Sunday, April 22, 2007

Writing on the Web

Now that I have my question, I'm moving on to the next step, which is the phase in which I'll have to decide how I'm going to try to explore this question. I've decided to focus, at least for now, on my Sophomore Honors English class. This class has been lagging a bit lately, in fact I've found that the last two years I've had a hard time with this particular stage of this class. With my freshmen I keep things moving with a non-fiction unit that works well for this time of year, but my sophomores need to get ready for AP classes next year, and the last quarter is spent on the novel Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

I really like this book, and I enjoy teaching it. Unfortunately, the kids don't seem to share my enthusiasm. I made the observation last week that they were bored out of their gourds, and I was starting to lose momentum. My discussions have gone from lively and animated early in the semester to forced and (judging by the looks on their faces) boring. So I did some reflection and decided to turn the discussions over to the kids, asking them to write their own level three questions for us to focus our discussions on. I'm also going to do a round of group projects that will hopefully get them thinking about the book in a different way, and hopefully that will give the class some variety and relieve some of the boredom while still maintaining the rigor that I know I have to keep up.

But, as I have learned in my discussions on the Mother Blog this kind of reflective practice is only the beginning, so I'm going to attempt to apply the inquiry methods of teacher research to the problem. One of the things I want to do is to create a discussion about the book that is modeled after the "silent discussion" that my colleague Nate Hoffman shared with me a couple of years ago, and which I have used since then with varying degrees of what I consider to be success. The idea is that each student will post a paragraph or two to a class blog, and then will be asked to comment on one another's blogs to hopefully generate some discussion.

First, however, I want to make sure that I am answering my question; an essential component of this project is that I use my student's interest in and knowledge of the web to build a better sense of what "good writing" looks like. My plan is to look at examples of web writing and to ask the students to assess that writing, asking them what makes it good or bad. From that we will generate a list of characteristics of good writing from which we can create a class rubric to judge both their blog posts and their comments.

My first question is whether I should find examples, organize them into a Power Point and show them to the students as we go through the rubric-designing process, or if there is a way to get the students to find the examples themselves and then to share out with the rest of the class their ideas about good and bad web writing. One sounds easier than the other in terms of my work load, but if there is a significant advantage to having the students find the examples themselves, it may be a case in which the easier path is also the best for the kids. Easier is a relative term, though, I'll still have to come up with a system to organize the student searches and then set up a way for them to present their findings to the class (Power Points?).


Cindy O-A said...

Are the kids likely to want to do this themselves? If so, I'd say let them go for it. It could be enlightening just to see what they're deeming "good" and "bad" writing.

And have you really been teaching for two years already? Geez, I'm getting old.

And finally, how and when do we get Nate Hoffmann in CSUWP already?

smb said...

Yes, having students find examples is "easier," but I often find they don't find varying degrees of examples. My guess is that most of what they read online is less than stellar. What if you still allow them to find examples, but you find examples as well? You could either give students the examples before they find their own or after.

I also think you could have students rank them and explain their system of ranking.

Could you post links for students to visit as a way to view the examples? I like to see (translate -- have my own copies of things, I'm not fond of powerpoint) the examples or lecture...

Bud Hunt said...

I'd have students look for some examples and maybe have you find a few, too. Perhaps you could look for yours as part of their process to look for theirs -- I agree with Stacey that sometimes, students won't find a wide range of examples.

I'd also be in favor of having students write about what they find in an environment that is conducive to conversation -- a class blog, a discussion forum, etc -- rather than a one-way medium like PowerPoint.

steph said...

I always like the idea of the kids finding examples of things. I think their having to judge each thing they find and to have to decide its quality of writing is a valuable task. It seems to allow them to almost teach themselves the facets of "good" or "bad" instead of you doing it all for them. But, to agree with Bud and Stacey, it is also a great idea to have your own examples and maybe then compare them (venn diagram style) based on basic qualities: what's good or bad about each one and then what do they all have in common? I also really like Bud's idea of a two-way medium of providing this info, but Natalie's idea of having the Powerpoint as backup for absent kids or as a review tool is a sound one (ie. copies of notes for kids who need/missed it.)