Sunday, November 4, 2012

Digital Bookmaking: Bringing Students' Stories to Life

How do you help students who have never learned how to read and write in their first language make the connection between written text and spoken language? I think this has to be one of the biggest challenges instructors working with beginner-level adult refugee students face. Recently, I've been trying out something called the Language Experience Approach, or LEA for short, and I've had some encouraging results.

 LEA begins with a group activity or experience, such as a class field trip to a nearby neighborhood location or a cooking lesson. The instructor takes pictures during the activity, and with the help of the pictures, students come up with a story about the experience they've just shared. The students take turns adding to the story to tell what happened, while the instructor writes down what they say, word for word. The class can then spend the next few classes using the words in the story in different activities to practice skills like spelling, phonics, pronunciation, sight words and sentence formation. What works well about this approach is that you are basing your instruction in language students are already familiar with as well as connecting this language to a real life experience. To get a clearer idea of what LEA looks like, check out this video.

One of the LEA stories the students in my classroom have written is about a field trip we took this summer on the Buffalo Garden Walk. Most of my students are very interested in gardening, and several have their own garden plots in the summer, or at least grow a few vegetables in containers in their back yards. I thought it would be interesting for them to see some of the other gardens in their community as well to have the chance to meet and practice using English with some of their American neighbors. During the trip we took pictures, and afterwards my students created a story made up of sentences they told about all of the pictures. Even my most shy student was able to contribute a sentence, and therefore have an important role in the story writing. As students were telling the story, I wrote it out on a large piece of chart paper, and had the students who were able to copy it out in their notebooks (I typed up a copy for students who weren't able to do this). This story became the basis of our sight word practice, word study, and phonics instruction over the next few class sessions.

Now here's where digital bookmaking comes in. LEA is great because it helps students make a connection between spoken language that they can understand and written language that they can't yet read. This happens first of all when pre-literate students hear one of their classmates saying a phrase and watch the instructor writing the phrase down. It should also happen during the various follow-up activities that are based on the vocabulary and sentences in the story. A digital bookmaking tool like Bookr or Bubblr can further reinforce the connection between written text, spoken language, and meaning. 

Depending on the technology available in the classroom as well as students' familiarity and level of comfort with using it, the instructor can either create on her own, or have students help her create a digital flipbook that juxtaposes the pictures from the trip with the sentences the students have generated for each of them. For example, the instructor might add an image to the book and have a student volunteer to tell her the sentence that goes with that image, or conversely, type and read a sentence and have a student pick out the image that goes along with it. This gives the students another opportunity to hear each of the sentences being read while also seeing them in writing.

Another variation on this, which comes closer to digital storytelling, might be to use a tool like imovie to create a slideshow that includes images, audio and text, allowing students to hear the story being read while seeing the corresponding pictures and sentences that go with each sentence. I experimented with both of these tools to see how they would work with the LEA story my students wrote. Here's what I came up with!

In addition to helping reinforce the connection between spoken and written language, another objective of using a digital bookmaking tool with the Language Experience Approach might be to build students' self-confidence as writers. How empowering for students who have never had the chance to learn how to read and write in their first language to see their own words published in a book, even if it's just a digital book, for now.

1 comment:

  1. What a great combination of LEA with digital storytelling!