Friday, December 12, 2014

Spoken Word Poetry

Yesterday, late in the afternoon, a student reached out to me on email...

Jacqueline was right, I did enjoy the spoken-word poem, To This Day Project by Shane Koyczan. While one might argue that all poetry at its core is meant to be heard aloud and is "spoken-word" poetry, I see something else going on here: the importance of teaching digital texts.

Perhaps the importance of teaching the components of digital texts (visual text, spoken text, written or composed text) is as plain as the nose on our face. My student did not send me a newspaper article, or a book, or even song lyrics. She sent me a video...with enthusiasm. Consider her words:

I would love for you to watch this...

We can't forget that reaching out to an adult--whether parent, teacher, coach, pastor, et al.--is a big leap for young people. We have to reach back too.

In the process of sharing something with me, Jacqueline has given me pause to reflect.

image from Koyczan's To This Day Project
Digital texts have been composed for several decades, but it was restricted only to those trained to work in expensive studios. While we might think of digital literacy as the ability to access and present information, digital literacy has become bigger than that.

What Jacqueline shared with me is more than just a fun, fluffy activity. It is another option in the arsenal of writers. Digital Literacy reminds us that writing does not have to just be essays.

As teachers we can work outside the box.

Digital Literacy includes an ever-expanding number of ways that people tell stories...and it makes it accessible to anyone with a device. Just as I responded to the astonishing energy of MTV as an adolescent in the 80s, the current culture is responding to digital texts...and I can't express how rewarding it is as teacher to have students who reach out to include me in a piece of their world.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Video & Informational Writing

Using a short news video, especially a student-produced news story, has been effective in helping my students understand the conditions of informational writing.

While asking students to speak a specific list of vocabulary from the board, we discuss the news story: analysis, evidence, implicit, explicit, and inference. 

Part of our discussions gravite on organization, the use of transitions, and whether the lead and conclusion struck us as effective. It has been useful to scribe the opening sentences on the board aloud with the class--to break it down, to analyze the strategy the writer used in composing the news story.

The PBS Student Reporting Labs have been a great resource of student-produced video for me. I find a range of topics as well as examples from both middle school and high school students.

The use of video to discuss informational writing becomes another access point for the students. Too often, we tend to see writing as something we just do for school, or worse...something done just for English class. After a steady diet of student video, students analyze  professional news stories in the same way, and we find very few, subtle, differences among them, structurally speaking.

Students have been able to apply these lessons to their writing of informational texts and become excited to compose videos of their own. Right now, we are brainstorming and digging for news stories about our community.

I like that we can watch a 2-3 minute video and then either discuss or response to a CCSS-type prompt in order to practice those question types, find a comfort level with the test jargon, and still remain on course as writers and readers of relevant, accessible texts in multiple formats. Even my next test on informational writing will include a section where students analyze an alphabetic text news story and a different section where they watch a video on a personal device in order to analyze that story.

Showing students the relevance of informational writing outside of our classroom--and how dependent it is with strong narrative skills--has become an energizing focal point in this unit. My kids still think of the tenets of story-telling throughout the informational writing unit.

Not the least of which is the great, grounding question for student writers: why does it matter?