Redefining the Writing Process through Digital Instruction, Collaborative Projects and Assessments

Reflection Overview

While last semester of SPU’s Digital Education Leadership master’s program focused on ISTE standards for students, this semester has examined ISTE standards for teachers.  So far, we have looked at standard one, to facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity, and standard two, to design and develop digital age learning and assessments.  Naturally, these two standards fit together as the first asks educators to consider the learning experience and the other focuses on the assessment process. This connection allowed me to fully rethink how I teach an area of instruction, from its inception to its conclusion.  Subsequently, I choose to focus on how to redefine the writing process using digital tools.  The questions that I chose to explore for each standard, listed below, gave me a starting point.  However, as you will read in the reflection, my research lead me to various conclusions.

Standard 1 Question: How can I revamp the standard essay writing process to foster creativity and utilize technology tools?

Standard 2 QuestionWhat digital tools or digital experiences are available that allow students to collaborate on the writing process, specifically those that can easily be monitored and assessed by the teacher?

Digital Tools to Redefine the Writing Process

My first considerations when looking for quality digital tools are to find those which are easy to use and are simple to implement immediately, with little set-up or training necessary.  I also tend to choose tools that are cloud-based so they can be used on any device, or those which are compatible with Chromebooks as I am at a Google-school.  With that said, the following tools meet these qualifications and address the two parts of the writing process that I personally don’t always teach effectively, brainstorming and publishing.

Brainstorming Tools

I recently asked students to create a timeline of pertinent events from their life as a way to brainstorm for a narrative essay. In the past, I had students create this timeline on paper but figured that there was likely a more engaging and valuable option for completing this task–I was right!  In looking for digital timeline tools, I found a lot of different options, but found that HSTRY and Read Write Think Timeline seemed the most appropriate for education.  Both allow students to incorporate media and offer various organizational ideas, totally revamping the traditional timeline.

Additionally, my master’s program has turned me on to mind-maps as a way to organize ideas.  We use Coggle to reflect on each module, which is great as it incorporates pictures, media, and is very visually appealing.  Below is the Coggle mind map I made based on ISTE standard one as an example.

I also recently equipped my Google Docs with the Mindmeister add on.  This is another great tool that allows students to create a mind map out of an outline.  What I like about this is that it would be a good way to teach the outlining process, which I know I sometimes overlook!  Below is a Google Doc displaying a sample, based on a few points we covered regarding ISTE standard 2.

 

Additionally, I explored tools for creating citations and bibliographies withing Google Documents.  The best tool I found was the Paperpile extension, which allows for users to easily embed both parenthetical citations and a works cited section.  I also tried out EasyBib, which was equally easy-to-use but was a bit more limited on what all it offered.

Reconsidering Assessments to Increase Educational Value & Relevance

Over the past few years, my district has begun assessing students through “performance tasks” in the core subjects such as math, science, history, English, and Health/PE.  These tasks require all students to take common assessments, typically involving a lot of writing, over the year. Teachers then gather data on these assessments to provide to the district.  The data is meant to inform instruction, identify areas of need, and hypothesize about how students may perform on state-mandated tests.  There are definitely benefits to these tasks, such as that they do provide valuable data on our students, compiled by our teachers rather than a hired scorer who-knows-where.  Creating these tasks also provides time for departments to align instruction and norm grading.  However, I believe there are a few ways that these tasks can be redesigned so they are more valuable instructional tools and more meaningful to students.
 
Our performance tasks are meant to be served “cold”, by which I mean that students do not get to prepare for them at all–besides general class instruction throughout the year–and they are not allowed to receive help from the teacher during the process.  These guidelines make sense, as they are similar to what is required for a state-mandated test.  The issue however is that, at least in English classes, these tasks have replaced various essays or big writing assignments we have done in the past, in which students received a lot more instruction.  I cannot see the value in taking out instruction to get a general idea of how a student MIGHT do on a state test.  It is also difficult to watch some students get hung up on a simple formality, which makes them unable to complete the task at all.  Additionally, since these tasks must be competed in class, it is very difficult to account for absent students.
Another area to reconsider is in what is how the writing process is taught through these performance tasks.  As an English teacher, I argue that the most important part of writing is the revising and publishing.  ANYTHING someone writes, from an email to a novel, should be read over, often several times, for accuracy.  Then, when the finished work is turned in, it should be published and received in a way that encourages others to read it, or for it to have some valuable purpose.  For these tasks, students jump right into writing the paper, very rarely read their work over, and then immediately forget about them when they are finished.  It is really hard to “sell” something when it’s hard to find much value in it myself.
 
A final potential issue with these performance tasks lies around the necessity to norm writing expectations beyond just their department. As it is, teachers only discuss how to score these performance tasks with their own subject-area departments.  This means that writing expectations may be inconsistent among each group.  Incidentally, this leads students to be confused when they are getting high scores for writing in math or science, and much lower scores in their English class.   

My Collaborative Project

The big project for my master’s program this semester is a global collaborative project.  These types of projects ask that educators “flatten their classroom walls” to collaborate with individuals outside of the classroom.  I have been exploring various global projects and have found some really awesome ideas out there, such as.  However, I have also learned that the last month of the school year is not the time to start this type of project as it requires a lot of planning!  In consideration of time restraints, I am trying out a mini-collaborative project this year, where I will have my ninth grade English class work through the writing process with a sixth grade language arts class within my district.   Specifically, these students will work together to edit each other’s papers and I will collaborate with the other teacher on strategies for teaching narrative writing.  While I’d love to try some “bigger” projects in the future, starting small is a good way to step into this cool idea to take make learning more relevant, valuable, and collaborative.