Friday, May 7, 2010

The Tale Shouldn't Wag The Dog

Kia ora tātou – Hello Ever
Funtime Comic article
I finished writing a print-based learning resource a few weeks ago. I say finished – it was really only a draft before I passed it on to the editors.

I put a copy of it on the Science database and was grateful for feedback received from our now huge Science teaching cohort. It was good to get comment from colleagues who, like me, had been plunged into the sweat of writing learning resources to deadlines.

Storyline an interest

Among many aspects of the draft discussed was its storyline. This attracted interest from my colleagues as it was seen as an effective teaching feature. It also made me think more deeply about strategies I’d used in creating the storyline in the first place. I realised that I hadn’t really planned it.

It became clear with more thought and discussion that a storyline in a learning resource should not be a starting point for writing. My past experience has shown me that building necessary learning around a plot can be difficult. It’s a manufactured process that has the potential to limit severely pathways the writing may follow.

A different approach

Adhering to a storyline can stymie other useful teaching ideas that may otherwise emerge. It can lead to contrived resource components that do not satisfactorily contribute to effective learning.

The storyline that seemed to work so well in this resource was created using an entirely different approach. Here’s how it came together for a NCEA Level 1 generic learning resource on writing a scientific report.

Staid and boring stuff

I started on the second chapter simply because it was the one I had in mind when I put my fingers to the keypad. My plan was for Peter to write a report of something he did during his holidays and hand it in for his Science teacher to assess at the start of term.

I had practically finished that chapter when I'd already decided that it was boring, principally because it involved doing homework for a teacher. Undaunted, I continued with chapter 3, then drafted chapter 1 and was half way through chapter 4 when I really couldn’t pursue my ideas any more. The resource was becoming all too staid and boring.

Change tactics

I went back to chapter 2, stripped it down and rewrote it introducing a friend, Mahi, an intelligent M
āori girl who could write good scientific reports.

It was she, not the teacher, who read Peter’s brief report of his visit to a museum exhibition on colossal squid. It was she, not the teacher, who desperately wanted to see the exhibition after reading Peter’s report.

And it was she who tried to follow the deficient instructions in the report. As a result of these shortcomings, Mahi missed out on her planned visit to the exhibition – all good material to use for teaching about informative report writing.

I switched back to rewrite parts of chapter 1, simply introducing the characters Peter and Mahi. I then flicked to the other draft chapters incorporating the growing relationship between Peter and Mahi as friends who supported each other with their interest in Science.

Here’s how chapter 1 begins:

Reading magazines

Peter found a magazine page that had an article about a car that ran on water instead of petrol.

Activity 1A

Read Peter’s magazine page shown below.

1 What is the name of the magazine that this page came from?

2 Explain two things you see on the magazine page that might suggest that the information about the car is not true.



Peter wanted to find out more about the car, so he went to a car showroom and spoke with a salesman. The salesman laughed at Peter and did not believe that a car like that could be made. Peter still wasn’t sure if the information in the magazine was true.

3 Explain two other things Peter might do to find out if the story in the magazine is true.




Check the answer guide

Proof of the pudding

The rest of the resource fell into place using the theme of collaborative learning between two school chums. Peter followed up Mahi’s library research into giant squids and colossal squids. He then asked her for help when drawing a graph for the report he was writing.

Instead of Peter handing in his report for a teacher to mark, he chose Mahi to help him improve it. This permitted a chummy dialogue between two friends that was not only fitting and appropriate, but had the potential to enhance learner interest.

All this was laid over a framework of teaching and learning. I got a real kick out of how easy it was to incorporate a story line in a learning resource, and from the supportive feedback I received from colleagues.

The proof of the pudding will be when I examine feedback from learners!

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes


V Yonkers said...

Ken, what you did was to change the audience that Peter was writing for from the teacher to the other students. There are many examples of writing from the Teacher's stand point, but not a colleague's standpoint.

By making this change, you allowed students to put themselves in the place of the scientist, who many times writes for colleagues, not for the CEO or Person in Authority.

I think it is important to make this clear to students in any type of professional or specialized writing. It is perhaps the most difficult thing in my teaching when a "good writer" by academic standards, receives a subpar grade. After all, they usually have been told what great writers they are (which they are academically). However, writing business reports are much different than writing a written paper. Writing in short, direct language, using bullet points, and making sure paragraphs are short (no more than 4-5 sentences) are contrary to what they have been taught are good academic writing features.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia!

Thank you for this. The anomalous aspect of it all is that the learner will eventually end up submitting a report to a teacher for standard assessment. There is no peer assessment in NCEA standard assessment.

However, I know what you mean about the importance of writing to peers. If we can foster the ability to do this well, while managing to coach some strategy for reaching the 'standard' criteria, I think we have more chance of successful outcomes than flogging these criteria alone.

Catchya later