“Language Learning and Peer Response Online in a High School ELL Classroom” by Joe Bellino and Ailish Zompa

Here are notes from Joe and Ailish’s presentation on “Language Learning and Peer Response Online in a High School ELL Classroom.” They both teach at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Language Learning and Peer Response Online in a High School ELL Classroom”
by Joe Bellino and Ailish Zompa

  • Overview of Project
    • What we wanted students to get from our Google Docs project
      • We wanted students to have the opportunity to easily read the writing of their classmates
      • We wanted students to practice using language that would help their classmates improve ideas and development
      • We wanted to encourage students to improve their own ideas and development
    • In 1988, Joe did a teacher research project looking at peer conferencing in his ESOL students. He found that students felt:
      • The papers were hard to read
      • Students didn’t trust feedback (“How can someone else learning English help me?”)
      • Students were sometimes reluctant to participate
      • But, it still helped their writing.
    • Then, computers came along and it simplified mechanical aspects of writing and allowed them to read more. We used Nicenet to get and give feedback, but the threaded discussion would put comments way down the page.
    • Look of peer conferencing with Google Docs:
      • More time on task
      • More reading
      • More feedback
  • Looking at the writing of one student
    • Jealousy writing prompt based on a Brief Constructed Response model
    • Students would read the prompt, write a response, and post it on their Google Doc account. After they finished their post, they had to visit five other students and comment on their writing.
    • Looking at one particular student’s work.
      • Tech Note: Joe and Ailish have students only create ONE Google Doc for the entire year and the student erases the first assignment when they prepare to write the second one.
    • Looking closely at the ten steps in the revision process where other students commented on his work and then he made revision:
      • What do you see in the student’s work?
      • Questions and comments
      • What questions do you have for this student?

My reflections on the presentation

As I listened to Joe and Ailish describe their work, I am amazed and the beautiful simplicity that Google Docs has allowed them in framing a writing workshop in their classroom. Gone are the days of multiple overheads, copying students’ work, finding many colored pens, disks that were lost or broken, compatibility issues with word processors/hardware, and waiting (and waiting and waiting) for feedback. Instead, as they noted above, the students are spending more time on task, really reading (and learning from) one another’s writing, and offering more feedback over time, even if it isn’t as substantive feedback as we would like to see to begin with. I feel that you are only as good a writer as the feedback that you give others, so looking at how Joe and Ailish have used Google Docs to streamline the feedback process makes me think that it is a useful pedagogical tool.

Using the conference questions to analyze the case study

  • What is the distinctive power that technology brings to learning to write and literacy? How does it enhance and change the way students learn to write? how does it enhance and chance the teachers teach writing and literacy?
    • Efficiency and organization of paperwork
    • Student motivation, for whatever reason, there is some excitement on the part of kids as they are using tech
    • It is the use of the technology, not the technology itself
    • Peer response works in this kind of situation
  • As teachers use technology in teaching, and students use it for learning in the classroom, new challenges and vulnerabilities have become evident. What are the concerns, pitfalls, risks, and vulnerabilities that accompany literacy, and teaching literacy in the digital age? What lessons have we learned about these challenges and problems?
    • What happens when things change (from Writely to Google Docs, when the server is down, etc)?
    • The sparse community of like-minded people — how are we going to spread this out and share it.
  • The definition of what it means to be literate keeps evolving. Through the ages it has referred to written communication and expression using pen and paper. The audience has been those who have had access to the hard copy product. In the digital age, these as well as other aspects of literacy have changed. Now, when you think about being a writer or being literate in the digital age, what is the same and what is different?
    • Multiliteracies – linguistic/rhetorical diversity from student
    • Is being able to collaborate a “literacy” that we must be fluent in as well?
    • Why would we try something else when we are comfortable? Some people try technology just to try it, where as we need to think about how he technology is more effective for getting students to learn what we want them to learn? There is an education part related to these new literacies that has to happen?

Author: Troy Hicks

Dr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University. He directs both the Chippewa River Writing Project and the Master of Arts in Educational Technology degree program. A former middle school teacher, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro

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