Note: This is the one of several chapter reflections on the excellent book written by Dr. Liz Stephens and Kerry Ballast on Using Technology to Improve Adolescent Writing: Digital Make-Overs for Writing Lessons.” Read all contributions in this series.

We only think when we are confronted with a problem.
-John Dewey

As much as I enjoyed the previous two chapters of Stephens’ and Ballard’s book on Using Technology to Improve Adolescent Writing, I have to admit Chapter 3 really caught my attention. That’s probably because it introduced me to some concepts I hadn’t heard of before!

In responsive writing, share the authors, “students work in groups that communicate in person as easily as they do online through the use of blogs, wikis, and course management systems. They may also use online tools to collaboratively write with people beyond their school and community.” They go on to write that “adolescent writers engaged in responsive writing share and reconstruct their knowledge by interacting with each other in small response groups.” At the risk of interjecting personal stories, I’m reminded of how the small community of writers my daughter subscribes to interact and share ideas/feedback about written pieces they publish online. How a small group–3 of them–interacted via the Web, employing a discussion forum and YouTube to video-illustrate a story my daughter had written.

Some other key points:

  • Adolescent writer understandings are tested when their conclusions are examined by others, and by examining and evaluating conclusions, students broaden their own knowledge and develop open-mindedness.
  • Collaboration among writers leads to finding just the right language to capture what they know, to explore solutions to problems, to explain new constructs, or to redefine known ones.
  • Responsive writing gives students valuable opportunities to sort information gathered and answer 2 important questions: 1) What do we have? and 2) What can we do with it?
  • Collaborative learning in a responsive writing frame is the lively interaction that occurs when minds are in the act of inquiry, of discovery, of making sense of a construct by attempting to define or label it. It is a process that involves questionning, challenging and validating the ideas written by each member of the group.

One of the neat concepts I ran across that I did not know about was “Group Mapping Activity.” Davidson (1992) describes this in the following way (as cited in the book):

A strategy design to help students make sense of information. By using concept maps created on paper and/or online, students arrange information in ways that depict the meaning of terms and concepts and the connections between and among them.

In the book, the authors make a distinction between collaborative and cooperative learning. They point out that the former is student-focused, while the latter is teacher centered. In collaborative learning, the goal is “to arrive at a group consensus, to rely on creativity and innovation in order to make sense of and solve complex problems.” When in the responsive writing mode, students try to make sense of a construct by defining it or labeling it. This reminds me of “Define or be defined” quote…essentially, what we do as human beings! One key point representing the research was the idea that “Students who learn in small groups think at higher levels and retain information longer than students who work alone.” Collaboration is important because it reduces anxiety about writing and helps them overcome writer’s block. Some steps Students take when starting responsive writing include the following, as I understood them:

  1. Explore/investigate a topic via inside writing
  2. Share information with a group of peers
  3. Try to validate one’s own knowledge
  4. Question the info peers have gathered as much as one’s own knowledge

Another interesting point was the one made like this:

Multitasking digital natives might be more motivated to create online conceptual maps that are rich, multi-dimensional representations of their thinking and that are pinned to a virtual wall and can be modified at any time.

I don’t know about you, but that virtual wall thing reminds me of Glogster EDU! Some Glogster examples include the following:

One of the nifty quotes in this chapter included this one:

Web 2.0 tools are vehicles for deciding what it means to be a responsible human in charge of a seemingly fragile earth.

Although that quote was in the context of a lesson, I thought it strangely appropriate when you consider sites like GlobalVoices. Some other neat points include the following:

  • Moodle and Nicenet as Internet Classroom Assistants. An ICA is an “online communication and classroom management tool that provides web-based messaging and conferencing between a teacher and students. It also allows designated members to post and share documents, links, messages, and schedules so that all members have access to classroom conversations, information and resources.”
  • Student quote: “I have more freedom when I work on the web.”
  • Quality of content knowledge = what information students know
  • Procedural knowledge = what skills students have
  • Responsive writing processes include labeling (using graphic organizers and Office software), questionning and challenging (blogs/Moodle), and validating (wikis, collaborative writing spaces).
  • “How does a teacher evaluate something less tangible than a poster on a wall?” An interesting question…but isn’t a Glogster pretty tangible?
  • “Information drift – distraction that occurs when adolescents are learning information that may not be useful to them.”

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure