Novel Ideas for Writing Instruction

Tech & Learning | April 4, 2018 

By: Tara Smith 

Edtech tools are helping educators everywhere discover new possibilities for writing instruction. Teachers are happier. They’re reading student work that’s more thoughtful, properly revised, and well researched, and they’re able to give efficient, effective feedback to each student. The teetering stacks of papers waiting to be graded are gone. Trees are happier. And writing students at every level who are inspired by engaging prompts and able to share, collaborate, and access support and informative texts are happier too.

At Milton (MA) Public Schools last February, 758 fourth- and fifth-grade students engaged in a four-week collaborative story writing experience. They wrote for a total of 78,873 minutes and produced 2,245,621 words. The first annual BoomWriter Writing Bee, in collaboration with Jeff Cohen (aka “Chunk” from the Goonies), coincided with standardized testing season. “We saw a huge improvement in our students’ ability to write effectively and to type efficiently,” says curriculum coordinator Amy Gale. “It was an authentic and fun way for students to prepare for the state tests without even realizing that they were!” Teachers reported that 100 percent of participating students were “engaged” or “extremely engaged.” As a sequel to last year’s success, students are busy completing a four-chapter book with Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney.

The key backstory here is Milton Public Schools’ larger commitment to writing instruction across grade levels and subject areas. “All of our teachers have had ample professional development in writing process and pedagogy, which helps to provide a strong knowledge base around the most effective practices,” says Gale. The district is seeing great results from its investment in technology-based tools and in training teachers to use them. Students are using Google Classroom, BoomWriter, Reach for Reading, and other tools across the curriculum. “Our goal is to provide ample opportunities for students to develop strong writing skills across genres, in response to reading and in on-demand tasks,” Gale says. Gale calls the online program BoomWriter “perhaps the most impactful technology-based tool that we’ve used to support writing instruction.” Teachers in grades three through five utilize BoomWriter in math, science, ELA, and social studies, as it reinforces grade-level content, builds typing skills and stamina in revising and editing, and engages students. BoomWriter’s rubrics and grade book feature simplify the process of grading and tracking student growth, and its peer review component helps students to reflect on their work and to continually strive for quality.

IMMERSION IN THE GENRE

Stephen Samuels’ fifth-grade ELA students at Mosaic Preparatory Academy in Manhattan (NY) benefit from a total-immersion experience in each genre—whether they’re studying, reading, or writing narrative fiction or informative writing. “This provides a structural understanding of the genre and provides mentor texts that students can use as models for their own writing,” Samuels says. With online reading resources (from myON, for example), he adds, teachers can devise complete research and writing assignments and students can access text and write on one device.

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