Creating Community in the Classroom and Beyond: Laptops and Internet Transform Student Writing

Writing is all about communicating with other people. What better way is there to spread your message quickly and efficiently to many people than with the Internet? Audience is motivation.

Computers can be used to enhance pedagogy in many ways, including virtual student collaboration through social networking, increased research opportunities, leveled reading practice (Raz-Kids), book review sites, etc. Here I focus on what I have felt most passionate about since beginning to teach: helping students’ voices to be heard through writing. How can classroom websites be used to provide a meaningful, authentic audience for student writing? How can I take student writing and connect it to their community?

In getting started, two main issues arise: one technical and one logistical. First, the technical issue of choosing a website and constructing it. There are a multitude of different websites available to teachers. Over the last year, I have begun to create classroom pages at Edmodo, Weebly, Wiki Classoom, Goodreads, Scholastic the Stacks for Kids, and Kidblog. Each website has different features that facilitate different uses. The second issue, that of logistics, is deciding how exactly one should use a classroom website when there are so many options. I decided to focus on giving kids’ writing a real audience. Would I use the website to track their revisions and give feedback, as can be done on a Wiki? Would I use it to share writing with other classrooms in different schools or countries? Would I create student blogs? Student websites?

Ultimately, I found myself overwhelmed by many of the websites and chose Weebly for its simplicity and design. Any other websites we created or used during the year would be included on my main classroom Weebly page by inserting a hyperlink or embedding code. When so much of the technological world lie foggy, beyond my field of vision at that point in the beginning of the year, this seemed like the best way to leave it open to continue learning and trying things out throughout the year.

Research in one-to-one districts suggests that when compared to student growth results in reading and math, only results for writing show clear positive effects from laptop use (Gulek &Demirtas, 2005, and Silvernail & Gritter, 2007). Growth in writing, rather than in reading and math, seems logical to me, as math and reading are often more independent activities, while writing is more often social. Writing is all about communicating with other people. What better way is there to spread your message quickly and efficiently to many people than with the Internet? Audience is motivation. Studies show that when essays written for teachers are compared to those written for peers, the quality of students’ writing increases with peer audience (Cohen & Riel, 1989).

Through the use of a classroom website, teachers can facilitate audience interaction of peers and family in many ways. Classmates are easily able to share links to each other’s pages and leave comments about their work. Furthermore, peer readership may be facilitated both within a classroom and internationally. For example, teachers around the world have been participating in the Flat Stanley project. Inspired by Jeff Brown’s book about a boy flattened when a bulletin board falls on him, classes from around the world have been communicating with each other by writing their own part of a story for Flat Stanley when they receive a Flat Stanley in the mail. Classes can also create online books for one another comparing views on a topic, such as holiday traditions (“Technology brings growth,” 2002).

In addition to providing students with more opportunity for peer interaction, so will a classroom website open up possibilities for family involvement. In her website, Wink (2003) advocates the idea that homework is best when it involves interaction between the student and the family. By assigning students with writing tasks for family members, about family members, or ones which require that a child interview a family member for necessary information, not only does the student’s motivation increase, but so does family involvement in the child’s education.

In a world where most adults have smart phones, publishing on the web the child’s writing about family will make it easily accessible for parents and family members to visit and enjoy, furthering the daily opportunities students will have for audience and family involvement.

In conclusion, the many types of classroom websites exist to give teachers a platform with which to publish student writing and facilitate social interaction about it. The continued use of student laptops can increase the quality of student writing. Student motivation will increase with the addition of real audiences. Furthermore, family can easily be incorporated into homework assignments, encouraging them to become regular visitors of their child’s website, creating a more supportive home environment for the student. While daily use of laptops in the classroom comes with kinks to work out, the possibilities for transformative pedagogy abound.

References

Choen, M. & Riel, M. (1989). The effect of distant audiences on students’ writing. American Educational Research Journal, 26: 143-159.

Gulek, J. C. & Demirtas, H. (2005). Learning with technology: The impact of laptop use on student achievement. The Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 3(2).

Shaltry, C., Henriksen, D., Wu, M., & Dickson, W. W. (2013). Situated learning with online portfolios, classroom websites and facebook. Techtrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 57(3), 20-25.

Silvernail, D. L., & Gritter, A. K. (2007). Maine’s middle school laptop program: Creating better writers. Portland: Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation, University of Southern Maine.

Technology brings growth. (2002). Reading Today, 20(2), 10.

Wink, J. (2003). Putting home back into homework. Tumbleweeds Newspaper, Spring, 24.

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