Using games to develop Halloween narrative writing

“One Halloween night there lived a vampire who had sharp fangs for can opening…”

That was how one of my students began his narrative story about Halloween.

An interactive game helped inspire elementary school students to write narrative stories about Halloween. The students used a series of dice to help them tell stories that had a beginning, middle, and end. One of the tools used for the exercise are Rory’s Story Cubes, a storytelling game that uses dice and pictures to spark one’s imagination and encourage creativity.

A group of ten students on IEPs were tasked to write narratives that have a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events with details, one of the Common Core Content Standards for the primary grades.

Since I first started working to promote media literacy, I have been passionate about using storytelling and interactive games as a teaching tool to inspire and motivate my students.

This Halloween story is part of my ongoing research to prove that creativity and storytelling play an important role in the classroom and learning environment.

Nearly every student demonstrated much progress and growth. A rubric with the following criteria was used to assess the students’ level of understanding: minimal understanding, partial understanding, adequate understanding, and thorough understanding.

Seventy percent of the students demonstrated that they now have adequate understanding or better. In addition to their improved ability to communicate their thoughts and ideas, they have shown an increased level of motivation and have expressed excitement about their stories.

While, the students were still not yet at grade level, their progress and work demonstrated knowledge and understanding of some of their basic grade level Common Core Standards such as the ability to write a narrative about an imaginary event using details and event sequences.

This particular activity demonstrated that the use of creativity and storytelling helps motivate students and improves their ability to communicate their thoughts as they are given them an opportunity to learn by doing something they can make connections to.

When I first met the student quoted earlier, he demonstrated only a partial understanding of the learning goals established by the Common Core Standards. In addition, he exhibited autistic behavior and was classified as an English Language Learner. He was very passionate about video games and loved to share the stories that he learns from them. I encouraged him to share those stories and to create his own.

Utilizing his passion for video games was an effective way to motivate him and get him to communicate through writing.

 

 

 

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Why does the U.S. lack a media literacy focus in public education?

Our lives are dominated by the media. They influence all aspects of our lives such as telling us how to dress, eat, what to believe, and how we are supposed to behave. People are influenced by multiple forms of media starting at a very young age. Cell phones, television, Internet, and advertising are among the many forms of media influence.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child in the United States spends more than 7.5 hours a day, watching TV or movies, using cell phones or computers, and playing video games (KFF, 2010). It is estimated that on average, a child will see around 40,000 ads on television (KFF, 2004).

Most of the advertisements targeted at children promote foods such as candy, soda and snacks (KFF, 2004). Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children between 8 and 12 years of age are exposed to an average of 21 food ads a day, which equals to about 7,600 ads a year. Teenagers are exposed to an average of 17 food ads a year, which equals to about 6,000 ads a year. Among all food ads targeting children and teenagers, 34 percent focuses on taste appeal (KFF, 2007).

This is problematic because the number of obese children and teens in the United States tripled over the past 30 years (CDC, 2011). Researchers argue that food advertisements contribute to unhealthy food choices and weight gain and to the misconceptions about the health benefits of certain foods (KFF, 2004).

In “Why Media Literacy Matters – Obesity in America”, I discussed how media literacy programs can be implemented to help fight obesity.

Health is just one of many concerns regarding media influence.

While the media does have a powerful influence, people can take charge of their lives by understanding how the media works and knowing how they are affected.

Some might wonder if the media has become a source of propaganda. Proponents will argue about the merits of media and technology.

There are truths to both sides but it is important realize that the media does impact our daily lives in negative ways. Several years ago, I discussed  how the media perpetuates stereotypes in society. I also wrote several articles about the importance of ethics in journalism. Quality Journalism. Journalism and Ethics, Pt 1. Part 2.

The media has the ability to influence and change how we perceive the world.

On July 23, I reminded people on Facebook and Twitter about the importance of fact checking. People need to check their sources before they post something on social media.

Back in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy hit, I wrote about why people needed to be extra careful about what they share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Especially during times of crises as false information can cause panic. I wrote:

It is easy to spread false information on social media. One might think that they are doing something good and helping people by sharing information. While that individual might have good intentions, this accident only harms the public.

Remember the importance of fact checking. Check your sources before you post. Some sites resemble news but they are satire. There have been several posts today that stirred up unnecessary commotion and fear. Check your sources, double check if necessary! This is the importance of media literacy.

Earlier this week, Miami Herald reporter Christina Viega, wrote about how teenagers could text and tweet but probably could not choose reliable sources from their search results.

This is a problem that needs to be resolved and media literacy education is the answer. It will empower people by giving them the ability to make their own decisions.

Many countries around the world have media literacy as part of their primary and secondary education system.

In Canada, there is an annual media literacy event called “Media Literacy Week” that takes place in November. The event, co-led by MediaSmarts and the Canadian Teacher’s Federation focuses on the importance of media literacy in education. Other countries such as Sweden, Finland, and the United Kingdom have some sort of media literacy education.

According to the publication, “Media Education in Four EU Countires: Common Problems and Possible Solutions”, research shows that between 70 and 80 percent of students receive some sort of media training in primary and secondary schools (Kennisnet Foundation, 2013).

Why is there a lack of focus on media literacy in the United States?

One of the problems is that many people assume since they (both adults and children) already know how to use digital technology, they do not need instruction on how to use social media resources. They are “digital natives” after all.

Common Core is a start and I discuss the merits in “Media literacy and Common Core Standards” but it is not enough to fix the problem. Students are not going to develop critical thinking skills overnight. Simply having the standards does not mean students will be capable of applying them and critically analyzing information.

There needs to be more emphasize on helping students learn to analyze information and think critically by making connections to prior knowledge.

Media literacy education is a great example of why the constructivist learning theory is effective as it shows students that learning and having fun do not have to be separate. It gives them a chance to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world, so they can make sense of what they are learning.

I taught 7th grade remedial students to write journalism leads and effective journalistic tweets. Their knowledge of social media and texting helped them learn and use the new skills by applying what they already knew. Their interest in social media helped motivate them and instill a desire to learn.

Media literacy needs to be applied to all content areas, not just English Language Arts and Social Studies.

Since Common Core is not going anyway anytime soon, we need to examine ways to promote media literacy education. Media literacy can be integrated into all content areas at every grade level and can be integrated with the Common Core Standards. Media literacy will provide students with a hand-on learning experience that promotes collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and cultural competency. These are the 5 C’s of the Common Core and are designed to help students be successful outside of the classroom.

I have written about the correlation between media literacy, citizenship, and democracy. As I wrote in “Why Media Literacy Matters – Democratic Values”:

People need to learn how to make their own choices. They need to learn how to think for themselves. This is where media literacy comes in. Media literacy is about empowerment, critical thinking, participation.

With the Internet, people have access to vast amounts of information. But having information and being informed are two completely different things.

Media literacy prepares us to fully participate as citizens in a world dominated by media messages.

 


References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Childhood Obesity Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

Kaiser Family Foundation (2010). Daily media use among children and teens up dramatically from five years ago. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia012010nr.cfm

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2007). Food For Thought. Menlo Park, CA: Author.

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2004). Role of Media in Childhood Obesity. Menlo Park, CA: Author.

Kennisnet Foundation. (2013). Media Education in Four EU Countires: Common Problems and Possible Solutions.  Retrieved from: http://www.kennisnet.nl/fileadmin/contentelementen/kennisnet/Dossier_mediawijsheid/Publicaties/rapport_media_onderwijs_EU.pdf

Media literacy and Common Core Standards

Common Core may not be the best solution but as a media educator, there are aspects of it that I believe to be noteworthy.

According to The Common Core State Standards Initiative:

“The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

As an educator, I believe it is important to provide students with ways to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world so they can create meaning in what they are learning.

Media literacy will provide students with a hands-on learning experience and promotes collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and cultural competency.

These “five Cs” which are an essential part of the Common Core Standards, integrate 21st century thinking skills. In 2012, the San Jose Mercury News published an article explaining how three school districts in California helped their students develop skills that would be useful in the 21st century.

Media literacy education is a great example of why the constructivist learning theory is effective. I believe the constructivist learning theory is the best way to motivate students and make them want to learn.

According to Gabler and Schroeder (2002), the theory is about providing students with ways to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world; it focuses on how students can create meaning in what they are learning.

Researchers have found that people learn and explain things based on their past experiences and that what is being taught by a teacher is often very different from what students actually learn (Gabler & Schroeder, 2002).

Media literacy expands on traditional teaching methods to include reading and writing using communications tools and offers a new way to learn using an “inquiry-based, process-oriented pedagogy” (Thoman & Jolls 2004, 21). This means that media literacy is not about teaching a new subject instead it can be seen as a new method of teaching, or more importantly, a new way for students to learn (Thoman & Jolls, 2004).

Hobbs (2010) explains that learning requires opportunities to interact with people beyond the circle of family and friends. Communicating with people who are different helps people look at the world from different perspectives and develop a connection to the people around them.

In previous blogs, I explained how teachers used media literacy to help their students learn about different cultures and how media literacy education can help minimize the harm caused by negative stereotypes.

I wrote In Why Media Literacy Matters – Photojournalism and Diversity:

Photojournalism is one of the many tools of the media that can potentially help encourage creativity among the students and show them that something fun can have a powerful effect on society.

Media literacy can be integrated into all content areas at every grade level.

I wrote in Integrating media literacy into all content areas:

“By bringing media into the classroom, students can be given the opportunity to see the subject from a different perspective. For example, photojournalism is one of the many tools of the media that can potentially help encourage creativity among the students and show them that something fun can have a powerful effect on society”.

Media literacy is important because it will help students develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary for understanding the complex messages presented by the media.

Media literacy can help students become better communicators.

Media literacy encourages creativity by promoting storytelling. Creativity is important in education and business.

Finally, media literacy can also help students become active citizens in a democratic society.

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References

Gabler, I.C. and Schroeder, M. (2002). Constructivist Methods for the Secondary Classroom. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Hobbs, R. (2010). “Digital Media and Literacy: A Plan of Action”. Aspen Institute Communications.

Thoman, E. and Jolls, T. (2004). Media Literacy-A National Priority for a Changing World. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(1), 18-29.

Why kindergarteners need storytime

The Oregonian recently published an online op-ed column with the following headline: Kindergarten test results a ‘sobering snapshot’.

Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss wrote an article about the headline entitled, “A very scary headline about kindergarteners”. In her article, she asks two important questions – what could be sobering about these test results and what kind of tests are they giving to kindergarteners?

According to Strauss, in September 2013, every kindergarten student at a public school in Oregon was required to take a readiness exam in September 2013 to see how many letters, numbers, and sounds they knew.

There has been a push to turn kindergarten into the new “first grade”.

Researchers say Kindergarten is the New First Grade.

This focus on testing and accountability is problematic because children need to be given time to learn at their own speed. People, especially children learn in different ways. It is important for children to understand what they are learning and for them to want to learn. If they are not motivated about learning, they will not be able to succeed in school.

Tom Hobson, a preschool teacher and author in Seattle, Washington, calls the Common Core education standards, child abuse.

Hobson stresses an important point on his blog – whatever happened to storytime?

Stories are how people learn, especially young children.

For thousands of years, stories have been the primary method of teaching.

On November 13, 2009, at the Using Drama in Language Learning Workshop at SOAS, University of London, Mario Rinvolucri delivered a keynote presentation that stressed storytelling as the oldest language teaching technique.

Storytelling: The Oldest Language Teaching Technique

Storytime plays an important role in introducing children to books, which can help foster a desire to read. But more importantly, storytelling promotes creativity, a foundation for a successful future.

In previous blogs, I wrote about the important role that creativity plays in education and in the workplace.

I stressed in Tabletop roleplaying games such as D&D can help people prepare for their adventures in life:

Life is an adventure that requires creativity and imagination, both of which are important tools that help people become successful in life.

Storytelling promotes creativity and helps children develop critical thinking skills.

Without storytime, young children will be denied the opportunity to use their imagination to explore new ideas and opportunities.

Creativity in the workplace

We need focus more on creativity in both professional and academic settings.

In Importance of creativity in education, I discussed why educators need to emphasize creativity in the classroom and how creativity plays an important role in business.

I stressed that creativity is about innovation.

Companies like Pixar are successful because they have an environment and culture that encourages creativity.

Ed Catmull (2008), president of Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, explains that creativity needs to be present at every level within the organization. Pixar is in a business where customers want to see something new, which means they have to take risks. That is why it is important for people to be able to see things from a different perspective and focus on creativity.

A creative environment also requires a peer culture where everyone is invested in helping each another produce their best work. According to Catmull (2008), one of the benefits is that people will learn from and inspire one another. But in order for this to happen, he stresses that everyone needs to have freedom to communicate with anyone.

Creativity sometimes is not recognized or even possible without support from others (Csikszentimihalyi, 1996).

Catmull (2008) stresses that people are more important than ideas. In addition, he suggests that people need to adopt the following perspective: everyone is learning and it is fun for everyone to learn together.

According to Richard Daft (2012), the author of Organizational Theory and Design, the companies often listed on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies To Work For” all have strong employee development goals. He discusses how employee development, productivity, and innovation play an important role in the success of an organization. He suggests that employee development and innovation are critical because they help motivate employees, which has the potential to help employees become more productive.

Creativity plays an important role in business or any organization as it helps generate new ideas and examine new opportunities. Creativity and innovation also allow organizations to be competitive and be able to adapt to unexpected changes.

But in order for that to happen, people need to be critical thinkers and effective communicators.

In a nutshell, that is what media literacy is all about.

Media literacy education and training helps provide people with the opportunity to see things from a different perspective. It will encourage people to be creative.

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References

Catmull, E. (2008). How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity. Harvard Business Review, September 2008 (Reprint R0809D). Retrieved from http://www.resourceful-humans.com/Documents/Catmull-CollectiveCreativity.pdf

Csikszentimihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Daft, R. (2012). Organizational Theory and Design. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Importance of creativity in education

“Creativity is the New Literacy”. That is what Chase Jarvis, a world-renowned photographer told the crowd at GeekWire Summit 2013.

Jarvis stressed that as a culture we need to value creativity. He also said that creativity could solve all of humanity’s fundamental problems.

It is crucial for us to have an education system that fosters creativity.

Creativity is not limited to just actors, artists, musicians, etc. It even plays an important role in business.

Like Jarvis said, “Whether you are building a business or an iPhone app, creativity is the thing that drives what we do.”

Creativity is the mental and social process used to generate ideas and concepts. In other words, creativity is about innovation.

Companies such as Google and Pixar are known for creativity and innovation and for their unique workplaces (Nhan, 2012).

Creativity sometimes is not recognized or even possible without support from others (Csikszentimihalyi, 1996).

This is another reason why educators need to encourage creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson has spoken twice at TED about how schools kill creativity. He explained that there are three major reasons:

First, they promote standardization and a narrow view of intelligence when human talents are diverse and personal. Second, they promote compliance when cultural progress and achievement depend on the cultivation of imagination and creativity. Third, they are linear and rigid when the course of each human life, including yours, is organic and largely unpredictable.

Many school districts across the country have been adopting the Common Core education standards, which is President Obama’s replacement for No Child Left Behind. The Common Core provides new national standards for core subjects such as reading, writing, and math.

Ashley Lauren Samsa believes that in many ways, the Common Core is a great thing for both teachers and students. She explains that with the focus no long being on content, educators can teach whatever they want in their classroom as long as students are taught to read, write, and think critically. However, she is concerned that with Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction texts, technology, and career skills, teachers might forget about creativity.

The advocates of the Common Core standards say that we need Common Core otherwise students will not be prepared for college or a career

According to Diane Ravitch, there is no evidence that these standards will prepare students for careers because there is nothing in them that has any relationship to careers.

Ravitch stresses that schools across the nation are suffering from budget cuts. This means less time and resources for subjects like arts, physical education, and other subjects, which are crucial for a real education.

These programs are essential to promoting creativity.

As I stressed earlier, creativity is about innovation and plays an important role in business.

In a previous blog, I talked about how interactive games and tabletop roleplaying games can be used as a teaching tool to promote storytelling and foster creativity and learning. I mentioned how a school in Demark used roleplaying as a teaching method for all academic subjects.

I wrote in Interactive games and tabletop roleplaying games as a teaching tool:

Roleplaying and storytelling can be used to motivate students and encourage them to want to learn. These games are effective because students engage in learning more when they are actively participating and it is important to work with their interests.

The constructivist learning theory is the best way to encourage creativity in the classroom. According to Gabler and Schroeder (2002), the theory is about providing students with ways to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world; it focuses on how students can create meaning in what they are learning.

Every student has a different style of learning but an effective strategy to motivate all students is to focus on how students can create meaning in what they are learning. By incorporating the constructivist learning theory into the curriculum, educators can help students learn beyond the classroom experience and encourage creativity.

In Journalism is not dead, importance of storytelling, I discuss the importance of media literacy and how a journalism education teaches people how to become better storytellers. I stressed that we need to emphasize the importance of journalism and photography as forms of storytelling.

Teachers need to make sure that their classrooms emphasize creativity and critical thinking skills.

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References

Csikszentimihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Gabler, I.C. and Schroeder, M. (2002). Constructivist Methods for the Secondary Classroom. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Manders, D. (2013, September 16). “Creativity is the New Literacy” – Chase Jarvis Stirs up the Crowd at GeekWire Summit 2013. Flip the Media. Retrieved from http://flipthemedia.com/2013/09/creativity-is-the-new-literacy-chase-jarvis-stirs-up-the-crowd-at-geekwire-summit-2013/

Nhan, D. (2012, March 6). How a creative work environment encourages more risk – and more rewards. SmartBlogs. Retrieved from http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2012/03/06/how-a-creative-work-environment-encourages-more-risk-and-more-rewards/

Ravitch, D. (2013, August 24). The Biggest Fallacy of Common Core Standards: No Evidence [Blog] Retrieved from http://dianeravitch.net/2013/08/24/the-biggest-fallacy-of-the-common-core-standards-no-evidence/

Robinson, K. (2012, December 7). Do Schools Kill Creativity. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sir-ken-robinson/do-schools-kill-creativity_b_2252942.html

Samsa, A.L. (2013, September 3). I Welcome Common Core education standards, but let’s not forget creativity. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/03/common-core-national-education-standards

Tackling Racism

Everybody is a little racist.

Avenue Q, an American satirical musical, made a good point about how “everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes”. The show is best defined as an adult version of Sesame Street. It addresses issues associated with entering adulthood.

One of the messages presented in the musical is that even though everyone might be a little racist, it does not mean they go around committing hate crimes.

Racism does not always mean we wish to harm someone who is different. It can be as subtle as a fleeting thought or assumption.

Racism is a complex issue and everyone is biased in one way or another.

It is our human nature to identify more with people who are like ourselves. People have a preference for the familiar.

However, we must not use “human nature” to dismiss it as not being problematic. Having preconceptions based on how people appear may not cause any immediate harm, but when this is compounded over time and by everyone in society, it can lead to much greater harm.

Admitting racism is not easy but it is an important step in tackling the issue.

The problem will never go away as long as we neglect to acknowledge it in both society and within ourselves.

This issue is especially important as evident with recent events.

Tim Wise, an American anti-racism activist and author, posted a reaction to the Zimmerman verdict. In a video posted on July 19, he asks his audience to consider an important question: “Does having black friends mean you’re free from racial bias?”

The answer is no. As stressed in the first sentence, everybody is a little racist.

It is also crucial that people understand the role the media plays.

According to Rem Rieder of USA Today, the media played a role in the Zimmerman case that cannot be ignored. Rieder suggested in this case, the media went after the best story rather than the truth.

The media perpetuates stereotypes. Therefore is of upmost importance for people to learn to understand the complex messages presented by the media.

In a previous blog, Why Media Literacy Matters – Stereotypes, I discuss how photographs, film and video are used to perpetuate stereotypes. I explained how these images are used to present people of other races as “other” and establish them as inferior.

Such media messages perpetuate the idea of “us versus them”.

People need to be aware of how media messages influence them. They need to learn how to analyze those messages so they are not misled by false information.

People need to understand the importance of being media literate.

There needs to be a push for media literacy education.

It will help minimize the harm.