Katherine Bilsborough kicked off after the break, and she is talking about Writing for Primary. 2 years ago, she spoke about ‘Becoming a digital writer‘. Since then, she has realised that we are not digital writers, we are materials writers who are writing for a digital age. This is something that came out of the recent MaW SIG conference. As Ceri said, it’s not black or white, it’s grey. Katherine, though, says it’s more like a chess board. Some is black, some is white, you move in different ways and sometimes you win and sometimes…!
If you are talking about primary, you are talking about 6 years of a child’s life. There is a big difference between year 1 and year 6. We need to be aware of their cognitive skills. E.g. they may not be able to read yet. We need to think about their world view. They are very me me me oriented, so pair work doesn’t always work! If you make something in class, then everybody needs one to take home! With VYL, attention span is 5, 6, maybe 10 minutes max. It is also, or can be, a lot of fun.
5 key areas that Katherine identified for primary writing are:
- key ingredients
She has picked out these 5 areas but some others may crop up as well.
When you start off writing a primary course book, need to take into account several things.
- The syllabus (be involved in writing or received from a publisher; might be one level of a 5 level course for e.g.)
- Young Learner Exams (publishers want to include materials that help to prepare learners for these e.g. Starters, Movers, Flyers)
- Policy (local or national – e.g. in Spain the education law was in place for many years but has just been voted out so everything is in limbo)
- Key competences (trying to develop the whole child e.g. citizenship, keeping clean and tidy etc as well)
Katherine finds the Cambridge YLE page useful to refer to as it has lots of wordlists for each level, of what words children of each age group/exam group are expected to know at that level. This is useful if you don’t have the syllabus etc. all worked out in advance. It’s also helpful to look at Key stages on BBC Bitesize site, to see the kind of things that children are learning and doing at different ages, to get an idea of what you can have them do with your materials.
21st Century skills – creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking. These are crucial. Our job, to think of a primary learner activity that encompasses these… Easy. Been doing it since the beginning. Just that now it has a label that needs to go in the book! Now of course there are digital elements that can be brought in to do things in a different way, but the point is it’s NOT new even if it’s the newest buzzword.
Vitally important. The first thing that gets looked at. There are a few things to take into account. What should we consider when we decide between photos and artwork? model’s age/characteristics? supportive or decorative?
Publishers think for youngest learners, mostly illustration, as they get older, introduce more photographs. However, photos are coming in younger and younger. Nowadays in the ‘digital world’, younger children have more access to photographs so it makes sense? More and more kids watch stuff like discovery and educational style programmes marketed for kids (be it on youtube or TV) while cartoons/comics are seen as Saturday morning break material. Re model’s age and characteristics, Katherine usually told that they are presented as the same age but look a little bit older. If you are 9 you want to read about 10 year olds not 7 year olds! In terms of physical characteristics, it’s changing – more variety now, becoming more inclusive. Illustrations are usually supportive but can be decorative. In an artwork brief, it should be one picture including all the items of vocabulary rather than a set of different pictures one for each word. Katherine’s no. 1 digital aid for working is: Scanners. As, with primary, you draw everything as it should look on the page (sketches, sometimes quite detailed as very important), that scanned scrap of paper goes off to the publishers and then the illustrator turns it into what you see on the page. We rarely see them at conferences but they are very important! We are all invited to write our favourite tool on the flipchart at some point during the day.
We all know about PARSNIPS but for primary there are things you might not have considered…
- An escaped tiger with a happy ending – too traumatic
- A chant about a witches brew – market including Turkey and Egypt, no witch craft
- Kate and Joe talking about their homework – can’t have them because they might be sitting in a bedroom, so it had to be Kate and Cloe, much more difficult for listening!
- Film review of Australian film Red Dog – there are dogs and somebody’s arms on the film picture, which is dirty
- Anne of Green Gables – no, because boys won’t like it (!!!)
- A story about a little boy who shrinks after drinking a potion – too druggy!!
If in doubt, leave it out! (Or at least run it by the editor!) It’s not worth it. Having an argument isn’t going to win you any points.
We saw three rubrics for the same activity.
- Picture of an ear and a scribbling pencil
- Listen and colour
- Listen to the dialogue and colour the objects
- Listen to the dialogue and colour the items that Leo and Fatima mention.
The simpler the better! Applies to all ages!!
- Stories – genre? ongoing/one-off? language? word count? no. of frames? Katherine does this kind of work away from the computer, sits down with language and bits of paper. In the beginning there were print stories of various kinds, then along came audio, then dvds with videos (sometimes pictures moving one to the next), IWB (replicating print, animated visuals), devices (with interactive elements) and finally augmented reality. In Katherine’s last project, she wrote stories for a 12 level BBC English course for children and this included augmented reality for one out of three stories per year. You have to start layering, it’s almost like writing a script for a film. It’s very interactive and brilliant fun, but it takes a lot of writing. You have to write the story and work out how it’s going to appear and then present that to the publisher so that they/the team can understand it! Lots of role-play/gamey/decision-making elements involved. Katherine finds Puzzlemaker and Word Scramble for making puzzles to cut down on time.
- cross curricular – used to be CLIL but then it wasn’t really CLIL so became cross-curricular. “These lessons give kids the opportunity to do something a bit different and they learn different skills – skills that aren’t normally taught in the English lesson. They’re a nice change for the teacher too.” – a quote from a teacher, Ma Carmen Losa. For the writer, means more research. Just because we are adults doesn’t mean we know everything! Katherine likes Fun Science and Technology website and NASA kids club website, as well as, again, BBC Bitesize. Lots of art gallerys around the world have kids sections. National Geographic also has one. Using websites designed for children means we have the right kind of language to use. Katherine still looking for an online children’s dictionary. It would be useful for obvious reasons!
- culture – need to make it relateable to children e.g. what do people have for breakfast in different places like Jamaica? What hours do children go to school in New Zealand? Easy to find out on Facebook! Crowd-sourcing on Facebook is a very useful tool as you can get a load of answers/responses. Time for Kids “Around the World” – a day in the life (hour by hour) of children around the world. Shortcut keys on a Mac are very handy for “I want something that looks like this:”
- literacy – Vocab kitchen is useful: put in a text and you can see what the CEFR levels are and change the words in red (too hard) until they come out green (easy)! And use the synonym list in Word.
- rhymes, chants songs – Vocaroo is really useful for recording and sending sound clips as emails.
Writing materials for the Play Station generation
Fiona Mauchline is a teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and blog curator. She is focusing her talk on the people we are writing for in secondary materials writing rather than the materials themselves. 11-19. Born between 1996 and 2005: A significant period in the history of digital entertainment! Nintendos, Wii, Playstation with headphones and kids speaking. Fiona’s son speaks four languages a day, only 2 of which she taught him, picking it up this way. There is a huge generational gap between teacher/writer brains and their brains. This is something that needs to feed into the materials.
‘Umbrella topics’ from typical course books for lower secondary/lower levels. How many can you think of? Recycling, hobbies, clothes, music, food, films, sports, shopping, holidays, town/going out, school.
Beware the Twilight Zone – the shady area that teens don’t like going into. Also, it’s about what they want to talk about with whom! (Or not!) E.g. with parents, siblings, other family members, teachers, pals, closest friends, other classmates, ‘others’… Some topics may be better for writing than speaking as writing to the teacher rather than having to share with people in the room. Some they may not want to talk about with anybody. Anything where you might be judged. In the world of the migrant, ‘family’ and ‘home’ – might be judged. Holidays – not everyone can afford to have holidays. If you live in the Canary Islands, “talk about your holiday” doesn’t work as there is a huge gap between rich (off to New York) and poor (never left the island). So when aiming at teens, think about the sensitive areas.
Fiona got her older teens to make a list of topics they would like to see in course books. They made a long list. Can you identify the 7 no’s?
3 groups of No:
- History – e.g. Mandela
- Music – Madonna, ABBA etc
Boring: old-fashioned, dusty, been done too many times. Not for 15 year olds.
We do it, we don’t talk about it. Too personal. It is divisive and leads to judgement.
- YouTubers who do crazy things
- Travel to far away places, exotic destinations
- Food we’ll never eat e.g. insects
Irrelevant, remote from their reality and always will be. Travelling to countries near your own, you might do one day. Far off super-exotic places, not so much.
The Stress Factor
Everybody feels different and wanted to be the same, all felt like outsiders in some way. 99% of teenagers think it. All feel inadequate. Learning a foreign language means saying stuff in another language in front of your classmates: not a comfortable/happy thing!
12% of teenagers (Young Minds and Mind) in the UK today between 11 and 15 with diagnosable mental health issues. A huge portion of that is stress-related or stress-triggered. Slightly higher in boys than girls. Keep the stress down!
The screen generation. Research done in Sweden and Florida.
Mental overload: scrolling, navigating, clicking, eye ‘flicker’, light quality > less ‘mind’ space for processing/comprehension than with text on paper. Not harder to learn, harder to know – tends to stay in shorter term memory rather than long term memory. Difference between remembering something and knowing it. However, kids have developed the capcity to ignore the buzzes, bells etc in life, i.e. dealing with distraction.
For certain things, screen will better, for other things, paper is still better. For example, reading longer texts is more efficient from the learning point of view on paper. The topography of a page – 8 corners (double spread), margins, visual clues that aid memory. Screens don’t really have that. The paper course book shows how far you have got as the year goes by. Big books and little books weigh the same on a kindle. Paper is good for weightier, more serious text work. With Digital, use short texts and exploit the scroll function/other features. E.g. the capacity for predictions – much more effective on screen with scrolling and keeping things hidden.
It doesn’t particularly matter what we think. The bottom line is the attitude and habits of the people who are going to use them. 52% prefer screens, 48% prefer books. Not everywhere allows for screens. Books smell better… (according to the teens Fiona questioned).
Fiona’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org