The art and craft of creative writing must surely be one of the most challenging skills to teach. I say this partly because I am constantly in awe of writers and the magical way they weave words to tell stories, and partly because having written professionally for publication, I understand the angst that sometimes goes into creating a carefully crafted piece of work. As with many skills learned over the years, the writing process has become so intrinsic that despite my experience, I am daunted by the prospect of taking a step backwards to guide others through the process.
Fortunately there are plenty of online tools that can help – from scaffolding students through the basics of grammar and syntax to collaborative creative writing projects. As always I’m not suggesting that the entire process is taught via online tools, simply that there a plethora of options that could help you to scaffold and support students through the writing process.
For their final assessment at NCEA levels 1-3, students are required to submit an original, independently crafted piece of work. This appears to be around 300 words where students are assessed on:
- how well they express and develop their ideas
- their ability to use a writing style that is appropriate to the task
- how well they organise their material
- accuracy in spelling, punctuation and paragraphing.
Prior to handing in their final copy, there could be several opportunities for students to engage with others during a series of test runs by writing collaboratively/publishing their work online for peer review. This is a huge topic so for now I’ll touch on the philosophies behind this idea and next time, share some of the apps available.
The very concept of collaborative writing adds a new dimension to the art of creative writing. By working with their peers inside the classroom, and by reaching out to interested mentors from anywhere around the world, students can contribute to work that represents a myriad of writers’ voices while also developing their own writer’s voice. For our dynamic, connected 21st century learners, working together is becoming the norm and paper is not always the best way to publish and share work.
As Will Richardson succinctly states on the edutopia website “Experts are now at our fingertips, through our keyboards or cell phones, if we know how to find and connect to them. Content and information are everywhere, not just in textbooks.”
It is important to note the difference between collaborative writing and peer review. Teachers need to be clear about achievement objectives when planning a creative writing lesson. Collaborative writing involves coauthorship, and technologies can facilitate the generation of text from multiple authors quite well. However, virtual peer review is not the same as coauthorship. Rather, feedback and interaction from peers in virtual peer review is directed toward the purpose of providing responses and suggestions to an author, not for contributing text that will be assimilated into an author’s draft. Thus, it could be said that electronic collaborative writing includes virtual peer review, but not that virtual peer review always includes collaborative writing. (Breuch, L. K. (2004). Virtual peer review: teaching and learning about writing in online environments. Albany: State University of New York, Albany).
As Amanda Goldrick-Jones cites on her comprehensive collaborative writing wiki (an invaluable starting point for the philosophies behind online collaborative writing pedagogy), from a practical standpoint alone, online collaborative writing provides students with vital professional and social skills.
Online collaborative writing projects meet several of the key competencies from the NZC which states that students will, “confidently use ICT (including where appropriate, assistive technologies) to access and provide information to communicate with others”. The document also states that students who use ICT are likely to:
- take an active role in decisions about the content, process and assessment of learning
- take an active role in learning
- wait less, and learn more
- be interested in their learning
- feel empowered to make suggestions
- ask questions of themselves, the teachers and others
Collaborative writing definitely meets the NZC’s vision of creating active, engaged, life-long learners.
So that’s a bit of an overview of collaborative writing. Next post I’ll share several online applications you might incorporate into a creative (or even transactional) writing unit…