This blog post has been adapted from The 21st Century Writing Workshop: A District Handbook.
Empowering effective writing has always been a challenge for schools. College students writing in 1817 made 2 errors for every 100 words. This same rate of error is seen in today’s students at comparable institutions. While 19th century educators could comfortably turn a blind eye to this gap in knowledge, recent developments in digital media have turned education’s longstanding writing problem into a full blown crisis. Formerly the domain of a chosen few, effective written communication is now among the top skills sought after by US employers. Already two-thirds of jobs in large US companies require strong writing skills, and the rise of social media, self employment, and email have begun to make writing an essential skill for success in today’s world.
It’s no wonder that students struggle to grasp the basics of clear, compelling writing when only 55% of teachers report that they enjoy teaching writing. To ease this tension and empower extraordinary writing instruction, many districts are embedding technology through their ELA curriculums. Read on to learn how digital tools can strengthen and simplify every stage of the writing process - from research to revision.
#1: Authentic Digital Research
Jump-start students’ creativity and critical thinking with digital resources that have been vetted and curated by your teachers or curriculum team. A successful 21st century writing workshop will begin with an engaging hook video or article that sparks creativity and help students uncover their unique point of view. When students write in response to digital texts, they learn how to synthesize and apply their learning while building effective communication skills.
#2: Student Confidence and Accountability
It’s all too easy for shy or reluctant students to slip through the cracks in a traditional workshop model. Drafts go missing, students disengage from classroom discussion, and it can be challenging for teachers to identify which students need targeted support throughout the writing process. Teachers can use these digital tools to conduct classroom polls and devise new options for classroom participation that are more inclusive to reticent learners. Not all opportunities for participation require students to speak in front of their class. For example, when students use a shared document to draft their work and engage in peer feedback, teachers can monitor engagement and identify opportunities for intervention and reteaching.
#3: Peer Collaboration
In any type of writing workshop, the peer feedback process can be tricky. Before a workshop is to take place, teachers must establish ground rules for workshop etiquette and model for students how to provide constructive, kind feedback on their classmates’ writing. Collaborative tools like Google Docs allow students to share their work across classrooms, from any device at any time. These types of tools also enable teachers to proactively monitor student collaboration and intervene when students need additional support in providing helpful edits. For classrooms that are new to the workshop process, teachers can have students digitally submit peer feedback for review before it’s shared with their classmates.
#4: Timely Feedback
Grading student writing is often a time consuming, unwieldy process. Tools like Doctopus and Goobric make it easier for teachers to manage, organize, assess, and share student work, while Frontier’s automated feedback provides students with targeted support as they write. When the grading process is streamlined, teachers can maintain classroom momentum and give the timely feedback students need to grow and learn.
#5: Real-World Audiences
One of the best ways to nurture a love of writing is to connect students with a reader that’s outside the classroom. Students are more likely to invest time and effort in the revision process if they know that their work will be published online, shared with their peers, or otherwise celebrated by an audience besides their teacher. Video conferencing tools can empower classrooms to invite local experts to virtually participate in workshop discussions, mini-lessons, and feedback cycles. Once students submit their final draft, teachers can publish exceptional student work to a district blog or encourage students to submit their writing to a publication or contest.