Martha Gowetski's tenth-grade English class in Wayland, Massachusetts -- which includes students with learning disabilities -- is buzzing with activity.
One group of students is crowded around a large fow chart mapping out their adventure story. They are busy editing text cards, taping pictures, and placing compact disks on the chart. Several students are drawing pictures, and others are scanning photographs into the computer. Two girls are working together to create interactive "buttons" which link rock songs to their story. Someone calls out "Twenty seconds of silence please so I can tape!" and the room is quiet.
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What is going on here? Students are composing interactive adventure stories, using HyperCard software, for others to read on the computer.
Martha has been doing this project with her English classes for the past three years. She starts the three-week unit by showing her students stories composed by previous classes. After her students read these stories, they are eager to get started.
Students begin their projects by forming groups and brainstorming story topics and plots. These often refect their interests and concerns -- music, dating, parties, and bizarre (and sometimes gory) events. Once they have formulated a basic "plot plan," groups begin writing. Each story includes points at which the reader is asked to make a choice between two actions like "go to Valencia's" or "go to drug store." Each choice leads the reader down a separate story path.
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When using HyperCard computer software to write adventure stories, students create various "cards" like the one shown here.
Every group determines how their work will get done. Some decide to write the entire story together, while others opt to break into smaller groups that will each work on a different branch of the narrative.
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After they have done considerable work on their stories, Martha gives each group a hypermedia template that will help them create their interactive tales on the computer. (Martha says she does not introduce the technology at the start of the exercise because she does not want it to become its driving force.)
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Martha created a task assignment sheet which the students used to organize their collaborative work on the project.
Using the software, students begin to compose their stories on the computer. They link their text to sound and graphics by creating on-screen "buttons" that readers will activate as they move through the narrative. Again, each group decides how they will divide the tasks, allowing members to choose activities that both engage their interests and build on their strengths.
For example, one group relied on an artistic member to draw all of their pictures. Two students sat at her side, offering suggestions about what to draw, while another student scanned in the completed drawings.
Evaluation is an integral and on-going component of the project. Three times during the three-week unit, students complete evaluation forms that give them the opportunity to refect on their own work, the work of other members in the group, and the entire project. These on-going evaluations enable Martha to detect emerging problems and help groups make adjustments where necessary.
"The kids are remarkably on target in evaluating themselves, their peers, and the project," Martha said.
Some computer programs allow students to
incorporate music into their work. When this picture appears on screen, for example, it is
accompanied by a song with the lyrics, "Just one look - that's all it took."
How Students with Learning Disabilities Benefit While this type of project can benefit any student, it supports students with learning disabilities in several important ways. First, by writing stories for their peers to read, students have a highly motivating purpose for writing.
Secondly, students draw from their own interests and background knowledge to develop the themes and plots. Third, by using multimedia, they can engage in non-print activities that capitalize on their strengths.
Finally, students are supported by the teacher and the peer group. Martha explained that one of her students who tends to be disorganized, experienced unprecedented success while working on the project. Because the group helped her to stay focused, her creativity and story-telling abilities surfaced.
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"So this project played into her strengths. Someone else could remind her of the next steps, deadlines, and help her organize herself and her work. All the group members gave her very high marks, including herself, and she was really a core member of that group," Martha said.
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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts. NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013. Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information. If you do so, please cite NCIP. Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government. This site was last updated in September 1998.
ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.