While working with kids, it didn't get much better then when I would see a student get inspired by something and write a really meaningful story or poem. I made sure they could totally revel in the polished, finished piece and sometimes we would even post it for the world to see. Getting from Point A to Point B with students, however, is pretty messy. Whenever I would contemplate the monumental task of building 25 4th graders' capacity as writers, it always started with Point A. It always started with the inspiration and the motivation.
Breaking through Writer's Block
Thankfully, there were some cool things out there to use. One of my favorites was PicLits. I created several picture prompts using this tool and my students were able to use it for some creative poetry as well. I blogged about their total engagement but I wished it was more edu-friendly. There are Pinterest boards dedicated to picture prompts and some nifty projects like this one that are a bit more suited for older students. There are video prompts and calendar prompts and then a whole slew of "random prompt generators" like the popular tool from Scholastic. These were all cool and I used them all at various times throughout the school year. Of course you can always just do a Google image search and pull something onto a PowerPoint slide...but that was one more thing to do, and frankly, required more time and creativity then I could usually salvage while prepping for the morning's lessons at the end of a long day.
Enter the iPads. They changed my classroom.. and the search was on to find great writing apps. Well, it turns out that was not as easy as it was on the open web. There were a few for silly story starters (ie Shake-A-Phrase) or random prompts but even less for photo prompts. Spark HD has some fun scenarios but it isn't visual and doesn't have any other features. Bottom line is I didn't have what I was looking for: Interesting visual writing prompts that can quickly be accessed and responded to by students in an easy and safe way. I wanted to take advantage of the iPad's strengths (mobility, engagement, ease-of-use, camera) in order for students to be inspired by an image and put the great ideas from their heads into writing.
The courage to contribute
Still pretty convinced that I had a decent idea to pursue, it was amazing to see teachers like Jarrod Robinson, Dave Brown and former teachers like David Riley putting quality digital resources out there for the world to use. I later found out Jarrod even has a Story Starter app (pictures only). As Seth Godin says, they were "making art". They weren't just consuming...they were creating. And while hesitant about doing things commercially, I was intrigued by the entrepreneurial spirit on this side of the education world. I felt I could impact classrooms around the country (or even the world) by offering something unique of value, giving away a ton and putting my crusade for student engagement first. And so the ideas began to mold and build based on all these influences, my classroom experiences, and my strong desire to fill that missing void in the app store. I can literally remember the moment my students had walked out the door for recess one day last spring when I definitively thought "I need to build this app".
And so we did! When I say WE...I am referring to the partnership that IS Write About This. Bob Armbrister has been a close friend since college. He's an entrepreneur, a technology director and a go-getter. He is the tech and the business side of it all, and it wouldn't have happened without him. I was thrilled and shocked when he said, "We can do that". Really? Not 'next year'...not 'when we have more money'.. not 'maybe some day'? He had understood my passion for the idea and believed in it so much that he was also willing to give up late nights and weekends to make it happen. Now.
The process of making it happen and the details of those late nights I'll have to save for another post. But I stand here today convinced that teachers can and SHOULD become tool developers...or at least designers... so that technologies can be utilized in innovative ways to engage and empower students. Educators bring that pure perspective into an app/website or other technology and I know many of my edu-colleagues have those amazing ideas. As for the business side, I have watched closely (in Michigan and beyond) as many edupreneurs are leading in very respectable ways. They are people who hold student and teacher interests at heart every step of the way and are taking risks in order to better education and themselves....and I think that is more than OK.
I am very excited and fortunate to be able to serve teachers in this small way while still working with schools every day for my profession. A HUGE amount of gratitude goes out to my family and friends who have supported us throughout this process! I absolutely have to say thank you to Heather, Carlin, Kristen (& Parker) and my Mom, who all directly contributed or who were affected by those late nights. Also for all the teachers who were willing to give their time, support and feedback... I hope that I can repay you!
Please share any thoughts you have about the app and I'd be thrilled to see how you use it in your classroom.
Time to celebrate student writing! What will YOU Write About?