Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Ups and Downs of Teaching Writing

After handing back an essay, no longer are the days where students crumple the paper in their backpack after cursory looking at the grade. A post-mortum reflection on writing successes and challenges is just as important as the writing itself. How to execute a lesson like this can be challenging. Despite my attempts to create a community of learners, there is something about this particular task that proves frustrating.

In my latest attempt, I created a Google Spreadsheet with several tables with five columns each. In column one, students could use a code name, so that they could remain anonymous when posting their sentence that needed to be corrected. In column two, they included the actual sentence with the mistake. In column three, they wrote a hint so that the editor would know what to look for. In addition, the different table were titled to group the errors: thesis writing, awkward phrasing, quote introduction, topic sentence, and mechanics were separated. 

While I wouldn't label the lesson as a disaster, the students became very concerned with the code names. Some of them used other students' names as code names, or used names that were inappropriate. They deleted rows or columns. They G-chatted to each other. It was very hard to get them to focus on the task. I tried it again with another section of the class, and it was even worse. 

So, for the last section, I went back to pen and paper. Students did the same assignment, but on separate pieces of paper. I then handed the pieces of paper out to the editors, who were to correct it and hand it back to the original author. I wish I could say that this went amazing, but without seeing how other students were completing the assignment, as they could on the spreadsheet, some students had difficulty following the directions. The same amount of silliness prevailed. 

So what do you do when you know your lesson plan is good, but it just doesn't woork? My first though it to ask why. 

If I were to do this again, I would set up very strict ground rules and kick a student off the Doc if he/she behaved silly. In addition, there would be a grade penalty. However, I don't believe the issue is just about behavior. 

I think it's very difficult for teenagers and adults to be confronted with their mistakes. A coping mechanism for being disappointed with a low grade is silliness and laughter. The next time I do the assignment, I will bring this issue to the forefront, as well as the ground rules, and hope for a better outcome.