I started this blog about two years ago, posted a number of "articles" throughout the summer and then pretty much ignored it until now. As I went through my old posts, I came across this one, talking about the value of having students do "original" work rather than everyone repeating the same assignment at the same time. Here I am, still trying to convince myself that this is an important and worthy goal - or maybe a possible task. In reading Beach, Anson, Breuch and Swiss's book Teaching Writing Using Blogs, Wikis and other Digital Tools, this idea is back with a vengeance at a time when I should be dreaming about what shoes to wear on my Michigan summer beercation. Beach and friends propose that using digital tools is an important part of our students' education and in particular, students' writing and "production" of knowledge. We need to not only be incorporating digital tools as a way to access information, but as a way to gather appropriate sources, organize, plan, collaborate, and produce works.
Why are all of my students writing answers to the same basic questions about urban planning, for example, when we could be building a fantastic resource for others that looks at innovative strategies to solve problems in our urban spaces? I admit to trying to "translate" some of my old fashioned assignments into something more collaborative and worthwhile at some point, but mundane classroom management tended to get in the way. How will I assess everyone's contributions if they are working in groups? (Well, wikis do keep track of all entries so it isn't really too hard to check who added what.) How can I ensure that my students bothered to read the source material to gain the basic background knowlege they need to move forward? (Students' new writing should show me their basic understandings if they are writing on more advanced topics and/or there could be other cool ways to accomplish this task, perhaps through gaming software.) What if we run out of stuff to write about on the topic? (Umm...will we really run out? Then maybe its time to learn something new!) What will the next period's kids do?
(Build on what's there or create something else, I suppose.) I appreciate that these seem like simple problems to solve if I could apply a little creativity to them, but the reality is, no matter how much we love our jobs, teaching has a mighty big to-do list and honestly, doing new stuff is hard. And dragging our students who have learned to love worksheets because they require no thinking into a "real" activity is yet another expense of energy I may not be up to this week. There, I said it. Now what I need is someone to tell me to suck it up, help me solve the stupid stuff and my students will have a better, more engaging and more challenging assignment. Hmmmm....and for tomorrow?
To learn more about some of the cool ideas shared in the Teaching Writing book - go to the wiki!
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