When Erica Rogers and Dan Barnes, communication arts teachers at Parkway West High, were redesigning a cumulative activity for their English III students, they were looking to create an activity where students would be writing and revising work throughout the year, culminating in a final portfolio of work. Applying a simple, stable technology took this project to another level of engagement and effectiveness.
The goals of the redesign were 3-fold:
- Show student progress over time
- Archive the work so it could be displayed as a portfolio
- Enable peer commenting for draft versions
The solution: a blog for each student.
Blogging is in no way a new technology. It’s been around since at least 1995, one of the earliest and easiest ways to publish on the web. The concept of blogging is simple – create a post and publish it for others to view and comment on. Blog posts can be organized in a host of ways, making it easy to view an author’s growth over time, and blogging is a uniquely public act — every page is searchable and shareable.
Erica and Dan chose to apply blogging to their project in order to capitalize on its archiving and publishing abilities. Students …
- were grouped together with peers from other classes, creating an authentic audience for their work. Students were given due dates for posting their work as well as for adding their comments.
- posted both a draft for comments and a final version for review. This established a sense of growth that both the student as well as his peers could see.
- were required to comment in specific ways that were designed to promote valuable feedback to their peers. Comments were defined, focused, and assessed by the teachers. You can check out Erica and Dan’s feedback forms here and here.
This, in addition to in-class peer edits as well as teacher-edits, constituted a third round of feedback for every draft. But what Erica and Dan noticed was that it was the audience of “strangers” that seemed to make this feedback cycle something different than the others.
Feedback from Beyond
Creating for a public audience changed how many kids went about the drafting process. Erica sums it up nicely,
“Why would you want to create something you weren’t proud of?”
Students were concerned how their work was going to be perceived by students outside the bounds of their classroom, and they created with this in mind. Students cared about the feedback they were delivering to and receiving from others, even going so far as to greet their teacher at the door with “My partner hasn’t posted his paper yet!” The public nature of the publishing process meant that failing a due date didn’t mean that a student was frustrating her teacher – it meant she was letting down her peer.
An Example and an Explanation
Check out the blog below for a sense of what students were working on. I’ve linked Dan’s write-up of the experience, a paper he recently completed for graduate school where he describes the positive impact of this application of technology on his students’ achievement.
In all, this project stands as a nice reminder that powerful uses of technology don’ t have to be complicated uses of technology.
Simple tools applied to specific needs can increase student investment and motivation without overwhelming the teacher.