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Bringing Digital Books to Life

The connection between image and words can be a powerful experience for a reader, and for a writer. Since my first year of teaching sixth graders, I have worked to bring in picture books as examples of texts, as sources for writing prompts, and as examples of rich storytelling. From that first year, I also worked to have my students create their own original picture book stories.

It was in my third year of teaching that I realized that our traditional approach of paper, staples and colored pencils for creation and publication, while fine, might be replaced by technology. I turned to Powerpoint for a publishing platform for a couple of reasons. First, most of my students had either used Powerpoint or at least had seen it. Second, it was free and loaded onto our school laptops. Three, we could integrate original artwork from Microsoft Paint easily into the slides. And fourth, most important, students could learn about such elements as design, use of animation, integration of video and sound, and more.

And so began our Digital Picture Books, which have often been deeply connected to other curricular areas as I work in collaboration with my science and math colleagues, our librarian/media specialist, and our school's art teacher. My students also share their work with others, either by a round-table approach for visiting students from other grades in our school or through online publishing at a website we create.

My inquiry stance has always revolved around putting the tools of composition into the hands of my young writers and creators, and while we use technology for this project, what my science teacher or math teacher colleagues and I are looking for is understanding of complex material told under the umbrella of a digital picture book. The technology engages them, for sure; but it is the crafting of story, the creation of artwork, and the strategies that go into publishing a digital book that forms the kernal of learning here. In some ways, it is a success when the technology becomes less visible, and the voice of the young writers and artists are what emerge from the work.

The assessment of work in this project, which can take about four to six weeks to complete, is ongoing, with formative assessments, such as reflective writing and periodic survey check-ins, as well as a summative assessment that uses a rubric designed to guide the work from start to finish. Peer review of the emerging books takes place on a regular basis, and technology skills that are learned by one student are made visible and shared with others. I should note, too, that most of the elements of the project—from the planning right to the publication—are connected to our state curriculum frameworks. I'm hitting the expectations of our state and school district, with a digital flavor.

As the teacher, I am often "making the rounds" of the room, doing more mini-lessons than lectures, and acting as a sort of guide to the technology even as I help them with the traditional elements of story writing. The project is one way to integrate the concept of "student as composer" with digital tools while still remaining anchored in some of the teaching that goes on in many classrooms.

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