We ask students to write and some of them do it simply for the love of it just like some play sports or painting. At some point though, doing work for the sake of work just doesn’t cut it for kids and I can’t blame them at all. Whenever I’m given a task, I’m always thinking why is this important? What is the point of doing this? If I can’t be given an answer or come up with one on my own, then I’m less likely to put forth my best effort. It’s the same for my kids.
I’ve been really trying to give my students work a voice that will be heard since I moved into teaching at the junior years level last year. It’s not enough to have their voice out there on the internet somewhere waiting to be heard but someone ACTUALLY needs to listen/read/experience what my students have to say.
Celebrating Published Work
One of the first things I did was make sure that when we completed a writing unit with published work that their work was really celebrated. This meant that it needed to be shared in a way that would make the students feel proud of what they had accomplished. Depending on the unit, we would find different audiences to share our work with. Sometimes that would be other classes, our parents or even each other. It was no longer just a type it up and hand it in and never be heard of again. My students are excited to share with others their work after going through the writing process and like the instant feedback and gratification from sharing with people they know in a face to face context. What I love even more about this is that not only do my students share their published work but they now share their process of getting to the product. As the ‘process’ of doing something has become more important than the ‘product’ in my class, I love that they enjoy sharing the experience of getting to the end rather than just being finished.
Using Google Documents to Comment and Make Suggestions
As a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school, we are very fortunate to be able to use the various Google Apps to enhance the classroom experience for our students. One of my favourite aspects of the applications is being able to use the comment or suggesting feature of Google Docs and Presentation with my students. I have the ability to access any of the documents my students are working on and give them timely feedback on their work. My students know that I’m reading their work and creates a lot more dialogue about their work and thinking as we go. I also love that documents can be shared with other students so they can do this as well. Often it happens without me knowing when a student stands up and starts asking another student across the room what he meant by this comment on his work. This idea that ‘we’ is better than just ‘me’ in our writing process allows them to have an authentic audience throughout their writing journey as well.
Weekly Reflections For Our Website
At the beginning of the year when our new class website was unveiled to my students, they took ownership of the visual appeal to it but also wanted to make sure their parents could see what they were thinking and feeling throughout the week. As a class, they decided to create a weekly Google Presentation where each student was able to design a slide (or more) with whatever graphics they wanted to and reflect on their week in any way they chose too. Many chose visuals to express themselves as a component of it but most of them wrote whatever they were feeling throughout the week. Knowing that someone would be reading their reflections each week meant that it gave them a purpose to write. This was a complete student-led initiative and is completely optional for my students to do each week. Most weeks at least 80% of my class completes it depending on how much other homework they have, etc. But they do it because they want to write and create and because they want their parents to share their experience in the classroom. This is the culture of sharing THEY have created in our class community.
This is one of my favourite parts of my class. I absolutely love using Google Sites for our e-portfolios. It allows my students to share and reflect on their work. We share them within our class and occasionally with other classes as well but the biggest success has been using them to create powerful school-home relationships. At the end of every 6 week unit of inquiry, my students share their eportfolio with their parents at home and have a discussion about their accomplishments over the course of the unit. The students know that they have wiggle room within those 6 weeks to get their e-portfolios where they want them to be but know that by the end, they will be sharing them. Knowing the audience will be there has significantly increased the quality of e-portfolios since I first started doing them. The parents are not in the dark about their child’s learning and the dialogue continues to develop with the learning at home and not just in the classroom. Parents comment on their work within the e-portfolio as well. Because of this, the student has their teacher, peers, parents, and self all reflecting and commenting on their e-portfolios - quite a powerful audience.
Gmail Home Writing Program
Each week every student in my class writes me an email. They can choose from a list or just write about whatever they want. Every Monday I send them back a personal email. The students clearly know someone is reading their writing and responding to them in a timely fashion.
The more meaningful we can create the learning we have in the classroom, the more students will learn and want to share. The more students share their work with an audience that matters to them, the more pride they take in doing their work. Students want to know what they say matters - foster a community where it can and does.