Note: This is the second in a series of posts this week about how I try to support learners in my room by using mentor texts for digital writing. These posts, plus writing by Bill Bass, Katie DiCesare, Troy Hicks, Kevin Hodgson andFranki Sibberson are being collected at Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop
In my previous post on this theme, I wrote about using traditional books as possible mentor texts for digital compostition. Something else that I now frequently do to support my student learners happened due to one of those accidental AH-HA moments.
One of the great things about using tech tools to produce work is how ridiculously easy it is to change things, especially the appearance of the work. At one time I thought all of the messing around with background colors, fonts, placement of pictures, etc was a result of my students either a) trying to make up for the lack of writing with slick looking projects or b) a child just wasting time. My epiphany moment about the concept of playing around with how something looks happened when at the same time my class was busy on some project, I was busy on developing a slideshow for a presentation. If only my kids would have seen the crazy amount of time I changed background colors, fonts and placement of pictures.
One of the things we now do frequently in our digitial work is to "play" with how something looks when we are close to being done with a project. If the students in my classroom do not know how to take a screenshot, they quickly learn. I teach them this skill so they can more thoughtfully look at design elements near the end of a project.
During the last few class sessions we work on a project we take screenshots, then fiddle with the look, take screenshots, fiddle some more and look at all of these screenshots to best determine what design best suits our purpose. Often times this comparison of screenshots also includes the idea of going back to the "professional mentor texts" that may have inspired us in the first place.
Management of this type of work can be tricky at first because just like me, most kids will want to "play" first. They want to find the perfect look before doing the work of composing. I negotiate this with the class by stressing not worry too much about how it looks at the beginning, because the work of fine-tuning should be near the end. For example you are not really going to know how certain pictues will look on a certain background until the pictures are actually in the project. Another example would be you might think that Impact looks awesome. But will Impact really look awesome if it fills up the whole page?
In a way, I think that this revision of the look of the project, analyzing the different looks, and getting critical feedback from peers is a create-your-own-mentor-text situation. The kids are manipulating a tool to best send their composed message. They see what is possible happen with a few clicks, then build from this. Another thing I think starts to happen is they begin to notice how some things just don't work no matter how badly we may want them to work (e.g. orange type on a red background). So the next time they begin the process of digitally composing something, they already have built for themsleves some mentor texts of what can work well together. I will admit there are times that I might disagree with some of the choices from a strictly aesthetic sense, but I do honor the thinking and work that goes into the choices.
Below are some screenshots I collected from two years ago. This was a group project we did in science. The goal was to design a nonfiction text related to a weather concept. Some of the "professional mentor texts" used include Seymour Simon books, DK books, various web articles and several other weather related nonfiction books I pulled for this particular science unit.
I honestly can't remember where the group started, but what I do remember that they changed things up nearly a dozen times in one class period. They worked until they had something that a) got good feedback from some peers not in their group and b) they all could all agree that what they produced had a look that made them feel proud.
As you look at the various versions of a page from their book, try to imagine the conversation and thinking that went into it. Pesrsonally I really liked the third one down, but I valued the time taken to be reflective and to "play" hard to make a strong project. The entire final project is the last in line.