Live Binders: a great tool for teachers

I can’t quite remember how I came across this great tool so if you have already blogged or tweeted about this thank you because I probably heard about it from you!

I love Live Binders!  It reminds me of Jog the Web because it is basically a way of collecting a group of websites together and recording a commentary about them.  What makes this differerent and therefore more usable, is what you can do with your Live Binder once you have created it.

You can share it via email, embed it, copy it and collaborate with others on it.  I can feel a whole series of these coming on!
What would you create a live binder about?

Who else wants to engage children in literacy but has no money to spend?

As we are about to start the new school year here in the UK there is one thing that is certain.  Times are tough, budgets will be squeezed and yet we still want to engage and motivate our children.  I am always amazed by the amount of money that some schools are prepared to spend on software when they could be making more of what is available online and free.

Steve Cayley the e-learning advisor here in Devon shared this blog post with us and I have to admit to agreeing with a lot of what it says.   I am going to take point number 2 – make use of web-based applications and elaborate upon it for  primary aged children and focus specifically on literacy.  Hhere are the top 5 items I use in my work with teachers and schools and would like to see in all classrooms.  And they are all FREE!

  1. Wikis and blogs.  These are so easy to set up now adays and allow children to write in very different ways.  Wikis allow children to crowd source, something that they will definitely need to learn how to do, and blogs allow the boundaries between reader and writer to be blurred.  They do different things but should be in every teacher’s toolkit.   If boys and writing is an issue for your school then these two tools are a godsend.  The research suggests that boys like to write in the role of expert and these allow children to do exactly that.  Blogger and PBworks are both easy to use.
  2. Google Docs.  These are so useful.  They are word-processing, spreadsheets and presentation tools that can be accessed by any number of people/children to create a document.  And children would be able to access them at home as well as in school.  Google Apps for Education is also a good place to start exploring.  I always enjoy using gmail in the role of a character from a book that children are engaging with in literacy.  I have many many gmail accounts –  the bfg, bluejohn, grommet and peterinparadise.  Children email the character their questions and I respond in role.  It is a type of hot-seating but the delight that most children experience when they receive an email from from the character in a book is priceless.
  3. Twitter and Skype both bring the outside world in to your classroom.  Twitter allows children to ask questions of a safe network of to gather data and Skype allows you to speak to experts and people of interest.  Children of all ages use Twitter with the support of their teacher.  In fact if you are a teacher and are not connected to others through twitter it might be time to start.  Link to those with similar interests and you will be amazed at the support and learning that are an every day occurence.  I am @joysimpson.
  4. Voice Thread.  This is an amazing tool with elements specifically designed for those working with children.  It allows you to share a range of images and for children to then add their thoughts orally or typed.  This is great for activities that require an opininon or as a collection of information.  There is enough available for free on this site to make it well worth while.
  5. Comic makers. Comics are a great form of writing in their own right but they also help us to make visible for children some things in literacy that can sometimes be invisible. I particularly like using comics as a way of making pace in narrative visible. Comic author/illustrators use different size and shape frames which can be linked to hte movement of eyes across the page and then a discussion about the speed of your eye movement. Was it quicker in some places than others? How did the author make that happen? How does this relate to the story you are writing? Artisan CamMake Beliefs  Comix and for all those fans of Dr Who a Dr Who Comic Maker are worth looking at.  You will need to investigate each one to see if it meets your criteria in terms of e-safety looking particularly at where the comics are stored, who can see them and how flexible they are.

And then there are all the great blogs to link to that share ideas and are of course free and available for all to use.  But that is another blog post.

So what are you going to try out this year and how much will it cost?

10 things I really liked in 2009

happynewyearI have now been blogging for 13 months – I forgot the blog birthday.  Strange how online life mirrors real life ; ) I thought for the end of 2009 I would pick out 10 things that I discovered and that have become a part of me, some of which I have blogged about and some not.  When I say I discovered it is of course thanks to all the people in my PLN that discovered them for me!

1. Talk for writing and here – this is a strange one but it is a way of teaching writing that helps children to embed language patterns and use them in their own writing.  I have worked with a lot of teachers and quite a few children in my eight years of being a literacy consultant and this is the one idea that has had the most impact on children and their writing. The other reason that I like it so much is that it is based on skills and processes that writers use and is not a mechanistic attempt to simplify writing for teachers or children.   I am looking forward to seeing how it develops amongst our team and with teachers and children in 2010.

2. There will be several books in this list but one of my favourites that has had a lot of use towards the end of the year and will do so next year is Think of an Eel .  This is a non-fiction text told through two voices; one which I would call a literary non-fiction voice and one which is a more formal report voice. Word order and choice is poetic, sentence construction is varied and paced to fit the life cycle of an eel and the illustrations are watery and also reflect the sentences and life cycle.  This is definitely a text that teaches.

3. 2009 introduced me to etherpad which then disappeared.  It enabled groups of people to write together synchronously or asynchronously and was so usable in the classroom.  It has been  reborn in several  forms of which I use two, Netherpad (which wouldn’t open when I wrote this post so I hope it hasn’t disappeared as well) and PiratePad.

4. Comic creators – the boys writing project that we have run this year has meant that I have had to move into areas of reading and writing where I am not very experienced.  Comics.   The best software to create comics is Comic Life because you can use your own images.  However, if you can’t afford to buy software (and this doesn’t cost much) then the following are great; Super Action Comic Hero , Dr Who Comic Maker , Read Write Think comic creator and Captain Underpants .  Plenty to choose from.

5. One book which has influenced my thinking about how we teach the reading and writing of fiction is The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. I am fascinated by the underlying patterns of story and now when I read can’t help but try and decide which of his seven plots are used.  They help children to see the generic patterns behind story whether in print or as images and can be used in their own writing.  I am not the only one interested in this.

6. I have found diigo to be an invaluable way of reading and commenting on texts online, particularly when doing this as part of a group study.  I have to say that it went beyond my expectations.

7. Storybook creators – I love these sites that allow children to create their own books.  They range from those that allow a lot of choices to those that don’t but all offer something to young writers.  Some of my favourites are; Picture Book Maker, Spot the Dog and Storybird (this is my all time favourite but is blocked by our filters even on my computer – lucky you if you can get it).

8. My Flip Video Camcorder .  More and more schools are getting these as easy to use video cameras to have available in the classroom.  They should be there for children to use a a tool to record learning just as pens and pencils are.  I bought one because I found some of the other cameras in classrooms limiting.  I use it all the time.  It comes with editing software but I prefer to download the film and use MovieMaker to edit.  Very easy to use.

9. The power of animation to allow children to show their understanding of texts.  This is partly due to the project, Persistence of Vision, that we are involved in.  We are particularly focused on the links between animation and poetry. Our outcomes are to try and record what we think progression in animation looks like in primary schools and to develop a professional development package that can be used byanyone interested in taking animation further.  We are working with Oscar Stringer and using I Can Animate software and the powerful yet affordable Hue webcams as our equipment.  I have to own up to having a bright pink Hue webcam.

10.  and finally to all the people that I am connected to through twitter, blogging, LinkedIn,Facebook and online learning a big thank you for all your ideas and resources that you have shared.  It is because of you that I can write a post like this.

Happy New Year.