A US teacher's experience with Bookform

A US teacher's experience with Bookform

30 June 2019 Life Writing Autiobiography Memoir Collaboration

Athena’s Advanced Academyan online education organization based in California, has students participating in Bookform’s Family Book project as a summer course. Athena’s will offer the project again in the fall, mid-October to mid-December https://bit.ly/Athenasbookform.

Athena’s Advanced Academy is an online, student-centered learning environment, delivering academic live webinar classes for gifted and talented, including 2e and homeschool, students. Athena’s offers a wide variety of courses, many of which, like Bookform, are project-based.

Digital Promise, a United States government funded Education Research Company, will publish this US user case study and research information, in a effort to showcase edutech that demonstrates real education efficacy.

Dr Monita Leavitt, an Athena’s instructor, is running the course and provided both feedback from a teacher’s perspective and feedback from her students after 5 weeks of working on the project.

Dr Leavitt said:

My students are between 10 and 14 years old, with the exception of one who is 18. They come from a range of ethnicities and family make-up and all have quite varied technical abilities. At the start of the project, some of my students were a bit apprehensive about using the technology and unsure about how the Bookform platform worked. But it wasn’t long until they realized that it wasn’t that hard. It gave them a sense of achievement to overcome any challenges they encountered. For example, one student wanted to do a photo collage of her family for the front cover, but the technology wouldn’t allow that. So, she created it in a different program and imported it into Bookform.

A project like this allows for personalized learning, so students can work at their own pace as they collect unique stories from their surroundings. It also allows me to find out more about them as individuals, especially as we only ever meet in the online webinars. Because I have designed the curriculum that I am following, I have the flexibility to include some of the students’ responses and experiences as an example for the lessons I’m teaching. I use this opportunity to extend their critical and creative thinking and to encourage appreciation and respect for their many different ideas and views.

For example, I was discussing ‘interviewing strategies & skills’ and one student said she realized that she had to be mindful to ask her mother questions when she wasn’t busy, since then she got much better answers and longer stories for her book. We then discussed the importance of being sensitive to the needs of those whom we are interviewing while still focusing on taking accurate notes that contain the correct spelling of names and recording of dates.

Another student said she asked her father a question, but he went off on a tangent and was telling a completely unrelated story. Although he didn’t answer her opening question until the end, she enjoyed listening to his story and it added to the overall chapter anyway. Becoming an active listener is an important skill to learn.

A third student, Kira, suggested preparing questions ahead of time for the interview and recommended: “Set a longer interview time than you think you need, and adjust the interview time to the relative. Ask yourself: Are they eager to tell their story? Do they like to talk for a long time? Would they answer your questions in a short reply or would they tell you a whole story?”

In one webinar, we discussed the importance of questioning techniques to add ‘details’ to our stories. My students discussed that they hadn’t realized how much they didn’t know about their parents and grandparents. By asking both closed- and open-ended questions, students found the interview led to much more detailed memories of childhood special food and family gatherings. One student’s grandmother shared her love of Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s Candy Bars in her childhood, something her granddaughter could relate to. This collaboration was the first glimpse of seeing their relatives (especially parents) as “people” whose lives they knew little or nothing about.

A student said the Bookform photo of a family eating at a dinner table I included in a slide didn’t look like her family. This was a great opportunity to discuss everyone’s ‘normal’ and that we all have different versions of what a family is. Today, life in the United States reflects a wide array of both cultural backgrounds and family structures. Ironically, one student is writing a chapter to include the perspective of her pet because she felt he was part of the family. She was going back to visit the pet store to learn more information about his background. I’m looking forward to seeing what that digs up!  

Two students are siblings and they are attending a family reunion later this summer where they hope to interview many of their family members. It will be interesting to see the variation in the content they collect. It will also be interesting to see if they uncover different perspectives of family members who can recall shared memories of the past. 

Some feedback I’ve received on the voice-to-text function is that transcription isn’t that reliable. It was more accurate when I used the ‘Australian’ accent option than the US accent! And the students say that they have to speak slowly and clearly and sound like a robot for it to work better. Hopefully this technology will improve soon.

At this point in time, only one student has invited others to contribute content to their book. He has worked hard to build a family heritage book that will also earn him a badge in a 4-H project. I will mention again that students should invite others to contribute content to their book to generate more and varied information into their book. This may also stimulate memories for other family members, too. 

Teaching a small online class is very different from teaching in a “brick and mortar” classroom of 20+ kids. As an online facilitator, I try to creatively capture and hold my students’ attention by addressing their various interests and ability levels. For learning to occur, students must feel connected to both me and their classmates. They need to know their voice is being heard and their needs are being met. Because online learning can occur almost anywhere and at any time, one student from another class was able to join in our webinar while waiting for his flight at an airport. 

I enrich the curriculum by including other media, such as videos, into my lessons that connect to our project. One student spoke about a character in one particular video who had not related to his family and felt quite disconnected. The student said her Grandfather had just died and she realized that she didn’t really know anything about him as a person and now it was too late, and how many other stories and important information is lost because the questions are never asked. She verbalized that Bookform presents her with an opportunity to learn and record her family stories.

As I am becoming more familiar with the Bookform features, I can “grow” and enrich my curriculum. Students sharing the audio stories they collect from their different family members and the contributions from parents and other people motivates their classmates to put effort into building their own digital family heritage book. The Bookform experience is also inviting to parents who want to be involved in their child’s learning. Some parents are assisting their child with the interview process by translating the relatives’ stories into English from their mother tongue. 

All of my current students say they will continue adding to their book after our 8 week course ends, as they have 1 year to complete their book. Any concern or confusion has now changed to students saying they are having fun with this project. Each student has been empowered to organize their book in a way that is meaningful to them. Therefore, they are eager to update and share their progress in our weekly webinars. By sharing their progress and deciding what their next step will be, my students are taking responsibility for their own learning. This is a dream for any parent or teacher! 

Now that I have experienced teaching Bookform, I look forward to running another course through Athena’s in the Fall. I think Bookform presents a great opportunity for kids to collaborate with relatives to create a precious family keepsake they can give at birthdays, family gatherings or any special occasions. It builds their self-confidence to know they can bring their families together by creating something meaningful to share now and in the future. 

More information on teacher and student experiences: https://bookform.com.au