I have been working with my English 12 classes (2 this semester) on creating clarity and meaning during the writing process. What I mean by that is we have some pretty thorough chats about each unit of study we take on. We begin by discussing whether the reading/study material is meaningful to them. If not, we have a problem. We look at the criteria we create together, let’s say for a literary essay, and if it isn’t clear, we have a problem. We reflect on the peer edit process and I ask them to consider how valid and meaningful they perceive the activity to be. If it’s it’s not valid, not meaningful, we have a problem. And last, when I assess their work and return to them with my feedback, if they don’t understand how to improve their writing in a clear and meaningful way, then we have a problem.
When taking on the challenge of incorporating the iPad Cart in to my curriculum I went about considering which of the above issues, if we were to encounter them, could be resolved using technology.
I came up with using Explain Everything, an app that allows the user to narrate, annotate, illustrate, and publish their interaction with their work, to help them reflect on their own writing. In a nutshell the unit went like this:
1. Students studied a series of extended metaphors (for example Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, segments of the film Apocalypse Now) and brainstormed meaningful metaphors of their own. We then constructed the criteria and timeline for the assignment together. It was to be a multi paragraph creative composition using poetic devices to enhance an extended metaphor of their own. They completed an outline, a rough draft, a writing conference with me, a second draft with my feedback and mark, and a revised final composition. All of their writing was done on a PC in our library. This process, from outline to revised final essay, took about a week and a half.
2. Students were walked through Explain Everything and given a tutorial on its functions. We played around with the app going through a series of activities that took them through the toolbar. We spent some time troubleshooting different issues with me mirroring my iPad to our LCD (via Apple TV) and then them sharing their work in the same fashion.
3. Students converted their word doc essay to pdf and emailed it to themselves. When the pdf attachment was opened in their email the iPad prompted them to open it in Explain Everything. We did so and saved a copy right away in Explain Everything titled version 1.0
4. Students then began to write a script as to what they would record themselves saying and what actions (toolbar functions) they would use to annotate their work. This is the equivalent of a rough draft of their essay – a rough draft of their digital presentation. We also built a criteria together around what our scripts, and therefore the presentations, should look like. They were asked to include an introduction, to stated metaphor, to cover 5 literary devices and how they enhance the metaphor, to explain the theme of the piece, and to cover what worked well in the piece and went didn’t go so well. The presentations needed to be a minimum of 2 minutes and maximum of 5 minutes.
5. Students then began recording their presentations. They required a quiet space to minimize interference. Workplaces included our class, the hall, a quiet stairwell, the library, our school media room, or even outside.
6. Students then published their work to our YouTube channel using a class gmail account. They used their full name as their title to not create confusion on the channel. They were then asked to watch as many presentations as they liked and comment on each. See Cody’s for an idea of how things went:
I had a few predictions heading in to this unit. One, I thought that students would enjoy using the iPads. I predicted that the introduction of new technology in the room would create some excitement and that there would be an increased level of engagement. Two, I thought students would struggle with the app at first. I predicted we would need time to work through the toolbar and how the app functions. Three, I thought students would be hesitant to publish their work. Students are often hesitant when it comes to sharing their work in class (via a peer edit) so I figured things would be similar when publishing to the YouTube audience. And four, I thought students would need flexibility. I knew some students owned iPads at home and thought they would whiz through this assignment faster than those students who only recently in this course got their hands on the technology. All of my predictions were true.
Upon completion of the assignment we had several discussions about how they perceived things went and I was excited to hear their feedback. First, students said they felt more confident during this process than other times we went through our “typical” writing process. They said this was due to the ability to prepare a script in preparation for their recording, that the app allowed them to make mistakes and then correct (by rerecording), and that there was less pressure from their classmates and me: it was just them in a quiet room recording. Second, students said they felt proud of conquering the technology and proud of being published. And third, students said that they felt their work was better. I was amazed to hear how many of them revised their essays throughout the entire process even though not once did I ask them to do so. Some students revised when they we began to write a script. Some revised when we began using Explain Everything. And some revised when they read the comments from their peers. This is really exciting stuff as it speaks to motivation. These students were revising when they wanted to. The peer edit was a “forced rewrite” that they didn’t buy in to. Now, students were writing when they were compelled to write, when the changes they wanted to make were meaningful enough for them to want to make them. This, to me, is the largest success of this activity.