Trying out collective writing in the classroom

Yesterday, my students were going to work on Aboriginal Australians and learn more about the history of the Stolen Generation. I find this topic very interesting, so I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted to approach the three lessons at hand. I had found a variety of resources that I could use, but as always, the problem isn´t really to find suggestions for contents in a lesson, but to limit myself and finding out what would be the best approach. I wanted them to read something, do some writing, some oral activities, as well as perhaps listen and practice communication skills. And in addition, try out a digital tool.

The choice landed on using NDLA´s tool for collective writing, and use this approach to working with texts as a starting point.

The lesson started with the students telling each other about the lesson we had the day before as a repetition of the topic and switching on their oral English. Next, I did a brief summary, before giving instructions on where to find the text about the Stolen Generation and NDLA.

As I was walking around in the classroom I saw many of them working in the way I had intended. However, I must admit, I was feeling a bit skeptical at the end of the lesson on how well the collective writing process had actually worked. I had picked up on some «goofing around» where students had gained entrance to documents and groups where they did not belong and written and erased some sentences. But perhaps this is unavoidable with youths? I was also thinking that perhaps each student were writing less than they would if they wore writing individually. But then again, the weaker ones would get some input as an alternative for struggle? I also overheard some correcting each others sentences, which I thought was great.

This activity (reading a text + answering questions) took approximately 70 minutes. A bit longer than usual because of the introduction to the technical aspects perhaps, but still I found their work quite efficient considering it was their first time working like this.

The rest of the lesson consisted of this:

  • Me telling them more about the Stolen Generation and they contributing based on what they had learned
  • Clarifying and practicing important terms: emigration, immigration, integration, assimilation, segregation
  • A discussion of «the White Man´s Burden» based on a clip from «The Rabbit Proof Fence» which they will see next week. A quite provocative clip that many of them thought was quite repulsive.
  • Listening to me reading them a story about Archie Roach  from their text book and listen to his song «Took the children away»
  • Making interview questions to Archie Roach, and taking turns acting out the interview situation.

At the end of the lesson I created a «test» on ITL where they were to answer 3 questions: 1) What have you learned in English class today? 2) What do you find difficult, or need to learn more about? 3) How did you enjoy working with collective writing (NDLA)?

The first two questions gave me useful input on what they had actually understood during the lessons, as well as giving me some tips on what I would need to explain further next time to clarify relevant issues. The feedback I got from the third question showed me that the students actually quite enjoyed working like this (actually more than I had thought during the lesson, which reminded me of the importance of the students» feedback). Here is what some of them said:

How did you enjoy working with NDLA «samskriving»? Did you learn anything?
  • It was great. Its easier to teamwork when you can write in the same document!
  • I think that samskriving was a nice way to work in
  • I enjoyed «samskriving» really good. it is a quite funny way to work on.
  • I liked samskriving, I learned a lot and it was nice seeing someone else write your answers for you, even though I wrote a bit myself.
  • I liked it. It was a fun and easy way to collect all the information we found together.
  • It was a funny way of learning about the stolen children, and we got to work togheter which allways is better than working alone.
  • it was funny, and it was a great way to work together when solving questions.
  • I think it was fun, but it was a bit messy. if somebody pushed on a button everything disappeared.. But it was fun with all the colors 🙂
  • I like it very much. it was a difficult questions. I hope we can do this alot more, but with diffrents partners.
  • I liked the «samskriving» because it is more fun working when we are in pairs and then our answers gets better to because we find the answer together. I learned alot about how aboriginals lived their life and I learned more about their background.
  • It was okay, but I think I like induvidial work better
  • Yeah it was very fun, I dont think I learned more because of «samskriving», but it sure was fun
  • it was somthing new. i like trying new tings so i found it really funny. And I think it was a good way to work in pairs witout talking that mutch.
  • I think that samskriving was fun and it was a good tool to use for working together, and both parts could write at the same time.
  • it was a good way to work, but we may have learned more if we have had other names
  • I liked working with «samskriving» learned about the stolen generation and how it was
  • We were disconnected from it so we wrote it all down i a word document
  • Well, that was acctually kind of difficult. I had to do most of the work. but it was a fun new way of learning. thumbs up!

From their feedback I could see that most of them enjoyed writing together and thought it was a nice variation from working individually. They even had fun with the colors, but I think perhaps some of them spent a bit too long choosing their personal color (haha). Some also commented on technical difficulties (sentences disappearing, loosing Internet access etc.), but perhaps this is something we just have to deal with if we want to include digital tools in the classroom? The comment that they might have learned more with other names, I believe is referring to other classmates knowing their «document code» and gaining access without permission. Here is a lesson learned for me! My instructions was to call their document by the names in the group (for example samskrive.ndla.no/p/perandanne/), so I could log on to them and see how they were doing. But so could the other students. So next time they will have to make codes instead of names, and send it to me on ITL as an alternative. Unless the point of the activity will be to see all of each others» documents at some point. And unsurprisingly, some would prefer different partners, or simply to work on their own. One also said he/she had to do all the work, which can be a consequence in all forms of group work. Another comment was that they did not learn more, but had fun, and I think that, as in any activity, the learning outcome will vary from student to student. All we as teachers can do really, is to vary our teaching methods so that there is something for every type of student at some point in the lesson.

I particularly liked this feedback, which I hope would apply to many of the students, and sums up the experience I was hoping for:

«I liked the “samskriving” because it is more fun working when we are in pairs and then our answers gets better to because we find the answer together. I learned a lot about how aboriginals lived their life and I learned more about their background»

My conclusion is that this actually turned out quite all right, the students seemed to enjoy it, and I will definitely give it another go in the near future! 

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4 thoughts on “Trying out collective writing in the classroom

  1. So your class is embarking on the journey towards learning to learn and learning to cooperate. You are so brave. I think you will probably discover that they will do better next time, too – maybe if you have a longer project, you will prefer using google drive. Also, do not forget about todaysmeet.com where they can share their links. Did you consider giving them different tasks during their collective writing?

    • Thanks! Indeed they are 😉 I too think it will be more educational and efficient next time, but I feel that we at least got off to a good start and they are now introduced to a tool they can use in many subjects. I have lately tried to focus on making them more aware of different learning strategies, so that they eventually will be able to find the method that works the best for them. On monday they read a text in the textbook by using «BISON-blikk», to hopefully help them see that the way they (probably) skim trough digital articles can be transferred onto how they can approach other texts as well. I agree with you that Google Drive would probably be more beneficial for writing longer texts. With the saving-function we would probably avoid documents getting lost as well, as some experienced with NDLA. Hopefully they all got the message to copy-paste their work into a word document so they could save it there 😉 Great tip! Different tasks in collective writing would probably «force» everyone to participate and the sharing-part of it would be even more clear. I would love to hear more tips about how you have done this sometime! 🙂

  2. Love reading all this practical tips and how they worked in class 🙂 Keep up the good work!

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