Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dude, Can You Please Edit?

The last two years I have been lucky enough to work with a group of middle school Language Arts teachers that were interested in implementing a Digital Reading Writing Workshop in their classrooms. Inspired by Troy Hicks'  The Digital Writing Workshop, we met regularly and compared notes about how best to incorporate some of the ideas presented in the book into our classrooms.

One of the brilliant ideas that came out of these early morning gatherings was to use the wiki tool in Blackboard as a digital writing portfolio. This was one of those ideas that was so good, I was mad I hadn't thought of it! This colleague of mine, Teacher Wiki, set up individual wikis within her Blackboard courses for each student. Each student would then create a new page of the wiki for each new writing piece. That meant that each time they revised that page of their wiki, all revisions were saved. Furthermore, because the wikis were all public, all students in the class could read each other's writing and leave specific feedback about each piece. Further, furthermore, students could get ideas for their own writing based on what they read in each other's wikis. A simple and elegant way to help students track their own progress, publish their work for feedback and view examples from their classmates of great writing.

So, as you can tell, I was excited about the use of this tool to truly build a digital writing workshop. But what was even more exciting was the student writing and interactions that came out of this practice.

Teacher Wiki had one student who would type a few sentences and declare himself done. Using all her Teacher College Writing tricks, Teacher Wiki would cajole and needle and work hard to get the student to write more. However, Student Y would just not elaborate or even re-read what he had written. That is until, he got some feedback from his peers.

Dude, Can You Please Edit?

This was shouted across the room at him in a none-too-patient voice from a friend across the room. It was clear that when Student X went to give reluctant writer Student Y some feedback in his wiki, the piece was filled with too many errors. It was after this across-the-room exchange that reluctant writer Student Y quietly asked Teacher Wiki where the spell check function was in the wiki tool. Quietly, surreptitiously, reluctant writer Student Y went back and began to revise and edit his piece. That quick exchange with his peer made more of an impression on him than repeated attempts by his teacher. And I question whether or not the scenario would have unfolded the same way if the students had just exchanged papers. Instead, this is a perfect example of what can happen when students are encouraged to write from the beginning in a digital format.  Editing and revising is so much easier in the digital format but, more importantly, when adolescents get feedback from their peers, they are much more interested in revising than when they get the same feedback from their teacher.

Now, of course, Teacher Wiki works hard on teaching students how to give appropriate and helpful feedback to the writer. (I don't think "Dude, can you please edit" was one of her model examples). She gives students specific ideas about how to respond to other students' writing and highlights model responses. As the school year goes on, students get better and better at giving each other feedback. While they still often slip into casual chat talk, they do give advice about word choice and provide suggestions for adding detail.

When I interviewed students at the end of last year, one students was able to tell me both how he got his writing topic idea from reading other students' wikis ("When I read how that student wrote about breaking a vase, I remembered the time I broke a window."), and how he improved the piece based on feedback from a classmate ("They suggested I use the word 'shattered' when I described the window breaking. I had just said 'broke.'") This was great testimony to the importance of letting students read each other's work in a friendly and open way.

Example of a student adding transitions to her writing
The ability to track all the revisions on a writing piece, have students giving and recieving feedback from each other and creating a space for students to collect more ideas about what and how to write has made using the wiki tool in Blackboard a huge success for these Language Arts students. As more and more teachers experiment with this format, students will benefit. They will grow as writers and as learners.


  1. I'm revising my lesson plans! My sixth graders are currently working in Glogster, where they can view each others glogs. Instead of waiting until the last day of the project to give feedback, I'm going to ask them to send messages to each other with constructive feedback during the project so the comments can be used to improve the work while it is still in progress. Thanks!

    1. Great idea Meg! I'd love to hear how it goes. You might want to consider having them leave positive comments only at first. Showing some examples of specific feedback really helps too!