Last year one of our second grade students, let’s call him Shane, was writing on his favourite subject – dinosaurs. Shane was knowledgeable about dinosaurs and had no problem filling pages of his journal with notes, descriptions, drawings and diagrams of Tyrannosauruses and their contemporaries. Despite this level of industry and intelligence, Shane was nonetheless having some confidence issues. The teacher wondered whether it would be possible to harness Shane’s enthusiasm for dinosaurs and writing to take advantage of the iPads initiative to create an opportunity for him. This involved calling on the time and skills of ACS Cobham’s IT coordinator, Peter Tilghman. The teacher commented
“Peter was learning how to use iBooks and asked to use a child’s work sample. I chose Shane because he was the first to publish his writing and was very enthusiastic to share it. The extra attention from Peter made Shane feel special and went a long way to bolster his confidence. (Shane often worried about what others thought of him.) This became a very positive experience for him because all the children were excited by the prospect of getting their own writing published in iBooks. He relished the opportunity to be the first and they saw him as a pioneer”.
I worked with Shane on an ePub document using Pages which became an iBook. The procedure was for Shane to write a nonfiction piece about T-Rexes (a passion of his). Next, his teacher typed up the words, and together Shane and I worked on producing an ePub. Since we are a Macintosh school, we used the iMac for editing, and used the iPad for looking at how the story came out.
The major benefit his teacher and I found was that Shane was so pleased to be the first second grade student to publish an iBook. It transformed his motivation and completely changed his attitude towards writing. Shane worked on the story, drew pictures, which we both scanned, created videos for his author page, “All About Shane”, using PhotoBooth, and used the sound recording feature to produce a definition of what a scavenger was. This went into a glossary that formed part of the iBook and which was activated as a link from the text. Other words Shane decided to explain in sound files or video files included cretaceous and predator.
The second benefit of using this technology with Shane was revealed in how he looked at his work. After the first draft was complete Shane was critical about how the writing looked. He made suggestions for changes, and learned how to place images and text on a Pages document, making sure that both text and images were fixed, not floating. If something was not up to his standards, he changed it. He was not fazed at all to re-record, or rewrite, or choose another photo to place in the ePub. He even rewrote the author page to delete the reference about what a pain his younger brother could be! As I too have a younger brother, I could sympathize, but since this media is available to many readers outside the classroom, Shane’s decision to remove the comments was a wise one.
What I learned from all of this is how personal this process is. Shane was able to take ownership of this piece of work, and was justifiably proud of his accomplishment. And the point of the entire project is that he defined and took the steps to create the book. The technology and I took a back seat. In no other medium is an author able to write, speak, be seen, and be heard talking through what s/he has created. Sounds, images, video, and a well thought-out text all came together.
Prior to this kind of technology, I was in charge of the learning of students. With a mobile device, the learner is in control, it is his work, his pace, and his satisfaction. All I did was manage the environment in which Shane worked. And to be honest, I think I learned more about the teaching process in this project, and the changes this technology will allow, than Shane did. And for that I am grateful.