In his book, Content Area Writing, Jim Burke wrote that "writing is the most public performance of our intelligence." Writing is a skill that is needed and used regardless of the career our students pursue. People write for many different reasons and audiences. Writing no longer involves just a pen and paper and through the Internet, the 21st century scribe has the ability to build an audience in seconds. As the media continue to evolve it is important that our students understand that a tweet, an Internet blog post, and a research paper should be written differently. In this post are five web-based tools I have used in my classroom to motivate and engage the 21st Century Writer.
Blogs are a great way for students to write informatively, creatively, and even persuasively. I have used various blog platforms through work and in my classroom. Most are very similiar in the way they operate, but some may offer features or security settings that others do not. Some blogging platforms may work better for various age groups as well. Kidblog is excellent for students because teachers can control privacy settings. Another great feature is that Kidblog doesn't require an email account to create a blog account. The blog platform, Blogger, requires an email address and a mobile phone number to create an account. Allowing students to blog about something they are interested in increases their engagement and motivation. One of my students enjoys travel and began the process of blogging about the 50 states. Another student loves Italy and blogged about the country, in some posts focusing on Italian foods. Blogging is a great tool to engage and motivate the 21st century writer.
Bubbl.us is a great tool for students who have a difficult time coming up with a solid topic. I use Bubbl.us primarily for brainstorming, but students can use it to create a mind map for organizating their thoughts. It is my experience that some students struggle coming up with a topic that they can stick with. They are more successful sticking to a topic if they have some organization to their thought processes. Bubbl.us will allow you to export your "map" as a jpg or png as well as print your "map." The application also allows you to save your map if you create a free account. This web-based tool provides a visual to the writing process which can engage and motivate the 21st century writer.
Google Docs is a great tool for collaboration, storage, and retrieval of important documents. Google Docs has word processing, presentations, spreadsheet capability, and more. The documents can be shared with other users or saved as pdf files. Sharing digital copies of writing, presentations, and spreadsheets reduces waste and allows for access anywhere there is an Internet connection. For the teacher, there are fewer folders to carry home at the end of the day. Students can share their documents with the teacher and the teacher can make suggestions without the use of a printer, paper, and a red ink pen. Google Docs is a free alternative to expensive word processing software.
PBworks is great for collaborative writing. PBworks is a wiki that keeps a history of changes and allows users to go back and reverse any changes made. I have used PBworks to display my students’ digital work as well as a collaboration tool during the writing of my second book, Classroom Remixed. PBworks is another great tool that gives teachers the ability to set security settings and administer the page easily. Teachers can create individual student accounts and assign passwords without the use of email accounts.
I plan to use Twitter for the first time in my classroom this year. Twitter is a “micro-blogging” tool in which people “tweet” messages in 140 characters or less. One way I plan to use Twitter is to check for student understanding after reading a chapter of a novel or a short story. The students' summaries will have to be very specific to summarize a chapter or short story using only 140 characters. Another way I plan to use Twitter is as a back-channel during classroom discussion. For example, students could pose questions to the teacher or to other students via Twitter. These questions could be answered during class or after. There are a few obstacles that must be overcome before I actually try using Twitter at school. Also, as with any new technology, it will be very important that I teach the students proper procedures of tweeting as well as consequences for not following the procedures. I'm excited about the possibility of using Twitter to motivate and engage the 21st century writer.
What tools and strategies have you used or plan to use to engage and motivate the 21st century writer?