Preparing to “Build a Better Book”

As often happens in my professional life, earlier this year, I was invited to lead a session broadly related to teaching writing and digital literacy, specifically for middle school students. Unlike my previous experiences, however, this particular opportunity came from CMU’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education‘s partnership with the Build a Better Book Project. In short:

The Build a Better Book project, based at the University of Colorado Boulder, works with school and library Makerspaces to engage youth in the design and fabrication of accessible picture books and graphics… Through the Build a Better Book initiative, middle and high school youth develop technology skills and learn about STEM careers as they design and create accessible, multi-modal picture books, graphics and games that can be seen, touched and heard!

So, in this case, I was invited to lead a session on a topic that I had quite a bit of experience with (teaching character development in writing), but needed to think critically and creatively about how to present the idea, taking concerns about accessibility into account. And, as often is the case, I turned to my PLN for help.

Originally conceived as the “Tactile Picture Books Project” at the University of Colorado Boulder, I quickly discovered that another digital literacies scholar, Bridget Dalton, was part of the research team. Reaching out to her, she shared her scholarship about the project and the four core experiences for any tactile book workshop:

  1. “Introduction to the design task and audience”
  2. “[t]actile sensory immersion”
  3. “[t]eams’ making of tactile pages to retell a picture book” (and presentation of that book
  4. “[r}eflection on the experience.”

In the sense that students will already be immersed in the process, I’m fortunate that my lesson will come on the second day of a multi-day experience, focusing mostly on steps 3 and 4. They will have had some experience understanding the design task and the audience of visually impaired readers, as well as some tactile sensory immersion. When I see them on day two, my goal will be to help them think about ways that authors describe and develop characters in picture books. So, I am working on the retelling, but also the annotating. Taking what I learned from Margaret Price at DMAC earlier in the summer about annotations for accessibility, I will ask students to both write descriptions of the character as well as to use tactile materials for creating far, mid, and close-up representations.

The challenge, of course, is that helping them figure out how to create tactile books – as well as annotations – that accurately and creatively represent those characters.

Thus, I wanted to find a children’s picture book that – both literally through images as well as figuratively through language – “zooms in” on a character. I want them to write/create three different perspectives of the character – long shot, medium shot, and close up – both in writing and with crafting materials.

To that end, I again turned to my PLN to find an appropriate picture book, and Colby Sharp suggested Mother Bruce, by Ryan T. Higgins. His suggestion did not disappoint. Mother Bruce is perfect, with images of Bruce the bear from afar, from nearby, and in extreme close-up. Coupled with a flipped lesson from Aron Meyer on “Using the Zoom-In Strategy to Enhance Narrative Writing,” I will use a series of images from Mother Bruce to then have students think about descriptive words for illustrating characters in terms of shape, size, and proximity.

So, these slides represent my general thinking about how I will approach the lesson. We will look at the generic images, do a read-aloud of Mother Bruce, then look again at the images in the book more carefully, with a lens for both annotation and tacitly illustrating them:

Build a Better Book Lesson - Slide 1
Build a Better Book Lesson – Slide 1 (Images from Mollie Bugg)
Build a Better Book Lesson - Slide 2
Build a Better Book Lesson – Slide 2 (Images from Ryan T. Higgins)
Build a Better Book Lesson - Slide 3
Build a Better Book Lesson – Slide 3 (Resources adapted from Sight Word Games and Interesting Things for ESL Students)

So, the lesson focuses on the words…

  • What would a description of Bruce need to include when we “see” him from a distance? At a mid-range? Close up?
  • How can we use different words to describe shape, size, and proximity?

And the tactile elements…

  • What would his fur or nose feel like from far away? Close up?
  • What about the additional features of his body and face? Eyebrows? Snout?
  • How can we change shapes and texture to help the reader know that the image is a far shot, mid shot, or close up?

My goal will be to have them create the three tactile representations, as well as write the annotations for the tactile books as a way to supplement the readers’ experiences. Though we will probably not have time in my workshop to invite the students to audio record these annotations and connect them with Makey Makeys, that would be one extension that could make the text even more accessible, and is in line with the Build a Better Book pedagogy.

In sum, this is an interesting way to cap off a busy summer of professional learning. When the CMU STEM Ed Center invited me to do this work at the beginning of the summer, I had no idea what I would do. Yet, the challenge was given to me, and I kept thinking about the possibilities with each opportunity that I had to learn throughout the summer. I look forward to seeing how students responds to the lesson and, in turn, what they might do to more completely and complexly represent Bruce through both their annotations and tactile pages.


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NWP Midwest Keynote

Can I Cite That?

Examining What Counts as Evidence in a Digital World

“Students have a greater role and responsibility in creating new knowledge, in understanding the contours and the changing dynamics of the world of information, and in using information, data, and scholarship ethically.” ~ ACRL


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Now I See It – ISTE 2018

Still need other options? Search on AlternativeTo.


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Ramping Up Revision – ISTE 2018

RESOURCES TO TRY


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2018 Wisconsin Literacy Research Symposium

Digital Writing, Digital Teaching

“Students have a greater role and responsibility in creating new knowledge, in understanding the contours and the changing dynamics of the world of information, and in using information, data, and scholarship ethically.” ~ ACRL


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The Next Decade of Digital Writing

Cover from Voices from the Middle (Vol. 25, No. 4, May 2018). Courtesy of NCTE.
Cover from Voices from the Middle (Vol. 25, No. 4, May 2018). Courtesy of NCTE.

With the support of Sara Kajder and Shelbie Witte, I am pleased to share that I recently published a “Leading the Call” article from  Voices From the Middle, “The next decade of digital writing.”

Through NCTE, they have made it available through open access, and here is the abstract:

The author, a leader in bringing digital tools into the writing workshop and writing classroom, discusses how the use of digital tools in the classroom has evolved in the first decade of this century, especially in the writing workshop. He examines ways several ELA teachers are using specific tools to assist with literacy learning in the classroom right now and makes some recommendations regarding the future of digital writing instruction.

Read more here: Hicks, T. (2018). The next decade of digital writing. Voices From the Middle, 25(4), 9–14.


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Preparing to “Turn the Corner” at DMAC18

Photo by Federica Galli on Unsplash
Photo by Federica Galli on Unsplash

The days do go fast at DMAC.

As a participant, I am reminded of the many, many moving parts that the facilitators for such an institute need to plan, and I have been fully engaged in the workshop for the past few days. Couple that with needing to continue working on all my regular tasks as a program director, faculty member, and consultant, and the time here at DMAC slips by entirely too quickly.

I need to pause. To scale back a bit. I woke up early this morning, and knew that I needed to reflect. To refocus.

So, here I am.

Without a doubt, I am enjoying the process. Since my infographic prototype post earlier this week, we’ve also tinkered with Audacity and the audio assignment, as well as iMovie and the video assignment. Fortunately, I’ve had experience with both these tools — as well as these concepts — so I’ve tried to focus more of my attention on the deeper, more theoretical implications of what DMAC has been pushing me to consider.

For instance, yesterday, we were asked to consider the politics of race and social media, deconstructing images and considering how to layer meaning with memes. I’ve certainly thought — and written about — memes before, but the new lenses of accessibility and social justice are all helpful reminders for me as I prepare to create my projects this weekend. Speaking of projects, my work is moving forward, but at a seemingly glacial pace. Again, being a participant reminds me that — when I am in the facilitator role — I need to be quite mindful of my audience’s needs, both technical and social.

Still, I am impressed by what we can do when we put our minds to it. For instance, Elvira and Rich created concise, compassionate short film yesterday:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Giving students — and, when in workshops, teachers — the time and space to play, take risks, and be creative makes a world of difference. I’ve heard these types of opportunities called many things. Quickfire challenges. Rapid prototyping. Sandboxing. Whatever we want to call them, we simply need to do more of them. I will remember this in preparation for the fall.

Of course, the conversations with colleagues from around the country have all been productive and refreshing. Today, we head to the Ohio Union for the Innovate: Forward conference. This, too, will be a refreshing change, as I hear about the many initiatives related to digital learning that are happening here at OSU. While keynotes are always interesting, I look forward to seeing what faculty are doing in their face-to-face and online courses, and I’ve mapped out some sessions that deal with digital distraction, new environments and structures for learning, and building better online discussions. These may ebb and flow throughout the day, of course, but that is the thrill of going to a conference!

As we prepare to “turn the corner,” moving into the deeper, more substantive work of producing our audio, image, and video projects. Again, my work this week is largely in preparation for teaching the honors seminar this fall, “Our Digital Selves.” My aim this weekend is to have my infographic, podcast, and video in a near state of completion for Monday’s preview. What’s interesting in that part of the assignment is that we are supposed to create “no more than :60 (sixty seconds) of video and/or audio that illustrates your work in progress that you plan to share at the upcoming showcase.” Making a recording about our work in progress, rather than simply standing nearby to describe it, is another interesting pedagogical move that I am learning from the DMAC structure, and I look forward to that challenge.


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