One thing I’ve learned is that in teaching, one simply has to remain flexible. This summer, after regrouping from the whirlwind tour that was the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) I dutifully and optimistically wrote my Google Certified Teacher Action Plan: Growing Digital Writers. Now, five weeks into the school year, I still can’t get my seventh graders using Google tools because of a undefined problem with the way Google accounts are being rolled out by the district office.
Of course, this is just teaching as usual. We teachers, I remind myself, are good at just making it work with whatever tools we have on hand. So, I am going to carry on with my digital writing project using the limited resources available when students don’t necessarily have emails or Google accounts. (Remember, seventh graders are twelve, so they cannot signup for email accounts, or any other kind of web-based account on their own.)
So how can I promote and teach digital writing anyway? I’ve taken a couple of beginning steps.
Twitter: I started a class Twitter account—@mcmillaneng7—and I’m experimenting with ways to have student writers Tweet out what we are doing in class. This idea came from 3rd grade teacher Cheryl Steighner, who I met at GTA. So far, I’ve logged into Twitter myself and asked students to sit at my computer and Tweet from there. The plan is to eventually have whole class Tweeting sessions, but I may have to change the password each time. I haven’t figured that part out yet. One cool thing that I’ve learned is that Tweeting is a great way to get kids to summarize and find important details. I created an exit slip on paper for them to practice Tweeting. It’s kind of a fun take on the exit slip experience and I find kids are more excited about completing it.
Click this link for the Google Doc: Twitter Exit Slip
Academic Messages via our learning management system (LMS), EDU 2.0:
Our school district has adopted EDU 2.0, an LMS that works a lot like Edmodo except with a few more bells and whistles. Since I don’t know when or if students will have email accounts, I decided to teach them the basics of how to compose academic emails using the tools available, which in this case is the messaging function on EDU.
I know students need this lesson because of the messages I sometimes get from them before they’ve had instruction: Basically, they will type the same way they text, ignoring capitalization, spelling, and punctuation rules. As a side note, I will make it my personal battle this year to promote capitalizing the personal I, even though a large percentage of twelve year olds seem to find it unnecessary. Also, they tend to include an overwhelming number of emoticons.
I want to teach students how to write formal, academic emails because that skill will serve them well for future high school and college courses, as well as future jobs.
Here is the lesson we completed last week on our first trip to the computer lab: Send an Academic Message
Additional Forays into Digital Writing: We’ve experimented with live discussions using the news feed section of our LMS. I also had students comment anonymously on my classroom blog: Ms. McMillan English 7. Check out post on “The Greats” to see the five or six comments I got. I plan on having all students choose pen names so they can continue this work, safely anonymous but still receiving credit.
Now my big question remains, how will I have students complete major writing projects for English class? I am feeling very let down about the unavailability of Google apps, so I am looking around for solutions. Kidblog is already topping my list of student-friendly, web-based tools. What else is out there?