With Storybird, kids get opportunities beyond the traditional forms of writing instruction, and engage in the 21st Century skills that we need them to be literate with: Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity! Storybird’s got it all and then some!
Mike Fisher is an Instructional Coach and Educational Consultant. You’ll find him on Twitter and his blog when he isn’t roaming the Atlantic seaboard and southern U.S. [Editor's note: He was also one of the teacher's we interviewed when designing our Class accounts.]
If we don’t, remember me. Dedicated to the peculiar but awesome craft of subtle gif animation.
Challenges is a monthly writing competition for grownups writing for kids. It grew out of our desire to harness the energy of the Storybird community and celebrate emerging voices who have a knack for making all of us (kids, tweens, teens, grads, moms, dads, teachers, students, etc) giggle, gush, or grin.
Challenges is a mix of community voting and a juried process. Each week during a Challenge writers submit their stories. From these, Storybird editors select semi-finalists for a member-only weekend vote and a finalist is selected. This process repeats itself each week during the month. The finalists—and one randomly drawn story—then go in front of a judging panel made of professional editors, writers, and artists who select the winner. It’s a bit American Idol-ish, except we don’t make fun of your hair or force you to wear Lycra outfits. (To be clear: you’re free to wear Lycra. We just don’t want to know about it.)
There are prizes, too. The winner of the Challenge takes home a hot new eReader, eBook store gift money, hardcover editions of their story, and the knowledge that their book made the cut from hundreds of entries and impressed a panel of pros.
To keep things focused (writers need some constraints), each Challenge has a theme (November is “curiosity”), each story has a page limit (25), and all writers must be over 18-years of age and U.S. residents (we’re working on expanding the territories for future Challenges; stay tuned). Beyond that—it’s your call. Choose an artist who inspires you, load up their artwork, and unlock your imagination. We’ll see you on the other side.
We won’t be alone, either. We’re joined on this venture with Cheerios® Cereal, a brand all of us have admired for their particularly tasty cereal and, more importantly, their dedication to storytelling and writers. For nine years they’ve distributed books to families through their innovative Spoonfuls of Stories® program and, for the last three years, they’ve launched writers through their new author contest. We were thrilled when they approached us to join forces—a meeting of the minds AND the stomachs.
Cheerios also brings with them over 250,000 Facebook fans and a community of parents and teachers eager to find great stories for their kids and students. Each month they’ll share Challenge stories that catch their attention, highlight the finalists, and celebrate the winner. That’s a big audience for writers and a great platform to boost your career (or, if this is a hobby, your self esteem).
The Storybird & Cheerios teams have been working like mad to pull this together, from process to technology to the launch. Most of it will be transparent to you—as it should. But behind the scenes are tenacious and creative folks who all deserve a round of applause and, quite possibly, some chocolate. (Chocolate-covered Cheerios….hmm.)
OK. We’re off to be judgmental. See you on Challenges!