How does one start a reflection on a year of writing?
Lots of weird things happened: slow connections, strange log-outs, slow computers. Those prevented us from working diligently on our wiki. In addition, many students hunt and peck, so typing fast is difficult. They simply don’t get enough time with computers to learn fast. Maybe we should hook up phones and allow txting — then they’d speed dial! (Think about it: they don’t know “dial.”) Even so, thanks to our great tech support, we overcame these obstacles.
But when everything connected, students found themselves immersed in their language choices: reading and re-reading to focus on the ideas, looking back at notes (on paper or the computer) to verify their ideas, sharing with a peer to see if they understood, and just plain re-writing because once the ideas started to flow, the focus was on the work. Sometimes, it didn’t seem like anyone was in the room, the kids were so focused on writing their ideas. They were not perfect in conventions, but the ideas flowed, whether the students were fifth or eighth grade students. The six and seventh grade students spent less time on the computer because their projects demanded peer writing and more drafting — looking at ways to write rather than finished content.
What did we do?
Gather, analyze and organize ideas– textual and visual.
Formulate ideas in powerful word choices: vivid verbs, nifty nouns, imagery
Elaborate as needed: details, facts, links, images
Organize for flow: sentences, paragraphs, transitions
In grade eight students
researched with online social bookmarking and annotation tools
wrote letters to the President in the National Writing Project
wrote reflections on MOTT: My Own Topic Time
created photo essays
In grade five (see prior posts) students
wrote paragraphs on topics of interest
wrote about places in Nespelem for our Memphis friends
wrote comments and questions to know our Memphis friends
commented with online social bookmarking and annotation tools
reflected on commonalities with our new Memphis friends
In grades five, six, and eight students
collaborated with other kids in other schools to explain their service as requested by President Obama
Online writing and sharing is a positive learning experience.
While reading George Hillocks, Jr’s “Some Practices and Approaches Are Clearly Better Than Others and We had Better Not Ignore the Differences.” in The English Journal, Vol. 98, No. 6, July, 2009 (NCTE), pages 23-29, Dr. Hillocks discussed the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience; New York: Harper, 1990 p.49.
In summary, positive reflections and memories result from experiences that include at least one of the following:
is one that is achievable
can be concentrated on
has clear goals
includes immediate feedback
involves effortless involvement removed from everyday worries
as enjoyable allows control
allows one to forget concern for oneself while resulting in a stronger sense of self at the end
As I think about my students writing work on their wikis or blogs, I notice that my students know the task is achievable: they already have a draft of work we have discussed before they move to the wiki or blog, and each knows what s/he wants to accomplish. With that draft in hand, the concentration is on creating a better version while typing with a goal of sharing ideas with others (peers, other classes, themselves, other outside audiences). When finished, the student shares (initiated often on their own) with peers or the teacher to explain the changes and to reflect on other possibilities to enhance the writing. While working, each is focused, removed from whatever exists outside the classroom. In complete control of the writing, each enjoys the “aha” and the look of the typed wiki or blog. I see a student, dropping hands down to the side, pushing the chair back, and gazing at the finished piece before announcing, “Ms. Edwards, look at this!”
This doesn’t often happen when the writing is hand written. When shuffling pieces of paper, and attempting to make it better by hand; technology makes the work easier. Drafting and revising by hand is cumbersome now, especially knowing that the computer is an arm’s length away. And often, as the time for gathering at the end of class arrives, students exclaim, “This period went by fast.”
The technology tools (blogs, wikis, VoiceThread, Diigo) allowed students to learn in the flow, an engaged experience enhancing their learning and encouraging future progress.
I have a ways to go as their teacher, but I know I’m on the right track — and we flow together along its path even when the content and product is differentiated; even because if it.
We will continue with our projects because our projects provided our flow in writing class. We will continue with our projects because they are the chance to grow with the tools of the future. Isn’t this what you want for your children?
Geeky Gramma ~~
Retired Middle School Language Arts Teacher ~~
Writer and Thinker