How do you improve your writing? Write. Seems so simple. We hear authors, teachers, and parents share this sage advice. Like anything, practice makes permanent. In 6th grade Language Arts we blog. In other words, we write about experiences in school and in our community. A key part of this process is reflection.
In my 25 years in education, I have seen a transition. When students write on paper, it provides valuable information for me as a teacher. Not only can I peruse the content, the grammar, and mechanics, I can also see how hard a student presses on the pencil or how they use the space on the paper. Whether they ask it out loud or not, there is the inevitable question, “How many sentences do I have to write?”
When we blog, we are learning foundational skills, but we are also treading in new and open waters. What we write is now visible to the world. This is often referred to as an “authentic audience” in educational circles. When students write with digital tools, I cannot analyze the handwriting, but even with spell check, there are spelling errors in first drafts. Writing is one of the most complex skills for students as it combines language, memory, sequencing, attention, and motor skills. In addition, learning a new process with multiple steps for drafting and publishing online is a journey in itself.
I have only been blogging for a few years with my middle school students. I cannot express the thrill and the “YES” moment we experienced when I asked them to read their first post and then read a more recent blog post. Initially, instead of noticing the difference in length or the improvement in handwriting, which is what students usually observe when comparing drafts on paper, they noticed what we want them to see. Smiles widened, eyes sparkled, and pride burst from their chests when they realized that they had become better writers. They improved their craft. This was not about the final product. They noticed how they improved the PROCESS of writing. An added bonus is that they discovered that all of our talk about how to comment online really matters. In other words, specific, meaningful feedback feels very different than “Nice job!”
Last year in 6th grade, Lana wrote a piece titled, Blog Post Progression. She reflected on this experience of looking back at her learning process. She writes, “Recently, I scrolled through all of my blog posts, down to my first one. To be honest, it was rough. I actually started to laugh. I misplaced and omitted commas and made a small handful of other grammar and writing mistakes. I realized how much I have learned throughout the year and how much my writing skills have improved.”
Throughout the year in 6th grade Language Arts, we learn how we learn. We talk about strategies, resources, and what works best for each of us as individuals. Lana writes, “Throughout this process, I learned quite a bit about my peers and myself. I discovered that I actually prefer to write on paper. This is because when I write up a report on a piece of paper or in a notebook, I do not have the risk of the document accidentally getting deleted or getting lost in the midst of my computer or iPad while when I handwrite an assignment, it is my responsibility to protect and not lose it. Some of my peers, though, prefer technology and use cloud-based apps so they do not lose their work.”
Lana concludes, “Despite my favoritism of pen and paper, the blog experience has been a great one. It’s exciting to see my name on the homepage, but even better to see how much my work has improved since the beginning of the year. The blog has helped me become a better writer and I am so glad that Mrs. Donnelly introduced our class to it!”
Lana’s writing experience has come full circle. She indeed has an authentic audience, the world. Her reflection is now published in the March 2015 issue of JAAL, the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. The Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy is a peer-reviewed academic journal published eight times per year by Wiley-Blackwell. It is currently edited by Margaret Carmody Hagood and Emily Neil Skinner (College of Charleston). Click here for more information about JAAL http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/%28ISSN%291936-2706/homepage/ProductInformation.html
To reference the links shared in Lana’s article please visit:
Keep writing and reflecting. Keep learning.