57 posts categorized "Languages"

January 25, 2010

TapTale: Bringing literacy to a (iPhone) screen near you

TapTale is a new iPhone and iPod Touch app designed as a prototype to help learners build confidence in their creative writing. The Times Education Supplement talks this week about the app, one of the newly launched products whose development I led as Commissioner at Channel 4's Innovation for the Public Fund, working with Derek Robertson at LTS and the clever chaps at Six To Start.

The proposition was a simple one: experiment to see what the iPhone and iPod Touch could add to the reading and writing experience. Making it was a genuine challenge for us, for Learning and Teaching Scotland and the award-winning developers SixToStart, whose work on Penguin's WeTellStories made them the best choice to give this groundbreaker a chance:

“Readers have to work out what they have to do in the story to progress,” says Adrian Hon, who created the application and co-founded Six to Start with his brother Dan. “The story might say something like ‘the witch went up to the door and knocked three times’. The player would then have to tap on the phone three times in order to advance. Or they might read that the house fell to the right and they have to tilt the phone to the right to read about what happens next.”

The goal is to encourage young people to write their own stories and include their own “gestures”.

Once a tale has been created, users can upload them to the TapTale website, where other registered users can download and read them. Registered users can also provide feedback on any tale via the website, by slotting pre-written statements into a form.

Naomi Alderman The app helps students get started by modeling what it expected, with none other than an award-winning writer to get the creative wheels greased. In 2006, Naomi Alderman won the Orange Award for New Writers, and she now offers a growing selection of exclusive taptale stories, written just for the screen space and gestural potential of the iPhone. They're also available to read on the Taptale website.

She's also offered up a selection of free-to-view writing challenges for educators wanting to use the app in their classrooms, or assign challenges for homework on the iPod Touch or iPhone.

Brian Clark, working with LTS on trialling the project, describes how it might be used in practice this term:

TapTale’s primary goal is to promote literacy through the reading and writing of tales using the tap, tilt, shake and swipe functions of Apples touch screen devices.

When creating a tale, pupils are asked to write chapters using the touchscreen keyboard on the device. In order to progress from chapter to chapter, the reader must use one of the tap, swipe, tilt or shake sequences. It is up to the author of the tale to decide what action must be taken for the reader to see the next chapter.

Once a tale has been created, users can upload them via the device to the taptale website. This allows other registered user to download and read their tales directly on the device. Registered users can provide feedback on any tale via the website using a ‘fridge magnet’ style form. Anyone can read the tales created directly from the site, but of course the tapping and tilting functions are not possible in this view.

Taptale Feedback System 2 Fridge-magnet peer-assessment

My favourite part of this exercise may not even be the iPhone app itself. Rather, the online peer-assessment community we've developed is, I think, a first (though I'm happily corrected). I wanted to see a fridge-magnet approach to student feedback, something that would allow structured feedback to take place but not just in a "tick-box" fashion. I think I also wanted to hark back stylistically to the days of scholastic readers that I had when I was aged four in primary school, learning how to read for the first time. The result is quite a delightful way of helping students - and the general public who stop off by their writings - to learn new ways to provide "two stars and a wish" type feedback to each other anonymously, while maintaining the integrity and safety of a learning site used by young people.

The system prompts you to use one of the many critiques that Derek and I thrashed out over a boring train trip or two, to accept it, before pushing up the next set of options. Go and have a play on one of Naomi's stories and you'll see how challenging some of the vocabulary is yet how easy the interface is: struggleware if ever there was any.


Criticism of the iPhone for learning

As development work began in the early days of summer 2009, we hit criticism straightaway: "kids don't have iPhones, schools barely allow mobile phones, and in the current straightened times we shouldn't be investing in the most expensive-per-inch handheld technologies around". It was the same criticism hurled back in 2004 when I was making podcasts with and for the students in my secondary school. Fittingly, it is my old education district, East Lothian, that is the first to put itself forward to try out these devices and see what, indeed, they might add to the learning process.

We're ready for a resounding tumbleweed to be heard on the question of any educational advances here - no-one's done this before, and we just don't know what it has to offer that paper and pen don't. Likewise, I'd be curious to see what the tactile approach to story reading and writing brings to those kids who have less motivation to read, who have trouble structuring their stories. I also think the online writing community platform we've developed offers a creative, supportive environment that, in brilliant classrooms may well exist, but which is hard to achieve well all the time in every classroom with the timetable constraints we all face.

One final really interesting point is that one of the first criticisms of the app from a student has been: "it doesn't allow me to add pictures to my story". Interesting, and perhaps valid in a world where apps are laden with features, features, features.

Taptale is relatively simple. It's about making writing and reading as simple as possible, while forcing the hand of the writer into doing certain things: providing constructive feedback, reading for inspiration before writing, thinking about timing and story structure through the gestures.

Above all, though, it's about the written word, not the graphic, the design or the picture.

If anything, the lack of features is what makes this app special, what's going to make it work well. Children will, lo and behold, have to think about how to describe what's in their mind's eye, not just photograph it with the cellphone camera or Google it, right-click it, save it and insert it. Stripping all that away is, if anything, at least one educational advance we'll have made.

TapTale iTunes Graphic Taptale stories are free to view on the website throughout the pilot. The app is free in the UK from the iTunes store.

Pic from Anthony

January 12, 2010

A Perfect Palindrome: The Lost Generation

Thanks to SwissMiss for the link to this lovely video palindrome, showing how some scrolling text on iMovie can make the difference in explaining, understanding, passing on meaning.

November 30, 2008

On being a Latino in Modern America... powerful video podcasts

Spanish podcast
In the first half of this year I worked with Alas Media, the collective of former students of Marco Torres in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, to produce a year-long podcast series to excite, entertain and educate learners of Spanish. We wanted to explore what it means to be a Latino in modern America, something most textbooks this side of the pond tend to ignore.

Learning and Teaching Scotland have recently started to release the weekly podcast in the iTunes storethrough RSS, as well as on the LTS site. These are some of the best video materials produced for any educational institution or department that I have ever seen, from a point of view of content, context and quality of storytelling.

The result is a series of 17 short movies, beautifully produced by Rosa, Miguel, Eli and Ernesto, which describe the struggles of migrating over two countries on foot to find the American dream, the subsequent problems of trying to integrate while maintaining one's culture, what it means to Hispanic in the States in the first decade of the millennium, what it's like to manage those relationships with your traditionalist family while trying to be an American teen.

The episodes see some progression throughout the year, and are designed for learners with some competence already, from intermediate through to advanced levels.

Have a look at one or two of them, or subscribe so that you never miss an episode. You might be a learner of Spanish or you might be keen to see how these digital stories are being told. Or, like me, you might just be fascinated by these personal stories of joy, sadness, struggle, identity and love

November 01, 2008

On thanking the British pubic

It was tonight as our dear Spanish entrant to The X Factor gave her thanks to "the British pubic" that was reminded of a) the importance of getting your phonemes right (how I tried to get that point across while teaching it in France) and c) my second favourite Taylor Mali poem, after this one. Enjoy.

April 11, 2008

Language World 2008: Thinking out of the (X)box

I've been down in Oxford University today at Language World sharing some of the principles that help us get students more engaged in writing, speaking and working together in a foreign language, using computer games as a stimulus for creative reading, writing and, ultimately, speaking.

It's been based on the work I've already done in the area (the "Thinking Out Of The (X)Box" post is freshly updated), from the study of fairy tales for my MA (the best option by far at the time!), getting students new to French to come up with their own authentic fairy tales, having read some Petit Chaperon Rouge from Perrault, and finally using some of their medium, computer games, to enhance the experience. It's been even more enticing, I hope, with some updates courtesy of m'colleague Derek whose Nintendogs projects could provide some nice fodder for foreign language and enterprise work.

April 08, 2008

New online hub for Chinese teachers

Confucius_classrooms This week our Learning and Teaching Scotland Chief Executive and the Education Minister launched the Confucius Classrooms online hub for teachers of Chinese, in China. For the past two months I've been leading the development of content for the new site, bringing together expertise and material in Chinese teaching and learning from our colleagues around the country.

The site is designed for use by teachers of Chinese in Scotland who may be seeking out resources, but also as a mechanism for Chinese teachers in China to think about their pedagogy and linking with schools in Scotland through a new lens. We're hoping it meets with the same success as its partner site, the Modern Foreign Languages Environment.

The Confucius Classrooms are also an actual set of physical spaces around Scotland, in schools, where children can learn the Chinese language and culture. They are jointly funded by the school, Local Authorities and the Chinese Hanban, after an agreement was reached by Learning and Teaching Scotland and the Chinese authorities.

The site is an excellent achievement in a very short period of time, and I am indebted to my colleague Annelie Carmichael for getting this out and ready, on the same day she left us for pastures new. As always, feedback is welcome.

February 22, 2008

Scotland's Literacy: true excellence for the 21st Century

 Those long-awaited outcomes for Literacy in Scotland's new Curriculum for Excellence are released today by Learning and Teaching Scotland for consultation. At first glance you may be disappointed with what appears to be a rather narrow definition of literacy: no mention of 'new literacies', a phrase that emanates nearly exclusively from my US blog feeds, and no distinct mention of t'Internet or television in the outcomes themselves.

However, it's all there: sense of audience, distinction between information sources, information gathering, information presentation and purpose of writing, seeking regular reading for pleasure of a certain calibre. The real beef comes in the 'Cover Paper', and its definition of 'texts':

novels, short stories, plays, poems, reference texts, the spoken word, charts, maps, graphs and timetables, advertisements, promotional leaflets, comics, newspapers and magazines, CVs, letters and e-mails, films, games and TV programmes, labels, signs and posters, recipes, manuals and instructions, reports and reviews, text messages, blogs and social networking sites, web pages, catalogues and directories.
(emphasis added)

I don't know any other curriculum (though I'd love to be corrected) that states in black and white that teachers must help their students understand how to read Social Networks, blogs, games, comics - the whole panoply of literature young 21st Century citizens read. It's a great lead for Scotland.

The problems, if there are to be any, will lie in any potential narrow interpretation by teachers, those who feel that they can 'get away with' not looking at how we 'read' SNSs and blogs. Should that happen, then we will be stuck in the 19th Century. Disastrous, potentially. I don't think that will happen, though, having been heartened by the Schools and Skills Minister's statement this morning:

"We teach children how to understand, analyse and communicate using words on paper and rightly so. We're not going to stop that - indeed we want people to be properly equipped with better literacy skills.
"At the same time, of course, we get our news and information more from TV and the internet than from the newspaper. We communicate through email and text messaging and social networking more than writing letters."
                                                                                                (emphasis added)

I'm proud to have been part of the small but persistent team within Learning and Teaching Scotland who, for the past three years, has been pecking away at the definition of Literacy. But I'm also proud of a burgeoning section of the profession here in Scotland who have taken to the blogosphere and made sure their voice is heard by those writing the curriculum, and that whatever definition of Literacy we come to, that it is one which will stand the test of time.

On that point, these guidelines might fall over in five years' time, when perhaps something even more seductive will have taken the place of SNSs and blogs as we know them. But then, we should be revisiting this curriculum well before then.

January 30, 2008

The Botched Languages of Cranes

I'm just about to leave early morning to head down to Pine Crest School, which hosts the South Eastern and Mid-Atlantic Language Technology conference this week.

I'm even more keen now to get there since hearing that one of my TV idols, Kelsey Grammar, went to school there. One story to emerge so far is, in order to conform with the dress code, he had to bunch up his lengthy curls and hide them under a wig. Some kind of teen! I'll be experimenting again with my walk to work collection on Flickr, too, as well as getting preparations finalised for this week's language conference.

January 25, 2008

Burns supper... on the beach

I am currently 35,000 feet up with Mrs. and Ms. Edublogger*, trying to thrash through some documentation that needs reading before the inflight entertainment starts up.

Thanks to the kind invitation and generosity of the International Association of Language Learning Technology and Pine Crest School la famille is spending a long weekend on the beach at Fort Lauderdale before the conference proper begins mid-week. Rather than my traditional January 25th Burns' Supper singing silly songs with friends, I'll be brushing my brow of some midwinter heat and sunshine in Fort Lauderdale, near Miami, Florida. (Maybe, though, we'll use the Learning and Teaching Scotland Burns' resources to get us started).

Next week, I'll be keynoting and running a few workshops on the emerging pedagogies our emerging technologies can bring, showing off the fantastic resource that exists throughout the LTS Online Service, in particular the Modern Foreign Languages Environment. I'll also be using the time difference to do some teleworking of the kind that I loved ;-) in New Zealand.

Attending and presenting at this conference has already allowed me to start doing a few things:

  • It's led to a peer-reviewed research paper being published in the IALLT Journal, around the theme of learning (b)logs (you can see the rough drafts from a couple of years back). It's the kind of action-based research about the impact of social media on education that so often people say doesn't exist - well it does now!
  • The MFLE is undergoing some shifts in content provision, away from the technology focus of its beginnings. This helps bring what is there up-to-date as material is reviewed for a new audience.
  • The current ICT in Education section is crying out for some new resources on digital storytelling, digital images and podcasting - this conference provides some classroom practice and writing time to get those pushed through.

I'd be lying if I didn't say that a week of 25 degree sunshine and evening strolls across the beach don't make all those tasks slightly easier to stomach, too. Do I regret not being able to have my haggis and eat it...? Only a wee bit.

* This is a time-delayed post. I don't do them often, but needs must...

: IALLT have funded my flight, Pine Crest School providing accommodation. I have funded my family's flights and subsistence.

Pic: StevenM

December 15, 2007

Twittories - 140 people write 140 characters for 1 story

  Originally uploaded by h.andras_xms

In Japan, some of the biggest selling novels this year have been created and then read on... mobile phones. Cameron at The Podcast Network has begun a wonderfully creative way of getting many people to write collaboratively on one story: get them to send their part of the story in a pre-defined sequence through their mobile phone.

First, 140 people have registered themselves by adding their name to the project wiki website. Then, using Twitter, which takes your mobile phone message and sends it out to the world, Cameron is able to add each person's 140 character-limit section of the story to those which precede it. As your turn comes up you receive a Twitter message on your mobile. You text your addition (having read your fellow writers' submissions to date) and so it goes on, until a 140 person, 140 characters each story is complete.

The first story is well underway, but there is plenty of room for people to register their interest for a bit of creative writing on the as yet untitled second story:

Twittory #1, "The Darkness Inside", will commence as soon as we have
140 people signed up below and will conclude, no matter where the story is up to, when we have the full 140 entries. 140 x 140 is... a story
with a maximum of 19600 characters.

If schools can get over themselves a bit in relation to the use of mobile phones for learning, this would be a great way to get some creative writing underway during the Christmas holidays, or simply as an ongoing 'starter-for-ten' exercise to get students tuned into their writing. You could do it for Modern Foreign Languages, too, especially as a 'fun' alternative to some of the drier work in advanced language courses.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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