Online Writing: Beauty and the Beast
Each year I have my students engage in a variety of online writing experiences: blogging, Google documents, websites, and presentations. At this point in the year, I find that there are two sides to online writing, and finding a way to balance them is my greatest challenge.
I love having my students write online. Online writing is easier to edit, I can leave comments, and I don’t have to lug tons of notebooks back and forth. I can sit with my computer in my lap at night and toggle through a wealth of student writing. It is by no means faster (sometimes I feel like it takes a bit longer digging through my links) but I do love not having to worry about whether assignments were turned in, or if I left papers at school, or somehow something got lost.
Online writing allows me to have a digital archive of my students’ writing, which is invaluable at parent-teacher conferences in the spring. It is amazing to see the growth—or sadly sometimes the lack thereof—in student pieces. Because I give lots of craft assignments early on, I can easily show parents my assignment posts and their student’s writing in response. This allows for easier conversations about why a child is beginning, developing, or secure in his or her writing skills.
This encourages revision. With this kind of online portfolio, some students have asked to go back and revise and edit—a teacher’s dream! They actually want to do this? Sometimes I take screenshots of the “before” piece, so that I can have them to compare to the revised and edited work. This helps me when I confer with both student and parent.
Establishing partnerships has been a beautiful thing as well. This year we are blogging partners with two 5th grade classes in Maine and we are participating in the Two Writing Teachers Classroom Slice of Life Challenge. My students are excited to log on each week to see what their long-distance partners have written, and to leave and receive feedback. In the classroom challenge, they are looking at writing from classrooms around the globe, which makes their own writing more purposeful. They grapple with their subject matter because now that they have an audience, they want it to be interesting.
Without fail, I have at least two or three students from each class who ask me what to write about. Convincing some of my students that they have moments that are writing-worthy is a constant challenge, but in spite of all this, I am finding every student engaged to a greater degree than they would be if they were only writing in their notebooks. That is beautiful.
Of course, this all sounds great. What could possibly be a problem? Well…
Greater responsibilities for feedback
If I had the time each and every night to read and leave private comments on students’ blogs, life would be grand. But I don’t. So, I let the posts pile up, and pretty soon I am harassed by my students enough that I sit and power through countless blogs in one night.
I’m still not able to allow my students to comment freely on one another’s blogs, which means that I have comments to approve as well. All of this can become a monster to manage, and I confess that this year I have not done as well as I would like. Now that we have blogging partners, the SOLSC, and the interface on our blog has changed … it is very time consuming and at times, downright annoying.
Problems with technology
Every year, I have my students create individual Google Sites for our informational reading and writing units. For the units, we take notes, do our writing in packets, and then transfer our writing to the pages of our sites—my attempt to help them avoid plagiarism. Again, this allows for easy conferring on my part. It also unleashes a whole new animal.
Ten-year-olds often believe that they know more about technology than the adults around them. While this is frequently true, their tech confidence becomes a nightmare when working with certain programs. No matter how many directions I give, there is always that group of students that thinks they know better. (Or the group that totally misses the directions.) This leads to a lot of time spent undoing, re-doing, and re-teaching. Grr. My students discovered the hard way last year that copy-paste doesn’t work all of the time in Google Sites, even though someone had told them that. This resulted in many hours spent finding, downloading, saving and uploading pictures, not to mention having to create the citations all over again.
Happily Ever After?
At the end of each project, I find that I’ve learned something new that will help me (and my students) in the future. I also find new challenges with technology and the individuals who are in my classes. This is truly a never-ending journey, but one that I am still happy to be on.
Beth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006. She is blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner teaches all of their math and science. This enables them to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University.