As much as I believe the tools should be in the background, this is as much about tools as it is about learning.
Two years ago, I started asking my G11 students to write bi-weekly analytical essays on topics of their choosing. Every other week, they are responsible for drafting an original thesis, doing research to back it up and then composing a brief analytical essay proving their points.
The essays were dubbed “2fers,” as they were due every two weeks and assigned as being 2 pages in length.
Larissa Pahomov, my G11 English teaching counterpart also decided to have her students complete these papers. This quickly became a lesson in the effects of a grade-wide assignment. Every SLA senior knows 2fers, and every SLA sophomore knows they’re on the horizon.
This year, we tried something new.
Revision and editing are always difficult components of the writing process in a 1:1 program (and any other program, for that matter). Whereas my English teachers asked me to turn in copies of each of my drafts with my final copy, writing on the computer calls for something else.
I edit and revise as I compose on the computer. I’m editing and revising as I type this. My first sentence of this piece went through three drafts the world will never see.
Still, when I’m done writing something that’s a little shaky, I’ll send it to someone else to check out.
Most of my students don’t have that switch in their brain.
Physiologically, the adolescent brain isn’t built for reflection. Sharing an electronic doc via e-mail can end up with many copies. Printing can waste paper and creates one more thing to keep track of. If I think I’ve edited it whilst writing, wasting time to have someone else do the same thing, well, wastes time.
This year, the students are utilizing our new installation of google apps for education in their 2fer writing.
Here’s how it went down:
- With a max of three 2fers per quarter, each student created a file in the first quarter that would contain that quarter’s 2fers.
- Those files were shared with me.
- I dropped each file in a shared folder so all students could see every other student’s work.
At first, students were told to pick the most ruthless editor they could think of and ask them to look at their first papers.
The first go wasn’t great. Not everyone looked at their chosen partner’s essay. Some people chose editors with skill levels insufficient for pushing their writing forward as far as possible.
For the second go round, I assigned each student to a group of three. They kept their original editors, but were also responsible for looking at the two others in their group.
Now, this is not to say I was completely removed from the process. On the contrary, I was in there as well.
When I was assessing, my comments were added to their peers’. The rubric was pasted at the end of each essay with targeted comments for improvement.
Here’s the beauty. On the second round of 2fers, I saw the students using the same language as I had used in my feedback. I didn’t need to correct formatting, they were doing it for one another.
At its best, the revision became wonderful asynchronous conversations about the ideas and arguments being made. At its worst, it was surface level revision. Either way, it brought improvement, and students were learning the habits and language of revision.
I know this looks like a writing workshop, but it’s not quite. I know it looks like an electronic portfolio, but it’s not quite.
It’s asynchronous nature challenges that. The fact that no conversation or draft is never really done challenges that.
What’s more, in a writing workshop, what gets turned in at the end is usually the final copy. The conversation that led to that copy is hidden or lost unless, like my high school English teachers, students are asked to turn in all drafts. Even then, I’m fairly certain that was a check for completion, not a check for conversation.
At the start of the second quarter, I asked students to review their Q1 docs and look for trends in the comments their editors and I left. From their, they wrote goals for improvement in the second quarter. Those goals were posted at the top of their Q2 2fer doc.
They brought the most important pieces of the old conversation with them to the new conversation.
I realize the pieces of this aren’t anything new. The process, on the other hand, and the tools utilize to build the process, strike me as something new. I’m throwing this in the “Doing old things better in new ways” category.