Sunday, 11 January 2015

GMAIL: Home Writing Program Plan

Last year I began a writing program in my class where the students would write me an email each week and I would respond.  I created a thought out plan with input from our Director of Education Technology and off I went. After just over a year of doing this, I opened up the same document to check in and see if I was still doing everything I had set out to do and reflect on the overall effectiveness of the program.

Here is the plan created in October  2013:
In my first year of teaching, a colleague of mine had a grade 4 class who did ‘Thinking Thursday’ every week for a lesson. The concept was simple – write what you were thinking about. Students had an option to write a letter to the teacher, choose a topic from the jar or write about whatever they wanted. Surprisingly, most students would choose to write a letter to the teacher.

We had many discussions about the power of a letter back and forth between the teacher and student
  • Get to know your student
  • Improve student writing
  • Tailor individual writing with feedback
  • Challenge students by questioning things in their life
  • Provide meaningful guidance and support (pastoral)
And yet, when faced with my own classroom as a relatively new teacher, I was struggling to find time to have students write each week with the given curriculum and school demands while also giving them the choice of what to write. As a school adopting the Writer’s Workshop, it provided limited room for writing the way individual teachers view writing and more of a formula to generate writing.
I personally have never been one to be good at communicating in person and have found writing a better form of communication for me as I am able to think through what I want to say before saying it. While it takes away the initial face to face conversations, it will allow for more meaningful conversations inside the classroom and help me relate to my students more.
I have decided to incorporate this as part of their homework rather than an in-class assignment for the simple reason that it utilises technology and writing in a way that will captivate students and allow them to develop their writing skills without feeling they have to write a polished piece to publish.
Why Not Blog Instead:
  • Lack of response/ meaningful feedback
  • Forced writing
  • No authentic audience
  • Hard to have a targeted audience when you don’t know who will read it

  • To build a mutually respected relationship between students and the teacher
  • To have writing opportunities that are authentic, meaningful and inspiring
  • To provide the student with individual feedback
  • Write with a specific and targeted audience
  • Improve technology skills and digital literacy (eg. Email etiquette, typing, etc)

Writing Task:

  • Students are expected to write an email to their teacher each week about any topic of their choosing.
  • The teacher will respond to the comments/questions the student has written about in their email. The teacher will also provide general feedback for writing style, conventions etc.
  • Email is to be submitted by Friday of every week.

Guidelines for Students:

Students must:

  • Use proper email etiquette
    • Dear Ms/Mr.
    • Sincerely
    • The specific title of an email
  • Use capitalisations
  • Use punctuation
  • Use paragraphs (eventually)
  • Reread your work before sending
  • Utilise the spell check function prior to sending
  • Maintain an understanding that the emails are confidential UNLESS you are in a position where you will hurt self or someone else
  • Should these guidelines not be met, the student will receive an email from the teacher outlining that their email should be modified to meet these success criteria before resending.

Sample Email for Introduction to Students
Dear Ms. Mac,
I hope this email finds you doing well. This week at school I really enjoyed doing our summative assignment. I liked that we were able to work in groups to make our buildings. I found it tricky working with Roger on our project because he did not listen to my ideas. Do you have some suggestions on how to work better as a team?
In cross country this week, I came 4th. I ran as fast as I could and really tried my best. I would have done better but I tripped over a log on the path and rolled down the hill. But I did pass one person because I rolled really fast.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Foreseeable challenges:

Proposed Action Plan
ESL Students
  • Students may write in their native languages. I will Google translate their answers. Then write in response back. The point is to get them writing.
  • Slowly transition from native language to writing in English.
Students without access to a laptop at home
  • When students are finished their work in class, they may work on their assignment.
  • Alternatively, they can do it during ‘work in progress’ time on Friday afternoon
  • Students can also write a handwritten letter if necessary.
Learning disabilities (dyslexia)
  • Remind students to utilise spell check.
  • Importance of trying and writing for length and meaning.
  • Focus on building a love of writing.
  • Less focus on spelling etc.
Lack of technology skills (typing, the inclusion of sentence structure and conventions)
  • Students will develop typing skills by doing assignments online
  • Students will be made aware of exclusions of capitalisation, punctuation as part of the written feedback given each week.
Mandatory – reluctant writers
  • Students are writing about themselves and what interests them
  • They can share as much or as little as they want with me about themselves or choose one of the topics of the week to write about
  • Choice allows for more buy-in
Parents not wanting students emailing teachers ‘personal’ information or at all
  • Students can complete a writing assignment on paper and submit each week.
  • Students can choose from a list of optional topics.
Coming across questionable emails
  • Speak with the students for clarification of what they meant in their email
  • When necessary, discuss concerns with Year Group Coordinator, JYP, PYP coordinator
Assigning this as homework instead of in-class activity
  • Students can write at their convenience when they feel like writing
  • Doesn’t have to be related to course content
Responding to emails on weekend
  • This will be part of their homework and homework is marked over the course of the weekend.
  • All other emails will wait to be responded to on Monday during work hours
Parents wanting to be CC'd
  • Parents will be notified about questionable comments only
  • Email parents in advance about the purpose of the assignment
Email Sent to Parents Prior to Beginning Program:
Dear Parents,

I wanted to take a moment to write to you in anticipation of our next unit of inquiry which is about personal awareness. The central idea for the unit is “A person’s behaviour and how they choose to present themselves can project aspects of the identity.” We’re really looking forward to exploring it.
As part of the writing homework, students will be asked to write a weekly email to myself. Students may choose to write about one of the selected topics in their homework package or choose to write about something of their own interest, but each email must be submitted no later than Friday along with their regular homework. All emails will be sent from the student’s Chatsworth email account to the teacher’s Chatsworth email account as usual.
There will be two parts to the teacher feedback to these emails. The first part will be a response to what the student has written, while the second part will deal with writing styles, grammar and conventions.  I will read them over the weekend and students will have a response in their inbox on Monday mornings - at which point they can ponder the questions posed by myself and include their answers in the next email. I’m excited at the potential for some very interesting conversations and dialogue.
Chatsworth’s mission includes developing students as internationally aware, responsible digital citizens. By connecting with students through email, they are building skills in digital literacy and developing their writing skills in a 21st-century environment.
Students who are enrolled in the ESL program are welcome and encouraged to write in their first language if they feel more comfortable. The purpose of this writing exercise is to allow them to express themselves without feeling restricted by language. I will translate emails through Google Translate and respond in English. Students may choose to read the English response or translate it back to their first language. (Please note: No translation is perfect).

This assignment will provide students with many learning opportunities and has the potential to develop our classroom community tremendously. Students will learn how to write letters and use proper email etiquette as well as developing their writing skills with individually tailored feedback. It is important for students to become familiar with typing on a computer and remembering to incorporate appropriate capitalisation and punctuations.  

In doing this, I hope to continue to develop an ongoing relationship with my students and allow them to write about topics of personal interest in a format that is meaningful and timely.

Should you have any questions or concerns, I would be more than happy to discuss this with you at your convenience.

As always, it is a pleasure learning with your children.

Ms. Emily MacLean

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