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A (21st Century) Tale of Two Kindies

By Ben Sheridan

This past fall my class and I participated in a progressive story. The basic idea behind the project was that four classes would collaborate virtually to create a collective narrative.
The project creators chose a wiki for the shared writing space, and classes were grouped and assigned to a specific wiki page. Our class began the writing process, and posted the first two paragraphs. As each subsequent class added their section the story grew, and took many interesting twists and turns.
When the last class added their section they were also tasked with creating a title for the story. We teachers also decided that it would be helpful to create a VoiceThread of the story, using illustrations that the students created. Each class then uploaded pictures to a shared VoiceThread; the illustrations were then matched with the corresponding audio section. The kids were very excited by the finished product, and were delighted to share the VoiceThread on our class blog.
Both my students and I enjoyed this project, but it left me wanting more. I liked the project, but felt I could possibly use classroom technology to sustain student engagement throughout the project. I was also looking for a way to make the entire project more student-driven.
To create a process that allowed students to collaboratively traverse the entire writing process, the first thing we needed to do was to find a class willing to participate.
I knew I needed a teacher who was willing to try something completely new, and who was not afraid to use technology in a way that was new and exciting. I knew I needed someone who was not only a very competent teacher but also a bit of a risk-taker.
The first person that came to my mind was Zoe Page; I had met Zoe on several occasions at a couple of different conferences, and we had kept in touch mostly via Twitter. I shot her a slightly schizophrenic email, and asked what she thought of collaborating on a writing project that incorporated different types of technologies.
Luckily for me, she was game. We started sharing ideas, some good (mostly hers), some not so good (mostly mine), and before I knew it something started to take shape.
Since our classes were already Twitter friends, we decided to capitalize on this and let the children start conversing about the project using this medium. We also created a shared Google Document that we used as a shared space. Our classes also decided that we should meet “face to face” via Skype before we began. We had a very positive Skype session, in which the students shared ideas and feelings about the project as well as random-but-nonetheless-valuable kindergarten musings.
To begin with, our class sat down at the Smartboard and used the G-doc as a space to brainstorm ideas. Each class started jotting down ideas for character, setting, plot etc. Our classes also outlined purpose, audience, and potential challenges. Some of the challenges our students came up with were:
• How will we share the story?
• What language should we write it in?
• Too much audience? Maybe children only?
• We might have trouble spelling all the words correctly.
• We might have to make a compromise.
In other words, the students were already thinking in quite a holistic way. Since these ideas were coming from other Kindergarten students they held tremendous relevance with the others, and all students developed a sense of ownership right from the beginning.
After a couple of brainstorming sessions, which we documented using the G-doc, and some back and forth via Twitter our students had decided that the story would begin in a cemetery! Each of our classes decided to visit a cemetery near our school as a way to help build context. We decided that each class should document their field-trip and share it via their respective class blog. Luckily for us, we have a cemetery within walking distance of our classroom. We set up a field trip, gathered some parent volunteers, and set out one afternoon.
The students were armed with iPods to help document our field-trip. They used the camera function to capture pictures and video, and we then took this and created a post for our class blog that allowed our partner class to go with us (albeit virtually) on our field trip.
The students had a great time sitting on the carpet and comparing and contrasting each others’ field trips as we viewed them on our Smartboard. With our field trips fresh in our minds, we started to write. The field trip was a great kick-starter. Each class created quite an impressive list of descriptive words we could use in our story and as the writing progressed, each class decided that they wanted the story to be a chapter story: each class would write a chapter and then hand it back to the other class.
Every morning the first thing my students would ask is to check the story to see what developments had taken place. We would then use Twitter to offer feedback, or ask for clarification on certain aspects of the story.
Our classes Skyped again, and one of the first things the students said to each other was that each class thought the other were good writers. One question that had arisen in the meantime was, how we were going to share our story?
During our Skype call our friends in Japan shared a Kamishibai, which we learned is a form of Japanese story telling. My students thought that was very interesting, as they had never heard of this before. After the call my class discussed possible ways we could publish and share our story.
Earlier in the year I had made an ebook (using iAuthor) about our 100th day activities. My students really liked the book. First, they loved the fact that the pictures in the book were of them with their hundreds projects. Second, they loved the fact that they could read it on our iPads. They suggested they could make illustrations and we could use these illustrations to create an ebook version of our story.
As the story began to wrap up, our partner class asked if they could finish the story. Most of the students in my class wanted to finish it as well, so they asked our partner class if they would be willing to compromise. Both classes were willing to compromise and finish the last chapter together. Our classes set up a time to Skype and finish the story together in “real time” via our shared G-doc.
I truly felt this project was well worth the extra effort and planning. I felt my students benefited greatly from the project, as I did. They are very proud, not only of the finished product but the work they put into creating the story. I feel it must be said that without many other people this project would not have been possible.
The parents of my students have been supportive on many fronts this year. When I announced our plan to visit a cemetery, I did get some raised eyebrows. That said, the parents of my students were very forward and up-front with their concerns and questions. After I explained the project they were not only supportive, but actually offered to help and chaperone.
All this would also not have been possible without the support and flexibility of my school head. His trust and support allowed me to try something new and unproven. As for Zoe Page, she was kind enough to agree to participate in something without knowing if it would work or not; she elevated the project with her expertise and professionalism.
Last but not least this would not have been possible without the hard work and imagination of the students! They are the ones who put in the effort to create the story itself.
Mr. Sheridan teaches Kindergarten at Pasir Ridge International School in Balikpapan, Indonesia.

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