Write On: Improving Student Writing

“Remember what writing is for: to share what we see, think and believe, and invite response.” – Blogging in the classroom: why your students should write online

Over my career, I have noticed a common trend in my students when they enter into my classroom. They DISLIKE writing. Sadly, they often come into my classroom with a negative view of writing and when asked to complete the beginning of the year writing assessment, the room is filled with moans and groans. (I hate to admit it, but I was one of those kids too). Just like Elizabeth, writing has never come easy to me and I often struggle with writer’s block, so I can relate with my students when they come into my classroom. Usually by the end of the year my students leave the classroom with a new outlook on writing.

Some of the common trends I see in the classroom that spur on this hatred of writing are:

  • Too much focus on conventions or as Heather says, the writing process. Teachers love their red pen and LOVE marking every error on students writing; however, this is such a small part of the process of writing. In fact, it is on small part of the 6 traits of writing. In my opinion, ideas, organization, voice, and word choice are WAY more important than if you are forgetting a period.
  • Students are told what to write and their only audience is the teacher.
  • Authentic and real-time feedback is often limited.
  • Often the pre-writing process is not authentic and has too much teacher input. This causes students to get stuck on what to write about because they are trying to write what they think the teacher wants.
  • There is a disconnect between reading and writing.
  • When students are allowed to use digital tools to publish their writing it is limited to word processing.

Improving student writing has been a priority within our school division the past few years. At the same time our division has implemented a variety of new technology tools to help enhance and transform the way we teach and learn. One of the ways to leverage student engagement in writing is through collaborative writing tools that help build writing communities. Who are our students writing for? Who makes up the audience? How do they make the audience care?

“It’s not just 21st century skills but 21st century connections and how to make them.”  – Vicki Davis, Reinventing Writing

By reinventing writing and using collaborative digital tools within the digital writing workshop along with traditional methods, we are fostering community, allowing students to explore various perspectives, and with that acquire and synthesize new information. Using digital tools in the classroom doesn’t mean that you can sit back, relax, and let the tool do all the teaching. The teacher must be an active participant by facilitating learning, intervening when necessary, and providing relevant feedback.

It is also important not to get caught up in the bells and whistles of the digital tool. Some key questions to think of when integrating digital tools are:

  • How will this tool further student-centered learning?
  • What outcomes will this tool help to leverage?
  • How is this tool connecting students and creating collaborative learning?
  • Did I sent out information about the tool to parents?
  • How easy is it for me to set up this tool?
  • How easy is it for the students to use it or navigate the platform?
  • How will I monitor student work and passwords?
  • What is the terms of use of the tool?

(Questions from: Writing Assessment & Digital Tools Workshop by Regina Catholic Schools)

When we use digital tools and engage in authentic writing experiences, we are redefining the author’s chair. In my experience a great way to provide purpose for writing and an authentic environment for writing is through a blog. Blogging provides a place for students to develop their voice, make meaningful reflections, connect and collaborate with peers, curate content, and develop transliteracy and digital citizenship. By building your PLN on Twitter and using hashtags, such as #comments4kids, you will be able to connect your classroom with other classrooms around the world to make this process even more exciting, authentic, and engaging.


Welcome Transliterate Librarians!

Welcome Transliterate Librarians! 

I am finally feeling the excitement shared by other members in EC&I 832  in the past few weeks with the completion of my final project! This has been a long process and I may have set out to accomplish a bigger task than anticipated, but I am extremely happy with the product!

I believe my website for transliterate librarians is a great resource that is user-friendly and allows teachers to integrate digital citizenship lessons through cross-curricular lessons. These lessons are not meant to add more work load to teachers, nor are they to be disconnected from the curriculum. They are created the enhance and transform lessons to help create and inspire digital leaders within in the classroom and to promote digital citizenship and media literacy.

The final product contains an opening page describing the websites purpose, four landing pages (inquiry and research, evaluating resources, creating and sharing, and digital citizenship), and 12 lessons to support transliteracy.

Although this project is completed at this stage in the game, it is far from over. It is my hope that with collaboration from fellow teacher librarians we will be able to add lessons to the database. If you would like to collaborate with me on it, please fill out the contact page on the weebly site and I will get in touch!

A special thanks for Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell and Genna Rodriguez for allowing me to use the Digital Citizenship Lesson plan page as found on my lessons. And a huge thank you to Joyce Valenza and Gwyneth Jones  for inspiring this project! Lastly, thank you to Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt for giving me guidance and introducing me to new and emerging ideas surrounding digital citizenship and media literacy, but also the freedom to make this project meaningful and authentic to me.



Introducing… Transliterate Librarians

Sands of Time
Photo Credit: ipsbmtc via Compfight cc

I am feeling very good about my final project. I feel like it is coming together nicely and I have enough time to complete it to the standard I would like. Although my website is not finished yet and is missing some of the lesson plans, I feel comfortable to share the link with you to explore the website and give me some feedback!



Last week I finished the landing pages for my website and this week I continued developing and finalizing the lesson plans. I have completed and uploaded 4 lesson plans and have 8 more to go.

I have really enjoyed making the lesson plans as it has helped me gain a deeper understanding of how I can teach digital citizenship in school and how embedded the skills are in the renewed Saskatchewan curriculum.

This past week I created a lesson on Creative Commons with help from Common Sense Education and my own understanding of fair use has grown a great deal! I hope other teachers are able to use the site I am creating to integrate lessons into their teaching to not only create digital citizens, but also digital leaders!

Cooperative Learning & The 21st Century

The readings last week really got me thinking if the instructional methods I choose were the most effective way to meet the needs of 21st century learners. Illich’s idea of education reform, written in 1971, suggests we “dismantle the system altogether and build learning webs, peer-matching systems, skill exchanges, and other resources for liberated learning and free inquiry.” However, over 40 years later and we are still not there yet. Thankfully the idea of 21st century education is being talked about allowing learners to develop skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, media literacy, and problem solving.

The course readings also explored the idea of connectivism. The idea that learning is a process and by thinking critically about what are learning, we will alter, change, or add on to what we know. In addition, interdependence on others to foster learning. Connectivism relates to the idea of rhizomatic learning where learning is continuous network and is acquired in collaboration. My question is can connectvisim fit in with other learning theories? I believe it can, and one way to integrate those theories is through cooperative learning groups.

Although technology and media is not the focus of cooperative learning groups. I believe that starting young and implementing something such as cooperative learning groups allows students to engage with the material, collaborate with others, and enhances the probability they will remember it.

In my past teaching experiences I had the assumption that students come to school knowing how to work and how to work together (just as I would assume they know how to use technology). I would think to myself they are in grade three, they should know how to do this by now, but they didn’t.

It is important to remember that cooperative learning is group work, but not all group work is cooperative learning. Group work allows students to divide to work, go their separate ways, work on their own, and meet for the final product. Cooperative learning engages students in a task that is difficult enough that members need to talk with each other to figure things out.

Cooperative learning is more than just placing students in a group and having them work together, it is the process of building learning communities. Students are responsible not only for their learning, but for the learning of others. Throughout the process of cooperative learning, students work in small groups to achieve a common goal. Cooperative learning helps to create engaged citizens and allows students to work collaboratively, essentially creating a productive society rather than a group of individuals.


Cooperative learning uses a variety of strategies to educate students to work together. where the teacher is a facilitator. As the students are working together, it is the teacher’s job to study the students, see how they cooperate, and design learning experiences to teach them to work more effectively together.

One of the main jobs of the teacher is to create and maintain a learning environment that is conducive to cooperative learning. It is essential that the teacher deliberately teaches the five basic elements of cooperative group skills, as well as, conferences about individual and group accountability while students are working in groups.

Johnson describes the five basic elements of cooperative group skills as:

  • Positive Interdependence
  • Individual Accountability
  • Group Processing
  • Social Skills
  • Face-to-Face Interaction

The elements of cooperative group skills can be achieved through a variety of mini-lessons, modelling, and direct teaching. If the teacher establishes clear expectations and holds students accountable, there will be success using this instructional strategy.

When cooperative learning is combined with models from other families (information processing, personal, and behavioural), the results are profound. Some of the many benefits to using cooperative learning as an instructional method as per Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) are:

  1. It increases motivation.
  2. It produces positive energy with in the classroom and school.
  3. Students are able to develop a feeling of connectedness with their peers.
  4. Student learn from each other better through cooperation than a structure that generates isolation.
  5. Interacting with one another produces more cognitive and social complexity.
  6. Cooperation increases positive feelings.
  7. Cooperation increases self-esteem.
  8. The more students have the opportunity to work together, the better they get at it.
  9. Students can achieve greater mastery of material.
  10. Off-task and disruptive behaviour diminish substantially.

(Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun, 2015, p. 233-234)

Cooperative learning benefits both students with poor academic histories and academically able students as individual effort is still required. Cooperative learning fosters a safe environment of respect, teamwork, self-reflection, and engagement.

Start with small simple tasks within the students’ zone of proximal distal, to ensure success will allow students to acquire and develop additional skill to be used within their cooperative learning groups. During the process of implementing cooperative learning groups and while students are working within their groups, students should have ample opportunities to reflect on their roles within the group and how their group worked.


Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (1989).  Cooperation and competition:  Theory and research. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Process > Product

The process is equally, if not more important than the product. I know, I know… but I still have trouble sharing my process as it tends to be messy as I work through things to get to the shiny finished product at the end. And in this mess, although it might not make sense to you (as it is the way I organize my process), I tend to learn a lot!

Eureka California
Photo Credit: BCOL CCCP via Compfight cc

This week I decided to do a screen capture to update on my major project. I am chugging along and it may be a bit slower than I anticipated, but I am pleased with my progress so far and excited to share my resources with others once complete!