How we kept students and parents engaged in remote learning

Mira CampbellCase study, Elementary / Primary, Online, Publishing, Remote Learning

Although the pandemic brought its challenges, it was also a time to learn new things. Hear how a primary teacher used Book Creator to develop “fractured fairy tales” to motivate her remote students and engage parents.


Anna-May KingCo-author: Anna-May King is a Primary Teacher at F. H. Miller. This will be her 2nd year at F.H. Miller. Prior to that, she spent some time teaching at the Canadian International School in Vietnam. She is an experienced teacher of 12 years with the TDSB. Her mission is to instill a love for learning (specifically reading and writing) in her students.


This past year was challenging for many families due to the pandemic. Teachers had to shift to online instruction and students had to adapt to a whole new way of learning. However, there was also an opportunity to learn new skills and collaborate virtually. During these unprecedented times, we needed to find ways to engage and motivate students to continue to learn.

In a Grade 1/2 classroom, many of our young learners require hands-on support from their teacher to be successful. This was one of the biggest challenges during Remote Learning. For our families that meant they needed to support their children while also balancing their home and work responsibilities. It was a tall order! Furthermore, our students were missing social interactions with their friends and teachers. There have been significant concerns surrounding the impact that the pandemic has had on children’s mental health. It was important for us to find ways for all students to continue to grow to be successful in their learning during this time.

Our Grade 1/2 teacher Anna-May King, had heard about the Creative Writing projects our Junior Students completed as well as our Grade 2/3 classroom. She had never used Book Creator before but was intrigued to learn more! She was confident knowing Grade 4 student Colwyn, a Book Creator expert, was eager to help!

Anna-May had been working on a Fractured Fairy Tale unit with her class and decided this would be the perfect beginner project to try Book Creator, while simultaneously engaging and reaching her students during remote learning!

Her students were already familiar elements of a story and the characteristics of fairy tales. She chose the fractured fairy tale Ninja Red Riding Hood as her mentor text to introduce the genre. The students started learning about ways they could change a typical fairy tale. They read many different mentor texts prior to starting the project and had a browse through Read.Write.Think’s Fractured Fairy Tales booklist.

Ways to Create a Fractured Fairy Tale (ReadWriteThink.org)


Anna-May broke the project down into manageable chunks to scaffold the writing for her learners. They were given a fairy tale word bank and a fractured fairy tale checklist for the end of the project.

Students began the planning at the end of April and had finished their final drafts by the week of June 14th. Below you will see a rough outline of the different steps over the six week period. This stage took longer than it would in a classroom due to Remote Learning.


Below you can see some of their planning, initial sketches and first drafts of writing. (Be sure to slide across ➡️)

The classroom teacher had completed all of this ahead of time. 🤯

Some students were struggling to get all the writing done at home because they didn’t have the same amount of support as in the classroom. However, knowing that Book Creator would be the next step was motivating for them.

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Feedback was provided regularly online. Students photographed their work and Ms. King annotated directly on those photos. 📸

I always recommended that you complete the majority of the revisions prior to copying text into Book Creator.

It’s easier to annotate directly on their work or to use the comment feature in Google Docs especially if you have longer texts.

Student engagement increases…

By the time May arrived, students were getting restless with remote learning. It had been a struggle for many students to complete all the writing at home. Their motivation was low and they were tired. Book Creator was the perfect way to end the year and keep them engaged with writing. Their classroom teacher Anna-May said, “Once we started on Book Creator they didn’t want to do anything but that.”

But first, let’s discuss how we introduced Book Creator…🌈

Our student expert introduces Book Creator

As previously mentioned, many students were new to using Book Creator. We began by inviting our Grade 4 Book Creator Expert Colwyn to the class Zoom. He gave a tutorial on the basics. However, it was his trick for using emojis to draw characters in Book Creator that really impressed the students. 👇

Students needed some time to explore Book Creator on their own. We have never introduced this tool over Zoom before and that came with some initial frustration until they got going.

Picture from, Little Blue by Avery (Grade 1)

Luckily, the class also had a secret weapon… a grade 1 student who had already created several books in Book Creator!

Avery showed her peers how to use the Pen Tool to draw and then layer an image behind their drawing. In her project reflection, she stated, “I am proud that I can help my friends.

Peer coaching is a great way to build a student’s confidence. In addition, it can extend the learning for students who require it by developing new skills and keeping them engaged.

Sometimes as teachers we have a fear of trying something new or think we have to be an expert before introducing it to the students. I love how willing Anna-May was to learn with her students. It sets a great example showing them that we are all life-long learners. Furthermore, the students will quickly be navigating Book Creator and teaching you tricks!

This was evident when our Grade 1 student Lucas, who had never used Book Creator before, figured out a clever trick to help him illustrate his book. He used the icons from the Noun Project (available in the paid version of Book Creator) to help him draw his pig. Below is a video tutorial of his demonstration. 👇

Grade 1 Student Lucas demonstrating his icon drawing trick

We thought we had seen it all, but then Asha took her drawings to the next level. She drew digitally in the book using only a mouse! Below are some examples of the digital drawing done by 6 year old Asha (new to Book Creator).


Grade 1 Artist Asha from the Fractured Fairytale, The Poison Strawberry


💡 Teacher Tip: If you have a touch screen ChromeBook, using a stylus will make detailed drawings easier.

When Book Creator was introduced to my 6 year old, I was impressed with how fast she took to it. She drew all her own pictures just by using the mouse pad. She normally loves to draw, but this allowed her to create something on a whole new level & learn another skillAparna Guha, Gr 1 FH Miller Parent

This quote illustrates the ease at which even our youngest students learn to use Book Creator and also the endless possibilities of where they can go!

Multiple ways to illustrate in Book Creator

I love that there are multiple ways to draw in Book Creator (even an AutoDraw feature). In addition to digital drawings, students can also do illustrations on paper. You can take a picture and upload it into Book Creator. It produces an eye catching effect when you combine photographs with drawings (right side).


We used the Superimpose X app to remove the white background on the students’ drawings. You can also use the website “Remove.bg

As you can see Book Creator is a great tool to foster student creativity. While all students began with the same blank page, you can quickly see their personality and voice being expressed through the pages. Each book is unique to the student. 📚

Adding the text to Book Creator

This was done in a number of different ways. Some students typed the text themselves as most of the stories had a small amount of text. In other cases parents or the teachers helped. Several students in the class had older siblings who had just completed their own creative writing project who helped them. There is also the option to use the Speech to Text feature in Book Creator (in 120 languages).

How to use your voice to type the words in Book Creator

The Poison Strawberry by Asha (Grade 1)

Feedback in Book Creator

Book Creator was the perfect tool for remote learning because we could collaborate on the same book with our students and provide feedback directly in the book.

As students were working on their books, we were able to go in and add comments. We used the shapes tool to create yellow and pink “sticky notes” (one colour for each teacher). With the Read to Me feature, it can read their writing but also the sticky notes. An alternative feedback option for primary students is to record audio so they can listen to it. I love that it can also convey your excitement making it a very motivating tool.

Suggestions for commenting on student work

We knew that we would need to conference with groups of students as their work on the books progressed. We started by having small breakout groups (4 students) in our Zoom meetings, but it wasn’t working. The students required more individual support, especially since we couldn’t give the hands-on support that they were accustomed to in the classroom. We quickly realized that in order for them to be successful, we would have to have individual conferences with students.

Fortunately, with remote learning this was easy to arrange. The classroom teacher scheduled appointment times for the students and we got to work! 📝

We spent a couple weeks revising and polishing their books. We were fortunate that our Student Book Creator Expert also helped during that two week period.

Feedback on page design, text and font choices can all be done in Book Creator. The biggest challenge we found was guiding our students towards a consistent theme. They love the ability to choose differentbackgrounds and fonts, but sometimes can add too much all on one page. We also noticed many initially selected the patterned backgrounds which made it difficult to read the text. This was a perfect opportunity to teach some media literacy conventions. (e.g., purpose of the books and audience).

It’s important to note that some students were a little more rigid about making changes. We kept connecting it back to how the main purpose of a book is to be able to read it. We gave students some time to think about it and they made the changes. Revising and editing their writing is a relatively new process in Grade 1 and there can be some frustration and even negative talk about their work that emerges.

This is where having those interactions with a real author can be beneficial. I highly recommend checking out the free virtual visit that author Debbie Ridpath Ohi offers using Flipgrid. Students can create videos talking about their stories and she will send the class a personalized video! This can reinforce many of your lessons about strategies that good writers use as well as how much work goes into creating a book. It can take a year with many revisions. We did not connect with an author for this project because the books were not completed until the last day of school.

Read about connecting with an author in the blog post about our Creative Writing Project with Junior students.

We also instructed students not to place text or images near the edge of the pages as we knew we would be printing the books at the end of the project. 👇

9 designs tips to give your book a professional finish

Multiple means of expression

Students were so excited that they would ask first thing in the morning when it would be time for Book Creator to keep working on their stories.  🎉

This is a stark contrast to what teachers normally hear after a period of writing which is, “I’m done!” They usually do not want to go back and revise and polish their stories. This is where Book Creator is a very motivating tool. There are many options to explore which allow them to express their ideas in multiple ways. They can also use the Read to Me feature to listen back to their writing and Voice Search to find images.

I recommend that primary students use the image search within Book Creator because it’s a safe search with photos that are allowed to be reused. Most of our students illustrated their stories by drawing directly in Book Creator. All of these built-in features help them to work more independently while they are waiting for teacher support.

Understanding copyright, licensing and attribution for photos and images in Book Creator

As students worked on this project during remote learning, this was an opportunity for parents to learn about Book Creator and for some to even shift their thinking about educational technology and how it can transform learning.

We are not technology savvy people, so this made me shift my perception when I realized how technology can help my children be more creative.Aparna Guha, Gr 1 FH Miller Parent

Engaging with parents

Building strong relationships with families is essential. We want parents to be involved and be partners in their child’s education. This was even more true during the pandemic. We relied on our incredible parents to help their children and we did our best to support them in return. 💛

Many parents were involved in the process of creating a fractured fairy tale from start to finish. Once their children started using Book Creator and they observed what they were creating, they couldn’t believe it.

They became just as excited about the project as us and as the students. That authentic parent engagement was key to the success. It was a fun way to bring us all together and a positive way to end the year.

I would like to thank you again for bringing out their creative ideas digitally and having their first book. It was really special to see her getting excited to show her work.Chimmie Lhamo, Grade 2 FH Miller Parent

As a Teacher-Librarian I don’t always have the same level of interaction with families as the classroom teacher. This allowed me to get to know our families on a deeper level which was a very rewarding experience.

 At the end of the project, we shared a link to the Book Creator Library with parents so they could see all the stories in the class. 👇


It was a great learning experience and one we can cherish for years to come.Viola, Dessanti, Gr 1 Parent FH Miller

The best part about this is you can read the stories (with the multimedia content) on any device. This accessibility makes it ideal for sharing with parents and families because they can view it anywhere and at any time.

The year had ended, but we knew we weren’t done.

Digital books are incredible because you are able to share them widely, but there is nothing like the feeling of an actual book in your hand.

The big book reveal 🎉

Anna-May decided we should print the books as a delayed end of year gift to her students. We started planning how to make this happen. Of course, we had to have a big book reveal, but how? It was summer break! 😎

It took some time and would not have been possible without the support of our incredible parents. After such a difficult year, this was an important moment to celebrate! The pure joy on the students’ faces will never be forgotten. There was a real sense of accomplishment and pride in the work that they had done!

“I did it! I made my own book! It even says my name!!” Eliana, Grade 1 student

“As a big reader, the idea that she could produce a physical book that looks so professional really impressed her. I think this may be the beginning of a budding, young author!” ~ Aparna Guha, Gr 1 FH Miller Parent

Watch the video of the big book reveal ceremony below 👇

Project reflection

Student reflections

Students really responded to all the choices that are available in Book Creator. They love being able to draw digitally, add images and type instead of writing by hand. Most of all, they all expressed how fun it was to use. 🥳

Left - Grade 1 Fractured Fairy tale, The New Little Pigs by Lucas

Middle - Grade 2 Fractured Fairy tale, Ray and the Beanstalk by Sebastiano

Right - Grade 2 Fractured Fairy tale, Little Blue by Avery

 

Parent reflections

We asked parents to share their thoughts about the project. There was a common theme of how Book Creator fostered their children’s creativity, built their confidence and inspired some future authors, all the while learning new skills and staying engaged. ✨

From an educator’s point of view it was also a great way to strengthen the home and school connection. This project brought us all together and the response from the community was overwhelming. (Swipe right below to read ➡️)

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As we start this new school year in person with our students, we want to continue to find ways to share celebratory moments like this virtually with our families.

Twitter also provides a great opportunity for some daily real-time glances into the classroom to showcase our students’ learning. I also love the idea of virtual Zoom presentations where we invite the parents to join. Book Creator is well suited for this because it is such a versatile tool, you can embed artifacts and it’s easy to share. You can share a digital book live over Zoom, but then it’s also available afterwards, if parents are unable to join.

We were really grateful for how our families and students embraced this project and that we were all engaged in learning together.

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