Making Connections: Fostering Shared Writing Spaces
Guiding Essential Question: How can students from urban and rural communities use an online writing space to connect with others while still keeping the focus on learning?
Funded with grant money from the National Writing Project’s Technology Initiative, the aim of the Making Connections project was to provide teachers with an opportunity to explore the world of blogging and to bring those tools into their classrooms in urban and rural towns in Western Massachusetts so that students could better understand the world outside of their own communities.
Implemented with a mix of hands-on professional development for teachers and collaborative development of both a free Summer Camp for students and a unit of curriculum integration for the school year, the Making Connections project provided in-roads to technology in communities where computer labs were mostly reserved for standardized testing and online writing sites were looked at with concern by school administrators.
Over two years time, which included expansion beyond the first two communities, more than 20 teachers were involved and hundreds of students were using the closed blogging space for writing and sharing stories, discussing books in online literature circles, engaging in collaborative science experiments that led to the publishing of scientific abstracts, and even cross-grade/cross-school mentoring, with high school students working with elementary students.
For many of the teachers in Making Connections, this was the first time they were immersed in the world of technology. And for many of the students from the poor communities that the project strove to reach, the initiative was an opportunity to introduce emerging technology to young writers in a meaningful and creative way.
Project Overview, Part One
This is the first part of a video documentary of the Making Connections Project.
Project Overview, Part Two
This is the second part of a documentary of the Making Connections Project.
Making Connections: On the Radio
The local affiliate of National Public Radio in Western Massachusetts (WFCR)
stopped by some classrooms one day as the students were blogging and
produced this piece about this use of technology in the school
Open WFCR Profile of Making Connections.mp3
A survey was given to all participants of the Making Connections project. Here are some of the student reflections:
“The project, Making Connections, lasted for months through the school year. I liked this project for many reasons. One was that it used technology and a different way of a school writing project in a good way. Another thing that I liked was that the writers got to use feeling into their writing and most of the writing entries were very good. Finally, another reason why I liked this writing project was that you got to interact with many schools in this area. They were also very creative writers and had similar and different opinions as I do. This is why I liked this project. I also have learned many things while using this blog. I learned how to use constructive tips and not hurtful ones. I have also learned that many writers feel the same way I do in some topics. I have also learned about many writing assignments and how to improve them. This is what I have learned from this project.” — Jim
“I liked this project. I liked it because you can express yourself without getting bullied. Kids could write from the heart. So they could write without pressure on your back. By my calculations 90% of students in 99% of schools are not the way they make themselves seem to be. They could be really smart, but not want to show it because of popularity. I learned how to express myself. I was able to write about Megan without feeling mad or sad. I learned how to be a polite critic. I learned to say nice things about others.” — Rose
“I like this Weblog project. I like it because you got to communicate with other students. I liked doing all of the work for the blog. It was fun reading and responding to some work from students from other schools. Weblogging in school is very fun. I learned many things doing this project. I learned different kinds of ELA writings such as I poems. I learned how to use constructive criticism. I learned how to write better in the Blog project. I learned how to respond better to other students. I learned personal thing about my friends and classmates. I have learned a lot doing this Weblogging Writing Project.” – Mike
Throughout the Making Connection project, our teachers were regularly using blogs to reflect on their own experiences with using blogs for writing. Here are few piece of writing from participant teachers:
“Growing up in Athol, I understand how living in a small community can become isolating for young people … Sharing their writing with peers in other communities is an invaluable tool that many young people do not get to experience … I believe we can share those (life-long learning) experiences and show the community that we can continue to build positive learning environments in our small town …”
– Deborah Piragas, language arts teacher, Athol-Royalston Middle School, Athol, Massachusetts
“This project seems to be a great opportunity for all of us – teachers, students, communities, etc. There is a great potential for using these blogs to help different communities communicate in a personal and meaningful way, and hopefully that personal growth for all of us can be a foundation for the academic work. I am hoping that this will be the beginning of new ideas, opportunities, and experiences for building community in and around our schools.”
– Drew Hafner, social studies teacher, TOP program, Peck Middle School, Holyoke, Massachusetts
For those who are seeking to replicate their own blogging community, here are a few resources that we developed that might come in handy.