Tags: Big Universe Author Tool, Brain Drain, creative writing, Develop Community, Empathy, Reinforce Vocabulary, Self-Reflection, summer reading, Writing in the Classroom, Writing Skills, writing with children
“Simply put, in the whole range of academic course work, American children do not write frequently enough, and the reading and writing tasks they are given do not require them to think deeply enough,” said Judith Langer and Arthur Applebee in “How Writing Shapes Thinking.”
That statement was written 30 years ago. Have things changed? Let’s hope so.
In The 2007 Survey on Teaching Writing, a national public opinion poll conducted for the National Writing Project, 79 percent of respondents felt reading and writing instruction should go “hand in hand” rather than over-emphasizing reading at the expense of teaching writing skills. Learning to write well was considered key “for students to acquire other skills such as effective communication, grammar and critical thinking.”
Big Universe has based its whole platform on this hand-in-hand approach to reading and writing, making its Author Tool and thousands of books available to teachers and students around the clock. If you have access to the Internet, you have access to these learning tools.
Big Universe members have read the digital ebook library’s picture books 1.19 million times and have used the website’s Author Tool extensively to enhance the classroom experience. To date, Big Universe’s statistics show more than 28,000 books and projects have been created by teachers and students at school and at home.
How can a teacher use the Big Universe Author Tool to enhance learning? Let me count the ways!
- Document Summer Reading: Children can use the Author Tool to create a written log to summarize the books they read during the summer, devoting one page for each story. They could type in the title, the author, the main characters and a summary and then describe a favorite anecdote or interesting fact from the book. The extensive graphics library enables students to illustrate their written work.
- Reinforce Vocabulary: Have children write, using vocabulary they have learned. This written practice will sharpen their thinking, improve reading skills and will carry over into spoken language. You can see an example of how this was done in the book Lee’s Leaders’ ABC Book of Fourth Grade Science, an imaginative book written and illustrated by Russell Cave Elementary students.
- Nurture Self-Reflection: Some teachers use writing assignments as an avenue for reflection and self-expression for their students. Many children learn to appreciate their individuality and cope with issues through journaling or even writing a book. Here are four member-created books that serve as examples: “I’m Tough as Nails,” “Saying Goodbye,” “Monsters Under My Bed” and “I Call Her My Graham Cracker.”
- Foster Creativity: Big Universe creates a climate for creativity. Just look at some of the titles of the member-created books on the website’s library shelves. They’ve authored stories of aliens and giant hamburgers and dancing animals just for the fun of it. They’ve written about holidays, relatives and their favorite sports. Big Universe’s Author Tool makes capturing students’ and teachers’ imagination easy. See the funny animated book titled “Party Farm.”
- Build Empathy Bridges: Sometimes embarrassment or cultural differences create barriers in the classroom, making communication hard. Big Universe’s Author Tool helps kids relate to one another. It gives them a voice, allowing them to express feelings and share ideas and perspectives. This can help build confidence, compassion and communication. Read “You Can Be Anything.”
- Personalize Instruction. Many teachers have crafted material to supplement classroom curriculum. When they couldn’t find books to flesh out their lessons, they simply created their own. Others used Big Universe’s inviting forum to complement an assignment. I loved the color poem project that one teacher gave students. Read “Pink,” “Blue is” and “Red.” Parents can author a story to reinforce a life lesson, too. Read “Sidney Crosby the Penguin.”
- Develop Community. “Maintaining a sense of ‘community’ in schools is essential to writing,” said teachers in statements submitted to the National Commission on Writing. Sharing written work is one of Big Universe’s core principles. This fun forum allows students to work together or share book lists and stories with each other. One Indiana teacher had her students each write a book titled “My Life.” The books are charming and give insight into the personalities of different classmates.
- Hone Writing Skills: Incorporating free-writing exercises throughout the school week will get students’ brains primed to think. It’s a great summer vacation activity to prevent summer brain drain, too. Have kids write free form for 10 minutes or more each day – not being overly concerned with spelling, grammar or structure. The goal is to get youngsters comfortable with transferring thoughts in their heads to “paper.” Ask children to clarify what they heard in class or saw on a field trip. Have them list questions that their experiences prompted. A summer blog is another option. Children can journal about going to the pool, making ice cream or going on vacation. Skills of observation will sharpen with practice and so will the ease with which children use words to paint pictures.
This is only a starter list. I am sure there are many other ways teachers have creatively incorporated Big Universe into their classrooms. Briefly share your successes in the comment box below to inspire your peers.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams