My fondest memories of school are of the occasions on which I made stuff. When I think about what other aspects of my learning I enjoyed most, I always come back to the basic principle of creativity. Getting me involved in creative tasks that result in tangible outcomes was one of the ways my teachers ensured that I remained engaged and enjoyed the process of learning.
Working on a model of the solar system was a sure way of getting me to remember the planets (9 in those days) and our place in the universe. I was never naturally good at maths or physics, but making tracks and ramps down which to throw ball bearings gave me a much better understanding of Newtonian physics than any number of equations you might want to throw at me.
Technology today gives us the tools and the possibility to enjoy making stuff and exercise our pupil’s creativity in new ways: Now you can make stuff virtually as well as actually.
My classes and I exploit these new possibilities by regularly embarking on projects which require exercising creative skills and, in so doing, going far beyond the confines of the curriculum.
Late in the Spring Term, the boys in my Year 8 class (12 and 13 year olds) decided to write an electronic book in Spanish using a web-based tool called Storybird that allows children to create and publish their own books electronically.
The objective was to put to practice all the language we had been learning in the preceding sequence of lessons, trying to use where possible more complex structures and a greater variety of vocabulary, thus consolidating existing knowledge, which is arguably the most important step to acquiring new knowledge. Their excellent work can be seen here.
Engaging in activities which pupils see as having a concrete and practical outcome, such as writing electronic books, allows the pupils to be creators of something unique, of which they have ownership. It also facilitates the transition from teacher-centred, class-based learning to one in which the pupil begins to acquire individual responsibility.
Because the work is carried out and published online, new, previously inconceivable possibilities of peer- and self-assessment emerge in which pupils cease to be limited by what they could learn by themselves and start learning via interaction with others through our subject blog, creating an environment in which pupils can learn from each other. I have described this process in more detail here and here. See examples below.
As you can see, pupils engaged in open epistemological discussions regarding the quality of the Spanish language they had used in their electronic books and had learnt from each other and from the result of our conversations, both in the classroom and online via the subject blog, about the use of more complex sentence structures in the target language and the importance of demonstrating knowledge of a wider range of vocabulary.
On this occasion, however, the extended writing exercise became a competition to find the best electronic book which would, as a prize, be turned into an actual book which would then be added to the School Library.
My pupils immediately became enthused and motivated at the prospect of being listed in our library’s author search. It has been firmly established that pupilsʼ motivation bears tremendous influence in the process of language learning and acquisition. It follows then, in my opinion, that motivation and encouragement should, per se, be an objective to be sought through the use of technological tools with which our our pupils are already familiar.
The competition was won by Mukul and Harry, above, whose work was deemed to be exceptionally good and, through Storybird, was published, not only online, but also as real books. Not bad for a tangible outcome. Their first book in a library. Hopefully the first of many.
Pupils had been engaged throughout the task and, although their familiarity with technology was used initially as a motivating factor, perhaps not surprisingly, the most powerful motivator for continued learning and engagement turned out to be the growth of my pupilsʼ confidence in their ability to speak Spanish.