Friday, January 20, 2012

Collaborative Writing In Elementary Classrooms

The development of Web 2.0, or the Read/Write Web, has produced a number of free resources that allow students and teachers to publish and collaborate online. One of my favorite sites to use with students is Wikispaces.  Wikispaces is a web service that allows teachers to create a wiki in which students may contribute content. The service is free for teachers and students. After a teacher creates an account they can create as many wikis as they wish. There is a very simple to use management tool that allows the teacher o create student usernames and passwords.

Once a student is granted access to the wiki he or she can add content, respond to discussions regarding the content and even leave comments when reviewing materials developed by the teacher or their peers. The availability of a resource like Wikispaces offers a number of opportunities in the classroom.

A wiki is a forum in which students can collaborate, share and contribute content, and peer review each others work. For example, the students in Mrs. Daly’s (White Rock), Mrs. Young’s, (Stanlick) and Mrs. McLoughlin’s (Stanlick) grade 5 classes have been working with grade 5 classes in Buckingham County, Virginia on a shared wiki. Each student was paired with a student in Virginia who is at or near their writing level. We created a wiki for the project and a page within that wiki for each student.

The goal of this collaborative project was to provide an authentic opportunity for students to develop their writing skills. Each student was responsible for authoring a writing piece based on a common writing prompt. After the students added their written work to their page they were responsible for peer editing the work of their partner. The students followed a common template for peer review that was shared with all six teachers involved. The students provided the feedback
to their partners in Virginia through the discussion feature that is available on each of their pages.

This project has been a success. The students were provided with the opportunity to write for an audience. They enjoyed learning about their partners in Virginia. It was a great opportunity to experience writing from their peers in other states. The opportunity to send and receive feedback provided an opportunity for reflection regarding their writing. The student’s in Mrs. Young’s class and their partner class in Virginia will be continuing this project. They are in the process of organizing a wiki in which each pairing of students will co-author a single story.

While a wiki is a very simple and powerful tool for school to school collaboration, it can also be used effectively within a single class. For example, student’s in a U.S. History class may collaborate on a single wiki site focused on the 1920’s. Each student may be responsible for contributing a page of content about that era. The end result of such a project is an online textbook that may be shared and used year after year.

A Language Arts teacher may provide a single page on a wiki to each student to write an essay. The fact that the wiki is online allows the teacher to monitor and review student writing in real-time. The “add a comment” feature allows the teacher to provide comments that are highlighted and noted ion the sidebar of the page.

This method of writing replaces the process of collecting and reviewing first drafts. Instead, the teacher can guide a student and comment on their writing while it is happening. The feedback is immediate and will impact the quality and focus of student writing.

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