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I’m hoping to conduct my research on student writing and ways in which I can help students better understand their own process of production and engage more deeply in their reflection and revision process. This is a topic that has been written about extensively by many others, and the works of Ralph Fletcher, Kelly Gallagher, Troy Hicks, Penny Kittle, and Nancie Atwell have certainly shaped how I interact with my student writers. However, I want to take some time to focus specifically on what is happening in my classroom, what I’m actually doing to teach and support my emerging writers, and reflect on my teaching strategies and assumptions of how my students learn their writing skills.
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In my classroom, I have moved away from writing on paper, finding that using online spaces to write, namely blogs and shared Google Docs, allow for greater feedback and for me to act more as a coach during the writing process rather than simply responding to student writing after the final copy has been turned in. I can give feedback as they write. When it is working well, students are not simply writing their own work, but engaged with their peers in a collaborative feedback process. This, however, has been difficult to manage. Generally speaking, the students that enjoy writing, who already write well coming into my classroom, are the same ones that spend the most time engaging with their writing and with the writing of their classmates. The students that need the most support are also those that rarely take time give to feedback to other students. This makes sense. The students comfortable and confident with their writing also feel comfortable helping others. However, the students that need more support, who would benefit from both giving and getting feedback, are those less likely to get it. And as a teacher of about 70 students each semester, I find it difficult to give feedback at multiple points to each student during their drafting process. So even though I know from research that students benefit from feedback during their writing process rather than after they complete it, I struggle to make that happen consistently for all students. This is where I would like to focus my research: How can I use digital tools to provide feedback on student writing that encourages revision and reflection on the writing process? And, how can I get all students involved in that process of feedback as well?
Here's where my research starts - with questions:
- How do I get all students involved in the process of giving feedback to their peers?
- Is it helping or hindering the giving of peer feedback that I do not grade peer feedback?
- What types of feedback do students find most helpful during their writing process?
- At what point in the writing process do students find feedback most helpful?
- What inhibits students from giving feedback to their peer’s writing?
- If my goal with feedback is to get students to go back into their writing to make content revisions and reflect on their writing process, should I grade student interaction with the feedback that I give?
- How much is access is reliable wireless devices an issue?
- How might the use of digital tools help the feedback/revision process become more transparent for both the student writer and the teacher?
And my own writing experiences have shaped how I teach writing. Many of my secondary school teachers and some of my undergraduate professors would share feedback in the form of one or two sentences and a grade at the end of my essays, which did little to encourage reflection on my own writing process. Yet, I was always writing, both for school and for pleasure. It really wasn't until I attend a small liberal arts college for my Masters in Liberal Arts that I began to reflect on how writing happens. My graduate professors gave extensive feedback not on my grammar or sentence construction, but on the content of my writing, talking back with me about how I constructed my ideas and rationales. And, our writing assignments were many times for larger audiences. We were sharing our essays with the other students in class, and many times we were submitting out for publication as well. It was in this program that I learned HTML code, not because I took a course but because I needed to create a website to share a few of my essays for a course on American women writers. And it was this experience of writing for a real audience that changed how I thought about my own writing and about teaching writing. When I started receiving emails from people who were reading my work online, I went back and made deliberate revisions (I even noticed this past week that one of my pieces was referenced in a book). And, I also sought out more opportunities to publish. I've been fortunate to have a couple of my poems published, my essay for This I Believe published, and of course I blog. So in teaching writing, I have sought many opportunities for students to write for larger audiences, not just for me as their teacher.
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So this is where my research into using digital tools to provide feedback to student writers begins. I hope to share with other teachers how using digital tools to give feedback makes the writing process more transparent for the students and the teacher and can grow student investment in building their writing skills. To this, my goal is not just interview my students, but students from a variety of schools and settings about how they engage with feedback on their writing. If you are interested in helping (or know someone who might be), reach out! I'd love to make new connections!