Three Ways to Provide Feedback for Digital Student Writing

No discipline has experienced a greater impact from technology than writing.

Photo credit: Unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash

Blogs, tweets, multimedia timelines, posts, texts…all of these short forms of writing have come about through new digital mediums. Classrooms that adopt these tools during literacy and content instruction are providing learners with more ways to express their thinking and convey information more creatively. I could not imagine schools without them.

Once they are embedded in practice, the next logical step as a teacher is to ask: How can I provide feedback for students through these mediums so their writing improves, as well as to celebrate their work? Here are three ideas.

Google

Recently I have received invitations from our 4th and 5th graders to comment on their writing via Google Docs and Slides. I really like the Comments and Suggestions features. Located at the top right of the file, you can highlight a section of the text and provide feedback for the owner. What the students have shared with me so far are finished products. Therefore, I have made general observations and asked thought-provoking questions to let them know that I read their work carefully and valued their effort.

WordPress

For younger students without a lot of experience in digital writing, transcribing what they write down on paper and posting it on a blog is a great way to model the writing process. For example, my son and a friend gave me a handwritten review of the Tom Gates series by Liz Pichon. I typed up their thoughts, saved the post as a draft, and then emailed their teacher with specific questions about the books they read. This feedback request was done through WordPress, my favorite blogging platform (see arrow).Screen_Shot_2015-04-08_at_8_25_32_PM

I actually sent the request to their teacher, who will hopefully help them write a bit more about why the Tom Gates series is such a good one to read.

Evernote

I was on a mission to a classroom when a 4th grade student asked me to read her writing in the hallway. How could I say no? I compromised by taking out my smartphone and scanning an image of her writing with Evernote. This student’s writing was then saved as a note in her teacher’s professional portfolio, which I keep for all of my staff.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.40.17 PMWhen I had time to sit down later, I opened up her note. Having downloaded Skitch, a native Evernote application, I was able to annotate right on her scanned work. This was also a finished piece of writing, so I celebrated what she did well and offered my thinking on possible ideas to consider for the future. This updated note was emailed to her teacher.

What digital tools do you find effective for offering feedback for the author(s)? How do you use them? Please share in the comments.

The Global Read Aloud

I recently had the opportunity to take part in the Global Read Aloud this fall. It is facilitated annually by Pernille Ripp, a teacher in Madison, WI. Leading a group of 4th graders, we joined many other classrooms online who were also reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. It is the fictional story of a gorilla named Ivan in captivity for almost 30 years, told from the perspective of Ivan. It is loosely based on a true story (the real Ivan recently passed away).

What was unique about this experience was technology was used to support and enhance the story as I read it to the students.

Edmodo

Every classroom involved received a code to join The One and Only Ivan group on Edmodo, a safe social networking site for students and teachers. As you can see, it has a similar look to Facebook, which helped us make sense of how it worked regarding posts, links, tags and other terminology.

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We visited this site every time we read. However, we spent a lot more time actually reading than posting and responding. My purpose was to show students that social media can be a great tool for learning, as long as it is used responsibly.

Google Docs

While we linked with other classrooms on Edmodo, we also created a KWL on Google Docs. In it, students identified what they thought they already knew about gorillas, what they wanted to know, and what they had learned. I showed students how to bookmark this document in the browser so we could quickly go to it when needed.

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Yes, feces was something they wanted me to write down.

Students developed an understanding through the use of a Google Doc that learning is not static, that it is ongoing for lifelong learners. For example, we would revise information once we learned that it was not entirely accurate. In addition, we were able to post our doc on Edmodo as a link to allow other classrooms to view it and even make comments if they wanted.

Wallwisher

One technology tool we discovered from another classroom through Edmodo was Wallwisher. This is a virtual paperboard, where people can post responses to a question or suggested topic. The question we posed to ourselves was, “Is it better for an animal who has lived in captivity to go back into the wild?” Here are their responses.

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I was impressed with how thoughtful and thorough their answers were to this question. What facilitated this impressive display: the technology, the question, or the book itself? It could be a combination of all of these that created a more authentic learning experience.

Skype

Some people have a lawyer in the family. Others know a plumber. I have a primatologist.

My cousin (pictured in the screenshot below) spent a substantial amount of time studying primates in the jungles of Africa. Now an environmental scientist at the Field Museum of Chicago, she wholeheartedly agreed to visit our classroom and answer questions about silverbacks through Skype.

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Prior to Skyping, I shared our questions with her by emailing our Google Doc link. She provided some excellent information for us, knowledge that we just could not have easily accessed without the aid of technology. The students also had an opportunity to ask her off-the-cuff questions, such as “Are you drinking coffee?” and “How did you get that Howe shirt?”.

In Conclusion

The Global Read Aloud was an excellent learning opportunity. It enhanced our read aloud experience and modeled for students how to draw upon a variety of resources and experiences in order to become more knowledgable and responsible citizens. The technology tools were great, but they only facilitated what was more important: The connections we made with other people from around the world. Thanks go to Mrs. Ripp for making this happen.