(d)RAFT – An Update

I have a confession to make. The students finished their (d)RAFT activity a few weeks ago and I have not had a chance to look at them yet. My reasoning: not wanting the final products to bias my assessment and review of the exercise.  Truthfully, my goals of completing this post and my reflection have been delayed. I have been interrupted by a myriad number of tasks that most teachers will relate to.

To review, (d)RAFT  (digital Role Audience Form Topic) is a format used to facilitate a student’s reflection on a book they have read for their monthly independent reading assignment. In my case, two year 9 classes embarked upon the challenge of making their RAFTs digital. What quickly became abundantly clear was that the successful completion of this activity hinged more upon their understanding and implementation of RAFT than it did upon making it digital. Of course this should have been obvious to me from the outset, but for some reason I thought the novelty of going digital would be the central focus of the exercise. Thankfully I was wrong and this proved, in a sense, that true integration should continue to allow for a focus on the material and not on the tools used.

In order to comprehend how integration supported this activity, one needs to understand RAFT more clearly. Kristen Raymond, the English teacher, uses this format to encourage students to think beyond the text that they are reading and to focus on (in reverse order): Topic, Form, Audience, Role, hence the acronym RAFT. In class I asked students about their stories and then tried to help them figure out what topics to extract which would best highlight these. Did their stories speak about great conflicts and how these were resolved or was the focus on character development and relationships? What themes permeated the pages? Were the settings crucial to the telling of the stories? Many initially focused on the digital aspect of the activity and discovered they were unsuccessful in truly completing the RAFT exercise. For example, they wanted to do a Google search story, like the famous Parisian Love story (shown below), using the Google Search Story creator but their chosen material to highlight made using this tool a stretch. As such, they re-grouped to begin focus on their book topic and then adapt a digital tool to a retelling of it.  That struggle was the learning.

Expertly, Ms. Raymond was able to question the students about their novels and force them to see their stories from a unique perspective and therefore extract a relevant topic. I feebly tried to replicate her approach but often ended up being like the grandparent described in Sugatra Mitra’s TED Talk on the Child Driven Education (a person who knows little about the subject but sits behind the child and encourages them by saying things like “oh, how did you do that?” or “show me that again”). Ultimately, the students studied their stories more closely and let these stories determine the form of their project. Completing their task thereafter became much easier.

Having not seen the final products, I am a bit skeptical about how successful they will be. Ms. Raymond is more philosophical and optimistic. She looks at this as their first attempt to digitize their RAFT. Some will thrive and produce wonderful work, others will struggle more and be humbled by their peers’ results. In the end though, everyone should have a clearer idea of what it is they have to do to successfully share their work with a wider audience. Hopefully, for the next round they will have ideas for improving their approach based on what they will have observed from others.  This is the energy that I hope we will be able to tap into and amplify.

Has anyone else tried something similar in an English classroom? Are there other successful writing strategies that work well with a digital outcome? My guess is that using audio and video might allow for some to thrive where writing has proved cumbersome.

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About Ivan Beeckmans

Currently a Digital Learning Coach at the NIST International School (formerly the New International School of Thailand) in Bangkok, Thailand
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