Writing and sharing student work in a global era

Dr Julie Wood

Dr Julie Wood is the founder and academic director of TechnoTeaching, a global consulting agency for educators. She is also the coauthor, along with UK educator Nicole Ponsford, of TechnoTeaching: Taking Practice the Next Level in a Digital World (Harvard Education Press). A former faculty member of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

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What does it mean to be literate in the 21st century? I think about this question a lot. Being fully literate in today’s world is about so much more than being able to simply use new tools. It’s being part of what edtech expert Henry Jenkins (University of Southern California) calls “a participatory culture” (think of YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook for example—and how all these venues encourage us to participate).

"The collaborative process can get messy."

We have seen how in today’s world, students can upload videos and photo creations. They can get feedback from family and peers and can add personal writing, fan fiction, and portfolios of transmedia projects. Even young children are part of this participatory culture; four- and five-year-olds are sharing games and quizzes through Scratch software, a free program developed by MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten that focuses on Maths.1 Pretty amazing to think how far we’ve come (and if you haven’t had a chance to check out Scratch, give it a try)!

Professor Justine Cassell (Carnegie Mellon University) believes that edtech opens up myriad opportunities for children, particularly as writers with a global reach, than we ever imagined decades ago. In fact, according to Prof Cassell, today’s children are “spending more time with words than ever.” They are writing “more than ever before.” Cassell goes on to point out that children now have tremendous opportunities “to explain what is in their head for someone who is not in their head.”2 And therein lies a seismic shift.

This is new. This is digital literacy.

Tools that Support Digital Literacy

While it’s true that students are writing more than ever, it’s also true that they have more tools to help them than ever before. While many students enjoy the collaborative process of creating stories, poems, and information books, it can get messy. Sometimes it’s hard to track edits, incorporate multimedia, and work on a project simultaneously while using different devices.

To the Rescue

In a recent Literacy Today article, educators Detra Price-Dennis and Sarah Schlessinger suggest several tools that can help young writers collaborate on writing projects.3 All of them require teacher mediation as an important part of the equation. And all of them are free, unless you choose to purchase the more elaborate version of Book Creator ($4.99 or £3.99) Here are a few of their suggestions.

  • Google Docs make it easy for students to work on a single document simultaneously, each using a different computer, smartphone, or tablet.
  • Padlet is an app that provides a virtual corkboard where students can post their work simultaneously, from various devices. The corkboard gives students an easy way to share videos, text, PDFs, links, and audio messages with classmates.
  • Coggle is great for students who want to create a concept map before they begin a project - and then revise as they go along (see the link on the website for a quick tutorial). Similar to the other tools mentioned here, Coggle also allows students to edit their maps from various devices simultaneously.
  • VoiceThread is an excellent app for creating multimedia slideshows, whether students are working independently or with a team. Challenge students to combine their own images, videos, and texts to share with classmates - or beyond classroom boundaries. VoiceThread also allows students to annotate their presentations with text and / or drawings. Here is a YouTube video that explains how students can easily share ideas and opinions using VoiceThread.

YouTube link

Publishing Student Work

A simple tool for children to create and share their original works is the Book Creator app. Check out their website for examples of books that children have created using this App. It’s incredible to see the way young children learned to combine original text, images, sound, and video to create their own narratives.

Pupils can create individual works "The final product will give students a tangible product of their learning."or collaborate with partners. You can also combine individual books about a single topic (eg the solar system) into a classroom anthology. Then think about setting up an eBook exchange with other students in your region, or in a completely different part of the world!

If you have funds you can use for student publications, then by all means check out iBooks. The formatting options are easy, and the text boxes encourage student authors to write small narratives to explain each photo or graphic. The final product will give students a tangible product of their learning and creativity. You might build a classroom library over the years to inspire each new group of students to create their own works.

Try one or more tools and let us know how it worked for you and your students. Did any help you create a more participatory culture in your classroom than you had previously? What were some of the challenges? Let me know!

1. Click, Tap, Read by Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2015, p. 110.
2. Ibid., p. 111.
3. Digital Tools for Inclusivity: Our Top Recommendations for Reaching All Learners by Detra Price-Dennis and Sarah Schlessinger in Literacy Today, January/February 2016 (Vol. 33, #4, p. 30-31).

Let Julie know in the comments below!

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