Tag Archives: lesson plans

A New Look at Reading and Writing Assignments

While communication technology has changed rapidly over the last thirty years, our modes of teaching students to be communicative have changed very little. The essay still seems to be the time-tested standard in many areas of the humanities and the social sciences. Increasingly, students in public schools are exposed to informational media that is published digitally, and as such, they are often see traditional paper text as an archaic mode of communication. The following post offers some easy ways to re-think reading and writing assignments to boost student motivation and better prepare them for literacy in an increasingly digital world.

Writing Assignments

Writing assignments, as they have traditionally been employed in educational settings, focus on correcting writing  after the writing process, rather than providing sufficient feedback to students during the writing process itself.  Much of what students write in the classroom is also teacher centered in two manners. First, teachers often decide topics, genres, and other technical specifications. Second, feedback on student writing is based on a teacher’s innate preferences and dispositions regarding the use of written language, often despite undoubted attempts at fairness and objectivity. These facts, coupled with a decrease in student motivation, highlight the need for a serious reconsideration of how instructional professionals develop writing assignments and respond to student writing.

Students Need to Have Choice in Writing Assignments

Not all writing is the same, nor does it need to be. The teacher who sees only one solution to such a multi-sided problem is thinking in terms of “cans” and “cannots,” and not in terms of “hows.” Flexibility promotes experimentation, which is what we all want. Most English teachers would be ecstatic to see their students playing and experimenting with language for the sheer joy in creating something silly, or something serious, or something smart. So why not give them the opportunity? The means letting students, at times, choose both their topic and mode of response. Providing students with the opportunity to respond in multigenre form will allow them to practice writing styles that will better enhance their skills as strategic and independent thinkers.

Students Need to Publish, and Students Need Varied Feedback

In the digital world, there is no excuse to not share interesting writing and thoughts with one another. Social media broadcasts the minutia of millions of minds every minute and commands far more attention at any given moment than probably any other form of media in history. What does this say to a student whose essay has gone from her desk to your desk and back again? Sharing content is a vital part of being a digital author and also provides access to an almost unlimited source of feedback and criticism when used in conjunction with digital publishing forums. Publishing written work, whether it be in digital form, a school paper or literary journal, or in a classroom research conference, is an integral part of developing an identity as  a scholar and finding fulfillment in your work.

In addition to increasing student motivation  and attachment to a subject, physical and digital publishing forums often provide students with the most valuable commodity in their growth as writers: varied feedback. It is easy to figure out how one person thinks, what peeves them, but it is increasingly difficult to figure out what writing strategies will help you achieve your goals when a group of diverse individuals is your audience.

Good Teachers Provide Feedback That Is Critical and Cerebral

When responding to student writing don’t focus unnecessarily on mechanical errors unless they are detrimental to your comprehension of the student’s argument itself. Think of these grammar mistakes as something to explain later with manipulative sentence parts. Your response to student writing should provoke the student to think more critically. I like to offer logical counter arguments and ask them open ended questions (“How does fact X impact argument Y?”). This is your forum, as the teacher, to direct the student in the improvement of his or her piece of writing. Oftentimes, this feedback should be thematic and follow previous direct instruction. For example, after discussing the role of audience awareness when writing, you would ask one or two open ended questions about the student’s knowledge and understanding of her audiences on the next piece of writing you assess.

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Using Cloud Computing for Collaborative Research Projects

The use of cloud computing in a collaborative research setting provides both student and teacher a more ready means of written communication. Students are able to collaborate together more effectively by sharing written documents via Google Docs or Dropbox. It also allows the instructor an inside look at how students function collaboratively, providing them with the opportunity to comment on students’ research projects during the completion process.

What is Cloud Computing Anyway?

Cloud computing involves connecting two or more computers through the internet using a shared digital space. This type of collaboration diminishes the need for things like flash drives and allows students to transfer documents, images, or videos easily between workstations.  Google Docs is an excellent example of an open source file sharing system that can be used in cloud computing settings. Google Docs allows you to create a number of different types of documents and customize public or private access to the document.

Dropbox software also offers a simple method of sharing documents via the cloud. Dropbox is a file depository that allows you to customize access to your folders. You can make them viewable publicly online, allow select users access, or keep them private completely. The major difference between these two types of software is functionality. Google Docs has what is essentially an open source, or free, version of the Microsoft Office Suite in addition to acting as a digital repository. Dropbox, on the other hand, does not have any of this added functionality.

What Does Cloud Computing Add to the Research Process for Students?

Cloud computing offers students a very quick and easy way to collaborate with one another, whether it be in K-12 public schools or in a higher education setting. Before this technology, students would have to coordinate this elaborate process to transfer all of the different files into one central document or PowerPoint slide. Google Docs, on the other hand, allows students to simultaneously edit the same document via the internet. This makes it much easier for students to plan and correct their projects as they are being created. Since all of the students’ work is stored in the same location and visible to all team members, all team members can check the progress on other portions of the assignment and act as checks against students who may be falling behind or missing the mark with their work.

In addition, this seamless integration of word processing software and digital storage allows the entire creation process to be more productive since it has eliminated the need for the inevitable transfer and reformatting of separate files into the master file.

What Does Cloud Computing Add to the Research Process for Teachers?

Cloud computing offers two paramount benefits to the educators. First, it gives the teacher a direct line of communication to student groups, in addition to having complete access to all of the students’ in-progress materials. Second, it allows the teacher to peek into the collective minds of students as they collaborate. You can ascertain with a degree of certainty how they break up tasks between the members, and even how they decide to chunk or break up the concepts themselves.

Providing student feedback is an important part of teaching writing and research , but by the time students have submitted their final project there is little time to change what are considered to be the deficiencies. Imagine being able to intervene if you notice that a student has taken a wrong turn somewhere before it is too late. This allows for a richer and fuller research process for the student, and allows both student and teacher the ability to meaningfully communicate throughout the research process.

In addition to being able to provide prompt feedback to students and formatively assess their progress towards research goals, this type of learning environment also provides some interesting perspectives pedagogically. How do  students respond when given a research question? What are their typical behaviors? Some groups will choose to break the entire task into subsequent parts, with each group member acting as researcher, writer, and editor for her own section. Other groups will choose to build on what are perceived as individual strengths and break a group of 5 into 2 researchers, 2 writers, and an editor who complies and adds continuity to completed documents.  The possibilities are endless, and by giving students the ability to choose the formation of their groups, we are teaching them how to function collaboratively.Using this same principle, we are also able to monitor student participation, which provides evidence for what students may write in their peer evaluations of one another.