Tag Archives: writing

Edutopia – Writing in the Digital Age

The latest installment of Edutopia’s Big Thinkers Series highlights the roll of writing in the new Digital Age. There is a great short video that highlights the changing role of writing in the modern world: the writing/editing process, publication (including the rise of self-publication), and collaborative writing and analyses processes.

Google Drive: A Better Method for Giving Student Feedback

This is reblogged from my post at PLP Voices.

google-drive-logoLast year Google Docs was upgraded to become Google Drive. Like its predecessor, Google Drive allows you to create and share documents with ease. The enhanced Google Drive format has given the program some wonderful additional features that I encourage you to explore. However, right now I want to highlight how useful Google Drive is in providing feedback for students. (If you are not familiar with Google Drive, here is a brief video highlighting the concept.)

Google Drive is entirely free and works within any browser, although to enjoy all of its features, you do need to use Google’s Chrome Browser. Chrome is also free and will allow you to integrate content and material across devices and platforms. It’s certainly worth adding to your software toolkit.

Using Google Drive with student writers

With Google Drive students can create a variety of content, but here we are going to focus on word processing documents.

Create New DocumentThe Google Drive word processor is less feature-packed than Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages — which actually makes it easier to use. That said, Google has included most of the popular word processing features, including text formatting, headers & footers, image insertion, etc.

Students will need a Google account to create and share documents; this is the way Google assures that document access can be controlled by the creator. When creating a new document, students simply select “create” and then “document.” Voila! A new text document appears and they proceed in the same way they would using any other word processor.

What makes Google Drive different is the ability to share documents with others. If a student shares a document with you (their teacher), you now have the ability to not only view the document, but to make revisions or comments along the way. (Be sure students choose the “can edit” option when they give you sharing privileges.)

Share-350The share/feedback feature is a really powerful teaching tool.

Instead of emailing documents back and forth (which is a huge pain with many opportunities for confusion) teachers can go quickly to Drive, find and open the student’s paper in the Drive table of contents, and make “live” comments and corrections on the student’s paper.

There are no duplicates or separate versions floating around in your inbox or mail folders — the student’s document is always available in the cloud at your Google Drive account.

To make a comment simply highlight a section with your cursor and click the “comment” button. You can add as little or as much text as you would like. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself giving students more feedback, more often, and in less time, thanks to Google Drive.


You can track the history of revisions

Google Drive also makes it easy to track revisions and a document’s history. After you make comments on your students’ writing and they make changes, you can go back and trace the alterations they have actually made, step by step, over the course of creation. Just select File > See Revision history and click on any date/time. If it’s too much detail, click on Show less detailed revisions. With a few minutes of review, you’ll have a better sense of how responsive students have been to your feedback and perhaps see ways you can make your feedback more effective.

Once the student’s paper is complete, it’s simple to pull a copy from Google Drive in any of several formats (including MS Word and PDF) by selecting File > Download as… or simply choosing File > Print.

More tools to play with

Once you have mastered the basic elements of Google Drive, it’s time to play with the advanced features. You can explore many tools for teachers at the Chrome store.

One of my favorite new techniques is to leave my students voice notes. By using the freeLearnly Voice Comments tool, you can incorporate your own spoken comments into any Google Drive document. This is a great way to provide broader feedback. Here’s a teacher at YouTube, describing how it works:

Shifting your classroom from paper or computer-resident writing systems into the cloud may seem like a big and even intimidating step. But the payoff is worth the effort. By harnessing the power of Google Drive, you can explore your students’ writing process in depth, at the click of a link, and provide them regular, dynamic and meaningful feedback. As a result their writing and research skills will improve and the feedback process will become more fluid and enjoyable for you.

Digital Tools Help Students’ Creativity & Writing Skills

In spite of popular believe, the results of a new PEW Survey indicate that digital tools improve student writing skills as well as social interactions. Of the AP and NWP (National Writing Project) teachers surveyed:

  • 96% agree (including 52% who strongly agree) that digital technologies “allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience”
  • 79% agree (23% strongly agree) that these tools “encourage greater collaboration among students”
  • 78% agree (26% strongly agree) that digital technologies “encourage student creativity and personal expression”

pie-chart-300x348While educators express a concern that students are more likely to take short-cuts in their writing or have spelling & grammatical errors, they feel more confident that these tools make it easier for them to help students shape and develop and their writing skills.

The findings of this survey are especially pertinent and relevant as critics of social media and technology often express concern about its potential impact on student writing and social skills.

To read the survey in its entirety, see PEW Internet & American Life Project. For a concise and excellent summary, see KQED’s Mind/Shift.

Combating Plagiarism on the Digital Frontier

This post, written by Jen Carey, originally appeared on Edudemic.

Plagiarism, defined as the “wrongful appropriation” of another’s words or ideas, is a pervasive problem in schools. Many teachers and administrators believe that the internet has caused an explosion of academic dishonesty (a recent PEW survey of College Presidents would agree). While, most teachers and administrators are familiar with tools like turnitin that can catch plagiarism after the fact, there are some ways that educators can combat plagiarism before it starts!

In the new digital frontier, we need to hold digital literacy at the forefront when teaching students how to use and incorporate material into their work. Today’s students are used to rapid answers to questions via quick searches (again, verified by PEW in “How Teens Do Research”). While this is not necessarily bad, it does mean that as educators we need to change the way we approach research projects in the classroom so that we can teach students to not only do traditional research, but also to effectively use online media and content. By incorporating these strategies, we can start to combat plagiarism before it begins.

3 Strategies for Combating Plagiarism

1. Provide students with meaningful lessons and examples of “real world” plagiarism.

Students need to understand why proper citation and documentation is necessary not only in academic research but in “real life.” When you can show them examples from the real world, they understand this concept better as they make a personal connection to it. Here are some great modern, pop culture cases (there are many others) to help frame the discussion:

Not only do these examples highlight plagiarism, but they also spark interesting conversations about why people want credit for their products and ideas.

2. Make Research Assignments about the process rather than the end product.

As teachers, when we assign a research project, we often focus on the end product: the research essay, presentation, etc. However, students (especially young students) do not automatically know how to conduct meaningful research. Our modern students are used to Googling answers. They have grown accustomed to information being readily available. However, as academics, we know that research isn’t a fast process. It’s slow and deliberate. As a teacher, I need to intentionally slow my students down during this exercise. I do this by breaking down a larger project into more manageable chunks and focusing on the process. Here are some techniques that have worked for me:

  • Give students small practice assignments where they must read, summarize, and properly cite material.
  • Show students what proper citation should look like. Many rely on resources like EasyBib or Bibme to build a bibliography but do not understand what exactly is going into the finished product. Demonstrate to them what should be included in a citation and why. In other words, remove the “but EasyBib said this was right” excuse.
  • Provide students several examples or case studies of material that they must distinguish as: properly summarized and cited, improperly cited, plagiarized, etc. Allow them to identify and explain the problems.
  • During the research process, have students keep a research journal of the work they complete. Ask them to record their sources and write down any thoughts or questions that they brought up.
  • Assign steps throughout the process: a detailed outline, a series of quotations with citations, a bibliography, a summary of their argument, etc.

By focusing on the process and breaking it down into smaller chunks, students will learn to slow down and be more deliberate in research, developing key critical analysis skills.

3. Require that they use online content!

Instead of banning Wikipedia, blogs, or other online content, encourage or even require that students incorporate these materials into their work. For better or worse, students will use material that they find online. Once students gain the analytical skills to assess the credibility of online sources, there is a treasure trove of information to be incorporated. Embrace the potential to teach students how to harness the internet to conduct powerful research.

  • Teach students to search effectively. In his piece “Why kids can’t search,” Clive Thompson recognized that while, “High School and College Students may be ‘digital natives,’… they’re wretched at searching.” Students need to be taught how to use search engines to find legitimate sources and information.
  • Teach students to evaluate online content of all media types (written, encyclopedic, podcasts, video, etc). There are many tools out there for teaching critical analysis of online content, Cal State Chico’s CRAAP test and Turnitin.com’s SEER rubric are both great places to start. You can even use some popular internet hoaxes like the Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Google it and see what you find!!)
  • Don’t shy away from Wikipedia as a source. The majority of high school and college age students will reference Wikipedia in a research project. Even in academia, the attitude towards Wikipedia is changing. Treat it the same way you would a standard Encyclopedia – it’s a good starting point, but not the end of research. EdTechTeacher has a great Webinar “Wikipedia: Bane or Blessing?” that can guide you here.
  • Focus on transliteracy – how should a student evaluate a Wikipedia article vs. a blog vs. a tweet? Do not hold them to one type of source.

Teaching students to do real, meaningful research not only combats plagiarism, it also makes them better students and critical thinkers. These are the 21st century skills that will serve them throughout life. It will also help to limit those conversations we have all had with a child that turns in work that is not their own. By teaching students how to effectively navigate content of all types, we are promoting academic integrity as well as necessary, real world skills.

To learn more about teaching digital literacy, EdTechTeacher is hosting a series of Summer workshops many of which will specifically address online research and education.

Rethinking the Writing Process with the iPad – Karen Janowski

Karen Janowski Twitter Profile

On the second day of the conference, the first talk I attended was “Rethinking the Writing Process with the iPad” with Karen Janowski. I am especially eager for this topic as using the iPad as a word-processor is a common way that it is applied and often meets with ergonomic frustration. I know that as a touch typist, I can write well over 90 words a minute. The iPad cuts that down to at least half.

She started by pointing out the flexibility of the iPad which means that these tools are not limited to older children – that we can apply various techniques and processes to students of all ages using the same tool.

Students of all ages and skill levels often struggle with good writing. “S/he has great ideas. They just can’t get them down on paper!” For many students, the paper and pencil are the struggle – the tool can be the hinderance.

  • What skills are required for successful written expression?

From planning, organization, ideas, critical thinking, knowledge and understanding, communication skills, understanding grammar and spelling, imagination, etc., students need numerous skills in order to be successful writers. To help students achieve success in writing, we need to identify the breakdown in their individual process so that we can effectively intervene.

  • Is what we’re doing working?

Most educators can say that what they do works for most students, but definitely not all. As educators, we generally need explicit writing strategy instruction – planning, revising, editing. These techniques are especially effective for low achieving students.

Word processing alone has had only a moderate effect on improving student writing (about 10%). While not insignificant, it’s not enough for students that truly struggle with their writing.

Karen recommends using various applications, like Videolicious, to help students tell their story. This way, students can first tell their stories visually and orally before they take the next step of writing.

What we need to do to help our students is to: provide strategies, allow our students to make choices, and select tools that are “mistake tolerant.” Going paperless is not only an ecological goal, but it also helps struggling writers because paper is often ‘the enemy’ for struggling writers.

  • Building Vocabulary

A prominent vocabulary is key to developing great writers. There are many tools to help students expand their vocabulary. Karen uses Spelling City as an example of one such tool.

  • Brain Storming

Different brain storming tools are available to students. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Mind Mapping with MindMeister (Mind Mapping in my Classroom with MindMeister). It is, however, a little more advanced and may be challenging for younger children to use.

There are other graphic based brainstorming tools such as Popplet. It is very easy to use and applicable for students at all grade levels.This allows students to organize their thoughts visually and tactically. The finished product can be saved as a .jpeg or exported in various formats. This way, students can take the final version with them for the next steps in their writing.

Another visual organizational tool is Inspiration, which allows you to build thought bubbles and diagrams. It provides students various formats for them to use when they organize their thoughts and ideas.

There are numerous pre-write tools for the iPad and what makes them distinct from paper and pencil is that they can be colorful, dynamic, easily malleable, and image based. The tyranny of the paper is gone.

  • Drafting


Everyone knows that the iPad can be used as a word processing machine. However, it is far more flexible than traditional word processors and exponentially more so than pen and paper. Most people are familiar with Pages,  Apple’s word processing software. However, there are numerous other options that are more appropriate for struggling students.

A good diary based writing app she suggested was Emotionary, that can help students to articulate their feelings on paper using various visual and textual cues.

Scribble Press is another word processing app that helps students to develop ideas and stories at a very young age. It includes several stories that require only small sections of text for students to complete. Students can incorporate drawings and sound (including their own voice). These are age appropriate, developmental apps that are more fun, versatile, and accommodating than traditional pen and paper writing.

Another great story telling application is Toontastic which teaches students how to develop a story arc in a fun and interactive application. Students follow the steps of setup, conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution by building a playful cartoon.

  • Revising


A colleague once told me “There are no good writers, only good revisers.” Revision is instrumental and key to developing good writing skills. There are numerous tools that allow for individual and collaborative revision. Google Drive (formerly google docs) is a great, free tool for peer collaboration. This allows synchronous editing for students and teachers. It is an excellent universal tool for advanced writers.

  • Editing

There are many tools available to teachers to help their students in editing. One is a checklist. There are some great checklists and checklist templates at PBLchecklist. At PBLchecklist, you can create one that will be published to a URL and can thus be published on a course website or distributed to students electronically. Your checklists can be as intricate or simple as you would like and are flexible enough to be created age and ability appropriately.

  • The Finished Product/Publication

There are numerous drafting and publication applications out there in addition to Apple’s Pages. What is great for students with Learning Differences is that there are numerous assistive writing applications. Karen highlighted iWordQ ($24.99), while pricy a great tool for students with writing disabilities. For more free apps, see her page udltechtoolkit and Free Apps for Educators.

There are so many tools for writing available on the iPad that cannot be replicated in a traditional paper and pencil environment. What makes the iPad unique is that it can be used at a variety of age and skill levels and accommodate a myriad of learning differences. From pre-writing to finished product, “there’s an app for that.”