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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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…

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Rupert Murdoch beware.  While the world’s media moguls (yes all two of them) ponder how to monetise their content on digital platforms, there is a growing  array of online resources helping teachers and students create their own multi-media newspapers…for free.  How Web 2.0 is that! 

There are two approaches to this task. Firstly you can look out for online applications that enable you and your students to create online newspapers using their own content.  The second approach is to tailor make an online newspaper featuring the best news stories/vid clips pulled from around the world on a topic or range of topics as defined by you. 

Rather than go through them all one by one, I’m sending you straight to a far more wise teaching head than mine who has spent some time reviewing and testing a range of apps meeting options 2 – creating aggregated multi-media newspapers. Larry Ferlazzo , an English language teacher in Sacramento, California, has come up with the following lists of such sites on his blog (also worth a visit). To make his list, the application had to be free; make content available in an attractive and accessible way for English Language Learners; and make it very easy to sign-up and add new preferences. Here’s Larry’s best of the best: 

When it comes to creating their own newspaper on-line, the first app I came across was paper.li a site that organises links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format. Newspapers can be created for any Twitter user, list or #tag. I had a go at creating a page direct from my twitter account which is really just a way of sharing your tweets and those of your followers. (You could also sign up for feeds from paper.li online papers on topics of interest for example this one which organises tweets on the Gulf oil spill crisis).  Paper.li also enables you to create a class or project based newspaper via twitter.  You set up a specific twitter account for the project, go to paper.li and create the newspaper from there.  Paper.li will auto-publish a professionally presented multi-media newspaper from all the tweets followed by the main twitter account and send it out to those who subscribe on an updated daily basis.  

What you get is not a newspaper in the traditional sense as paper.li uses your tweets and/or links to other articles but this app does allow students to collate a range of information they had either created or sourced on a specific topic. 

Another twitter related application which is based around your own, or perhaps a class twitter feed is Twitter Tim.es.  This is touted as “a real-time personalised newspaper generated from your twitter account”. As I found with paper.li you need to make regular tweets to ensure there is content to feature (your sites self update every 12 hours or so) – otherwise next time you go for a look, the page could well be bare! Here’s how mine looks (or looked mid July – apologies if you are viewing later and it’s blank!) 

Meanwhile, an online app known as Fodey also lets you create an authentic looking traditional newspaper article by directly inputting a story onto the site.  Students write their article into a text box and within a couple of minutes, the site generates an article based on their text. It’s simple and easy to use.  After having a go, I found it has around a 300 word count limit. Not a bad way of teaching students about writing to a word count or a deadline. You can download a jpeg of the resulting article as the site only archives for a short time… 

Bizarre Beach Find at Brighton

So there are plenty of fun tools to choose from with pretty obvious applications.  In senior English I’d use one of the above for AS 1.1 (produce formal transactional writing), 2.2 (produce formal transactional writing) or 2.8 (investigate a language or literature topic and present information in a written form).   I’ve also seen newspaper creation used for AS 1.1 (produce creative writing) in a unit featured on the EnglishOnline website when creating a newspaper as a class or group although writing a news article was assessed separately for 1.2 I’m pretty sure that newspaper writing is an option in the junior curriculum too.

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Back to Basics?

Before social networking sites, tweets, posts, emails and texts, there were letters.

Call me a geek (and this is clearly outside the brief of this blog!) but in the school holidays it was not unusual for me to churn out a dozen letters a week to friends who lived all over the South Island.  While at primary school, I submitted a request for a penpal via the awesome but now defunct NZ children’s magazine Jabberwocky and received hundreds of replies.  Letter writing was just something I did.

Not surprisingly given the competing demands on children’s  time, letter writing is no longer the done thing, as a recent article in the Guardian  “revealed” (?!).

The simple act of writing and sending a letter could be a useful activity for junior students to build/develop basic grammar, syntax and spelling skills.  Receiving a letter the old-fashioned way via the post might be a new experience for some of them but I suspect most would get a kick out of it.

Catching up with fellow English student teachers this week, most expressed a genuine surprise at the low levels of spelling and grammar skills in schools across the board – although some are also quick to admit this is an area they also need to hone their skills in. 

Such skills are vital if junior students are to become effective writers and communicators at senior level, and then possibly tertiary levels. It also seems that essay writing is a task many senior students struggle with.

It struck me that a letter writing exercise could help to build those skills before moving onto more public arenas such as blogs where mistakes, although quickly rectified, are published to potentially a much wider audience.

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