Amber's students keep her classroom novel all the time!
In my last post, I wrote about a few strategies to use during the brainstorming stage of writing to keep things novel and interesting. Once students have narrowed down their topic, the next way to keep the writing process exciting is to use the comment feature of Google Docs to guide students toward their ultimate focus for their piece and provide real-time feedback. See below for my student Liz’s “quick write” (where I encourage my students to write down their thoughts without concern for grammar and mechanics, with an emphasis on just “getting it down”) and my comments.
Liz is a shy and quiet student, and traditional conferencing would likely not be as effective as the novelty of reading “texts” from her teacher. I “pop” into my students’ documents as they are working, and I love to hear them get excited that I’m “in their document.” This is a whole new way for me to offer feedback in the moment and keep students moving. Sometimes, particularly with middle-level students, a quick shot in the arm of positive comments can make all the difference.
Liz went on to write a truly exceptional piece about this zip-lining experience, and she heeded my advice to “mine” her freewrite for quality and unique ideas. Here’s her final essay. Keep on the lookout for Part 3 in this series, where you’ll see how Liz was then able to use Google Slides to share her “I Believe” essay. The best part of this approach is that we are building relationships within the experience of writing. I’m able to connect with my students in the commenting stage, and they are able to share their beliefs for an authentic audience of their peers. I can assure you that Liz would never have volunteered her amazing story under different circumstances; however, she will share her presentation, and I’ll let you know how the class reacts to shy Liz zip lining across the Buffalo skyline!
As any teacher knows though, this example is not always the norm, as not everyone stays on task when given time to write in class. I often use the comment feature to pop in and ask a question to get a kiddo who is stuck back on track. For example, one of my students was stuck trying to tell a story that I really thought was too thin to pursue, so I popped into his document, and I prompted him to consider one of his other brainstormed ideas. He quickly found his new topic, and he was able to abandon a weak essay. This wouldn’t happen if I waited until the assignment was due. Commenting in real time not only is an excellent way to connect with students (who really enjoy it!), but also allows me to provide significant writing instruction in time for students to make adjustments before they hand in their assignments.
Finally, comments can be a pretty sly classroom management technique too. Recently, I noticed a young gentleman who was definitely more interested in his table mates than he was on writing his draft. I considered my options: Disrupt the ebb and flow of busy writers with a behavioral concern? Use the tried-and-true “proximity” plan, where I’d insert myself into their conversation? Give a good teacher glare?
Instead, I decided I’d just make a comment in his document. My comment was: “Quit talking to Andrea! Get back to work pretty please.” The reply was a quick “OK,” but I didn’t have to say another word! Real-time feedback works on so many levels, and I encourage you to do comment conferencing with your students while they are writing. Look out for Liz’s presentation in my next post!
Did you miss the first part of Amber's series? Check out the first installation of her reflections on the power of novelty in classrooms.