There are a variety of tech tools and methods out there to teach writing that can make the process easier and more fun for both teachers and students. While not every high-tech way of teaching writing will work for every class or every student, there’s enough variety that there’s bound to be something for everyone. Here, we offer just a few tech-focused ways to help students learn grammar, essay-writing, and, most importantly, why good writing is so important to their futures.
1. Use automation. With many teachers trying to grade the work of a hundred or more students, giving the kind of comments and insights that students need to succeed can be difficult, if not impossible. While budgets can’t allow for teachers to take on a lighter class load, there are some high-tech solutions to the problem that can ensure that students get the help they need and that teachers aren’t overburdened with grading. Increasingly complex and comprehensive programs are available to help students fix errors in their writing, and can offer feedback during the writing process when it matters most. Students can use the feedback to make changes before handing in a paper and can get it in more manageable chunks so that it won’t feel overwhelming. While programs like these are still evolving, they will undoubtedly become a go-to tool to help teachers teach students writing in the coming decades.
2. Monitor and correct language mechanics. In addition to built-in support like autocorrect, apps and browser extensions like Grammarly are extremely useful in helping students identify errors in language mechanics and grammar usage. Provided these tools help students learn rules (increasing long-term language capacity) rather than reducing their need to know them, it’s hard to not see the benefit of this specific technology in writing.
3. Produce visual data and reporting. Writing-focused software is also available to help teachers keep an eye on student progress as they produce a paper or complete an assignment. This kind of data can make it possible for students to get help from start to finish not only from their teachers but also as they write each word of an assignment. This is a great tech tool to have to teach writing.
4. Combine media forms. Today, there are hundreds of free multimedia tools out there for teachers to use in the classroom, many of which combine perfectly with writing assignments that challenge and engage students. Looking for some ideas? Some teachers ask students to combine videos they’ve shot with poetry they’ve written or to write the scripts for short films. Others allow students to turn their stories into animations. While a small investment in technology may be necessary to get these kinds of programs off the ground, many teachers report that students who get to be creative and use high-tech tools to augment their writing actually work harder, are more willing to revise, and want to create something that will be truly great, not just please the teacher.
5. Let students collaborate, and do so in a way that actually improves their writing. New technology makes it easier than ever for students to collaborate on just about anything, including writing projects. Even free products like Google Drive allow students to work together on a project or to give each other feedback that can be useful in the writing process. Teachers can provide feedback or watch students provide one another with feedback as they go, then step in during summative assessment to assess both the final product (i.e., the writing) as well as the feedback and use of the writing process itself.
6. Help students publish and promote their own ideas. Blogs force students to create writing that is geared toward a wider audience, which can give quite different results than asking students to craft an essay or a journal that will be read by the teacher alone. There are a number of education-centered blogging sites that can help to address any security and safety issues parents might have and still allow students to craft publishable writing. On these sites, students can work together to craft a classroom blog or work independently to develop a blog on a given topic. Much of the writing students will do in their future work may be digitally-based, so learning to write in the digital sphere is a key skill to develop. What’s more, most kids love getting the chance to share their writing through a blog and then promote that content on social media–or even promote their social media through a blog!–so it can be great motivation for reluctant writers.
7. Use social media to uncover a ‘purpose’ for writing. Sadly, many students hate writing because they find it boring and not particularly useful. Many students just aren’t learning practical ways to apply what they learn and create. After all, when was the last time you had to write a five-paragraph essay for, well, anything? Experts suggest that teachers can facilitate greater student engagement through emphasizing the real-world purpose of student writing. The internet can be a valuable tool for doing that, as much of the communication students do these days is via social media and online forums. Students can compare and contrast products, write short essays detailing their position on a particular issue, or even build research-based websites that can inform and educate readers.
8. Use model-based learning. Model-based learning is the process of extracting lessons and ideas from one thing in order to create and inform another. Technology can be used to teach writing using this approach by taking a popular digital technology or media–a videogame, for example–and using it as a prompt to write fiction or non-fiction. They can turn a viral YouTube video into a first-person narrative, or leverage the concept of a ‘search engine’ (like Google) into the plot of flash fiction. You can read more about model-based learning in our ‘modern teacher dictionary‘ to get a better understanding of how this might work. Look for a more in-depth post on model-based learning soon.
9. Use virtual and augmented reality. How practical this is depends on your particular context: If you don’t have access to a virtual reality setup, for example, it likely won’t be of much use. But Google Cardboard and other alternatives have provided crude but perfectly usable virtual reality experiences for years. Further, augmented reality is available on most mobile devices. How to actually help students write using virtual and augmented reality isn’t much different than using other physical ‘props’ or supplements. In short, these tools can give students a reason to write: narrative elements, a backstory, a premise, etc., in fictional writing. They can also create basic how-to guides for younger tech users for virtual reality, reviews of augmented reality apps, or even tips for teachers to use them in the classroom if they have specific background and experience with that technology.
10. Collect and digitally frame their best work. When students are proud of the work they’ve done, they love seeing it published. Additionally, knowing something will be published for others to see can motivate students to produce better work from the get-go. There are a wide range of publication options online that teachers can use to promote student work. Students can be featured on a school website or blog, but other sites offer different options. Google Drive and Zoho Writer make it possible to turn a writing assignment into a webpage and Yudu and Issuu help make them into a newsletter or e-book.
These are just a few of the many options out there that can help to get students excited about writing. Don’t be afraid to use technology to teach writing, because the results may surprise you.
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