Writing is a crucial skill for learners, for their academic careers and their life after school. In our current situation, teachers need strategies for writing instruction that can be used in both face-to-face and virtual settings, because even at schools that have reopened for in-person learning, there’s a chance we’ll have to shift back to distance learning if local coronavirus cases surge. I have a technique that teachers across content areas and grade levels can implement in their classes to enhance their writing instruction.
Digital writing conferences provide students with written feedback on their writing. Unlike verbal feedback during face-to-face conferences, which many of us are familiar with, students will always have access to the feedback—they won’t forget what they have been told and can refer to the feedback for future growth.
One of the biggest benefits of using digital writing instruction is that it provides teachers with an opportunity to give differentiated assessments and personalized instruction through the use of varying levels of feedback for writers. It’s an opportunity to include one-on-one writing instruction to fit the individual needs of students, which is not always available through a more traditional method of writing instruction.
With in-person writing instruction, teachers are constrained by the time limits of a normal class period; digital instruction, however, makes time limits less of an issue and is conducive to both virtual and face-to-face instruction. Digital instruction can also be done synchronously or asynchronously, so students can work at their own pace and teachers and students can schedule a time to chat about the writing.
This method also helps teachers manage their own time when evaluating student writing—and as we all know, no matter what students’ skill level with writing is, evaluating their work is time consuming. By providing feedback with digital methods, teachers can schedule time for evaluation that fits their schedule and the student’s schedule. Students can also work at their own pace as they incorporate the feedback they get.
The Tools I Use for Digital Writing Instruction
Google Docs: My most important tool for digital writing instruction is Google Docs, which enables students to easily share their writing with me and to keep their writing organized. I use the comments feature to leave feedback on specific parts of student writing in a way that is unambiguous for the student—I can highlight a word, phrase, or passage and add feedback in a comment that is tied to the relevant text.
This feature means that a teacher can leave their digital fingerprint on their students’ work, with the sure knowledge that the student will see the comments and feedback in the correct context. All too often in a face-to-face conversation, that information gets lost. In Google Docs, students can also respond to the teacher’s feedback if they have questions or concerns.
Teachers and students can also use the chat feature within the document to talk in real time about the writing—I do this by scheduling appointments with students after I’ve done an initial review of their work.
One of the biggest benefits of using Google Docs and other digital tools with writing instruction is the accountability aspect. Teachers can track a student’s writing progress in their Google Docs, and even watch students type in real time. Teachers can also see what edits and revisions students have made to their documents by looking at the version history. These features are useful for accountability purposes, and can be invaluable in tracking students’ learning as we can see exactly how they apply the feedback we give and have a conversation about that process.
Flipgrid: Flipgrid is a popular online video tool that allows teachers and students to record videos. Teachers can use it to record video or audio feedback and suggestions for writing, and students can respond with their own questions or comments. This can not only benefit students academically as they take in feedback but also increase their sense of connection with their teacher and the class as they see and hear the teacher engaging with their work. The video is also beneficial for students to store the feedback for future use—it provides an additional digital record of the feedback that shows students’ writing growth.
Wakelet: Wakelet is an online curation and collection tool that allows students to organize content and also other tools, including Google Docs and Flipgrid, in one site. They can customize their pages to suit their personal preferences or the requirements of an assignment, and create Wakelet pages that link to their Google Docs and Flipgrid videos.
Teachers can choose how they want students to organize their writing, or allow students to set up a system for themselves. Organization can be done by specific topics, like argumentative or narrative writing, which helps with assessing writing assignments at the end of a unit. Wakelet can also be used to store links to research sources that students consult and to organize their writing as a final portfolio—students can choose what writing to showcase on their page for their final portfolio of learning.
Teachers in all content areas can use digital writing instruction to accommodate learners in this current educational climate and in the future. Whether education is happening virtually or face-to-face, digital tools can help ensure that students receive quality writing instruction.