Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Injecting excitement into the Writing Process: Toontastic is Fantastic!

As an Occupational Therapist I often find myself working with students who are struggling with the writing process. Students who fall into this category typically don’t enjoy writing, so motivating them to practice can be difficult. Consequently, I look for ways to engage and excite students in the products they are producing.

One of my favorite ways to get students excited is to use the iPad application called “Toontastic”, created by Launch Pad. This program was not designed to be an Occupational Therapy intervention tool, and yet, taps into so many skill sets, that it is ripe with possibilities.

Toontastic is a beautifully crafted app that allows the user to create a 5-part-story (or more), with a Setup, Conflict, Challenge, Climax, and Resolution. Using provided backgrounds, and cartoon characters (or drawing their own), students are able act out each section of the story. Toontastic records both the visual action, and the sound. A final polish allows the creator to choose the appropriate sound track to add an emotional element. The end product plays as a short cartoon in 5 parts. It can be uploaded to the free ToonTube and viewed by anyone with the address.

The folks at Launch Pad clearly know what they were doing when they set about creating this app. On their website they describe their “Learning Goals as being threefold:

1. Empower young children to share their ideas and stories with friends and family by bridging the gap between formal writing and imaginative play.
2. Introduce and guide key storytelling principles like Character, Setting, Story Arc, and Emotion to help structure kids’ creative writing.
3. Promote cultural literacy through ToonTube: A Global Storytelling Network for Kids, by Kids.”

In addition to the goals listed above, I have used Toontastic to work on drawing simple geometric shapes, handwriting, typing, concepts of first/then, turn-taking, understanding emotion, and diction.

When addressing the writing process, I use the app as a vehicle to generate stories: dictated, handwritten, and/or typed, depending on the level and type of scaffolding the student requires. Sometimes I like to group two or more students together to write their script. When they are done, they trade, and the other student must be able to read the lines if handwritten.

I use Toontastic over several sessions. It’s not a one-off therapy app in my mind. With the students I review the Story Arc, and we look at the scenarios that are offered by Toontastic. Once the students have chosen a story background, we explore ideas about the story itself, and choose the characters. Much of this is playful, and very engaging for students.

Using the Story Arc as a guide, the students write an outline. With some students I use the Story Arc to break down common stories with the students such as “Little Red Riding Hood”. This process helps the students understand how to create their own Story Arc.

When actually writing, we focus on letter quality, including sizing, formation, alignment, etc. We always use lined paper for this. Expectations obviously vary for each student. From the outline, we generate a script. Once we’ve settled on the script we write it out as well. Again, some student’s will benefit from me scribing. Perhaps the writing process is so onerous that the experience of successfully generating a story is significant. Other’s will hand-write, and then possibly type it, if typing is one the skills we are working on.

For students who are at a Pre-writing stage, or simply working on drawing skills, I like to use Toontastic to create their own character. I start by drawing a a simple geometric character, starting with a circle for the head, maybe a triangle for the body. I do the preliminary “under-drawing” in yellow, and then the student traces over the shape in a color of their choice. Again, depending on the amount of scaffolding the student requires, I may draw out the whole character and have the student trace it, or draw and trace one section at a time until it’s complete.
The end result is a polished cartoon that the student is very excited about and proud of. We will on occasion share the video with the student’s class on the SmartBoard. I also make certain to send the video link home to the parents, along with the pages that show the process. What a great way to show a student’s work.

Happy therapy!

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