This guest post is brought to you from Jon Smith, a special education & technology resource teacher. Mr. Smith has also helped his students self-publish several free iBooks, including, It Was A Dark And Stormy Classroom and The Two Kids and Desert Town.
I taught special education students in an urban elementary school. My students often struggled with learning and especially struggled with writing. I constantly wondered what I could do to help them become better writers. Our district implemented a new writing program. It didn’t help. I tried to make writing topics more exciting. That didn’t help either. I began losing hope in ever getting students to write better until January 2012.
In January, Apple announced iBooks Author. My interest was immediately sparked. What if I could get students to write better with the knowledge that their books would be published for the world to see. It was worth a shot. Nothing else worked. If this didn’t work, it would be the same old thing again. If it did work, however, students would love writing. And so my journey began with iBooks Author and students creating digital stories.
Our first story, The Two Kids and Desert Town, was the brainchild of many of my students. They were learning about many different language arts topics in class. These topics were difficult to learn. I explained to them that we were going to write a book. After the initial moans and groans, I explained to them that the book would be published around the world.
The students instantly became interested in what I was saying. They expressed that they wanted to write. When I asked them what type of book we could write the ideas started flowing in. The idea we chose was one in which the main characters encountered a town struggling with language arts topics. Wow. Could this be possible? Were kids actually excited about learning?
We decided to start our story. Each student would write the intro individually. After that, we would talk as a group and decide on the best parts of everyone’s intro. Then, we would combine all the parts and have a great introduction. This continued until the book was finished. We only had one computer that had iBooks Author on it so I did the typing. After the writing was done, we decided to add videos and photos to our book. After two weeks we had a book. I sent it to Apple and prayed that someone would download our book.
Twitter became my best friend. I pleaded to all of my Twitter followers to download our book. The first day, we had 14 downloads. The next day 13 more. This continued until we were suddenly reached 500 downloads. Amazing. We kept track of the downloads on a chart in the hallway. Students were so excited that people other than their teachers cared about what they wrote.
The students were so excited that they wanted to write another book. 5th Grade: Reflections On Our Year was our second book. It has been downloaded 175 times.
The sixth grade decided they wanted in on the action and decided they wanted to write a math textbook. Math Our Way was written in the same format as the other two books with teachers and students collaborating together on the project. In a month we had a textbook with audio, video, photos, screencasts and interactive quizzes.
In all, we have had 6200+ downloads of our iBooks in 40 different countries around the world. This has been a very powerful tool for my students’ writing and motivation.
I am now in a different district and a different grade level. I am the technology resource teacher at Alliance High School in Alliance, Ohio. Last week we published our first book, It Was A Dark And Stormy Classroom. This book is an anthology of short mystery stories written by freshmen. Again, they collaborated with each other and the teachers to produce an amazing piece of work.
We are currently writing a remix of the Canterbury Tales … now available for download.
Children need to know that people care about their work. How motivating is it to realize that the world cares about your work?
This guest post was written by Jon Smith. He has been teaching for over 12 years, specializing in special education and technology resources. He also teaches a graduate class for The Communicate Institute on engaging children using technology.