I’ve mentioned a few times how exciting it is to get tip-offs from staff about the awesome things happening in the classrooms of their fellow teachers, and this time it was our Library Manager Mrs Cathy Kennedy providing the inside scoop.
She mentioned that Year 5 teacher Mrs Mary Leota had been using a product called StoryBird to promote writing amongst her students in the lead up to the annual Book Week festivities that happen at St Andrew’s College. I took the chance to talk this process through with Mrs Leota and it was interesting how the process of story writing had evolved for her students as they learnt the fundamentals of the editing process and also the relative strengths and limitations of Storybird. The Storybird website describes it’s services as follows:
Storybird lets anyone make visual stories in seconds. We curate artwork from illustrators and animators around the world and inspire writers of any age to turn those images
into fresh stories.
The students in Year 5 were keen to write picture books for the students in Year 1 – many of whom were siblings of the older children.
The First Draft:
They started out writing their drafts in their exercise books as they normally would and then attempted to write them into Storybird. One of the great functions of this product is that key words generate suggested images e.g. if the story was about a rabbit then a range of illustrations of rabbits would be presented for the students to choose from.
Whilst this was great, what they soon realised was that they could only choose a single artist’s collection of artwork per story – they could not mix and match. As they discussed this perceived limitation, they realised the value in this: the story would become quite disjointed if the images were a mixture of styles and themes.
The Second Draft:
Having learnt from this, the students abandoned the first draft and instead looked through the collections of artwork from the various artists and then chose a set of illustrations they wanted to work with. They then used this collection to inspire their story writing, matching the narrative to the individual pictures they had selected.
Here is an example of a story called Sara Couldn’t Find Her Way Home:
Discussing Digital Citizenship:
One of the great features of Storybird is that it allows the stories to be published online for reading by a wide audience. This realisation generated both excitement and some problems for our students as they had to learn two important lessons:
- Once you hit “publish” you can’t edit your work anymore. This reinforced the need to hone the drafting process – proof reading and checking they were happy with the story before they hit the very tempting publish button!
- Feedback through the comments option needs to be constructive. Even throw away comments like “eww that is stupid” are unhelpful and when these comments can be read by anyone, not just other members of the class, they quickly learnt to be more measured in what they posted as comments.
These conversations were talked over at length with Mrs Leota and from my perspective, are critical things to weave into the wider learning experience that was taking place here. Whilst the focus of the class was on writing stories, the use of technology, appropriate ways to feedback online and the importance of editing drafts were all part of the learning outcomes for the students. Here is another story called Hannah’s Adventure:
One of the most pleasing aspects of this process from Mrs Leota’s perspective was a piece of feedback she received from a mother of one of the boys in her class who told her:
My son is such a reluctant writer and hates having to write anything and yet I could hardly get him off the computer at home last night because he was so keen to finish writing his story in this way.
It is always pleasing to see technology contributing to the motivation of students when it comes to literacy focused activities, and this echoes parent feedback that Dr Jeni Curtis received when introducing MS OneNote to her students in Year 9 this year.
The other upside of using Storybird was that it allowed Mrs Leota to see all of the work her students were doing from a single web page, and she could add comments for them to consider during the writing and editing process.
Judging by the success of this project I am sure there will be other teachers in our Preparatory School keen to try out Storybird for themselves!