George Lucas Educational Foundation

Writing in a 21st Century Classroom

Writing in a 21st Century Classroom

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Student holding a pen, ready to write

Continuing to follow up the post 10 Signs of a 21st Century Classroom

Writing may seem to be an odd item in this list. After all, writing has been around for approximately 4,000 years. However, writing can serve a much greater function than just sharing information. Students can use writing to tap into powerful metacognitive strategies to improve learning.

Test corrections

With our math department moving towards a standards based grading approach, test corrections are on the radar of ever more of our academic departments. This is generally implemented through a process requiring students to think through their thought process while they were on the wrong track originally and then developing a plan to prevent pitfalls in the future.

In the science department we require:

  1. Students write the problem.
  2. Their original answer
  3. Why they thought it was correct? (“I guessed” is not accepted)
  4. Correct answer
  5. Evidence for correct answer

Test corrections are a fairly contentious area, even within our own faculty. At what point do corrections become coddling? When does allowing students to learn from their mistakes devolve into simply a lack of any accountability? These are questions that need to be addressed at a school level before embarking on this path.


Technology makes the sharing of ideas easier than ever before. A blog is a great way for a student to share their views with an audience that could expand far beyond the walls of the school. Even if the only ones reading the post are students from within their own community, bloggers can still have the thoughts heard by hundreds of others. Knowing that the assignment will be read by others encourages a greater clarity of expression.


Of course, there’s really no reason that anyone at all needs to be able to read the students’ writing for it to be effective. The mere act of putting words to a page is a powerful method for self-reflection and learning. There are conflicting reports about the effectiveness of digital vs. handwritten journals, but the most important thing is that they happen. Five minutes at the end of the week to pause and record thoughts and new knowledge can make a difference.

Peer Review

This has been mentioned elsewhere, but it has a slightly different meaning here. Our science department has started requiring a process of peer review for lab reports. This mirrors the peer review process that should occur before any valid science research is published in the real world.

Before submitting a lab report in class, each student must find someone who performed the same lab, but was not in their lab group. That partner reads through the lab and writes an evaluation paragraph focusing on research methods and the analysis of the collected data. Done appropriately, not only will both students gain insight into how their classmates are completing labs, but they can correct any errors before the report is due and raise their grade.

Cornell Notes

A number of our teachers require students to take notes in the Cornell style. While I find this method a little too structured for my own classes, it does have a few interesting features. Students are asked to generate questions and main ideas based on their notes off to the side. This task is to be completed as soon as possible after class is completed while their original impression of the material is still fresh. They also write a summary of the notes at the bottom of the page. Both of these strategies encourage students to interact more fully with their notes than in traditional note taking.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Thanks for sharing all of these great ideas! I'm impressed by your correction system, as it seems like a strong way to get students to reflect on their thinking.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

Just to add a comment here--- Narrative is a huge part of great non-fiction writing (math, science, etc...) Tom Newark's book, Minds Made for Stories, is a great book to think about how stories are what inspire people (not just facts or data). That's why I believe that narrative should not disappear within the common core, but needs to be stronger in order for science and math to be more accurately communicated to the public, peers, and colleagues.

Thanks for the post.


Patrick Goertz's picture
Patrick Goertz
Science Teacher, STEM Coordinator

Dan, yes it can be effective. However, as with many techniques, students have to buy into it an understand what they are doing. All too often, students turn in corrections with something like "A was the correct answer because the other answer were wrong". It's an ongoing process to help students to see why they are being asked to demonstrate their knowledge in certain ways.

Gaetan, I absolutely agree about the power of narrative. If a student can share knowledge with someone in a way that makes them say "I'd really like to know more about that!", it is a good indication that they have really understood it themselves. I have experimented with incorporating short stories writing into science courses. It works well, but it takes some extra time.

sbarnes's picture

With the growth in technology, picking up a pen or pencil can seem like a lost art. However, writing is still and will continue to be a critical part our life. Thanks for sharing!

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