Writing Longer, Writing Stronger: The Power of Young Authors Sharing through Digital Media
I began an inquiry project last fall for a digital literacy course I was taking, using the perennial question of how to sustain the writing process in an elementary classroom given both the time constraints and less than enthusiastic responses to many writing suggestions from my 8 and 9 year old students. I played around with a variety of possibilities for engagement until I landed on the idea to use Skype, or video conferencing to hook my young authors into the writing and revision process. I’d only used this digital media once before, as a way to chat with my daughter when she was traveling in Spain. I began looking for answers to my inquiry questions by collaborating with a fellow Southern Maine Writing Project Teacher Consultant who teaches a fabulous group of honors English students. I thought that by hooking my most reluctant writers into the world of video conferencing, they may work a bit harder on their pieces knowing that someone would be reading and responding as they worked towards publication. I created a rubric that included praise and polish to guide the feedback from the high school juniors and then we were off! By the beginning of January my students were writing up a storm; wild and blustery, but writing nonetheless. While the range of mastery is wide, the one constant recently is the motivation caused by our inquiry project.
I began this project with the following questions:
1. At the elementary level how do you sustain the writing process in order for young authors to move from “all done” to engaged writers?
2. What would rehearsal/pre-write look like with two different (culturally/age) groups using a digital media such as Skype?
3. How would incorporating digital media opportunities enhance canned writing programs?
I have been challenged to find the magic that will encourage my young authors to see the writing process as an extension of who they are. I’ve tried to show them that they do have engaging stories to tell and important things to say. As 8 and 9 year olds, they love to share orally, but when it comes to written production, I found they limited their elaboration, and completely shut down when it came to revision. My writing curriculum encourages the generation of seeds and adding daily to a writer’s notebook, in addition to using mentor text to help students recognize what good authors do. While this feels natural and allows for 90 minutes of writing workshop five days a week, I found that many of my students were reluctant to try the lessons presented to them. Along with the challenge of engaging these young authors, I also struggled with finding an authentic destination for their finished work.
Writing Longer, Writing Stronger: Jumping In
I literally jumped into this project with a “yee hah” and a prayer, troubleshooting as we went, solving a variety of SKYPE snafus that had to do with audio and/or video, flurries of emails, blog barriers as simple as how the heck do you post and label, and the occasional frantic cell phone call at 10:18 a.m. while students all over the classroom yelled into their mikes: “Can you hear me?”
Through it all, the students have embraced each other as they build this unlikely community of writers: hesitant 3rd graders who have an assortment of writing challenges including phonetic spelling and the proverbial “I’m all done”, and AP English students who are working hard to draw the stories out of these young writers.
You can find our work at: aronsonauthors.blogspot.com
When you click on the student authors’ names, you’ll see a variety of writing they’ve done to date: personal narratives and non fiction pieces. You’ll be able to read the high school students “praise and polish”, and then in red text, the 3rd grade author’s attempt at revision using their writing partners feedback. In addition the 3rd graders followed prompts that highlighted their job as writers during a video conference.
Writing Longer, Writing Stronger: Writers’ Conferences
THE WRITER’S JOB IN A CONFERENCE
I’m working on writing long! In my head I am thinking: “just write.”
I’m working on keeping my readers interested by adding: Detail, Action, Emotions
A few comments overheard while the students were SKYPING:
“I just read the story about your little sister. I absolutely love how you went from talking about memories from the past with all of the dialogue (talking), to the future. That flowed really nice.”
“Mr. Mitchell, I’m so proud of my partner!” (She was impressed by her kiddo’s revisions (Caleb) and felt so happy to be part of that growth.
Sophia grade 3 in response to her writing partners question: “If I could have said one more thing to my Uncle before he died I would have said “I love you.”
“I think that you could help the reader understand more about how you feel about your dog by mentioning what you like to do with your dog.”
“My writing partner (Cassie) has a great laugh”.
“I think you should try combining sentences because you have a lot of short sentences clumped together. For example, instead of saying “She lives with our fish, Swimmy. He has a lot of energy.” You could say, “She lives with our fish, Swimmy, and he has a lot of energy.” The sentences flow better that way, so try combining some more like that.”
“I’m sorry your gram died, but maybe you could describe what she was like before she died.”
Pretty amazing work, don’t you think?
Writing Longer, Writing Stronger: Meeting Face to Face
We had the opportunity to meet our writing partners face to face a few weeks ago. It was impressive to see the 3rd grade students reach out and hug their high school partners, who reached down to return the affection. Chatter immediately filled the room, and then they were off and writing! Writing partners rotated through an assortment of writing centers that I had provided where they wrote in teams of two and shared their work with others. The motivation and enthusiasm created by this project has literally spilled across the pages of my student’s writer’s notebooks.
Reluctant writers have grown into engaged and motivated authors who work to produce writing that will be ready in time for the weekly video conference with their high school partners. Revision is now clearly a part of their writing process as my 3rd graders take the feedback given by their high school partners seriously and work to improve their piece.