Lighting learning fires


                                Lighting fires


Fires burned in the hearts of students from Room 26 of Matipo School this week and it was exciting to witness. We were giving the stylecheck a trial run in the class to see if it could make writing more fun for students.

Their teacher arranged the 25 students into teams of two or three and asked them to write what they liked about Matipo School.

The room filled with excited buzz as the teams got to work, writing. As they worked, we went around the room and helped when asked. But these students did not need us. They submitted their writing and if it did not land on the gri, they set to work out why. They were completely absorbed. They were playing a word game and the competition heightened their competitive spirits.

What was amazing was the delight on their faces. However, the students that caught our attention were two young boys the teacher pointed out. She admitted she had struggled all year to get them enthusiastic about writing. And these two were engrossed, giving loud whoops when their writing landed on the grid. The teacher was amazed. While other groups had succeeded this was not a pair she expected to do well.

She said she had never seen such big grins on these two boys’ faces and she was delighted. So we asked her to read their paragraph out loud. After she had, we asked the class why they thought the two students had done so well.

There were several reasons but the key one was that there was plenty of detailed description.

These reluctant writers had described going to a class to watch Steven Adams play basketball, how exciting it was to have fundraising sausage sizzles, taking part in concerts and also described the kind things the Principal did.

They used graphic language and it was easy to visualise all the favourite things they detailed.

Suddenly the boys, who were used to being bottom of the class, experienced a new sensation. For the first time they were not underdogs whom no-one ever expected to succeed. They held themselves as if they were on the winner’s step of the podium at the Olympic Games. They walked out of class surrounded by other students talking excitedly and giving everyone high fives.

Now this was no set up. Those boys deserved every accolade they received. They worked on their ipads giving each other ideas and encouraging each other to find descriptions that captured how they felt about their school in detail. And detail is the magic word.

We have talked to a lot of teachers over the last few days and when we have demonstrated the stylecheck, they have immediately seen its value as a teaching aid. The biggest problem they have when teaching writing is to get students to do two things – give descriptive detail and write more than one draft.

If a piece of writing does not land on the grid, students have to re-draft until it does. This is a non-negotiable. But the wonderful thing is that they are happy to re-draft because their writing becomes a game between the student and the computer. It is impersonal and that gives the computer feedback credibility.

 It also guides them to find their own solutions and they really enjoyed playing with that concept. This is Self-Directed Learning and that is the future of education. It is teaching young people how to find their own answers and equipping them with the tools they need in order to succeed.

 The teachers loved the fact that we do not give the students answers but provide clues on why there is a difference between good writing and not so good writing….readability and non-readability.

It was amazing to see the way our technology lit the learning fire inside students for whom writing was something they previously hated doing.