Moving Through the Paperless Writing Process

Note this is one of the posts I will be bringing over from my previous blog.  This was originally posted on April 26, 2012.

One of the most common types of essays that students are asked to write is a persuasive essay.  As a former 5th and 6th grade English teacher and current 5th grade English teacher I like persuasive essays for one main reason.  The reason is because you can tie a lot of skills to a persuasive essay; planning, reasoning, research, and editing are all skills that can be easily tied to a persuasive essay assignment.  It was because of these various skills that I chose a persuasive essay as the first writing assignment we would attempt to do in a paperless fashion.

The very first thing I do with every writing assignment is make sure my students know what I expect from them through the use of a rubric.  Creating a rubric and projecting it on the screen for the class, while also emailing it to each student’s school email accounts allowed me to completely eliminate the use of paper from this step.  It should be noted that my homeroom students are essentially the only students in the district with their own school email addresses.  I am piloting this “experiment” with my students this school year.  Even before this particular assignment, in almost all cases, I have stopped printing a rubric for each student since the majority of them end up in the trash or recycling bin.  As an alternative, I have been posting the rubric on my classroom website allowing the students who wish to use the rubric the opportunity to print it on their own.

After going over the rubric I summed up the rubric by typing information and projecting it onto my SmartBoard using the “Notes” app which comes pre-installed on Apple devices.  For the time being I have to put the iPod Touch under my document camera, since the Apple Device to A/V cable won’t work with our iPods (it works fabulously with my iPhone 4S).  While going through the information each of my students also typed the information on their own iPods.  This period of note taking was without a doubt the quietest and most successful note taking session I have experienced as a teacher.  Since things typed into “Notes” seem to get deleted (purposely or accidentally) frequently I also emailed the information to each of my students’ iPods.  I had previously set up each of the iPod Touches with their own Hotmail account.  This allowed me to say, “Go back and look at what the format of the essay should be in your notes.”

Notes for Persuasive Essay

Once we had taken time to go over the rubric and the expected format for the essay, each student had to come up with a list of five possible topic choices.  These lists were also created using the “Notes” app.  It was quick and simple for my students to email me their five topic choices directly from the app.  Once I had the lists I collaborated face to face with each student to help them choose the topic that would be of most interest, would fit the assignment the best, and would be possible to research.

After the topics were selected, my students had to do some pre-writing planning.  Going along with the expected format I required them to come up with three reasons to support their stance on the topic and one opposing reason.  To find and fully support the reasons research was required using the internet and “Safari” app  My students were able to bookmark and/or use “Notes” to record the information they found while searching the internet.  When each student had three supporting reasons and an opposing reason they used the “T-Charts” app to create a t-chart and email it to me.  When emailing the app converts the information contained into a list in the body of the email.  This makes it easier to see and edit if necessary.  One of the bad parts of this software is that if you are halfway done it is very easy to lose the progress you have made.  Once again I had a face to face meeting with each student to go over their reasons, both supporting and opposing, offer suggestions and in some cases have them come up with different or better reason.

T-Charts app  

At this stage my students were ready to type a rough draft.  This was also the stage when the only three sheets of paper were used for this project.  Those sheets were used for students who have modifications as part of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  Another way the assignment was modified was through the use of “Dragon Dictation,” however the app doesn’t always work as well as I had hoped.  It also became important to make sure my students cut and pasted what they had dictated into “Pages” or “Notes” frequently so it did not get lost.  I encouraged my students to use “Pages” when typing their rough draft.  Documents typed in “Pages” can be easily translated to “Word” documents and emailed within the program.  Documents in “Notes” become part of the body of emails and there are added steps to get them into an easily editable file.  When emails started coming in containing rough drafts I met with students face to face and in some cases emailed suggestions back to them.  In the future I intend to implement peer editing exercises using the iPods, but for this assignment I along with the writer edited the rough draft.

emailing using Pages

For most students a few edits here and there led to the submission (again through email) of their final drafts.  There grades were sent to them via email along with comments on what they can do to improve their essays in the next time.

In the future I hope to use the mind-mapping app “iThoughts” that my students and I have just begun experimenting with for pre-writing planning.  I also hope to find a way to attach comments as part of the actual rough draft file instead of having to put them into the body of the email and/or tell the student face to face.

Overall, I was able to implement the writing process from start to finish using only three sheets of notebook paper.  Editing and collaboration took place via email, as well as through face to face conferencing and was very effective.  I recognize that this may not be ideal or even possible for some types of writing assignments, however I found it to work very well for this particular assignment.

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