Tuesday, April 29, 2014

20% Time Projects: Resources for Teachers

Image from Pecha Kucha
The basic premise of the 20% Time Project is that it is student-driven, passion-based learning. The idea gained traction as more people read Daniel Pink’s book Drive. In the book, Pink cites an idea that started with the 3M company and was expanded by Google. Google encourages its employees to spend one day each work week, 20 percent of their work time, focusing on their own projects. Why? Well, it turns out that when people have autonomy over their work, time to master their skills, and a clear purpose, they are more motivated to learn. And scientific research supports this claim. In fact, Google’s philosophy of 20 percent time is how we now have Gmail!

Introductory Resources:

Resources for Introducing 20% Time to Students:

How I Introduced 20% Time to Students:

I posted a YouTube Playlist to my class website with videos from other teachers, from Google, and from Daniel Pink which explained the premise of 20% Time. I asked students to watch a couple on their own time as homework and try to come up with an explanation of what 20% Time Projects entailed. We used the videos to frame out opening discussion and to kick-off our initial brainstorming session.


What do you want to learn? One day each week during the second quarter we will be using our time to research the topic of your choice.  You goal is to become an expert on that topic.  But this project is not just about researching…it is about doing something with what you learn.  To complete this project successfully you will
    • Pick a topic you are passionate about, something you want to learn. You may work alone or in small groups of no more than four students.
    • Find a book on your topic to guide your learning.
    • Pitch your project idea in a project proposal to the class for topic approval. You will submit both a written proposal and produce a video proposal to be posted to our class site for our community of learners to vote on.
    • Connect with an expert on your topic to interview.
    • Blog each Friday reflecting on your progress. Each post should also incorporate reflections on how your selected book is guiding your research.
    • Produce something – a presentation, a writing piece, a show – that you share with people outside of our classroom.
    • Reflect on what you have learned in a TED-style talk.

This is not simply a research project.  Once you’ve finished the research phase of this project, you must do something with your new found knowledge.  Students will be creating products and presentations (either individually or in small groups) that will extend beyond the classroom, such as documentary videos for H-Vision, web pages, pamphlets, newspaper or magazine editorials, an article for the Fordian, letters, public speaking presentations, fundraising, music, plays…or whatever you can think of to best make our community aware of your research topic.  The idea is to reach an audience outside the doors of our classroom in order to share your research.

Creating Your Pitch Video

Your video pitch will be a creative visual presentation that answers the same questions as your written proposal but in a way that engages our larger learning community.  Whereas your written proposal is meant for just your teacher, your video project proposal pitch is meant for our entire community to see and respond to.  So here are some guidelines and ideas to keep in mind:
         Whatcha gotta do is make sure you answer these questions:
    • Why are you interested in this particular topic?
    • What question(s) are you hoping to answer through your research?
    • What will you need to research?
    • Where will you find the expert and the information you need?
    • What will the outcome/product of your research be?
    • Why is this a viable topic?

Once you have written your proposal, you need to figure out how to produce your pitch video. The video pitch will be organized in the same way as the written proposal; however, you have the freedom to produce your pitch in a way that makes the best sense for your topic.  You can elect to screencast a slide or Prezi presentation or you may want to record yourself talking – it is up to you.  Your video pitch should
    • engage your viewers with use of appropriate images and design elements,
    • present your idea in a professional, well-prepared manner,
    • be under two minutes in length,
    • answer the same six questions as the written proposal, and
    • be posted to our class website for our class to vote on.
    •          Tools to Consider Using For Your Video:
        • Jing - a free app that allows you to screencast whatever is on your computer screen (and, it is already on the school computers)  
        • PowToon - an easy online app for creating animated presentations
        • Prezi - an online presentation program.  This would be a good first step to putting together your video and then you could screencast your presentation
        • RawShorts - This site is an easy...seriously EZ way of making engaging animated videos.
        • Screencast-o-matic.com - no downloading necessary with this free, online screencasting program.  Fast, easy, and awesome.
        • VideoScribe - Have you seen the RSAnimate videos? Well this app allows you to make videos in a very similar fashion.  It can be a bit time consuming, but the results are pretty cool!

Considerations Before Beginning:

Students watched the initial videos explaining Genius Hour/20% Time, and then explored potential ideas on a resource page found on our class website. I also opted to email parents about our project in advance of starting it, which helped me gather support as well as find experts in our community for my students to interview. I gave my students a framework for their research - blogging, reading requirements, interview, and presentations - in order to help them keep track of their learning. Some teachers will argue against formalizing the project in this way. However you decide to frame your project, keep in mind that student choice and purpose drive the 20% Time and Genius Hour projects. Try as much as you can to open up the choices that students can make about their research topic, how they research it, and how they present it.
What are the parameters? What can students research?
Read something and be inspired. Act on it.

Read. Discover. Pitch. Learn. Share.

  • Brainstorm Days - Try using this video to introduce brainstorming to your students. Then use this video on "Where Do Good Ideas Come From?" during the next class period to encourage collaboration.
  • Initial Research - check out the philosophy and resources available on the Independent Inquiry wiki. Consider sharing with students and have them explore the question of “what is learning?”
  • Students then craft a written proposal and pitch presentation with works cited.
  • Once a proposal is approved, students will need to find a book to guide their learning and a mentor with whom to work. Oftentimes, the mentor can suggest the best book for students to read, so you may want to have them start by finding a mentor. Use everything at your disposal to find real experts - community members, other teachers, family and friends, and social media sites
  • On 20% research days (usually we had them each Friday), students were given the entire class to work. At the close of each research day, each student needed to post a reflection blogs which included not just a progress report but needed to also reflect on what the student was reading. Each blog posted needed citations or quotes from their research.
  • On research days, the teacher would conduct conferences with individuals and small groups.
  • At the close of the semester, not only did students find ways to share their research outside the classroom, but they also produced a TEDTalk style presentation on their project and what they learned through their research.

What’s New?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Poetry in Small Moments

Throughout the month of April, I've been participating with a wonderful group of teachers in the #TeacherPoet community, spending time each week examing my own writing, the word play of others, and reflecting on the power of poetics.  This week our assignment is examine something small, looking for the particulars that capture a moment.  Our goal is to look for the surprising details, the puzzle pieces of a moment that bring a picture into focus.

This morning, after my little ones had gone off to preschool, I headed into their room to pick up the stray toys and strewn pajamas, and I stumbled across my little man's bunny, once so important to him that when he had to leave it behind, bunny would be carefully snuggled under a special blanket on his pillow.  This morning I found him on the floor near the foot of his bed.


for your fallen star
at arm’s length
a bit too far
to cling to its fading light.
Memories snuggled
in your warmth
feeling measured breath
against his ears each night
as you drifted sweetly
into dreams of
dinos and dump trucks.
But your arms and feet
stretch to meet
new dreams of
caped crusaders, building blocks,
learning letters,
while Nutbrown Hare
left lying there
looks up at me
arms spread wide
sad eyes
as if to say
“to the moon and back”
even when I have fallen
so far from your bed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Formative Feedback

I've gathered some of my research and responses from my recent survey of teachers in order to put together this presentation on formative feedback tools.  In this video, I share my idea of using digital audio tools to record writing conferences.  Below the video, you will find a two handouts.  The first is a transcript of the presentation, and the second is a teacher handout designed to accompany the presentation.

This presentation is still in its formative stages, so I would love your feedback. Yup, I need feedback on my research on feedback!

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Recording Feedback: The Potential of Recording Writing Conferences with Students

Flickr Creative Commons Image by Pete O’Shea
I've pulled out back issues of the English Journal, dusted off my copies of Kelly Gallagher's work. In the course of my research on using digital tools to provide students access to audio versions of writing conferences, I have reviewed what compositionists from Peter Elbow to Ralph Fletcher have said about the need for supportive, verbal feedback during the writing process. Lucy Calkins and Nancie Atwell, two gurus of conferring in the classroom, strongly advocate for face-to-face writing conferences with students over the more traditional written evaluative feedback. Verbal feedback is powerful. And although technology has certainly changed how we work with practicing writers in our classroom settings, there are a few things that remain constant. First and foremost is the idea of student ownership. In order for students to remain invested and engaged in their writing journeys, they must maintain authorial control over their content and rhetorical choices. As a result, when teachers provide feedback to our student writers, we must engage in that process in such a way that does not hijack the writing from our students. As Lucy Calkin once wrote, "Teach the writer and not the writing. Our decisions must be guided by what might help this writer rather than what might help this writing." Our students learn to write when they experience the writing process on their own terms and not when teachers dictate when, where, and how to revise a single written assignment. But, as Peter Elbow suggests, writers also need supportive feedback in the form of interested readers. This insight, evolving out of a process-based approach to teaching composition, suggests that feedback from an engaged reader is a crucial component in learning to write with confidence. Supportive, verbal feedback helps writers maintain ownership over their written work as well as helps student writers clearly imagine the position of their reader.

Enhancing Feedback from the University of Edinburgh
And this is why writing conferences can be powerful tools to support developing writers. Not only are student writers better able to descern the tone of the feedback given by a teacher during a face-to-face conference (rather than attempting to interpret the disembodied written comments of the teacher on paper), but the verbal conference allows for the student to maintain control over his work. The teacher is not marking up the student's work. Instead, the act of conferring is a dialogue between writers about rhetorical choices; the act of conferring supports the writer and not simply a single piece of writing. Additionally, because these conferences happen in the presence of other students in the classroom, there is the added benefit of supporting other writers in the room who overhear. Penny Kittle writes in her book Write Beside Them, "Students want to hear what other students are writing about and will listen in, doubling or tripling the value of that writing conference. Writing depends on talk" (86). So it makes sense that using audio recording tools to capture and share these conferring moments can become a powerful tool for providing feedback to student writers.

Co-director of the National Writing Project at Rutgers University, Sara Bauer published an article in 2011 in the English Journal on her experiences using audio comments to provide feedback to her high school writers. In her article "When I Stopped Writing on Their Papers: Accomodating the Needs of Student Writers with Audio Comments," Bauer writes, "...audio feedback enables my comments to become much more developed and targeted to the individual writer than they had been when I confined myself to cryptic and cramped notes written in the margins" (66). Using audio commentary allowed Bauer to more clearly develop her reactions to a student's written work, and in doing so, opened up opportunities for her students to reflect on their rhetorical choices. Bauer's comments were not limited to fixing grammatical or content errors, but instead focused on how she responded to her students' work as an interested reader. What did the writing evoke in her as a reader? What did it make her wonder? Where did her understanding break down? "The practice of making audio comments goes beyond assisting students with revising a particular assignment," Bauer writes. "I was able to target my instruction so that students could learn about themselves as writers and develop strategies for avoiding common pitfalls on future assignments, thereby strengthening their writing performance over the year" (66). However, Bauer used her audio comments in lieu of written feedback. Her comments were not a recording of an actual conferring session with her student writers. In some ways, her audio commentary was still her enacting her authority over the student's work as an instructor handing down directions for improvement.

Although there is a great deal written about the power of conferring with student writers and emerging research about the benefit of using audio comments to provide feedback, as of yet there does not seem to be research on the merging of these two feedback practices. However, there does appear to be an interest in the possibility offered by using digital tools to record student writing conferences. This past week I developed an online survey of writing teachers' attitudes and practices for providing students with feedback on their writing. Using social media and email, I have so far received responses from 22 educators from a diversity of teaching situations. Just over half of the respondants are from the greater Philadelphia area while the remaining hail from the Northeast of the United States to Canada's western coast. Educators from elementary school through collegiate level responded, and nearly all of the respondants voiced an interest in learning better strategies for providing student writers with timely, supportive feedback. Only three of the respondants felt confident in the ways in which they provided their student writers with feedback. Although a majority of the teachers who responded felt that they had more to learn about providing feedback, well over half had used digital tools to provide feedback to their students writers with varying degrees of success. Two of the teachers who responded were already using an audio recording Add-On in Google Drive to leave audio feedback on their students' written work. So there does seem to be an emerging trend of using digital tools to provide feedback and thus opening up possibilities as both teachers and students have the ability to access that feedback anywhere at any time. But the most often made comment was about timing and a wish for more time to work with students individually on their writing. Although this seems disappointing, in fact there is great opportunity here as using digital audio recordings during conferencing sessions may be a way to open up some of that time. Using and sharing audio recordings of conferences with a class of students may help to build a library of feedback which students would be able to access when and where ever they needed it. A digital library of recorded conversations with student writers about their writing process may be a helpful way to think about providing supportive feedback to practicing writers.

In the coming week, I hope to have more teachers complete my survey (hint, hint), and I also am looking to interview a few teachers who are already using audio tools to provide student writers with feedback. My goal is the connect with those teachers that are using digital tools to audio record comments in order to pilot the idea of recording conferencing sessions in addition to trying this approach in my own classroom. And I would love to hear from you!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Moments Like This

Moments Like This

Energy runs shoulder to fingertip
When I wrap my arms around her

I gather
This moment in my memory,
Room packed with writers

My heart around her excitement,
The nervous joy of her

Her voice to share
A moment of

I could not stop smiling last night.  Two of my tenth grade students not only have the honor of being published in the current issue of Philadelphia Stories Jr., but they both ventured into Philadelphia last night to read their poems to a packed room of student writers, teachers, family, and friends at Mighty Writers. And as I stood at the back of the room watching them read their poems with poise and confidence, I could not help beam with pride. These are the moments that push me to keep doing what I do, encouraging students to write creatively and to share their work with audiences outside of the classroom.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Power of Poetry: Teaching Resources

When I was 12, an aunt gave me my first diary as a Christmas gift. I filled its pink pages with descriptions of my day, drawings of outfits, song lyrics, details of my latest crush. That's what a diary is for, at least according to the knowledge I had gathered from 1980's sitcoms.  It was my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Zeinstra, who introduced me to a different type of daily writing.

Just a few of my recent Writer's Notebooks
In our Writer's Notebooks, we created elaborate stories involving our classmates, played with words, and copied down our favorite poems to use as mentors for the pieces we wanted to write. I copied down line after line of Shel Silverstein, admiring his rhyme and humor. But I realized, probably not as quickly as I should have, that I am not good with rhyme. Mrs. Zeinstra gently guided me toward other poets. I discovered blank and free verse poets, the works of Robert Frost, e.e.  cummings, and William Carlos Williams, and in them found my own voice. My seventh grade teacher fostered in me a lifelong love of poetry. She did not tell me what to read or what to write. Instead, she rolled a cart full of poetry books and anthologies into our class and gave us time to read, to explore, to copy and craft. She opened a space for us to find poetry on our own terms.

The Power of Poetry

We hear it in the music of well-written lines. We feel a poem's power in the way its imagery draws us close to a particular moment, a particular time.  We feel it in the beating of our heart, the very life of the poem.  It speaks to our memory, awakens connections. Poetry pulses through the core of what it means to be human. Take for example the first stanza of James Richardson's poem "One of the Evenings":
After so many years, we know them.
This is one of the older Evenings — its patience,
settling in, its warmth that wants nothing in return.
Once on a balcony among trees, once by a slipping river,
so many Augusts sitting out through sunset —
first a dimness in the undergrowth like smoke,
and then like someone you hadn’t noticed
has been in the room a long time. . . .
April is National Poetry Month
Like those "older Evenings", we know the power of poetry, feel its warmth when it settles in.  National Poetry Month calls us to pay closer attention to those poetic voices that we have perhaps let sit a bit too long while we attended to other things. But when we do call up those familiar poets, we realize that their words have been guiding us all along. Their words reverberate throughout our lives.

And yet so many students come think of poetry in the way that former poet laureate of the United States Billy Collins describes it in his piece titled "Introduction to Poetry," as writing that must be beaten and tortured in order to "to find out what it really means." We ask studentsjo to define unfamiliar terms, to circle metaphors and similies, to hunt for symbolism, instead of simply letting students "waterski/ across the surface of a poem."  In an interview with BigThink, Billy Collins reflected on how poetry is approached in school:
"Well the way poetry is taught is with great emphasis on the interpretation.  So we have this thing, the poem, and we want to create this other thing called the interpretation of the poem which then almost begins to compete with the poem – and in the worst cases replaces the poem.  So once we have the interpretation, we can actually discard the poem.  That’s the worst case scenario.  The question, “What does a poem mean?” is a deadening question."
And so National Poetry Month calls us as teachers to reflect on how we are engaging our students with the music, the imagery, and the power of poetry.

Resources for Teaching Poetry

Picture of mosaic ceiling in Washington, DC by Takomabibelot 
In teaching both tenth grade English and Creative Writing students, I infuse my curriculum with poetry.  We use poetry to discuss authorial choices made in a particular work and how those choices impact style, tone, and meaning. Poetry provides an entry for us to reflect on writing as a craft, to think about how the economy of words, how sound and imagery, and how the arrangement of words upon the page impacts us as readers.  Poetry dramatizes the craft of writing for practicing writers.

So, I wanted to share a few of the resources that I use with my students as we read and write poetry:  
  • When I teach poetry, I try to avoid simply teaching a series of forms. Instead, like my seventh grade English teacher, I try to encourage my students to explore a variety of poets, a variety of poems, and to mimic their style for just a while.  We search for the voices that we connect to and reflect on how the poet forges that connection.  Here is a link to my poetry unit.
  • There are a number of writers that have helped shape how I think about poetry as well as how I teach it. I could not teach poetry without Georgia Heard's book Writing Toward Homewhich offers not only writing prompts at the close of each chapter but also lyrically written examples to inspire all sorts of writers. Susan G. Wooldridge's book poemcrazy is specifically about writing poetry, and her ideas translate very well to the high school classroom.  And of course there are the poets themselves.  As we study poetry, I bring in my poetry books and journals, anthologies and photocopied favorites.  My high school students gravitate toward Billy Collins and Robert Frost. As we shift through poetry anthologies, e.e. cummings and Dorothy Parker quickly become new favorites.  I bring in the work of the beat poets to challenge students about what poetry looks and sounds like.  And to help them hear poetry, we watch a number of performance poets, including Shane Koyczan and the Brave New Voices poets.
  • There are of course a number of online resources for teaching poetry, but I only want to share two so as not to overwhelm readers. In fact, I'm only really sharing one resource - Edutopia. There are two recent blog posts on Edutopia that share not only a list of valuable online resources but also serve as a good reminder of why and how to use poetry in the classroom. Check out Joshua Block's post on "(Re)Creating Poets" and Matt Davis's post featuring a great number of online poetry resources.
  • One of the most important moments in our study of poetry is when we invite poets to join us in class.  Students tend to think of poets as a bunch of dead writers.  Having the opportunity to hear a poet read her work and be able to ask questions of the poet has been one of the more memorable experiences of our class.  And, it is not hard to find a published poet to speak with your students.  I started with regional poet laureate programs.  Many communities around the United States have their own poet laureates who are happy to meet with students to talk about the art and craft of poetry.  My students met with Liz Chang, the former poet laureate of Montgomery County in Pennsylvania.  A simple search for your state's poet laureate (most have one) should help you find resources to connect with that writer.  If you live in a more urban area like I do, you may also have regional poet laureates.  In the Philadelphia area, we have a Philadelphia Poet Laureate and a Philly Youth Poet Laureate, in addition to poet laureates for Montgomery and Bucks counties.
  • But if you can't arrange for a poet to come into your classroom in person, there are many ways to bring in poets virtually.  Using Skype or Google Hangouts makes it easy to connect with poets from all over.  In fact, here are just a few of the online connections that you might use to bring poetry into your classroom:
    • Teacher Elissa Malespina hosts a virtual Poetry Summit in May each year where students write and share their work with other students and with published poets using Google Hangouts.  Learn more by visiting her site
    • Find a contemporary poet that you and your students have read and email the writer to find out if they will join your class by Skype or Hangouts.  It can't hurt to ask!  You'll find a list of writers that do these sorts of virtual visits on Skype's education site as well as on author Kate Messner's blog.
    • Join online conversations with other teacher poets.  Start by joining the G+ TeacherPoets Community. If you are involved with the National Writing Project, joining the Digital Is community is another great way to connect with other writing teachers. 
    • Use Twitter to connect with poets.  I love following Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) online because he shares so much of how he is using poetry with students as well as his own digital poetry creations. And did you know that you'll find the current U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey on Twitter as @NTrethewey.  Not long ago, Mashable also posted a piece on "38 Gifted Poets on Twitter."  Twitter makes it easy for both teachers and students to connect with poets. So, get tweeting! 

Poetry Publication Opportunities for Students

  • The AA Independent Press Guide is a listing of over 2,000 reputable American literary magazines and their submission guidelines. If you are interested in publishing your poetry or short stories, this is an amazing resource.
  • Teen Ink is an excellent web and print publication written by and about teens from all over the United States. Students can submit essays, reviews, short stories, poetry, and artwork online.
  • Figment is a community where teens can share their writing, connect with other readers, and discover new authors. Whatever teens are into, from sonnets to free verse poetry, they can find it here
  • The River of Words Project sponsors an annual, international, environmental poetry and art contest for children and teens. The contest's grand prize winners, students ages 5-19, receive a trip to Washington, D.C., where they are honored at an awards ceremony and public reading at the Library of Congress. Entry forms and complete rules can be found on their website.
  • The Claremont Review showcases young adult writers and offers resources such as writing tips from famous authors and an annual teen writing contest.
  • Philadelphia Stories Junior publishes the poetry (and other written works) of teens across Pennsylvania's Delaware Valley. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gone Hunting. Be Back Soon?

I have over researched. It is what I do. I get excited about an idea, and I start hunting for every book, every article, every blog post ever published on the topic. And I am a very good hunter. I have tracked down every mention of “feedback” hiding in the indexes of books that line my shelves. I have retraced my path through the works of familiar writers - Troy Hicks, Donald Graves, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher - and in these footprints, I have found new paths to follow. Unfortunately, I get so caught up in the hunt that I lose track of my starting point. And that is where I find myself today, lost in the woods, hunkered down in tomes on feedback and conferring as I try to suss out where to begin. So let me retrace my steps a bit.

Like so many English teachers, I spend hours writing comments on student writing. Having taught for just over a decade, you would think I would have gotten the hang of managing the paper load of giving student writers feedback. Yet instead getting better, I’ve gotten worse….much, much worse. When I first started out, I could get through a stack of 30 or so papers in a couple of hours. Today, it takes days...okay, weeks. But it is not as dire as I am making it sound. When I first started teaching, I would assign essays. Each student wrote to the same prompt. Each student would turn in nearly the same paper. Each comment I wrote was nearly the same as the last. What were students learning about writing? Nearly nothing. So over the years, I changed how I teach writing. When we write in class now, most of the writing that we do is for a purpose and an audience outside of just me as the teacher. The feedback I give students today is not simply in the form of grammar corrections and a paragraph at the close of the paper they have turned in for a grade. I have learned from the gurus - Penny Kittle, Peter Elbow, Ralph Fletcher - that feedback in form of questions helps my emerging writers reflect on the writing choices they make. And my students are writing and publishing in spaces where others can read and give feedback as well. Technology has changed not only how students receive feedback on their writing, but also when and where they get that feedback. This is what takes time. And unfortunately, I am frustrated in how I am using my time.

Because we use collaborative online writing tools like Google Docs to turn in our written assignments, students know they have access to help when and wherever they need it. Learning and writing are no longer confined to the classroom. The teacher-student relationship is no longer confined to the physical classroom. So as my students are working on a writing piece, it is not unusual for them to message me or shoot me a quick email to ask a question about a sentence or a paragraph idea. And wherever I happen to be, in front of a computer or shopping for groceries, that little ping from my phone alerting me that a student is working on developing their writing makes me smile. I must oblige, and so I send off a quick response, a question to guide their revision. But as you can imagine, the few days before a writing piece is due, those pings multiple becoming a cacophony of unmanageable requests for feedback. I see students engaging deeply in the process of their writing as they request feedback, but those requests are often last minute and many times requesting help editing rather than support for larger revision issues. So, how do I spend less time answering emails at all hours and encourage more meaningful revision and reflection on writing? Let me ask Nancie Atwell and Peter Elbow.

Both Atwell and Elbow point out the dangers of over evaluating student writing. Student writers are empowered when they maintain authorial ownership and autonomy over their writing endeavors. Marking a student’s paper with the dreaded red pen or even using digital tools to heavily comment in the margins of a student’s writing diminishes the control that the student has over his or her own piece. As Elbow points out in “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment,” we condition our students out of reflecting on their rhetorical choices when we over comment. Elbow writes, “constant evaluation by someone in authority makes students reluctant to take the risks that are needed for good learning -- to try out hunches and trust their own judgement.” And this is in part why Peter Elbow and Nancie Atwell among others advocate for teachers to instead engage in verbal conferences with student writers. Conferring with students maintains the student writer’s authorial control over his work and opens greater opportunities for teachers to have conversations with the writer about his rhetorical and content choices. Rather than the one-sided feedback that students get through a teacher’s written comments, writing conferences encourage reflection and support the student’s autonomy. But, conferences take time...lots of time. So, how might we combine the accessibility that the use of digital tools offers with the support that conferencing provides?

Audio recording! Here’s my idea: when I conference with a student writer about her work, I’m going to use the audio recording extension in the Google Drive Add-On menu to record the conversation that we have about a particular writing assignment. That student can then return to her document later and replay our conversation. And, because I have my students turn their work in using shared folders in Google Drive, if that student opens the privacy setting on her piece of writing so that others in class can see it, her peers will be able to also replay the audio file of our conference. Within the shared folder, students can have access to multiple writing conferences. In her book In The Middle, Nancie Atwell writes about the importance conferring with writers, stating that conferences have a greater impact on how student writers learn than any lesson or comment that a teacher could give (17-18). Using shared audio recordings of conferences to give feedback could open up new ways avenues for students to reflect on their writing choices. And there is some emerging research on the power of using audio tools to teach emerging writers.

Jeff Sommers in the recent volume of the Journal of College Literacy and Learning writes about the power of recorded voice responses to student writers, an activity he calls “Response 2.0”. He writes, “Response 2.0 can be fuller, deeper, and broader than written response because most teachers can speak faster than they can write or type, and the technology itself frees audio and video responders from the constraints of space on a printed page of text” (35). Sommers’ review of how university writing professors are using audio and video commentary to give feedback to student writers gives writing teachers from levels ideas for how technology may be able to help our practicing writers reflect and engage more meaningfully with their writing endeavors. His review of previous research and responses from his own student writers helps us to imagine how digital tools may enhance our classroom efforts and offer more supportive feedback.

In my hunt to find support for using digital recordings to give student writers feedback, I have found some promising leads. Now, I need to gather what I have found and make some tracks of my own.  Let’s put this theory into practice!

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