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March 5, 2021

Literacy in the Digital Age: 5 Effective Writing Tools

Literacy in the Digital Age

Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about digital literacy tools and their effective use by educators.

The Common Core English Language Arts Standards for Writing focus on building college and career readiness by having students demonstrate the ability to write in a variety of formats. As educators, we need to facilitate authentic experiences for students to practice and take risks during the writing process.

With that in mind, we’re going to discuss several valuable digital tools to help teachers create a more engaging and dynamic writing classroom for students to meet the rigorous demands of the Common Core.

1. Kaizena

Kaizena is an amazing free tool that educators can use in conjunction with Google Docs to provide real time feedback with their own voice! Teachers can record audio comments that can be heard and responded to directly within a document.

Providing written feedback can be a cold, impersonal process. Consider the power of this for a moment: Students put their heart and soul into a submitted assignment only to be slightly crushed when it’s returned marked up — all they see is someone telling them what they did wrong. Tone can’t be translated through text. And despite the best intentions of the teacher to be constructive, students are inevitably disappointed… as if their efforts weren’t good enough.

Enter Kaizena, which helps potentially eliminate this feeling as the feedback is delivered in the teacher’s voice via technology. Rather than sifting through the comments on the page, students can hear a teacher’s nurturing and encouraging tone as feedback is delivered orally. The tone isn’t misconstrued and the student’s effort is recognized.

Kaizena also provides teachers an opportunity to extend the school day. One of the most valuable components to solid writing instruction is the one-on-one conferences teachers facilitate with students to guide, scaffold, and push their thinking. Only problem? There’s never enough time! Kaizena is a vehicle to conduct these conferences through technology by providing two-way, real-time conversation.

This tool isn’t limited to only teacher-to-student. Student feedback is vital. Use Kaizena to empower kids to improve their writing and editing skills by giving and receiving verbal feedback from their peers.

2. DraftBack

DraftBack is a free tool designed for use with the Google Chrome browser and the Google Docs environment that allows you to play back the revision history in any doc that you can edit. It’s like being able to go back and watch your student’s writing process as it’s happening. This tool can be utilized with students to help them reflect on their writing process, and with parents and special services team members to make the student’s writing process visible.

For example, the Teacher’s College writer’s workshop model focuses instruction on the process instead of the product to develop lifelong writers. Students are given the opportunity to practice specific writing strategies over several pieces, instead of the traditional approach of students working on one piece throughout a unit. This promotes metacognition by pushing students to think critically about why they are using specific writing strategies. DraftBack encourages students to take a look back through their writing. It’s a perfect tool to use with students during individual conferences.

We’ve also found that this tool is helpful during parent and/or special services meetings as a means to examine a student’s writing progress. In playing back the revision history, it’s like seeing a piece written in real time and helps to give more insight in providing targeted strategies for our struggling students.

3. No Red Ink

Grammar is credibility, especially online. Words carry a tremendous amount of weight in a virtual world where judgement is often cast based on accurate syntax. No Red Ink is a grammar solution created by two teachers to help students. It provides high-interest content with authentic assessments that adapts as students interact with the technology.

Teachers can use the program as part of a blended learning environment. It gives learners immediate, differentiated feedback as they practice the necessary skills to demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage – a tenet explicitly required by the Common Core.

No Red Ink affords students the opportunity to select their interests, so all of the work is personalized and relevant, and the tool provides teachers the ability to track their students’ progress in real time. The program empowers students to take ownership over their learning by identifying strengths and areas of need as they work to master individual skills. Teachers can create customized assignments to assess specific grammar skills. The assignments are graded instantly and students receive feedback as soon as they are done.

4. Virtual Debate

Virtual Debate is a project that was started by Melissa Butler and Elissa Malespina. The project began as a way to infuse technology into an authentic argumentative writing experience by giving students an audience.

To get started with the Virtual Debate, two classes agree to engage with one another and select a topic based on the interests/passions of the students. Past topics have included police presence in schools, competitive sports, and homework, to name a few.

Once a topic is selected, the two sides face off in a coin toss through Google Hangouts to decide the pro and con sides. Students then conduct research and even have the opportunity to contact experts to formulate arguments. The great news for teachers wishing to participate in the virtual debate, is that Melissa and Elissa provide all the mini lessons, anchor charts, and resources that they’ve developed.

The final debate is judged by experts from around the country, and it’s recorded using Google Hangouts On Air so parents can tune in and see their child’s hard work. You can sign up and join the Virtual Debate Project, or connect with teachers and colleagues through Twitter to start your own. Not only does the experience give students a competitive opportunity to share their argument writing, but it also hones their speaking and listening skills while having some fun!

5. Blogging

Connecting students with the world is an imperative in the modern classroom. As Josh Stumpenhorst, the 2012 Illinois Teacher of the Year, stated, “The refrigerator at home can no longer be the showcase for student work. Connect, share, and give your students a real audience.”

The Common Core State Standards call on teachers to implement innovative and exciting ways to engage students by making use of the global community. Technology provides the tools to seize this opportunity.

The voices of our students need to be heard, and blogging is a strategy that provides the platform. KidblogEdublogs, and Blogger (integrated with Google Apps For Education) are three of our favorite blogging tools for classrooms. All are safe, free, intuitive to use, and provide a network for students and teachers to communicate with others around the world.

Blogging can be used as a powerful means of ongoing reflection — both for students and for yourself, as a teacher or administrator. An environment that values the art of reflection places emphasis on the importance of making meaning from experience — a crucial component in the learning process.

Quadblogging is another effective strategy for teachers to leverage when using blogs in the classroom. Essentially, a group of four classrooms come together virtually to gain a genuine audience for their students. Each week, a different class is the “focus class,” affording the other three classes the opportunity to visit and comment on the focus class blog. Over the course of four weeks, each class has their chance as the focus class, ensuring all voices are heard. Check out an example from fifth grade classes across four schools in Middletown Township Public Schools.

Finally, give students the opportunity to author a blog about your classroom or about your school. Share your story with the world and empower the voices of your students along the way.

And when you jump in, be sure to share your students’ blogs on Twitter and invite a global audience to view their genius. Use and follow #Comments4Kids to connect with other educators and their students across the world.

Continue The Conversation

To continue the conversation, please join our class via RemindDigital Tools for TCHrs. Text @4TCHrs to 81010 from your mobile device. We will continue to share one new digital tool per week throughout the school year to augment your literacy instruction.


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