Learn How to Differentiate For
ALL Levels of Writers
✔ You have students who are struggling with writing or are completely disinterested, which has you feeling inadequate.
✔ You have students make the same mistakes over and over again, and it's driving you a little mad.
✔ Differentiating your writing lesson sounds amazing, but you don't have the time or resources to pull it off.
This summer, I took a graduate course that explored similarities between reading and the writing process. On the first day of class, our professor said something that I find lingers on my mind when planning and teaching writing. With a soft, but sure voice, she said, “Guys—if there’s one thing you take from this course, let it be this: Writing is meant to be read.”
What she meant is that we—us, our students—use writing to connect with our audience. Through peer revising, writing becomes a collaborative process; as we share our published work aloud with others, we allow our audience to connect with it on a personal level. This is all part of the magic of the writing process. But, as we know, virtual writing instruction is all-new-territory, and the part of the writing process that takes the biggest hit when teaching and learning at a distance? The collaborative part.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of strategies and tools to foster collaboration amongst virtual learners as they move through the writing process.
Drafting: Granting Writers Freedom in the Writing Process
Drafting is an important time when writers have the freedom to be messy. In fact, while they draft, they should feel safe to take risks without the fear of their teachers’ or peers’ eyes judging their work.
Try the following suggestions to support and extend student thinking while drafting:
- Hold off on asking students to share their drafts with you: Writers tend to alter their voice and take less risks knowing that someone could be reading their work when they’re not quite ready for an extra set of eyes. That’s why we suggest you schedule a period of uninterrupted time to allow students to draft freely before asking them to give you viewing permissions on Google Docs, or the like.
- Create a Resource Hub with tools to support student writing: Use your class website, your Google Classroom page, or a virtual folder to post a list of writing resources to support students when they’re stuck. Consider including links to an online dictionary, like the Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary, which does a great job breaking difficult words down into terms students can understand. An online thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, and prompt generator, like Scholastic’s Story Starters, are also great tools to add to your virtual resource hub.
- Let your students know how and when you’re available: Building and maintaining a virtual writing community is essential when students are learning to navigate the writing process. A part of creating that community is determining how and when the expert author—YOU!—will be available to support your pupils. One way to do so is to set and share weekly virtual office hours, leaving your Zoom room open during this time so students can hop on when they need a little nudge in the write direction.
Setting Up and Conducting Virtual Writing Conferences
Writing conferences help you informally assess students’ writing progress, guiding them with corrective or supportive feedback as they go. But conferences are also essential for students, especially those who are not yet comfortable with the writing process—those who might remain stuck until they receive that extra push, or prompting, from their teachers.
Checkout the following tips for scheduling and conducting virtual writing conferences:
- Use an online scheduler like Calendly, SignUpGenius, or Google Forms to schedule writing conferences: Online schedulers are beneficial for several reasons. First, they often allow students to embed these appointments directly into their own Google or iCal apps to ensure that they remain accountable and on-time for their conferences with you. They also allow you to keep track of your appointments and stick to your intended timeframe, especially if they are scheduled back-to-back.
- Utilize Zoom’s Breakout Rooms Feature: When conducting writing conferences during virtual class time, use Zoom’s Breakout Room feature to hold one-on-one conferences while the remainder of the class is working in small-groups or independently. This will also allow the students who are not conferencing with you to send you a direct message via Zoom chat box if any questions or concerns arise while you are working with students individually.
- Use a rubric to guide feedback: Specific and timely feedback is one of the most essential precursors for students’ long-term success in the writing process. To ensure you provide feedback supported by grade-based writing standards and objectives, use a rubric like the one below, by Simplify Writing, to guide your writing conferences.
Preparing Successful Virtual Peer Revising
Peer revising is an excellent collaborative activity to grant students new perspective as they work through the writing process. It also provides students an opportunity to create strong relationships with their peers, all the while building a comfortable place to take risks and share their work—a true writing community.
- Define and model guidelines for peer revising: Students need to know how to communicate with one another when peer revising, especially when doing so on a virtual platform. Provide specific strategies for peer feedback, like the “golden lines” strategy—which asks students to identify 2-3 special lines from a poem or narrative, helping them to focus on providing specific feedback to one another.
- Use FlipGrid or SeeSaw as a platform for peer revising: FlipGrid and SeeSaw are excellent websites for students to record and comment on one another’s work. Attach a rubric to the assignment post to ensure students follow online discussion guidelines.
Celebrating the End of the Writing Process: Publishing Student Work
The moment authors have all been waiting for…publishing time! Have fun with student publishing parties by holding live or prerecorded “Open Mic” events.
Check out these two ideas for Open Mic Publishing Parties:
- Have a live Zoom “Open Mic” Night: Schedule a night to remember, invite parent guests, and have students get fancy—in their best author attire. But don’t forget to lay down the ground rules: How and when should students provide feedback? What should students be doing while listening to their peer authors present? How should the parent audience interact with student authors?
- Have Students Pre-Record their Reading on FlipGrid: Have students pre-record their published pieces on FlipGrid and spend class casting student videos for a whole-class feedback sesh. Or, instead, have students watch each other’s videos independently, having them record their feedback to each of their classmates with video comments directly on FlipGrid.
No matter what you take from this post, I hope you, too, hear my professor’s words echoing in your head as you plan and teach writing—always remembering that writing is meant to be read.