Thursday, 9 February 2012

Blending and Personalizing a Creative Writing Unit

One of the courses I teach at Greenwood is the Grade 12 Writer’s Craft elective. Students in this course either have an interest in creative writing or want to improve their writing. The units are organized such that students first encounter criteria for success in a particular form, read examples of that form by established writers and then write their own samples having explored good models. In a recent non-fiction unit, I had all the instructions and activities online so that students could choose two of three forms to study, and could work at their own pace using class time for peer editing and teacher feedback.

The first part of the preparation was done through collaboration with my colleague Kyle Acres. I prepared all the instructions and the content while Kyle created the online modules that students would use to access the materials and submit their assignments.

While all instructions were written, there was an audio clip at the start of each module in which I gave verbal instructions as I would have done in a live class. Since the module was laid out in sequence and online, many students completed the tasks on their own time outside of class. There were two places in the module where they had to collaborate with a peer. I used class time to work with students individually or in small groups to assist with their writing.

Feedback from students at the end of the unit indicated that they enjoyed the process and having control over the pace of their work. Some admitted that time management was a challenge for them and that the process allowed them to see where they needed to improve that skill. Students who need more verbal instructions found parts of the process a challenge, even though I was there in each class and repeating some of the instructions in that way. Students who were absent for one or more classes during the seven lesson unit were most disadvantaged because they did not get the feedback they needed during the writing process.

I noticed that even though peer collaboration was required, it was not as thorough as when I orchestrate it in a regular class. Students like to work online and tend to focus in on their own work. There are aspects of the writing process that demand collaboration and so I will need to ensure that it takes place in future blended units.

I also learned that the executive functioning skills of time management and organization have to be reinforced continually so that all students can have greater success using this method. The students who possess those skills were more productive and had greater success while the others underestimated how much time each task would take. I appreciated how some of the more mundane instructional information could be put online either with audio or in writing, leaving more time for the one-to-one conferences that lead to better writing.

That said, however, I also found that I had to spend more time doing administrative tasks such as checking which tasks were completed and who needed reminders to submit work as everyone had their own schedule for doing so.

What the unit has shown me though, is which students can be allowed to move ahead more quickly with course content and which ones need more structure and reinforcement so that I can better personalize instruction. To readiness for content, I can also add readiness by organizational skill to create learning pathways for the class.

Jennifer Walcott
Director of Teacher Development

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