Boys and writing

In a bid to get my youngest son to be more motivated with his writing homework I decided to try out a couple of tools. He is happy to sit at his computer and play games and he hates writing with a vengeance. His older brother is the same and I feel that we have let him down somewhat by not helping him to find another way to approach someting that he hates. He struggled through his examination English not because he can’t understand the concepts or argue his case but because he doesn’t like writing. It has been the case for both of them since they were little and consistent comments from teachers “He has loads of ideas in class that he articulates beautifully but as soon as he is asked to write them down, I get a few short sentences with no development”.  They just don’t like writing and find essay writing for any subjects a chore. Unfortunately the whole examination system at the moment is predicated on writing so we need to do something to help. I am sure that we will not be able to get either of them to atually enjoy writing, but if we can offer different approaches to make it more bearable for our youngest then maybe that will help avoid the stress in the house every time there is written homework to do!

Tools to help
I have used 5 card flickr with my classes at school as a stimulus for writing in French and found that the random nature of the images allows for imagination and creativity and leads to some fascinating stories. At uLearn at the beginning of October I was at a breakout with Kevin Honeycutt who talked about the power of publication to motivate students to write – the rise in self-esteem and pride when something a kid has written is published and handed to them.  He uses Lulu.com as his book publishing tool. Reading Interface magazine last week I saw a snippet about an app called CBB (creative book builder) and decided that it would be interesting to see how they work.

Working together
So, my son came home this week with some homework; he had to write a story or poem that he could read out to his class that would be a minimum of 2 minutes long and not more than 3 minutes – on any topic. The usual avoidance tactics started, the arguments why he could do it later, “I’ll just do….first”, he even decided he needed to shower!  A couple of weeks ago we had had a session prompted by him when he had come home from school saying that he was way behind some other kids in his class with some writing they were doing because he couldn’ t think of what to write about and,  when he did have an idea, he didnt know how to write it down “in order”.  At that point we sat down and used a grid system with headings; who, what, why, how, where, when, problem, solution, outcome and then looked at some of his early childhood storybooks to see if we could identify all those elements. We ended up having a real trip down Memory Lane and a lovely time sitting reading stories to each other. It is easy to forget that thirteen year olds are still children – on that awkward cusp where they belong to no real group, neither teenagers, children or adults – and sitting down with him, curled up on the sofa reading together was a reminder to me that he is still a little boy.  But, I digress….

Using the tools
So, 5 card flickr; he chose his five pictures from the sets of five randomly generated photographs from flickr and then using Google Docs to craft his work, inserted the five pictures and a table for the grid.  I was doing my own work on the computer at his side and after few questions and a couple of prompts to keep at it, I sort of forgot he was there, he was so quiet. I looked to my side to see a boy engrossed, concentrating and tapping away at the keys.  About fifteen minutes later he sat up, pushed his chair back and announced he was finished. I glanced across at his screen to see a whole page of typing. He asked if he could go on his game and so I said that that was fine as soon as he had shared the google doc with me so that I could look at it and comment later.
When I looked at the document a few minutes later, intrigued to see what he had written, I was amazed. A story with lots of action and ideas, all the elements we had talked about but hardly any punctuation apart from the odd full stop!  It was as if the ideas had just come flooding out without time for him to breathe and they had just been regurgutated on to the page! This is where Google Docs comes into its own; I made a couple of comments, praising the story and the ideas, asked some questions for clarification and suggested that he re-read it and added some punctuation.
Now, I could have stopped him playing his game to talk to him (which is what I would normally do, being a bit of a control freak)  but I didn’t. Why? Because, I think he had already worked quite hard and was feeling pleased with himself that he had written the story, now he was rewarding himself! He was already in another world and would have been resistant to coming back to the real one at that stage. So, I left him. But curiosity about what I thought got the better of him and the prompt of an email informing him that somebody had commented on his document made him open it up again and have a look. That was when I talked to him and we worked through the revisions together. Once he had finished his story he printed it out ready to take to school the next day. He was pleased, I was pleased – finally a writing homework done with relatively little grief!

But where does the ebook come into this? Well, I was keen to try out CBB to see how it worked and decided to trial it using Aonghas’ story. I won’t go into the details of how it works except to say that it is not intuitive but I managed to do enough to produce a book which now resides in my elibrary on my Galaxy.  What did Aonghas think? Well he was quite impressed but not as over the moon as Kevin Honeycutt suggested his students were. But then he uses lulu.com which is a way of creating and publishing books taht people then pay for.  This morning, I used the same story to create a book using lulu.com. Aonghas’ book is now listed on a website and you can pay the princely sum of 99c to buy it to download. He is away at Scout camp just now but I am looking forward to seeing whether when he sees that his book is actually for sale will have a different effect on him. The power of money might be the difference!

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