Summary:Using tips from Roy Fletcher’s Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, Jeremy Hyler finds his students more engaged in their three-week research assignment once he incorporates digital tools and uses a multi-genre approach. Here he highlights the most popular genres, gives examples of student work and links to the digital tools.
Turned off, checked out, and disengaged are ways Ralph Fletcher has described Boy Writers in his book Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices. Teachers are more than likely shaking their heads in agreement. Being a 7th/8th grade Language Arts Teacher, I have struggled with motivating boys who have the capacity to be brilliant writers. Three years ago I infused a multi-genre project into my classroom in response to the need of a research paper being done by my 8th graders. Based on the boy response in my classroom, I knew I had to do something to get them engaged and excited about research.
Camille A. Allen and Tom Romano both have wonderful books for the multi-genre approach. In addition, Ralph Fletcher’s book on Boy Writers is an excellent resource to help get useful information about how to motivate boys. You can find pictures of their books at the top of this page.
Over the three years I have done this research project with my students I have put my own twist on this research project. I have used helpful information from both Camille Allen and Tom Romano. Recently I incorporated digital tools into the research project and it excelled with the boys as well as my girls. Though there are many digital tools that can be utilized in any classroom, I will share a few with you that had particular interest to my boys. Digital tools such as Google Docs, Glogster, Toondoo, Storybird, Zotero, and Easybib have expanded the boy’s knowledge of digital media, and they took a vested interest in their writing and produced quality pieces to be graded within in the project.
Students have approximately three weeks to complete their research project. I am specifically thrilled about how the Common Core Standards specifically states students should participate in a research project in 7th & 8th grade (7.W.7 and 8.W.7) www.corestandards.org.
One of the biggest reasons this project is such a huge success with not just the boys, but the girls too is because the students get to choose their own topic (These topics do have to be approved by me prior to students beginning their research).
I grade the students out of sixty(60) points, ten(10)points for each piece including the works cited/bibliography page. I use a rubric to grade their work that outlines the requirements they need to fulfill. The rubric is given to them at the beginning of their project.
Once students have conferenced with me and I feel the students are asking engaging questions about their topic, they are allowed to go and do research. They have one week to get their research done! I introduce Zotero prior to the students beginning their research so they have a space to safe their information they have gathered. I require my students to gather fifteen different sources
Once students have secured enough recources and they have looked through their information they are required to produce five(5) different genres of writing to show me and their classmates what they have learned about their topic. Students choose a wide variety of genres from power points, Eulogies, recipies, and Glogs. I have highlighted some genres that were appealing to the boys.
When the two weeks are over, the students have to produce a works cited/bibliography page and just prior to them making their works cited/bibliography I introduce Easybib to them, which is displayed on the fifth page.
At the conclusion of the research project the students pick one genre that they want to showcase to the rest of the class and we do a showcase walk to view what everyone has done.
“A boy writer must be engaged. This is a nonnegotiable. He must feel invested in the writing he is working on. We ignore this basic truth at our peril!”
One genre example that has been well liked by the boys is comic writing. I use Toondoo (www.toondoo.com) in my multi-genre project. Toondoo is a free digital tool where students can create cartoons or comic strips as one other possible genre to use when expressing what they have learned about their topic. Boys particularly like the creativity involved behind using this resource. The website only requires an email address, username, and password. Bitstrips (www.bitstrips.com) is another comic strip tool that could be used. However Bitstrips has some cost behind it. Below is an example of a comic created using Toondoo.
Toondoo proved to be very motivational for my boy writers. It allowed them to be creative, they had choices in their design of the comic, and it wasn’t a long tedious piece of writing for them to produce. Furthermore, boys tend to need visuals as well. I have had boys wanting to make more than one comic for their five genres I require and as enthusiastic as I am to see them motivated to write, I challenge them in a different genre because I have them hooked to write.
One of the most rewarding experience my students have in my classroom is the use of Google Docs. Students thrive with the collaboration they can have with me and other students before they submit it to me for evaluation. Students always get a kick out of how more than one person can work together while in different places and they always like how I evaluate their papers right on the document using the standards. Below is a student example of an alternate ending for The Giver by Lois Lowry typed in Google Docs. Google Docs makes it easier to grade papers. As a teacher I don’t have to carry home a significant amount of papers.
Boys in my class became more motivated to write with Google Docs because it was a chance for them to use the computer and as I mentioned before they really like how they could chat with people when doing peer editing with this digital tool. Students with cell phones (smart phone), expanded their use of google docs and downloaded the app onto their phones and were typing on their phones in class. To me as a teacher, this was exciting to see them use their cell phone for academic purposes and to see them broaden their use of this digital tool in other places.
Here are a few student examples of using poster writing as a genre in my classroom. The student who created the Eminem piece had low motivation prior to the project. This is one of the genres he produced using a web tool called Glogster (www.glogster.com). I was in awe of his effort when it came to embedding music in the Glog and how he actually wrote really informative information about Eminem within the requirements given to him. The 4-H example is from a young man who did a solid job of writing for me, but his creativity side was a challenge. Please click on each link below the screenshot to get the full effect of the glogs.
When I introduced Glogster to my students the boys went crazy in my classroom. I have witnessed boys being intently active for an entire 55 minute block. They love the choices they have for pictures and they love the fact you can put your own pictures on the glog and embed music into it as well. Again, with this being more of a visiual genre the boys excelled.
I allow my students to have freedom with their topic and what they put into their glogs. When boys knew they could use sound bites of belches and farts as long as it related to their topic within the research project, they were ecstatic.
There are many digital research tools available to students today. One research tool I have had success with is Zotero (www.zotero.com). Zotero is downloadable through firefox. The students can collect valuable sources for their multi-genre research project and store them in Zotero. Later on after they have collected their resources, they can organize them and just use the ones they deem more valuable. It even has an option where you can cite sources on Zotero.
In years past, I have given fifteen(15) notecards to students to use for gathering data. They would write the source on one side of the notecard and any information they gathered about their topic on their other side of the card. The students would do nothing but complain about this part of the research process, especially the boys. Also, when it came time to collect the notecards for assessment, I had a plethora of boys not turn in all of their notecards. With Zotero, the boys and girls are relieved they don’t have to turn in any notecards and they don’t have to worry about losing anything. It keeps them organized. Zotero is easy to use for the boys and they don’t have any excuses for not locating their sources.
The students are required to make a works cited/bibliography at the conclusion of the multi-genre research project. I introduce Easybib (www.easybib.com) to them. Easybib is an online tool where students can make a bibliography in MLA, APA, or Chicago format. As you can see in the screenshot below, students can cite up to fifty eight(58) different sources. It walks students through what is needed for each type of source and is easy to use.
Students in the past use to have to type works cited/bibliographies manually. Students would have to type in each word, date, and indent. With tools like Easybib, students don’t waste a lot of time worrying about their works cited/bibliography page. Boys in general do not like doing this part of their research project. With Easybib boys feel more confident about producing this part of their project, which used to feel very labor intensive to them. Boys possess low confidence and self-esteem as writers to begin with and this helps them in these areas.
Boys attitude towards writing is a hurdle we are going to have to challenge ourselves to overcome. The video above showcases a humerous dipiction of what we would like boy writers to be like in our classroom and then shows the flip side to it, which is what we sometimes see in our classroom.
The digital tools I have outlined in my resource are just a few of the ones that are available. There are numerous digtial tools out their to play with and adapt to your own classroom. Please check out cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com. In addition, the multi-genre project encompasses multiple genres students can choose from. For example, a poem, a grocery list, an epitaph, a Eulogy, etc. As a teacher, I encourage my students to find a way to make something that was once very plain, into something that is fun, creative and stands out from other pieces of traditional work using digital tools we have explored in the classroom.
As a teacher I encourage you to explore the best way to adapt this project into your classroom. Furthermore, read the suggested text I outlined at the beginning and have fun exploring the ways to get your boys engaged in writing!