Month: October 2014

The Path to Better Writing? Write More Words More Often

How often have teachers witnessed students staring at an empty page or a blank screen? So many students learn at an early age all about that dreaded state of Writer’s Block.

Through my years of teaching writing to students, it became painfully clear that the cause of Writer’s Block often boiled down to one fundamental cause– Fear. More specifically, the fear of imperfection.

When words are squeezed out onto the page, the process of writing is painful, stressful, and, worst of all, clearly not the path to writing improvement.

Conversely, the path to raising confident, accomplished writers involves creating an environment where students can write fearlessly with the freedom to experiment, fail, try again, and try, try again. Rather than writing with that tyrannical self-editor shooting down every imperfect idea, the young writer forges ahead, their words dancing onto the page.

An anecdote from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland wonderfully illustrates how, in the early stages of creative development, quantity really does win out over quality.

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left hand side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an A.

Well, come grading time a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work and learning from their mistakes, the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

COW (Creative Online Writing) was designed to provide an environment in which emerging writers are encouraged to fearlessly write more words more often. Certainly, the development of spelling, grammar and other stylistic elements are vitally important to the growth of a writer. Yet, to develop the fundamental skill of writing– the communication of ideas– the quantity of writing practice is the key.

Chris McMahen

Alieo Games

How Awesome Text Analysis Can Be Awesome for Helping Awesome Young Writers Become Even More Awesome Using Text Analysis Tools to Improve Student Writing

“Awesome” is a wonderful word. Unfortunately, its awesomeness has been eroded over the past few years by overuse. Can text analysis be the knight in shining armour that rescues poor, overused words from having the sharp edges of their meaning eroded by excessive use?

Of course it can.

Just ask Michael Thomas (not his real name). He loves the word “awesome,” almost as much as he loves “cool.” Have a look at this short piece of writing:

As soon as Michael finished his piece of writing, he was presented with this piece of data:

Writers young and old get caught up in their own vortex of over-used language. For me, as a writer of novels for young readers, the word I over-use is “very.” I use it very, very often.

Text analysis tools can provide painfully obvious insights into our tendencies as writers. Such feedback is incredibly valuable. Not only does it provide the writer with insights into their own writing, but it also provides teachers with clear areas that need to be addressed in instruction.

When students use Creative Online Writing (COW) by Alieo Games, after each session of writing, they will receive a powerful set of statistics that analyze many aspects of their writing. Just ask Michael. Given this feedback, teachers can focus their attention upon gearing instruction to specific needs of writers.

We think that’s very, very awesome.

Chris McMahen

Alieo Games

Techno-gaga. Techno-lust. Techno-struck. Call it what you will.

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In the last post, How a 1200 Baud Modem Didn’t Change Our World, three questions were raised which educators have always needed to ask when considering the implementation of a new technology in schools. The first question was:

Does the technology address curriculum goals?

This seems like a hopelessly obvious question to ask. If it’s such an obvious question, then why isn’t it asked with the necessary regularity? The simple answer? Techno-gaga. Techno-lust. Techno-struck. Call it what you will.

Let’s define it as the state of being infatuated with the idea of using technology. Over the years, we’ve been wowed with the appearance of new technology, and the promise of how it will change education. Paradigms would shift, curricula would be redesigned, and the role of the teacher would be drastically altered. Appearing in schools was Logo, Hypercard, iMovie, Powerpoint– the list goes on. Amazing educational experiences for students, yet . . .

. . . they still have to learn to read and write. The reality of education is that fundamental literacy skills are still a primary focus of the curriculum. Many more areas of curricular concern have been added to the teacher’s proverbial plate. In addition to teaching literacy, mathematics, content areas such as social studies and science, the fine arts, and many others, teachers are now enlisted in the fight against childhood obesity, bullying, drugs, and other social problems. This is all to happen within the limited timeframe of the school day.

Given the present state of curricular pressures placed upon teachers, any new technology introduced to a school must address current curriculum requirements. Otherwise, it will go the way of past innovations and fall off that proverbial plate.

In designing COW (Creative Online Writing), Alieo Games has developed a tool for teachers that will enable them to effectively enhance the teaching of one fundamental curriculum goal: writing.

Using COW with students will not be an “add on,” but a valuable tool to get students motivated to write and receive relevant feedback upon the quality of their writing. COW provides an online learning environment in which students will not only improve their writing fluency, but also practice using elements of writing as taught by their teacher.

So, in answer to the question, “Does COW address curriculum goals?” the answer is a resounding, “Moo!” (Translated from the bovine to mean, “Yes.”)

How a 1200 Baud Modem Didn’t Change Our World Three questions educators needed to ask then, and still need to ask now.

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In 1989, a box arrived at the school. Inside the box was a 1200 baud modem. This, we were told, was our gateway to the Information Superhighway.

The Mac Classic in the library could now communicate with other schools around the world! This seemed absolutely amazing, especially given that we were still paying long distance charges on calls to the next town.

This piece of incredible technology had the promise to change the way schools worked. Students could have pen pals in Saudi Arabia! Questions could be sent to scientists anywhere in the world! The possibilities were endless. Classes would flock to the library to connect to the world. The place was bristling with excitement.

A dedicated line was installed in the back of the library office. Going online meant unwrapping a very long phone line all the way out of the office, over the circulation desk, and finally to the lone computer. It didn’t matter that twenty-five kids would attempt to huddle around the Mac Classic and try to catch a glimpse of the cryptic writing on the tiny screen. It didn’t matter because this was cutting edge technology.

Everyone listened with anticipation to that distinctive sound of the modem– the phone dialling, followed by a series of screeches, scratches, and buzzes. It was the sound of the future.

And then . . . the sound of a busy signal. The Data Pack port to the internet was shared by four schools. That social studies teacher up at the high school must be online again.

“Sorry, kids,” the librarian would say. “We’ll have to try it again later. Maybe we’ll have better luck.”

And, subsequently, whenever the librarian would do a demonstration of this amazing technology, fingers would be crossed, Hail Marys would be mumbled as everyone held their collective breath, hoping the technology would actually work.

It didn’t take long for teachers to give up. For the time, energy, and hassle, using the technology wasn’t worth it. The promises of educational technology were not fulfilled. At least, not for now.

Fast forward twenty-five years, and schools have obviously made huge progressive leaps in access to technology. Logistics have been streamlined. Teachers have become more technologically literate.

Still, in spite of these advancements, teachers still face many of the same fundamental challenges in incorporating technology into curriculum to enhance instruction.

Boiling the issues down, three fundamental questions must be asked when a technological innovation is being considered for implementation in a school:

  • Does the technology address curriculum goals?
  • Is the technology practical to use?
  • Does the technology enable students to learn in a way that is not possible without the technology?

The same three questions apply to those designing educational products for classroom and school use. Without carefully addressing all three questions, products in the realm of educational technology are doomed for a place on the shelf right next to that 1200 baud modem all covered in dust.

© 2017 AlieoGames

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