The joys of text
"Hello Earthlings everywhere," is a presumptuous way for Year 4 pupils at Hangleton Community Junior in Hove to introduce their latest anthology of poems. After all, their words couldn't possibly be read by every EarthlingI only the 600 million of them who use the internet. The children obviously relish a readership that even JK Rowling would envy as they share with the rest of the world their poems, opinions, jokes, enthusiasms or simply the latest update on what they had for breakfast ("eggy bread with ketchup").
Their work is a telling example of how new technology is bringing about a sea change in our classrooms.
Some teachers regularly publish children's creative writing on the school website or submit the best of it to virtual noticeboards, such as Walkers Showcase or Kids on the Net. But at Hangleton they do things differently.
Pupils don't have to rely on Sir or Miss to publish their work for them because they are given the opportunity to create, design and maintain what are effectively their own personal websites.
In fact, these sites are blogs (weblogs), the hugely popular online facility that lets anyone with a PC and a modem set up a soapbox in cyberspace. As well as text, a blog can contain images, simple animation and hyperlinks. Online software deals with all the technical niceties, leaving the blogger free to concentrate on the content.
This makes blogging an ideal classroom activity. "Children are passionate about making their blog the best it can be," says John Mills, the teacher who manages the project at Hangleton. "Because they know their work is going to be read by a huge audience, they put massive amounts of effort into their sites."
Setting up blogs for a class, using one of the free services available, needn't cost a penny and doesn't require any great technical expertise. Use a premium service, as they do at Hangleton, and the task becomes even easier. John Mills reckons any teacher could follow his example. "If you're competent enough to email," he says, "you'll find editing your own publishing empire a doddle."
ICT offers today's young writers not only a worldwide audience, but also a new range of powerful digital tools. Visit the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency's (Becta) site or English Online to read useful case studies on how PowerPoint, web links and images - scanned, photographed, harvested from the net or selected from files of clip art - allow pupils to express themselves in ways that simply aren't possible without access to a computer.
Of course, no piece of software, can have so fundamental an impact on the act of writing as the humble word processor. Nothing is more empowering for young writers than the delete key that can undo any mistake or the cursor that can smuggle better words into the text. The poem or paragraph on the screen becomes as malleable as a piece of clay. Add pupils' artwork, like the image above from a Liverpool primary school, and the effects can be startling.
A PC also makes it easy for a young writer to exploit another invaluable resource - her classmates. When her words are written in light on a VDU, it's so much easier to invite her friends (or even her teacher) to read the work in progress.
Children of any age delight in this kind of collaborative effort, which goes some way to explain the popularity of the annual Newsday competition.
Pupils are asked to produce a newspaper or a news website in a single day.
It has to contain a balance of international, national and local stories, as well as features and sport. Working as a team, pupils have to decide which stories to run, write the copy, sub it, select photos, conduct interviews, dream up headlines and design the pages by the 5.30pm deadline.
It wouldn't be possible without new technology, but Newsday organiser Brian Robinson says: "It's remarkable what some schools can achieve with very modest equipment. It isn't the technology that matters.
What the Newsday judges are looking for is enthusiasm and passion. You can recognise immediately when pupils really care about what they write."
Earthlings everywhere would agree with that.
* Allow pupils to experiment with PowerPoint and the internet to decide for themselves how to make creative use of these new media
* Easy-to-use software, such as the new version of Developing Tray (see review p25) give pupils excellent practice at collaborating closely on text
* Trawl the net for free downloadable photos and clip-art
* Encourage pupils to study printed media to see how effectively the professionals blend word and image
* Keep it simple. Don't let technology get in the way of creativity WHERE TO GO NEXT...
* Hangleton Community Junior School's blogs are at www.hangletonweblogs.org. The site is hosted by ICT4Schools which, for an annual fee of pound;200, provides the school with 100 individual sites, the domain name, and full technical support. As part of its Weblog4Schools initiative the company is offering schools a free trial of its service.
Weblog4Schools, 17 Bembridge Court, Nottingham, NG9 3HY
* If you want a free blogging service try www.blogger.com.
* Several websites allow schools to publish pupils' work.
* Budding journalists can contribute articles and photos to an online
children's newspaper at www.the-paper.org
* For ideas on using ICT in creative writing try English Online
www.englishonline.co.uk and Becta www.ictadvice.org.uk
* For details of child-friendly word processing packages that make it easy to import images or create web pages try Textease Primary (www.softease.com) and Granada Writer (www.granadalearning.com)
* The next Newsday competition will be in March 2005. For more information visit www.newsday.co.uk