Applications and Implications
On the whole, we have been more than pleased with our first year of online essay writing. We took advantage of the digital tools available to us to prepare students for college-level writing. The process also showed students how they could use these tools on their own, even if they were applying them towards a more “traditional” endeavor. Since we started our process, teachers in the science department have created their own model on Google Docs for reviewing lab reports. Other potential uses for individual student docs include, but are not limited to:
- Keeping daily journals, and using the commenting function to write replies
- Collecting “do now” or “exit slip” activities, giving students a place to track their own progress and reflect
- Creating anthologies of poetry, fiction, or other creative work, which could culminate with students publishing to the web
- Any assignment which would benefit from collection and feedback over time (and what wouldn’t, really?)
This assignment was implemented with the junior class, by which time our students already years of experience collaborating and reflecting — two of the core values of our school. I was reminded of this when, during our first peer editing session, a transfer student froze up at her desk. When I checked in with her, she looked at me like a deer in headlights. “I’ve never looked at another student’s paper before,” she whispered.
Her situation is not unusual, but it’s not insurmountable, either. I pulled her away from her own computer and gave her a quick tour of the room, showing her the kinds of comments that her peers were typing up on every possible essay topic. When she returned to her desk, I gave her few prompts, which I would repeat to many thoughout the year: Identify the thesis. Re-write it in your own words. Find the support. Does it fit? Does the context satisfy? How about that conclusion?
These questions should should familiar to any English teacher. Moving essay writing online did not revolutionize the process — it just enhanced what we already wanted students to be doing. Like any good tool, after a while it blended into the background. Students no longer thought about the way it was shaping and influencing their practice — they just did it, with more thought and clarity than they had before.