Predictive text – a giant leap or a false dawn?

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As with many of the best ideas, this one came about entirely by accident.

After a brief lull (caused by reasons beyond my control) I have been introducing blogging to KS2 children. All the KS2 children I teach now have their own logins, so subject to moderation they can post and comment on their class blogs. I have been doing this for the last five years and during that time I have noticed there are some barriers to children blogging, particularly in an environment with high proportion of EAL children.

The first is poor keyboard skills, particularly in KS1 and lower KS2. Most children never use a conventional keyboard outside of school, such is the popularity of phones and tablets as communication tools. This can make children’s early experiences of blogging slow and sometimes frustrating – they know they can handwrite faster than they can type and they can find punctuation difficult. The answer to this is simple: Typing is a skill which needs to be taught, but that’s not something that can be done overnight.

The second issue is a lack of confidence in their own spelling, punctuation and grammar. I have found that when offered the opportunity to blog independently, higher attaining children will often take up the challenge without hesitation, relishing the opportunity to share their writing with a wider audience. For lower attainers, this can be daunting, knowing that your mistakes and vulnerabilities will be there for all to see. This is also a difficult balancing act for schools – you want children to blog independently, but equally your blogs are a window to the world, and not necessarily the place to display error strewn writing.

I was with a year 5 class earlier in the week. They were using iPads to log onto their class blog for the first time. I gave them the opportunity to blog about a subject of their choosing, as long as there was some connection with school. After a few minutes, one of the boys who could best be described as a reluctant writer put his hand up – he wanted to share with the rest of the class how quickly he could type using the predictive text feature. I airplayed his iPad to the big screen, and within seconds the output of the whole class shot up. Not only that, but the standards of spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary also showed a marked improvement. You can see some of their posts here – most done in less than 15 minutes.

At first I was delighted. I’s never seen such a step change in standards and such an increase in output in one lesson. It was like predictive text freed them from their inhibitions and allowed them to express themselves like never before. But then the more I thought about it, the more I began to worry. Lots of questions began to form… Does this constitute independent writing? Does it help improve spelling when not on the iPad? What happens when they have to write in their books? Will they have to draft everything using predictive text and then copy it out? If it improves their writing, Is that good or bad? Regardless of all these questions, it’s something which now out there and will not be taken away, and it’s likely that it will spread to other technologies too.

A couple of days down the line and I’m still torn on the issue. There has been some work done to see what impact technology such as predictive text can have supporting dyslexic learners, such as this paper by the British Dyslexia Association. There was also a study done in 2009 into changes in the cognitive function of adolescents associated with the use of mobile phones, however technology has moved on considerably since then.

This is an area which needs further, more contemporary research. We maybe opening digital communication up to a much wider range of children, but at what cost?

Predictive text – a giant leap or a false dawn?

Google forms – assessment made easy

As a computing teacher, one of the biggest challenges is recording assessment in a meaningful way. There are lots of great apps on iPads which can help with assessment, including Socrativ, Nearpod and many more.

When using iMacs, I have found the options to be more limited. However, there is a tool which you can use to quickly and easily create assessment opportunities which can be embedded into blogs. I have used it widely, from a quick assessment of a new skill to a book review template which I’ve added as a page on year 5 and 6 blogs.

The feedback from the forms is presented in a google spreadsheets, which you can manipulate as you see fit. Responses are also time stamped, so you have ready made evidence for your assessments. You can also watch assessments as they are submitted, enabling you to support children who have not yet responded.

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Forms are easy to put together, with lots of options for different types of questions, mandatory or optional questions and the ability to go to different questions depending on the responses received.

If you haven’t tried it, I recommend giving it a go – it is a very simple and effective way to assess work through your blog.

 

Google forms – assessment made easy

Blogging and twitter – this is why we do it

We had a brilliant example of how blogging and twitter can extend learning beyond the classroom. One of the year 5 classes in my school has been reading ‘The Highwayman’. During a guided reading session, one of the children asked this fantastic question:

If only the Highwayman dies (not his horse), why does he AND his horse both return as ghosts?

The teacher blogged this question and then tweeted the link out, which then got retweeted by Alan Peat (@alanpeat). This was then seen by Mathew Tobin (@Mat_at_Brookes), Senior Lecturer in English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes University, who left this fantastic comment:

Lauren, this is an excellent question. There is something very clever about reading and how we read books and poems and stories or even watch things at the cinema or on the TV: We don’t see everything that happens all the time.

A very famous man named Wolfgang Iser who spent his time looking at how texts work and how we read stories. He noticed that when we read a story there are lots of things that happen but aren’t written down. An example would be: have you ever read about someone going to the toilet in a book (or seen it on TV? Yuck!)? Hopefully not! Yet they must do because they’re humans and all living things go to the loo at some point. Why don’t we see it or read it? Another example is: When Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts for the first time, what are all the other children doing on the Hogwarts Express? They’re there doing whatever it is they are doing but we don’t see them. Why not?

Mr. Iser said that when we read a story, part of our job, as a reader, is to fill in the gaps. Sometimes we don’t – we just enjoy reading the words in front of us and sometimes we do. We try and imagine all the things that happen from one event to another even if it is not said in words.

With this in mind, let’s look at the poem (remember that Alfred Noyes didn’t draw the pictures, they’re the interpretation of the artist so we’ll stick with the words):

‘When they shot him down on the highway, Down like a dog on the highway, And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.’

Clearly there is no mention of the Highwayman’s horse at all but what do you think happened? I’d imagine that with rifles it would be hard to hit the target perfectly so maybe some of the soldiers hit the horse as well. Certainly, if the horse comes back as a ghost too then it implies this.

Good writers don’t say everything that happens because they want the reader to be a detective of sorts andwork out for themselves the parts of the story that they choose to leave out. It makes reading far more fun and explorative.

I hope this makes sense!

How else could such a great question get a such an instant, high quality response?

You can see the original post and comment here.

Blogging and twitter – this is why we do it

Ideas to improve writing through blogging

Blogging is a fantastic tool to engage writers by providing real purpose and audience. There are also lots of ways you can use strategies which work in the classroom on blogs everyday. Here are a few ideas, some you may have already tried and some which might be new.

1. Use tools which are already out there

There are so many fantastic sites dedicated to encouraging children to blog. My favourite is the 100 word challenge. This site offers weekly challenges aimed at KS2 children, encouraging participation and providing a wide audience for writing. See my video on how to post a 100 word challenge.

From the creators of the 100 word challenge, there is also the 5 sentence challenge. This is aimed more at KS1 children and offers a simple prompt for writing. Both these ideas can also be adapted to suit whichever topic or genre you are looking at.

2. Use constraints for differentiation

The possibilities are many and varied here. Using the tools above it is very easy to differentiate. You could use slow writing (an ideas introduced to me by Lee Parkinson) to encourage children to think carefully about their choice of vocabulary and sentence structure. You could incorporate into this Alan Peat sentence types (or which ever writing scheme you follow) to embed them further into the children’s writing. For higher achieving children you could challenge them to omit a particular letter – a great way of widening vocabulary.

3. Use comments

Comments are a wonderful and often overlooked tool. They are a great way for a teacher to provide timely feedback, and you can build a conversation with children to show that they are understanding and finding ways to progress. You can also use comments for up levelling. Once a child has done an initial post, encourage them to review it and post an improved version as a comment – a really easy way of showing progress. Comments are also great for peer review.

Comments are also a way of providing a demonstrable wider audience. If you are writing about a particular author tweet them and ask them to comment. My daughter was delighted when Benjamin Zephaniah commented on one of her posts. If you have links to other schools through initiatives such as Quadblogging or The Blog Exchange then don’t be afraid to ask them to comment.

4. Incorporate speaking and listening

Some of the best learning takes place in quick 1:1 conversations, you can preserve these by recording them in audioboo and posting them below the child’s writing. A really quick effective way to assess and show progress.

Ideas to improve writing through blogging