"See Jane Read...See Johnny Write" by Lyn C. Howell
As a high school English teacher, Howell wanted to create a project that would allow her student writers a chance to explore the concept of audience. In the past the students had handmade books for students in a partner elementary school classroom; however, this method was slow and expensive. Instead, she started having the students write their stories onto PowerPoint slides after conversing with the elementary students through emails. This was a much more efficient system, and allowed the students the added experience with technology and the advantages, such as sound and graphics, that it has to offer. When I first read about this teaching method, I was a bit skeptical, believing that the handmade books would get the students more excited about the project, having to take more of a personal interest by being able to make decisions and consciously craft the books. I felt that having a finished product that the students could physically hold and show off would give the students pride in their work, and would also be good for their elementary school buddies who would get to actually sit down with a book designed just for them. However, I did not even think about how much PowerPoint would have to offer to enrich the books. I was looking at this one-sided, but in thinking about the world in an increasingly technological way, the project gave the students just as much of a chance to get engaged with writing and reading, just in a different manner.
Q1: What other craft projects that are usually only done with paper could be done with the computer instead?
A1: PowerPoint is already a common tool in the classroom, with students using it for many presentations. A lot of oral presentations could be given a technological component: many computers have recording devices, so that, in some cases, presentations could be recorded ahead of time or perhaps taken even farther and made into a film project instead. I thought that the idea of having the students record themselves reading the books, and attaching these recordings to the appropriate PowerPoint slides was really interesting, because it would actually help the younger students read along and get into the story. So, in thinking along the lines of this creativity, many other projects could be computerized with just a bit of imagination. Autobiographies and family trees could be done on a computer. A lot of the analysis of novels could be made into a website so that the objective for the students would go beyond just helping their own class understand, but providing their work to assist others as well. This would work really well, I think, because then students could be grouped based on the different parts of the analysis (characterization, setting, theme, etc.) and each be responsible for a different page of the website.
Q2: In Howell's class, the students dealt with the elementary class through e-mail; what is the drawback to using electronic communication?
A2: Howell's class was communicating with a class several states away, so face-to-face contact was not an option. However, they used to communicate through written letters. Given the situation, email was an ideal solution because it was faster and overall easier to deal with. However, I think that if I were in Howell's position, I would seek a collaborative elementary classroom closer to the school so that perhaps students could arrange meetings with their elementary partners. If students did not meet that often (which probably would not be sustainable anyway, due to budget and time constraints), then the students could still get practice with writing letters and emails, but they would also get to experience in-person collaboration. There is no substitute for actually spending time with people. I believe that in never truly interacting with the students, Howell's class lost out on the opportunity to practice interpersonal communication, and the elementary students lost some quality time with older mentors.