Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Using the iPad to Enhance Creative Writing

In a junior preparatory classroom, a great deal of our time goes to teaching children how to write in lines, form letters, write neatly, space their work correctly and introduce the concept of using grammar rules, amongst many other things. These are important skills that they need to develop. However, they can often be to the detriment of their creative writing. When introducing creative writing pieces, we then tell them to forget everything we have been teaching them and to just write, to let their creative juices flow, to not worry about the use of grammar and spelling. Children at this age see black and white, right and wrong. Therefore, for many of them they struggle to be able to do this completely.

Some children will spend so much time worrying about what lines they are writing in. Or if writing on blank paper, “are my letters formed correctly” or “where does the full stop go.” They often are not able to get their ideas onto the paper. When introduced to a creative writing topic, the children often initially respond with great enthusiasm. Their ideas are creative and their imaginations go wild. They are truly excited to write about their topic. They start by planning their work, focusing on the different aspects and laying out the key areas that they need to remember. By the end of this task, they often do not see the point of continuing, or they are tired and do not want to carry on. How can we blame them? That short period of concentration, just planning, requires a great deal of mental stimulation for a small child. Especially a child who is struggling to put their imagination onto paper with the many other things they need to be thinking about, like “Am I holding my pencil correctly?” “How do I write that letter?” “How do I spell this word?” Must I go on to the next line?” “Is this supposed to get a capital letter?” Just to name a few.

What if we could harness that excitement that they show when they are initially introduced to the topic. What if we can help them to relive that excitement over and over. Then their stories not only make it onto paper where their true imagination becomes evident, they are also better able to extend their stories and their sentence structure.

I have the privilege of working at a phenomenal school: Parklands College in Cape Town, South Africa; a Google Apps for Education and Apple Distinguished School where I am a Grade Two Educator and EdTech Innovation Leader for the Junior Preparatory. Each learner in my class has an iPad which has allowed them to transform their learning experience. Through the use of the iPad in creative writing, my learners have been able to harness their excitement in creative writing and improve their writing abilities.

Before beginning with the introduction of our creative writing lesson, I have my learners open a pre-made book from either Google Classroom or from a shared folder in Google Drive that was created using Book Creator. This process could be changed slightly where the ‘pre-made’ book could also be made as a whole class, acting as a form of modeled writing and planning. Upon completion, it to can be uploaded into Google Classroom or Google Drive where they are then able to open it into Book Creator on their own iPads. Below are two examples of pre-made books of creative writing pieces we have done recently titled, “The Old Lamp” and “The Day I Shrunk.”

When introducing a creative writing topic, we spend a great deal of time dramatising the story. We think up all possible connections, we imagine the worst, we imagine the best, we discuss vocabulary, we do sentence structures and we talk about the elements of story writing and bringing the story to life in our classroom. At the end of this introduction, they have all been given a space where their freedom of thought and ideas have been valued and encouraged. The energy levels are high!

The learners then take their iPads and find a spot where they can record themselves telling their stories, following a guideline. The great thing about using Book Creator for this task is the “Read to Me” function that has come with the new update. This update allows for those weaker readers to recap what it is they are needing to say for each section without having to ask me to come and read it for them, therefore, giving them greater independence and less frustrations where they can take the learning into their own hands.

The learners will then record each section of the story. During this recording process, you will often see their faces light up as they tell their story. They have so many expressions and their excitement is clear. They often feed off of hearing their peers telling their story which motivates them even more. Once completed they have to go back and listen to what they have said to make sure that they can hear what they are saying and that makes sense.

Once this activity has been completed, their stories are ready to be put on to paper. We will then return to the classroom where all they have is a blank page or their creative writing books, depending on the learner’s abilities, and they begin writing their story following the structure they have recorded. Their iPads are on their desks and they listen to what they have said in each section. Some learners choose to use earphones to listen to their planned story, where others happily listen to it without earphones. They love hearing each other’s stories. This allows them to be constantly reminded and motivated to put down what they have said.

I have found that from allowing the learners to plan their stories in this way I am receiving far more advanced creative writing pieces. Due to the fact that they are constantly listening to themselves retelling the story, they are naturally editing their own work. They are adding in grammar rules more effectively as they are able to hear it through their vocal intonation, pronunciation, modulation and emphasis. They are using an extended vocabulary and their sentence structures in their writing has improved. For those learners who are slower in their writing, they are still able to begin their stories and, if the writing is in incomplete, they are able to turn in their book from Book Creator. This allows me to see what their true capabilities are when responding to a topic in more than just writing.

This activity takes a very short time for them to complete, shorter than trying to record it onto paper. However, having said that, recording on o paper is still a crucial skill to learn, and we do both planning on paper for some lessons through mind maps and keywords, as well as adding the iPad element. The combination of the two has allowed my learners to become more comfortable and confident in their own writing ability and to trust their imaginations.

Through using this combination of apps and the iPad, my learners feel empowered. This is an activity is something that is definitely worth giving a chance. If you do, I would love to hear how it went in the comments section.

Barbara Brand
Grade Two Educator
Ed Tech Innovation Leader:
Junior Preparatory
GEG Leader for the
West Coast, South Africa
Google Certified Educator

Interested in learning more about iPad the classroom? Check out our Apple Professional Learning community here!

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