Tag Archive for writing

Mixing media for a powerful writing experience

Our sixth grade language arts teacher has done it again, inventing a multimedia writing project that has captured kids’ attention and produced some passionate, authentic writing. Last year, his students composed and recorded Reconstruction-era songs and then held a follow-up discussion via online forum. This year, students wrote, acted, and recorded short video skits about gender stereotyping and physical education.

Why video? Carter comments.

Video is important to get kids’ attention and provide fun. There is an element of drama and play. Tracking visually turns on some part of their brain, helps them understand better.


It must be even more effective to have the kids write, stage, and record the video. There are likely to remember every detail of the prompt that leads to all of the subsequent writing.

A comment thread provides the subsequent discussion space.


Kids who struggle with expository writing can really shine in a more argumentative/discussion format. [One student] cares about people listening to her points, being respected. She likes the slangy sound [of kid talk] — it has a nice ring to it. She is also really good at this dialect.

In other words, let us recognize that people demonstrate a number of authentic literacies in the real world, not all of which are represented in schools.

To spice up the discussion, Carter invited eighth grade students to join the conversation. That sure motivated the sixth grade students to write compelling responses!

Students love the forum medium, because they know they are not going to be asked to produce a lot of text, and the topic is going to be relevant to their lives. It is not authentic to write longer pieces — just an artifact of school.

The five-paragraph essay is still a critical student writing competency. It is just not the only one.

Want to join us?

Do you teach middle school students? Would you like them to join the conversation about gender stereotypes in physical education? Go to the conversation web site and submit your comments. Please ask students to identify themselves by first name and school.

Collaborative Composition Technologies

I am engaged in a project at school to reproduce the functionality of DIWE, the Deadalus Integrated Writing Environment. Our English teachers used this superb piece of desktop/server software to structure writing activities for students but find themselves unable to use it any longer, because it does not handle a mixed-platform environment well or have a web component. We aim to determine the best way to make DIWE or another interactive writing environment available to teachers and students here and at home. At one level, this involves discussion of Terminal Servers and dual-boot Macs, but we are also considering replacing the entire system.

It may intrigue my fellow edubloggers that this writing environment far outstrips blogs, forums, or wikis in its richness and support for student writing activities. While I have seen many terrific examples of student work in our favorite ubiquitous online technologies, reviewing DIWE makes me understand that our favorite Web 2.0 tools, still in their infancy, have a long way to go before they provide the level of sophistication that many teachers expect from classroom learning tools. DIWE embraces the concept that “writing is thinking.” Writers engage in the cyclical process of guided critical inquiry -> prewriting -> drafting -> guided peer reviewing -> guided revision. Effective bloggers may learn to incorporate some of these traits into their writing, but DIWE provides a more effective tool to learn how to write.

Blogs, forums, and wikis all start with a single container. DIWE provides a set of writing prompts that students may use either during prewriting or reviewing activities to kick off their compositions. Students here do not encounter the problem of writer’s block, because the prompts stimulate critical thinking about the selected topic, providing the raw material for a student to begin writing. The tool then combines the student’s responses into a single document that the student may use to begin their first draft. Teachers may use a “prompt manager” to create new sets of prompts that may vary in number. I have seen nothing like this in the world of Web 2.0 writing tools. Sure, one could list a set of prompts above a single text field, but DIWE provides a much deeper level of age-appropriate structure and direction.

Similarly, this richness extends to commenting. The system provides collaborative peer review, in much the same manner that a group of bloggers would form a community of practice through commenting on each others’ blogs. However, DIWE even structures peer review through a series of prompts, providing far more support to students writing reviews of their peers’ work than a simple comment box.

DIWE provides a live chat tool that a number of existing Web 2.0 services should be able to replicate. Students engage in real-time discussion about an idea or piece of writing. DIWE automatically saves each chat as a separate object and preserves all transcripts by default. At first blush, Drupal’s Chat Room module looks like it could replicate this functionality, because it creates a separate node for each chat room.

DIWE provides some course management features similar to those in Moodle or DrupalEd. Teachers and students meet online in a shared course web space, in which teachers may publish a plan for the week and students may upload files or post online text to posted assignment objects. DIWE allows teachers to determine whether the assignment submissions are public or private.

Outside of DIWE, these English classes also WEDGE (Writing Every Day Generate Excellence), similar to blogging but usually private to the writer.

Does another structured, collaborative composition system exist out there that we should consider adopting? Has anyone else tried to build a web-based system that replicates the functions of this terrific piece of desktop/server software? Would anyone like to work with us to develop these tools in Drupal? I wonder whether a standalone Drupal site could do the trick. If one provided teachers with the ability to administer content types, they could create a series of prompts and text fields to make up each structured activity. Better yet, we could contract the creation of a new Drupal module to provide this function, and we should be able to use existing Drupal modules for everything else. Would anyone like to help fund the authorship of a new Drupal module or Moodle activity?