Getting students to write is difficult enough even for an English teacher, but getting students to write randomly, about anything going on between their hyperdrive synapses is near impossible. Today’s children do not rely on imagination and creativity as in times past. They are an immediate generation which often translates to entitlement but mostly just means the generation is answer focused with momentum set for this very second instead of well rounded ability and nurturing of talent (or at least competency). We want better writers. We have a generation that couldn’t give too rat poops less about germinating ideas, brainstorming, or the dreaded fleshing out of an essay in defense of a thesis. So what do we do? We fight fire with fire.
Technology is one of the easiest and most cost efficient ways to get students to write. All good essays begin with having a good grasp on the subject to be talked about; this includes a significant amount of prewriting research and brainstorming. I have found that tricking my students into being good writers begins with allowing them nearly unbridled research access to the internet. Of course, in my county this means a plethora of blocked sites that thankfully our technology coordinator is working tirelessly to evaluate and make accessible, but still it’s a start. When students feel they have freedom to answer their own questions they apply that freedom to freedom of expression as well. When we write essays we do not adhere solely to the 5 paragraph norm; in fact I teach them that they only write this way for “old, cantankerous writing judges who are frustrated with their lot in life”, and that actually writing, writing for LIFE has no place within the confines of the 5 paragraph format. This is not to say that writing does not have structure, but rather that we must ensure this structure, this medium of communication has enough flexibility to encompass what our students are trying to stay.
Build relationships with your students using the avenue of technology. Encourage your students to defend a topic or belief from all sides, not just the sides given in class. Allow the time and resources to research before they argue, and use the internet, discussion boards, and blogs to foster discussion among themselves. A person cannot learn what they believe until know why they DON’T believe other points of view. Our students need to be taught this same life lesson – to back up what they believe with logic and evidence, and to not be ashamed to stand confidently on a point in the face of the publicity of their peers.
Places to Start:
www.wordpress.com – Blogging
The way I do blogs is to create private accounts for all students; they then invite me as their sole viewer. They must do a blog entry once a week on ANY subject of their choosing. At first this freedom to write about anything can be crippling, but they soon find their voice especially when they see my comments. It takes about 45 mins but I comment on EVERY student’s blog. This is a really effective way to build a positive emotional climate with your class and reach each student individually. The response is tremendous when they realize they are still getting 100 for blogging, it can be on anything they wish, AND Ms. Caso is genuinely interested in what they have to say that may or may not pertain to the lesson. I count this as quiz grades.
Now this is a fishy one as of late because the Lefora Discussion Board site itself is down, or something is screwy with it. The site comes and goes, and I sent an email to the Lefora help desk to see if their server is down or going through updates or something. I moved my posts to but as of late the filter is now allowing this site either. Le sigh.
I try to make each post have an element of research in it, something they have to solidify their opinion about. For instance, we do current events a lot (because I listen to NPR on the radio every morning on the drive in) and the other week we were discussion Al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist cell with ties to Al Queda (sp?). We listened to the NPR bit in class (working on oral language per the SCOS), then they had to research an AMERICAN group that mirrored Al Shabaab’s terrorist tendencies, recruiting methods, and violence. Without telling them my opinion, many of them made connections to American gangs like the Bloods and the Crips, especially those who are in these gangs themselves (or say they are). It was definitely a teachable moment on the idiocy of gang life and how self centered these groups really are.
Each www.lefora.com post counts for a quiz grade, but each grade is their initial post PLUS two replies; after all, it wouldn’t be a discussion board if they didn’t discuss with one another. The site itself is very easy to use, navigate, and personalize. Contrary to popular belief, I am not a computer whiz AT ALL, so I like technology for dummies stuff A LOT.
The links attached will open up kinda funky and are NOT indicative of how the site actually looks. Google docs takes away the graphics and all the snazzy stuff.
*** And as always, don’t allow apprehension to dictate whether or not you use the technology available to you. ASK! Someone in your district knows how to use this stuff; track that person down! You can also pull up the websites you want to peruse (prezi.com, lefora.com, wordpress.com, livejournal.com, pollseverywhere.com, etc) and each site has a tutorial you can pace yourself through.