Web 2.0 for happy rapping

On a professional listserv, a question was raised about book raps using Web 2.0 technology rather than the traditional email listserv…

Some of this is covered in previous blog entries here, but here’s a summary I prepared:

The School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit (NSW DET) trialled the use of Edublogs this year. We re-ran a previous book rap – on Mem Fox’s Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge – in Term One for Stage 1 students, using a blog format to set out the rap points and discussion, and it was excellent! (Just be careful choosing your “theme” or “template” because not all “posts” and “pages” permit people to “comment”. It can be a tricky combination between setting your preferences and simply choosing the best “theme” for the job.)

We had schools all over in Australia in that, and even one from Vietnam.

In Term Two, we ran an Identity: Sharing our Stories rap for Stage 3 and 4, and this focused on Aboriginal perspectives. Again, the blog format was very efficient.

Both raps have also featured a Gallery of artwork. For “Wilfrid”, I – as a coordinator – set up a wiki page of “bonus” activities (with PB Wiki) and these also were well received. A worthy experiment, and I can’t see us going back to clunky listservs. I’m not sure that a wiki would be as efficient if used for the blog proper. It seems to be that schools could accidentally interfere with the layout too much on a wiki.

The disadvantages of a listserv format are that: only subscribers get to share in the rap; you can’t edit inappropriate material once it’s been sent out by the server; late starters to the rap miss all the previous work (unless the list owner resends it all); and if you wish to preserve the rap’s content (as NSW DET have done on the Departmental website) you have to set up an online archive.

The good thing about Edublogs (over regular WordPress and Blogger) is that it’s possible to upload from a NSW DET computer. Further, School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit put in requests to ensure that our rap blog pages would be accessible under the appropriate student passwords (so they could view the previous comments), even though responses are still made by a group of students working with a teacher. At my school, we also promoted the rap blog URLs in our newsletter, and many students reported showing their class’s work to parents from home!

We’ve also been able to have the Teacher questions visible to all. Previously these were on a private Teacher listserv, and only visible to teacher subscribers, but many great ideas and shortcuts/success where never seen again beyond that rap.

I’m not aware that NSW DET has *any* fully-supported, freely-accessible “internal software” for students communicating with other groups of students. Yet. Certain schools have trialled various things over the years, such as Stu Hasic’s Eduweb(?), but as far as I know that operates within certain schools on their intranets only, and can’t go beyond each school, let alone other NSW or interstate schools.

Writing from an outline

Literally. 😉

This week, my book rapping students in Stage 1 were writing their responses to a rap point which required them to create an elderly character for the retirement home, which next to the house of young main character, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (see the Mem Fox & Julie Vivas picture book of the same name). The students must collaborate on a jointly-constructed text, drawing upon Mem’s writing style, to introduce a brand new resident of the retirement home.

Last year, the Early Stage 1 students really got the hang of character generation for our wiki fables, which we developed during Circle time and then visual arts activities. Wanting to replicate that success, I suddenly had a vision of the students sitting around a long sheet of coloured Brennex paper, with a young volunteer stretched out upon it, while I traced their outline with a Texta. Perhaps the students would be already sparking ideas off each other as I drew?

And it worked! While I made the life-size silhouette (x 3 – which we will decorate later), I quizzed the three groups about what their resident likes to do best, former careers, physical appearance, etc. Keeping in mind the need for these students to use current experiences, I used orange Brennex paper for the first silhouette (it was our school’s International Harmony Day celebration the next day) and suddenly – so obviously, much to the students’ and my delight – Mrs Harmony Day was born! We ended up with a whole A3 page of brainstormed suggestions and, at our next meeting, the students helped me reassemble them into a descriptive narrative which answered the Rap Point:

“One day a new lady came to live in the old people’s home. Her name was Mrs Harmony Day. Her favourite colour was orange. She wore orange clothes and her hair was orange and styled in a bob.

“Mrs Day liked reading. She used to be a skipping champion, and she was also a racing car driver. She still has her old racing car and she uses it to go shopping to buy rings and necklaces. She has a treadmill to keep fit. She loves tearing out recipes in old magazines.

“Wilfrid asked her, ‘What’s a memory?’

“Mrs Day said, ‘Something that’s orange, my dear, something that’s orange.’

“Wilfrid took an orange from the fruit bowl to show Miss Nancy. The orange reminded her of happy memories with her family, squeezing orange juice on an old fashioned orange squeezer.”

I make a point of jotting down the students’ banter for use in writing up our rap responses. When I write fiction texts myself, they are always much too wordy and complex. I just love the natural language of young students, and I find that their scribed sentences have an economy of words and a unique spontaneity that sounds just like a picture book.

The second group came for their lesson to find I’d rolled out green Brennex paper – I’d just grabbed a colour that seemed plentiful – and the procedure was repeated. This time, a boy was the tallest (to make the silhouette), and suddenly the green colour had them discussing St Patrick’s Day, which had obviously been mentioned in their home classes during the week.

The vacation for Good Friday and Easter Monday has prevented us from constructing our final draft but so far, the students have decided that their resident is Mr Patrick St Green. The list of Mr St Green’s likes, dislikes, hobbies and his old job has been compiled – they are great, but you’ll have to wait! (A few students thought he might be a friend of still-faceless Mrs Harmony Day, whom they saw pinned to a noticeboard in the school library.)

Then the Language Support class came to the library, with friends from the hearing support class. Three time’s the charm, so the tallest boy rolled himself onto some purple Brennex paper and I drew his outline to make a new resident of the old people’s home. This group is much harder to draw ideas from, but they still managed some great one-liners!

“One day, Wilfrid Gordon’s other grandfather, Mr Peter Laurie Bilby Partridge, came to live at the nursing home. He has four names just like Wilfrid. Grandpa Peter is a happy fellow who loves wearing purple. He likes eating ice cream, red apples and Tiny Teddy biscuits. Maybe that is why he is a bit too fat.

“Grandpa Peter used to be an author who wrote children’s books. When he wasn’t writing books, he drove an ice cream truck. Grandpa Peter goes to bed a lot, and he sometimes likes to swim in the pool.

“Wilfrid asked Grandpa Peter, ‘What’s a memory?’

“Peter Laurie Bilby Partridge said, ‘Something as cold as ice cream, Wilfrid, something as cold as ice cream!’

“Wilfrid showed Miss Nancy a photo of Grandpa Peter’s blue and white ice cream truck and she remembered hearing music playing as an ice cream van came by on very hot days.”

Next week, I’m hoping to photocopy some large elderly faces so the students can select an appropriate face for their new resident. We’ll probably add some wool hair, as well.

This book rap has been exhilarating!

Blog with us!

Next week, the NSW DET’s “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” Book Rap goes live! Ian McLean and Jenny Scheffers, teacher librarians, will be coordinating this book rap.

The “Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” Book Rap, discussing the picture book by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas, is aimed at students in Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2) and has programming and planning information by Mandy Kirk and Jenny Scheffers, addressing outcomes from the NSW English K-6 syllabus. (Interstate and overseas rappers are also welcome.)

The Rap is live for viewing and subscribing (at no cost) the week of 18 February 2008. The Rap itself starts 25 February 2008. We hope that primary school teacher librarians and teachers will enjoy taking part in this exciting learning experience. This year, instead of an email listserv, we are using blogging tools and wikis to share the responses between participants in the rap. The blog format will have many advantages over a listserv, so please think of this as a learning adventure.

When teachers and teacher librarians first log in to the “Edublogs” site, they should be aware that the user name they choose for themselves will appear each time they post a blog message. For example, my “Edublogs” user name is “ianmclean”, but I could have chosen “mrmclean” or “class2z” or “penrithbloggers” instead. “Edublogs” suggests using a school-related email address if you’ll be posting blog entries from school, because you’ll need to acknowledge receipt of your welcome email message before your first post. If that message goes to a “hotmail” address, for example, that mail service may well be blocked by a firewall, or “Edublogs” might assume you’re not really connected to a school. “Edublogs” is a free blogging service from “WordPress” for legitimate educational purposes.

Further details are at:

The rap blog also has a Teachers’ area, to support the learning of the adult learners as we all gain more confidence with Web 2.0 facilities. The updated rap FAQs and “beginner’s guide” is at http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/raps/beginnersguidetoraps.htm and should prove useful.

During the first weeks of the Rap, participating classes post a short group introduction to the Rap Blog (under the tab called “Introductions”). In their post, they can describe the class group participating in the Rap and give brief, interesting details about the school. For example, you may wish to tell us about the size and location of your school, the uniform and emblem, or any special facilities. Please make sure that students’ individual surnames never appear on blog entries; it’s best to keep to a class identity.

As groups of students are reading other schools’ Introductions during the next few days, your class may wish to plot the locations of other book rappers on a Rap Map, templates of which are available on the book rap site. Schools might also use websites such as “Google maps” or “Whereis.com”.

Teachers are encouraged to visit the Teachers’ section regularly. We look forward to rapping with you all.

Ian McLean (Penrith PS) and Jenny Scheffers (Caddies Creek PS),
“Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge” Book Rap Coordinators.

If you feed them…

Okay, I’ve accepted the ALIA challenge to hold a Library Lovers’ morning tea in the school library tomorrow. The staff who are on the social committee have really put themselves out, helping me to plan a Recess feast of heart-shaped Valentine edibles in the library for the teachers and other school workers.

I plan to have the library’s Internet computers set up, alternatively, to show: this blog; OASIS Web enquiry; the Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge book rap page; and the Library wiki pages. Newly-laminated articles about OASIS Web enquiry, a print out of its home page (and how to find the My applications hyperlink on the Teacher portal page); more from Side-by-Side newspaper and Scan professional journal (including one from me), have already been pinned to a display board by the front door.

Aha! Nothing like a well-fed, captive audience!