Collaborative technology improving writing: How UWCSEA's online learning platform develops writing skills
Andrew McCarthy, Head of High School Economics, Dover Campus
27 April 2019
“The teaching and learning of writing is challenging. In my experience, guiding students through the writing process is most effective when supported by formative assessment and frequent, goal-oriented feedback. At UWCSEA, this has been enhanced by the use of technology,” explains Paul Turner, teacher of Middle School English and Tech Mentor for Middle School teachers at Dover Campus.
In Middle School English classes, students develop the craft of writing through a guided, ongoing and iterative process using a number of tools. They first explore and develop ideas through writing or sketching in paper notebooks, and subsequently draft, revise, edit and publish final work online.
As the department’s Tech Mentor, Paul has been at the forefront of exploring the use of UWCSEA’s purpose-built Online Learning Platform (OLP) to both enhance skill development and amplify the writing process. One element of this has been looking for ways to improve how feedback is provided to students in a goal-directed fashion.
For students in Paul’s classroom, the first submission in the writing process is often a photo of the students’ brainstormed ideas in their writer’s notebook, which is uploaded to the OLP. Through conferencing, Paul and his students then use this artifact to explore ways to extend and structure the initial ideas. These conferences can take place in class or by using the voice record and/or written comments options available in the OLP which allows students and teachers to collaborate more effectively and efficiently than relying only on classroom contact for an exchange of ideas.
“… attention to minute-by-minute and day-to-day formative assessment is likely to have the biggest impact on student outcomes.” Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment, UCL
Once students have selected, developed and organised their best ideas, they then draft their pieces of writing using Google Docs. Google Docs is particularly effective in the drafting and revision process as it allows for self or peer assessment through the use of the commenting function. Comments most often consist of reflections and suggestions on the in-progress draft. These Google Docs are accessible via the OLP, which provides student-friendly lists of success criteria (often called ‘I can statements’) to prompt self and peer assessment and to provide feedback. The feedback process helps guide and develop student writers rather than simply measuring success.
As Tech Mentor, Paul supports his colleagues in the Middle School English Department to move “everything onto the platform, which supports the documenting of the writing process and makes the evolution of a piece of writing visible.” Paul has worked with the team to construct a framework of communication that effectively supports the learning of the writing process via the OLP. As students proceed through the stages of the writing process, they are provided with an extensive, easily referenced and purpose-driven channel of communication that nurtures the growing writers. With their work accessible in one location, both students and teachers can focus on the writing and interact with feedback in a timely fashion, independently tracking each student’s progress.
The evolution of the UWCSEA OLP in the last 12 months has meant that teachers in all departments can collate work across a class, read and annotate different drafts, and provide either written or audio feedback in one place. The College’s continuing goal for the OLP is to put the most effective and powerful tools at the fingertips of all our teachers, thereby improving student learning.