Mentor iBooks to support Writing SOLs

IMG_5068The Writing SOL test is what fifth grade teachers sweat bullets over during this time of the year. We are about to take ours in two weeks and there is no telling what prompt the students will get on the computer and how they will do. Having iPads this year, I’ve tried to support our learners in a few different ways. One significant change this year is the addition of something I have coined, “Mentor iBooks”. Preparation for the Writing SOL is often overwhelming because we have to make sure students can write from two contrasting genres of writing (narrative and expository) as well as prepare for the grammar multiple-choice section. There is so little time to cover everything!

As writing teachers, we know that mentor texts are a must when teaching a genre of writing. Ralph Fletcher’s and Sandra Cisneros’s short stories, for instance, are staples in our personal narrative genre. Students need writing examples to learn from and refer to as they experiment with each genre. This is no different when we prepare for the Writing SOL. The challenge is having mentor texts for two completely different genres.

Darryl Joyner, my technology specialist, has often recommended creating iBooks in iBooks Author to support instruction. However even with the impressive features, iBooks Author makes it so that a teacher must create a pre-determined series of text or information for students. In other words, modifying lessons day to day becomes difficult. I’ve always wanted to use iBooks Author though and I think I’ve found one way that keeps instruction individualized and authentic!

I created two chapters in iBooks Author, one for expository writing and one for narrative writing. For each chapter, I simply dragged in mentor pieces including ones written by me and others that were “not so good”. The following features were added to each piece in order to support all students and increase review time.

  • read-aloud recordings for each writing piece (we split them up among our fifth grade team)
  • image or video gallery to support unknown words or concepts
  • icons that include definitions to unknown words
  • 3-4 interactive multiple choice questions referring to figurative language, composition, and editing mistakes from each mentor text. (students can check answers on the iBook!)

*Below are snapshots of the interactive Mentor iBook and what it looks like when you make it in iBooks Author. Click on each tile to see a closer view.

During the past week, my students have been able to use their Mentor iBook in many ways. Once we were familiar with both genres, we spent a couple of days scoring the mentor texts in our iBooks. This was amazing because students could highlight and make notes within each text and jot down things they noticed in each piece. These notes were saved within their iBook and provided me with good information as to what they understand and what they are “using but confusing.”

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We have started mixing the genres up with the kids drawing a prompt from a shoebox and independently going through the entire writing process. Many of my students use the Mentor iBook as one way to help them remember what a strong introduction or dialogue looks like. (Another way has been re-watching our TouchCast mini lessons).

Lastly, without any prompting from me, my students couldn’t help themselves, and tried to answer the interactive multiple choice questions embedded in each piece of writing. These questions are just reinforcing grammar strategies or other components learned in class that we unfortunately don’t have time to go back to every day.

Obviously, we don’t know yet if all this will help my students, but I have to think that I’ve been able to better support my students this year in preparation for the Writing SOL than last year. In the meantime, I’m crossing my fingers!

Regardless of the number of iPads available in your class, I believe having the ability to refer to an interactive mentor text iBook would be helpful for all students when learning ANY writing genre. Please share any ideas you have tried to help support the Writing assessment, and/or any other non-traditional uses for iBooks.