The question looming for most COETAIL participants when embarking on their final project is how to reach for the top – ‘new things, new ways’. Depending on your perspective, this is either easy or impossible. Easy if you think, ‘wow, this is a new way to do things, and I have never seen that before’. Impossible if you think, ‘well that might be new, but really it is just an improvement on the old.’
My role as a digital learning coach at NIST allows me to support learning in every area of the school. I work with administrators when organizing big projects or new initiatives, from laptop rollouts, to switching to a digital portfolio using blogs. Parents attend bi-monthly seminars on how we work to integrate the use of digital technology across the curriculum. I teach teachers with regular digital tech training sessions or when planning to use digital technology in the classroom. And contact with students varies from direct instruction in my regular Year 9 Digital Connections class, to support work in classes in every subject, to introductory ‘crash course’ transition sessions for new students. Having this type of regular exposure to so many groups of people makes any attempt at a redefinition of digital technology use a challenge.
This is why, for my final COETAIL project, I wanted to push myself to be involved with a part of the school that tends, for various reasons, not to get too much ICT attention; the English department. I approached a teacher, Kristen Raymond, whom I knew would likely be receptive to the idea of ‘shaking things up’ with digital technology in her class.
After two meetings we decided to focus on the Independent/Wider Reading component of the Year 9 English program. There is great flexibility in this program. Students are allowed to independently select one book a month based on a pre-assigned genre. At the end of the month, they are to respond to their reading by completing a RAFT activity (explained in next section). The RAFT activity is also of their choosing, but there is a suggested list (see below) given to those who want more guidance. Ms. Raymond’s goal with the program is to get students to look beyond the text and think about the motivations of the author, connections to the real world, and how the books they read might make a difference in people’s behaviour.
Although Ms. Raymond has had some students use digital technology to complete past RAFT activities, my goal was to force ALL students to think digitally when completing the task.
Prior to my working with Ms. Raymond, I was unaware of the RAFT activity format. Briefly, RAFT is an acronym for Role, Audience, Form and Topic. Below is each section summarized:
Role of the Writer – Who are you as the writer? A reporter? Talk show host? Interviewer? An actor? A critic? – Knowing your role as a writer changes your perspective and presentation style.
Audience – To whom are you writing? Is your audience the general public? A friend? Your teacher? Readers of a newspaper? A local bank? – Always consider your audience
Format – What form will the writing take? Is it a letter to the editor? A classified ad? A speech? A poem? A screenplay? – Knowing the form of writing changes the parameters and tone.
Topic – What’s the literary theme of this piece? (For Ms. Raymond, this is both a change to the common use of RAFT and the MOST important element for the students to consider) Are you comparing and contrasting characters in the story? Analysing the tension and suspense? Showing the cause and effect of a character’s actions? Noting the use of symbolism throughout the novel?
My addition to the task, as mentioned previously, was to digitize the assignment. As such, I updated the task name to (d)RAFT. A Google doc of the updated list of projects can be found here: (d)RAFT list of suggested projects. Ultimately it will be the students who choose their task. For some this will involve practicing digital skills they may have already learned, for others it will involve learning entirely new skills. For ALL students this project will ask students to think more deeply about what they read with a goal of sharing their learning to a much wider audience than they have in the past.
To prepare the students for (d) RAFT assignment, I plan to show a video entitled The Three Little Bops. As you can see below, it is a jazz music version of the Three Little Pigs.
Having the class watch the video will allow everyone a common experience. Using this as our story, I then plan to ask the students to do a think-pair-share in groups of 4 or 5. They would be given the list of RAFT activities and then suggest different creative ways they could finish the assignment within the parameters given (see (d)RAFT Project list linked here and earlier). The key message is can they complete the task using digital technology and can they do it in one class period.
After brainstorming a list of ideas (posted on an Etherpad or Wiki) for the Three Little Bops, the students will be given 10-15 minutes to craft their storyboard for their RAFT assignment while considering the supplies, applications, and any other logistical considerations (actors, props) necessary.
The goal of the second class is to start and finish the assignment. My hope is that after the storyboarding the students will learn complete some background work (familiarizing themselves with applications, trying out cameras and microphones, writing scripts, etc) to ensure they successfully complete their project. This is my attempt, although ever so slight, at reverse instruction. Students will be told to come prepared to finish their project in class so that both Ms. Raymond and I can be available to help.
After the students finish their classwork, they will post their results to their blog. Given that each project is digital, posting their final product should be in a format that embedding it will not be an issue.
Ms. Raymond and I have already discussed a third class where students will view and critique each other’s work.
Watch this spot for regular updates to how the process unfolds or unravels. Wish me luck.