Tag Archives: writing process

Preparing for #SEACCR Data Collection – Week 5 Reflections

Photo: research

research – cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Dayna Bateman

Despite feeling a bit off the pace of my Alaskan colleagues in #SEACCR, I am persevering and pressing on with my action research  project. One thing that I have found is that my teaching schedule and planning has not exactly matched up with the timeline established for the course. Some of this is a function of jumping into the mix without a complete sense of the timeline at the start, and some of it is merely a consequence of how I have plotted out the ninth grade sections that I am observing for the project.  Unfortunately, it is not looking like these two time streams are going to align any time soon.

One thing that has absolutely crystalized for me, especially since I engaged in a much lengthier action research project last year, is my fascination with reading the research on a subject. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of any research project. I love the searching, digging, reading, discovering. I tend to collect reams of related articles and books. In fact, for my project last year I had material shipped in from Australia, fascinating stuff at that.

As a result of all of this, I always find myself feeling I have so much more to read and learn. One week’s time never felt like it would be enough. I couldn’t read enough, fast enough. Plus, I spent a good chunk writing up a literature review, which I may post in future when I have finished the project.

Nevertheless, I am still in more of a planning stage for my data collection now, rather than actually collecting it. Since my interest is in peer response groups and Google Docs, I actually have to provide some opportunities for the students to participate. It is not something we do daily, but something we will be doing with greater frequency in future. Unfortunately, with this week being a shortened one, it may take even longer to begin data collection than I had imagined. Still, the class is moving from a more reading-focus to a more writing focus now. So there will be more opportunities, perhaps just not synchronized with the class timeline.

All of this is leaving me feeling a little disconnected from the group. However, I received some great feedback this week from @ak_teacher, Lenore Swanson, who is doing some great work herself. I am also continuing to stay involved in at least one of the two weekly Twitter chats. As my work drags on I am hoping to be a bit more engaged in helping and providing feedback to others.

So, despite Professor Lee Graham‘s awesome support, I can’t stop that nagging feeling of being behind a group of pretty awesome fellow educators.

Image: Lee Graham Single Tweet

It all remains great fun. Plus, there is a definite feeling of community within the group.

Annotating an Initial #SEACCR Bibliography

Photo: Bibliography

Bibliography – cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz

Running behind a bit, again. Still, once I got a chance to sit down and start compiling things, the process moved much faster. I also came to realize that the more precise term for what interests me is peer response groups, not reader response groups. Still, my inquiry is essentially the same: How does the use of use of Google Docs impact peer response groups and change or shape the writing process? Of course it still subject to revision, but that is where I am at present.

While I tried to examine a number of documents, so far I have found that there is not as much material specifically related to my line of inquiry. This potentially opens a small window for a substantive investigation that examines the impact of Google Docs on peer response groups. I may need to widen my reading to include more background on the theory that underlies peer response groups to both deepen my understanding and attenuate me to ways in which Google Docs as a tool might alter the experience. I definitely found some good articles to get started with a lot of leads to more potential readings.

Lastly, just for the sake of easier reading, I formatted the actual citations with a subtle background shading just to aid readability and keep the sections visually separated.

Kittle, P., & Hicks, T. (2009). Transforming the group paper with collaborative online writing. Pedagogy9(3), 525-538.

While only tangentially connected to my inquiry, this article behind framing out more theory and practice behind the related concept of collaborative writing. It is primarily focused on providing a number of practical activities for teaching and learning collaborative writing, using technology tools, as well as addressing how groups work together in multiple contexts. It is a great introduction to the concept of collaborative writing, which is related to my inquiry about peer response groups and highlights where a lot of the most current inquiries seem to headed.

Lacina, J., & Block, C. C. (2012). Progressive writing instruction: Empowering school leaders and teachers. Voices from the Middle, 19(3), 10-17.

This article investigated seventeen populous district’s views on middle school writing instruction for the 21st century. It itemizes a list of research-based writing instruction practices geared for improving adolescents and tried to identify their presence in classrooms across the observed districts. This article contains a rich array of references to other studies and articles, perhaps providing its greatest potential value. Considering that the sections I am observing are ninth graders, this middle school study seemed relevant.

One of the recommendations specifically discusses peer response groups, although they are more geared toward responding to literature and not peer generated writing specifically. However, it promotes the concept of real-time collaborative writing, using technology tools. While similar, it is not quite the same concept of my inquiry. There is definitely a tension point between collaborative writing and peer response groups.

Lin, W. C., & Yang, S. C. (2013). Exploring the roles of Google. doc and peer e-tutors in English writing. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 12(1).

Despite this study being in a English as a Foreign Language context with a tutoring component, this study has a quality review of literature regarding peer feedback. The findings are confirmed Google Docs as a success platform for social interaction between parties. They did however find challenges with the Google Docs service, which may potentially occur with any cloud solution. Also, considering continued upgrades and improvements to the service, it is unlikely that the problems experienced account for more than inconveniences.

Hedin, B. (2012). Peer Feedback in Academic Writing Using Google Docs.

Courtesy of Lee’s tutorial video, this might be the best pure article related to my inquiry. In it, a number of students in an undergraduate program participated as they developed degree project reports, using Google Docs for Peer Feedback Marking (PFM), which is essentially the kind of peer response method I am currently using with students.  In survey questions, respondents ranked written peer feedback and oral feedback similarly, although supervisor written feedback outranked both. Additionally, nearly 70% preferred the comment features in Google Docs over threaded discussion comments as available in an learning management system (LMS). The study also explores a high acceptance for reading electronic texts, which seemed surprised the investigator. This was something that I had not necessarily considered when conceiving my investigation. There are definitely some quality questions and methods to be gleaned from this study.

Pae, J. K. (2010). Collaborative Writing versus Individual Writing: Fluency, Accuracy, Complexity, and Essay Score. Officers & Executive Board, 1(2011), 121.

An interesting tangential article examining collaborative and individual writing. The main value of this piece is in the literature review and the references regarding collaborative and individually produced texts. It is not of primary concern but does provide some quality background on the theoretical opposition that I have kind of discovered is a bit more widespread than I understood prior to my inquiry.

Pargman, D., Hedin, B., & Hrastinski, S. (2013). Using group supervision and social annotation systems to support students’ academic writing. Högre utbildning, 3(2), 129-134.

In a subsequent study, Hedin and company were interested specifically in the social annotation system as a support, as well as how it fit into overall a supervision model. Again, using undergraduates this study required students to comment on each others writing, working in pairs only with the addition of supervisor input. There was very little advice about how or when to comment, something that they will choose to emphasize in future iterations. In fact, they will in future focus on what good performance is and facilitate the development of self-assessment, which is similar to the protocol that I use with students. A finding that is mentioned in both Hedin studies is an increase in student on-time completion rates, something that I had not thought to measure at all.

Gearing Up for Calderwood Fellowship: Reviewing Berthoff – Part 1

This summer, I have the great fortune of participating in the Calderwood Fellowship for the Teaching of Writing at UMass Boston. It is an exciting opportunity to conduct some funded action research over the course of a year. It starts with a week-long, intensive seminar in July which is just around the corner. In preparation for the seminar, we were asked to read a handful of texts.

The first one I opted to read  was the short article “Learning the Uses of Chaos” by Professor Ann Berthoff. This is the first of a two-part reflection on my reading.

While the piece was written and delivered as an address in the 1979, there is something deeply prescient about our current context in Berthoff’s notion of  making use chaos. Contemporary life has forced all of us to grow a bit more comfortable with chaos than we might like.

She begins by poking at the concept of writing as a process and what that means. The writing process mantra was a pedagogical staple by the 1970s, yet Berthoff poses a valuable challenge to dig deeper into what the writing process actually means and what its value is.

Presenting the chart of Prewriting-Drafting-Revising-Editing-Publishing with some kind of clever graphic isn’t really enough for anyone. I have worked in schools where there seemed to be this assumption and expectation that hanging the poster on the wall  would somehow teach the students about writing. Perhaps it was only meant to be a reminder but to even think it all that  meaningful is a bit ridiculous.

Much of what Berthoff advocates is the need for teachers to constantly give students a sense of geography for the context in which writing is situated in their particular course, as well as how it might fit within a grander context of their lives. She spends a lot of time discussing contexts and their importance in how we all go about making meaning. I like the idea that composing is the process of making meaning. In fact, I like the idea of teaching writing as composition, the wrangling of an array of disparate elements into a newly synthesized thing. This appeals to the existential part of me.

On page two she explains, “Thinking, perceiving, writing are all acts of composing: any composition course should ensure that students learn the truth of this principle, that making meanings is the work of the active mind and is thus within their natural capacity.”

Writing and thinking are both recursive and discursive as many theorists suggest. They inform one another in such a symbiotic way that it can be impossible to know where one ends and the other begins. Yet distinguishing between writing and composing might actually be a helpful paradigm for students to understand. It is something that I have been considering for some time now.

I also love the aphorism, “Ex nihlo nihil fit: out of nothing, nothing can be made” she includes on the same page. She also explains how instructors must assist students to “reseeing the ways out of chaos.”

I often explain and model for my students that writing is a messy process. In fact, I tend to do a lot of guided prewriting with classes as a communal activity, where the group shouts out various ideas and answers to prompted questions while I capture them on the board at the front of the room. From there, we start to discuss how to classify, group, and construct some meaning out of the mess. It is usually after that point that I release them to begin writing independently.

Being a huge fan of the late Francis Christensen’s work, the generative nature of language and writing as Berthoff invokes it  appeals to me greatly. When Berthoff starts winding through some of the philosophical underpinnings of her claim, I was pleased to recognize other familiar names, particularly Sylvia Ashton-Warner‘s “key vocabulary,” which is a fascinating example of teaching young children how to own their language and use it with authority. I can’t help but think that Ashton-Warner and Berthoff were influential to much of David Bartholomae‘s Facts, Artifacts and Counterfacts.

More interesting some of my most recent thinking was her comments on page 3, “Beginnings, for instance, should never be graded: identifying mistakes is irrelevant when we are teaching making a start at the process of making meanings.”

This idea is strong support for my recent thoughts on grading. I have been grading less student writing, but commenting and guiding development a lot more. In fact, it has inspired perhaps a better way for me to state my position on what I have been doing is to say, “Compositions are what is to be graded, not writing,” although I am not sure if that quite captures the idea completely yet.

“Learning to write means learning to tolerate ambiguity,” on page 3, might be my favorite statement in the whole article. I love that concept. It gets at another idea that I try to continually impress upon students. I encourage them to go hunting for uncertainty, because that is where they have the most work to do. It demands thinking. It is where the juice is for a writer. Too often students only see writing as the result. the product. That is in fact what we read, generally. This is a false idol of the classroom and a notion that teachers can implicitly endorse without realizing it. When writing s inadvertently presented as a product, it obscures the mess and chaos Berthoff is trying to capture regarding the process with the sophisticated polish of the finished piece.