Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

New Technologies, New Stories/DER Unit of Work

I created a unit of work for Stage 5 English for the project New Technologies, New Stories – this project has now been absorbed into the Laptops for Learning project, now called the Digital Education Revolution or DER for short. (Anyone else confused yet?) The original concept behind New Technologies, New Stories was to ask the question: how can technology be a tool to improve students’ ability to write a narrative? So, working on this premise, I came up with the following unit of work.

The unit of work is called: Digital Diegesis and the concept is to create an imaginary world on a wiki, using blogs to write a story in instalments with a focus on editing and rewriting for improvement.

Rationale: Students research the conventions of genres in order to focus on one specific genre. Students work in groups to create an imaginary world set in a particular genre. The imaginary world is put together using a wiki to allow students to work collaboratively and give feedback on the work being completed. Once the skeleton outline of the world has begun to take shape, students set up an individual blog and begin to complete writing exercises set within their genre, in order to practice using the conventions of the genre. Each student must write creatively on their blog and comment regularly on other students’ blogs, with a focus on editing. Students re-post previous pieces of writing following feedback (comments) from their teacher and peers, learning the process of drafting, editing and rewriting. The culmination of the unit is the assessment task where students write a narrative that is set in the world they have created on the wiki, writing within the specific conventions of the specified genre, bearing in mind the feedback they have previously received through their process of drafting, feedback and editing on their blog.

 This unit begins by allowing students to identify and describe the recurring features of particular genres, focusing on their story lines, iconography, value systems and techniques and ends with students composing texts by complying with, adapting or subverting the conventions of form, genre and ideology.  Students learn the value of collaboration by working within a small group, taking on specific roles in order to collaboratively create an imaginary world, and learn to write descriptively about the setting of a narrative. The student blogs allow students to learn the value of the editing process and for students to give, receive and use peer feedback as an integral part of the writing process. Writing on the wiki to create the world and writing on their blogs to practise the art and craft of writing lays the foundation for their final piece of writing which brings together the students’ knowledge of genre and descriptive writing, their experience of the editing process in a narrative set in the imaginary world they created on their group’s wiki.

The whole unit of work will be available on the Curriculum Support website next term (Term 3) so I won’t go into any further detail about the unit – I wanted to give you an update as to how the teaching of the unit went.

First hurdle: Every student needs to know their email address in order to get access to blogs and wikis – a surprising number didn’t, and all students bar one gave me a hotmail address or a home address, not knowing their DET email address. Hot Tip #1: Before starting a unit that has online components, get email addresses organised first.  The laptops in Year 9 should help with this because they will have to log on each day using it, but it is still a valid tip for all other years.

Hurdle #2: I did this within a genre study unit of work on our program, so obviously had a set number of outcomes to meet and had to skew my original intentions to add those elements in.  Having said that, it worked really well, and proved that the unit I had created was fairly flexible. 

Hurdle#3: I was off sick for the first week of this unit and so lost a week of teaching time, however, we seem to have caught most of that up, though it will be a race to have everything completed by the end of term.

Hurdle#4: The school’s computer network got a virus and we had dodgy or no computers for two weeks. This meant we were back to pen and paper and doing an old-fashioned (nothing wrong with it) unit of work on narrative for a while. Hot Tip #2: Have a back up plan for when the computers are unavailable due to rooms being booked out, servers going down, viruses, etc. A happy surprise though was the number of students that started loading their world up on their wikis at home, without waiting for us to do it at school.

Hurdle#5: The week we started to do this, the DET blocked Edublogs for students, and despite my request, refused to unblock their wikis. So now the students don’t actually have access to wikis or blogs at school. *sigh* Thankfully our school is in the process of setting up Moodle so I can see a future where this will work.  Hot Tip#3: Set everything up for students anyway, blocked or unblocked, and they can work on it at home (which they do, much to my surprise) and at school one group at a time can work under the eagle eye of the teacher on the teacher login (where it is NOT blocked) to ensure that the content is appropriate and meets with DET guidelines on submission of work, while the rest of the class works with pen and paper – on the bright side it means you only need one computer in the classroom that is connected to the net and therefore avoid dramas with trying to schedule time in a computer lab.  As an alternative, in the computer lab, the other students can be preparing their work in Word and then copy and paste it into their wikis and blogs when it is their turn on the ‘teacher’ computer.

The bottom line is that lots of things went wrong and there were lots of challenges to the forward progress of the unit, however, despite all that, the students enjoyed the unit, learned a great deal about both narratives and technology, and are now in the process of producing some great narratives.  None of the students had seen a wiki before and only a few had heard about blogs so a whole new online world was opened up to them.  They learned how to work collaboratively and how to share their work and talk to each other about their writing in a constructive way. The class is a VERY mixed ability class and it has been a great unit to do with both the bright students and the ones that struggle with their literacy. I would do this unit again and again with fine-tuning each time, hurdles and all, as it brought engagement, learning, fun and earnest effort from a group of students that were hard work initially especially when it came to them listening at all in the first weeks.

Overall, thumbs up.

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June 28, 2009 - Posted by | blogging, Laptops 4 Learning, New Technologies New Stories, Wikis | , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Love the hot tips, hopefully they are hyperlinked to solutions when the unit goes up for others.
    I love the resorucefulness of our students, despite the struggles we just tried to find solutions, how can we get around it?
    I had a few hurdles as well, like my wife having a baby…

    Comment by Troy | June 28, 2009 | Reply

    • I think the thing we all forget sometimes is that we have hurdles in lessons without technology too, and that somehow it has become easier to blame the technology and be negative about it rather than acknowledge the teaching skill that it takes to be flexible and create learning regardless of the environment and what is or isn’t working right that day.

      On another note, hope you, Mum and baby are all doing well!

      Comment by mgiddins | June 28, 2009 | Reply


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