In my last post, I described my utter failure to effectively organize and manage my students’ drafting process for writing projects. This job has become much more complicated over the years with the availability of various technological tools for writing. New, clear parameters are definitely necessary.

I turned to Maia Heyck Merlin, author of The Together Teacher, for help. In an incredibly helpful phone conversation, Maia helped me come up with some solutions, customized around my students, classroom resources, and my own preferences and needs.

The Cure

One: Drafts must be submitted in hard copy.

There’s really nothing wrong with requiring this, especially when it makes such a huge difference for me later. Students do need to be able to conform to the needs of specific teachers. I know some teachers who like to comment on student work via Google Docs comment function. That is great if they can manage it. For me, I’ve decided I need the hard copy. I do sometimes type my feedback into a rubric on Word, because typing can be faster and neater. However, I still print this out and hand it to students in hard copy.

In order to facilitate this, I am working with my school’s technology coordinator to create printing stations for students, since we do not have a computer lab for students—only laptop carts (student laptops are not networked with our printers). Once I brought the idea up, it turned out many other teachers saw the same need and frequently have students emailing them to print their work.

Two: Students must decide if they are handwriters or typists.

In my classroom, students need to be able to work on writing projects in school and at home. If a student has typing capability at home, I want to allow them to type at school. However, if the student does not have reliable typing capability at home, typing in school creates problems. For students who strongly prefer typing, but do not have reliable computers at home, I will allow them to decide to be typists IF they agree to coming to my office hours after school on designated days during writing projects to get the work done.

Three: Students are responsible for bringing writing materials to and from school.

Managing materials is also a real life skill. In life, there are real consequences for failure to manage important materials. I, for example, need to bring my wallet, house keys, and laptop to and from school every day. If not, I will encounter serious challenges.

Handwriters must store their drafts in their ELA folders. If a student loses a draft, he or she is still responsible for turning in the assignment on time and must do the unfortunate work of recreating the piece. The same goes for typists, and shaky internet cannot be an excuse.

There are two ways typists can ensure that they have what they need to work on their writing at home and at school:

  1. I allow students to bring personal iPads or laptops to ELA class to use during writing projects. That means they always write and save in the same place and internet is not a factor. (I consider this a big privilege and students know they don’t get a second chance with this one. As with e-readers that have internet, any use of the technology for non-ELA actvities without permission results in a loss of the privilege.)
  2. Typists may use school laptops if they have their flash drives with them. My school provides incoming sixth graders with a school flash drive, which some still have as eighth graders. Otherwise, flash drives cost very little these days and lots of businesses give them away for free. The flash drive allows students to write in Word or Pages, and loss of internet connectivion does not hinder them. It also means that students can write on different laptops from day to day with no problems.

Four: Students set goals and track their progress through the drafting process.

Maia asked me about the benefits of having students use Google Docs to see if we could achieve some of these without relying on the internet. One benefit was that if students shared the Doc with me, I could see their progress at any point. However, the reality of me opening and checking up on 100 students in separate Google Docs after a day of in-class writing was simply not practical. I didn’t end up doing it—except in a few, select cases. Also by eighth grade, I don’t want to have to check up on students in that way. I want to teach them to keep track of their own progress toward a deadline and seek help when they need it.

Students will track their own progress in two ways:

  1. Maia suggested having students set daily goals of a certain number of words. I thought that sounded cool because it’s something real writers do and find helpful. I plan to have students set their goals and share them with their writing partner, who they sit next to. Students who hand write can count how many words they write on average on a page and use that to estimate the number of words they’ve written each day (rather than counting each time).
  2. My co-teacher and I are working on a bulletin board that visually represents each stage of the writing process. Students will each have their name with velcro on the back. They’ll be able to go and move their name along the continuum as they finish a piece of the project.

I am still working a few pieces—the printing stations and the visual tracking system—to fully put this system into practice. I look forward to updating you soon when I get the full system in place. In the meantime, check out Maia’s post—Thumbdrives, Google Docs and longhand, oh my!—with tips from our conversation.

Maia, thanks for helping me cure this mania.


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