On the second day of UNCG’s Young Writers Camp, Madison Bailey focuses on preparing a presentation about dogs.
A rising third-grader with a precocious smile, Madison huddles with three other kids, all armed with Apple laptops, in a quiet corner of the School of Education. A graduate student helps them troubleshoot, but technology doesn’t faze Madison or her peers.
Beside her, Garland Neblett is dealing with a stuck soundtrack. The elementary-age campers are recording their work using VoiceThreads, a free web program that allows them to sync voiceovers with photos.
“His computer keeps interrupting,” Madison says with a giggle. “It’s being rude.”
“Upload” and “download” are part of Madison’s vocabulary, and she nonchalantly explains that she is using Popplet, another free web program that helps organize and share ideas. Never heard of it? You aren’t alone. “I’m surprised my dad didn’t know about it,” she says.
The Young Writers Camp, a two-week, half-day workshop for kids in grades 3-12, began last summer. The emphasis on technology was a new focus this summer, one that educational researchers at the university are studying closely to identify the most effective ways teachers can use digital media in their classrooms.
Amy Vetter, the UNCG education professor who organizes the camp, says teachers often are confused about when and how to use digital media tools. “There’s such a push and a need to integrate technologies into lessons, but often teachers don’t know the best ways to use them,” she says.
Writers Camp gives kids a chance to meld art, photos and sound with their writing. In a relaxed environment.
“It’s not necessarily like being in school,” Vetter says. “There’s less structure, it’s more creative and they like the digital component. They don’t get as frustrated with technology as we do.”
Joy Myers, completing her PhD in education at UNCG, takes careful notes that she will later use to make recommendations for best practices to teachers and student teachers. Beyond the use of technology, she also is observing how kids interact with one another and mentors in small groups.
Myers and Vetter hope to present their findings at an annual literacy conference held in San Diego.
“There are certainly aspects of this camp that we can integrate into school classrooms,” Myers says. “There are so many set structures and tests that can sometimes impede kids who want to be writers.”
Brooke Langston-Demott, a graduate student in the School of Education and a research assistant at the camp, says technology can provide a healthy distraction for kids who see writing as a chore, and make learning more interactive.
“Sometimes writing can be intimidating,” Langston-Demott says. “You are open, you are vulnerable. With the technology, they often forget they are writing. And they are more willing to help each other than if they were using pen and paper.”
Technology helps, says Devon Pulliam, heading into fifth-grade this fall. Devon, a shy, soft-spoken young man, flashes a broad grin as he talks about how reluctant he was at first to spend two weeks of his summer at Writers Camp.
“You think it’s gonna be bad when you go there, but it’s actually fun,” Devon says after his last session. His final presentation, complete with visual aids via computer, was all about his family’s trip to Mexico.
“He thought this was going to be like school,” says Devon’s mom, Regina Pulliam. “He likes the technology piece, getting to work in the computer lab. That’s something different, something he doesn’t do a lot of at school.”
Regina Pulliam enrolled both Devon and his older sister, Nyia, a 10th-grader, in the camp. “We drive all the way from Winston-Salem,” she says. “That’s how important this is.”
Another important facet of Writers Camp is its connection with the Melon Project, a nonprofit group that works to educate kids in Nakaru, Kenya. The stories, articles and poems produced by the campers will be loaded onto flash drives to expose Kenyan schoolchildren to English language and culture.
And there are deeper connections.
On the final day of camp, Vianaire Sagero, entertains her high school-age peers with the first portion of her project — a post-apocalyptic novel about two sisters struggling to survive in the harsh future of 2073. She calls it “The Boneyard.”
Vianaire’s mom, Jerono Rotich, a native of Kenya and a UNCG alumna with a PhD in exercise and sports science, watches proudly as her daughter reads her work.
Rotich says Vianaire loves to write, and asked to enroll in a writing workshop.
Vianaire, a tall, outgoing young woman with long ringlets, says “The Boneyard” is one of the first long pieces she has begun. She plans to major in biology. And do missionary work in Kenya.
By Michelle Hines, University Relations
Photography by Ted Richardson