Tag Archives: writing

Writing for an Authentic Audience: How to Get and Apply Great Feedback

by Amber Wilson

writing for an authentic audience

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether or not your curriculum is aligned with the Common Core, you know that good writing is well suited to its purpose and its audience. Likewise, you know that giving, receiving, and responding to feedback is an essential skill inside and out of the classroom. How can you incorporate these real-world practices in your pedagogy?

An authentic audience helps your students . . .

Write for a reason: To inform, to persuade, or to entertain. We often focus on teaching readers how to differentiate between text types, but writing assignments are sometimes less specific. Good writers are able to identify the traits of the writing modes, choose the best mode for the occasion, and create texts that are clearly and obviously persuasive, informative, or entertaining.

Get motivated: As discussed here and here, students are truly motivated by writing for real people.

Write to learn: Engaging fully with content (in all subject areas) requires a certain degree of processing. Encourage students to write before, during, and after projects and learning goals. In addition, your students will probably find that during the course of a unit or project, writing in multiple modes and for multiple audiences helps them process and connect information, leading to fuller engagement and deeper understanding.

Publish! One way is to have a class blog. See this previous post to learn more about getting started. You could also check out an alternate way to publish student writing, like pen.io.

Get feedback: Get on Twitter and tell the world that your kids have something to say. Use the #comments4kids hashtag and start the ball rolling. Then take the next step and guide students to read, understand, and respond to comments. For instance, ask students to perform self-assessment, then compare their assessments to feedback they received in comments. Or, encourage students to take feedback from comments into consideration as they revise and draft their writing.

Want to take it to the next level? Post about a book review and tag the book’s author, or post about a science project and tag a scientist!

Give feedback: Have student writers experience both sides of interacting with an authentic audience. Your students are probably already familiar with trading papers and giving feedback in class. You may also have worked with pen pals, or some other form of long distance communication. Get the best of both worlds by having your kids engage in a conversation about someone else’s published writing. Use #comments4kids to find student writing on a topic that your class is also writing, and invite your class to leave comments.


Let us know how you’re using online publishing and writing for an authentic audience in your class! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, or leave us a comment below.

 AmberAmber Wilson is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.

Using Technology for Self-Reflection in the Classroom

by Helen Beyne


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At a time when yoga and meditation are part of the mainstream, terms such as self-reflection and metacognition have emerged as popular buzzwords even outside the field of neuroscience. The significance of these concepts is more than mere hype. Research has linked self-reflection to better emotional intelligence, higher confidence, greater mental flexibility, and even reduced risks of mood and anxiety disorders.

These benefits also apply to children. New research has indicated that teaching children how to self-reflect is a highly effective way to enhance learning. Keeping a journal is not the only way to help children self-reflect, however; the modern digital age offers a multitude of new and fun ways for you to implement self-reflection activities in your classroom.


The cognitive benefits of expressive writing cannot be overstated, and there are a wide variety of digital tools you can use to take your students’ writing beyond pencil and paper. This approach also aligns with the Common Core State Standards for Writing, which requires students of all ages to use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing. You might have your class keep a daily digital journal or set up a classroom blog where students can post their entries and discuss them with others. Penzu Classroom offers free online classroom journals that students can join with a class code, and they can easily share their entries with the entire class or with just a few students for discussion. Storybird is another free tool that allows students to publish journal entries, stories, or poems online. For young children or students who struggle with writing, it might be useful to provide a template that asks them to reflect on their day, week, or recent behavior.


Drawing is another activity that can be self-reflective and therapeutic. Having students use illustrations to explain what they did that day or describe how they are feeling can be an effective way to help them express themselves artistically. You can try these drawing apps and have your students post their drawings online. You could even have your students create illustrations for their writing. Little Bird Tales is a great tool that allows students to upload their illustrations online and record themselves analyzing and discussing what they drew.


Helping students record videos of themselves is another fun and easy way to help them self-reflect. Results of a recent study offered support for a concept known as instant video revisiting, in which children watch their activities immediately after they happen, reflect on them, and discuss them with a teacher. The study found that children are more reflective about what they have done when they explain what they are doing as they revisit video recordings. Apple’s iMovie or these movie-making apps make it easy for students to create, edit, and watch their own videos.

How else have you used technology to help your students self-reflect in the classroom? Let us know in the comments!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum: The Basics

by Erin Dye

reading and writing across the curriculum

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For more than thirty years, there has been an emphasis on using reading and writing “across the curriculum” to promote student learning—activities that come part and parcel with teaching ELA, but seem more difficult to integrate into a geometry class. The underlying principle is simple: purposeful reading and writing activities help students better understand and think critically about content, no matter the subject.

With many states adopting the Common Core State Standards to direct instruction—which includes a set of standards just for reading and writing about history, science, and technical subjects—there is a renewed emphasis on the inclusion of purposeful reading and writing activities both inside and outside of the ELA classroom.

Reading across the curriculum means more than reading an assigned chapter in a textbook. Students might also read related essays, letters, speeches, reports, and so on to better understand a particular topic. Students in an American history class, for example, might read an online excerpt from one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates to better understand how politicians viewed the issue of slavery before the Civil War, using a program such as Diigo to annotate the text as they read. To kick off a new unit in a math class, students could read an excerpt from John Allen Paulos’s Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences or Keith Devlin’s Life by the Numbers to answer that age-old question, “When am I ever going to need to use this?”

But reading subject-specific texts isn’t enough. To develop understanding, students need to produce related writing. There are two main types of writing activities that teachers can use to promote student learning in any classroom—“writing to learn” and “writing in the discipline.”

When students write to learn, they produce short pieces of writing that help them process the content that they have learned. For example, a student in a chemistry class might use a “learning log” (using a program such as Evernote) to reflect upon a week’s concept—recording their initial reactions and questions. These types of assignments typically require only a cursory review by teachers.

When students write in the discipline, they produce longer pieces of writing that also adhere to the conventions of a particular discipline. In an ELA classroom, for example, a student might produce a research paper that adheres to MLA guidelines. The chemistry student would develop a lab report to document an experiment.

Reading and writing can be integrated in any class to further student engagement and learning. Find ways to make “writing to learn” activities a regular activity in your classroom and ways to incorporate “writing in the discipline” activities as long-term projects, and you will make your students engaged, thoughtful learners.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

5 Sites to Publish Student Writing Online

by Helen Beyne

websites publish student writing

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The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) require students to “use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing” beginning in Grade 4 and continuing through Grade 12 to publish digital content. Google Docs are a great way to encourage collaboration and to pique students’ interest in publishing their writing online. However, what are the best tools for your students to use to share their work safely with a broader digital audience? Here are 5 great sites to publish student writing online.


Blogger, one of the most commonly used blogging tools, is free and fairly intuitive. It offers a number of basic, colorful templates, and advanced users can customize their blogs even further. In the classroom, students can use Blogger to create their own individual blogs, or teachers can create a class blog and invite students to contribute. This user-friendly site is Google’s blogging tool, so students must create a Google account before they can use Blogger (if your school already uses Google Apps for Education, Blogger is an easy addition to the arsenal).


For young students, Kidblog might be the way to go. Because teachers create accounts for each student user, students do not need email addresses to sign up. Teachers also have the option to assign and reset passwords, so instructors will not need to worry about younger students forgetting this sensitive information. The basic version of Kidblog is free, but its premium features are available for an annual fee.


Edublogs is one of the safest places for students to publish their writing online. The site is equipped with content filters to keep their blogs student-friendly. Teachers also have total control over privacy settings, so they are able to share students’ work safely and responsibly. One drawback to Edublogs, however, is that its free version is rather limited. Users must pay a monthly free to enjoy all that the site has to offer, including embedded videos, mobile blogging, and custom domains.


Penzu is a free online journaling site students can use to reflect privately or share their thoughts with others. If users choose to share their journals, commenting enables viewers to turn a static journal post into a conversation. Penzu Classroom makes it easy for teachers to start a collection of journals for students. Teachers can then use their own Penzu accounts to create assignments for the class, give comments, and grade students’ entries.


Pen.io is the easiest way to post writing online. It is one of the few sites that do not require students to create an account. Instead, they simply create a unique URL, assign a password, and start publishing content. This barebones blogging tool lacks the fancy templates and other customizable content that comes with other blogging tools, but its anonymity is a plus for teachers who don’t want their students to publish their names online or those who require their students to publish their writing only few times a semester.

What do you think? Which online publishing tool is right for your classroom? Do you know any other safe sites for sharing? Add them in the comments!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

What Does Collaborative Learning Really Mean?

by Helen Beyne

Collaborative learning is working together to create deeper, better understanding.

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We know that students need to develop twenty-first century thinking skills and metacognitive skills. A great way to build self-awareness and metacognitive skills is to use, explain, and justify critical thinking with peers, then transfer that ability to internal processes.

What is collaborative learning? It’s probably already taking place in your classroom! Do you have two or more learners, at different stages of mastery, working together? You’re most of the way there. Learners who are struggling will benefit from observing and working with students who are further along. Students with a better grasp of the content will find that accurately assessing someone else’s level of understanding, and beginning the dialogue from that point, is a big step toward mastery. All members of a group will find that open dialogue can lead to important new insights and understanding of material.

Another key trait of collaborative learning is a learner-driven and -modified dynamic. This means that students are aware of the give-and-take within the group and adjust interactions as time goes on. The process of modifying the group’s interactions helps learners become‑and stay‑productively accountable to themselves as well as to others. Working collaboratively allows students to take on leadership roles, practice teamwork, and resolve conflict effectively.

An additional defining trait of collaborative learning is the common goal. Groups of learners must have an explicit goal that they are working toward together. Although this method is very process-driven, it will not succeed without some structure and a known endpoint.

Lastly, there is one thing that is generally absent from collaborative learning: you. The teacher, in this context, takes a hands-off, facilitator role instead of being the center of attention. As the teacher, you create a safe space for the teams to stretch, grow, and take risks without intervening at every stage.

Why is collaborative learning important to your class? Collaboration helps learners develop and mature their sense of responsibility as well as boost their sense of self-worth. It feels good to contribute to a meaningful task, and it feels good to have your contribution valued by your team! Working with peers provides authentic practice and real-time feedback on metacognitive processes such as clarifying, questioning, predicting, and summarizing.

In addition, students become responsible for their own learning through questioning, refocusing, and responding to one another. The process stretches learners and lends itself best to DOK (Depth of Knowledge) level 3 and 4 activities.

Have a success story to share? Want to chat about how collaborative learning and classroom technology are better together? Leave us a comment, or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

Lost in Transition

by Tom Nieman

teaching handwriting cursive

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A friend who is a speech and language pathologist and who sits on a school board with me recently sent me a link to a New York Times article, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.” It began with a provocative question, “Does handwriting matter?”

Handwriting, To Be or Not to Be

The answer turned out to be a bit complicated. After consultation of several studies by PhD psychologists (one of whom wrote a follow-up letter with five corrections to the article), the upshot of all of the back-and-forth appeared to be:

We should be teaching handwriting in grades K-2, along with teaching how to use keyboards, and that de-emphasizing handwriting because of the Common Core was unfortunate. The reason for teaching it is that the act of writing by hand and associating letters with ideas stimulates the brain and aids its development.

One does not have to do only one or the other; both handwriting and using a keyboard are important for a child’s brain development. Many directors of school curriculum have already given handwriting the heave-ho. Good riddance, they say, in the name of going digital.

Yet, in my life, I realize how important handwriting has been to me. My own is the illegible scrawl of a lefty, and an impatient one at that. Since my early student years I have kept notebooks of one kind or another, often to write down quotes from books I was reading. More often I wrote down words whose meanings I didn’t know and the phrases or sentences they were in so that I could look the words up later. I credit a lot of what seemed to be mindless copying to giving me a wide vocabulary and modeling for me how to write. The act of writing by hand made an impress on my memory.

Now, as a professional habit, I have taken to writing notes in small spiral notebooks during phone and in-person meetings to aid in remembering details. Listening carefully, participating in a discussion, and operating a keyboard all at once simply overwhelm my circuits. Only at conferences, where I am a passive participant, is my tablet with keyboard invaluable. So, it is with mixed feelings that I see the teaching of handwriting being jettisoned from so many elementary schools.

Paper or Tablet?

On the same day I read about the lasting benefits of handwriting, I met another friend for lunch, this one an author of some twenty or so books. He asked me if I read on a tablet. I do quite often, but I am also just as comfortable reading paper books. Then my friend asked the more telling question: “Is your reading the same on a tablet?” He wanted to know if I read in the same way, or did I, like he, find myself skimming paragraphs more often and flipping through pages, surfing through the dull parts. I had to admit I do.

His question led me to consider how my reading had changed since I acquired an iPad. My reading is not more superficial with digital texts, but the ease of flipping pages does increase my impatience at the slightest bit of droning on. The problem of locating exactly where one is in a digital text also increases my agitation, making lines and whole pages easier to skip.

To the good, my note-taking is much improved with an iPad, and access to the meaning of allusions—for example, I came across a reference to Buridan’s ass recently—is but a click away. Further, the ability to download my next book while traveling on vacation or business is one of the more freeing pleasures I know of. With a giant bookstore available in the cloud, why not leave home without it?

And the Beat Goes On

Warming to this subject, I realized that I might also cite my older brother who still uses a digital camera, as opposed to a phone camera like so many of us, and recall that he produces the best family pictures, which he shares on Dropbox.

Ditto, too, for my neighbor who works in his yard on evenings and weekend listening to the dulcet sounds of his phonograph, with its turntable playing vinyl records he collects, blaring tunes out of the upstairs windows of his home, serenading his neighbors with oldies like Bobby Womack’s “If You Think You’re Lonely Now”:

If you think you’re lonely now, huh
Wait until tonight, girl
(If you think you’re lonely now)
I’ll be long gone

I started out in an era with handwriting, paperbacks, film cameras, and phonographs with turntables. At some point, all of these will go the way of phone booths and, like that girl’s man, they’ll be “long gone,” which is all the more reason to appreciate the differences they hold while they are still around.

Tom bioTom Nieman is president of Green Light Professional Development and Nieman Inc., a privately held company that specializes in developing curriculum materials for educational publishers.

Writing in the Digital Age: The Benefits and Challenges of Addressing Audience

Guest post by Trisha Beck DeOre

Does Writing More Mean Writing Better?

The effect of digital technology on student writing has come under particular scrutiny in recent years. Students are writing more than ever, but are they becoming better writers? Not necessarily. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only about one-quarter of eighth- and twelfth-grade students in 2011 were proficient at writing, or “have clearly demonstrated the ability to accomplish the communicative purpose of their writing.”

NAEP writing proficiency chart

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2011 Writing Assessment.

By examining the role of audience in their students’ writing, teachers can better understand how digital technology strengthens students’ writing, how it limits students’ writing, and how to address the latter while maximizing the former.

Audience as Motivation

Audience is a key element in all writing. It gives writing its purpose and shapes content through voice and tone. In the classroom, when students know that someone other than their teacher will read their essay or report, they are more motivated to write—and to write well.

According to the Pew Research Internet Project (2013), 96% of teachers agree that digital technologies benefit students by helping them share writing with wider audiences. In focus groups, teachers acknowledged that their students are not only “doing considerably more writing outside of the classroom than they would without these digital tools, but they have the unique experience of writing for broad and varied audiences because of the Internet.” In addition, teachers value the collaborative environment that digital technologies create. Students “get more diverse feedback on their work, which encourages them to think more consciously about audience as they write, and in turn leads to greater investment in what is written.”

Audience and Writer’s Craft

Audience may motivate students to write in the first place, but are students really learning how to write for an audience? A major concern among teachers is students’ increasing inability to adjust writing for particular audiences, especially those that require a formal tone. In the 2013 Pew Research study, teachers rated 44% of their students as “fair” or “poor” in using “tone and style appropriate for their intended audience.”

Students are writing and reading a lot online, but the language is typically informal and unsophisticated. Increasingly, students are using the same general voice whether they’re texting their peers or writing a formal report. Many students are unable to distinguish when to adjust voice and tone for audience; others simply don’t know how. As students prepare for college and the workplace, however, attention to audience may mean the difference between getting a job and offending a boss.

Student writing online

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Reading to Write

Digital technologies—in all their ubiquity and diversity—can often be solutions to the very problems they help create. One of the best ways students can understand and address audience in their own writing is by reading real-world examples written for a variety of audiences. What better place to find such variety than on the Internet? Start by having younger students read leveled versions of news stories at DOGO News or Newsela. Other students can use regular news sites, such as the New York Times. By identifying examples, analyzing them, comparing them, and emulating them, students hone their own writing skills. After all, what’s the point of writing if you’re not reaching the very people you’re writing for?

Trisha Beck DeOre is a project manager and curriculum developer at Nieman Inc.

Using Technology to Fight Plagiarism (Caused by Technology)

by Dagmar Ladle

Checked for plagiarism

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are two sides to every coin, and the Internet has simplified many conflicting activities, including researching and plagiarizing. Having access to so much information can create unexpected problems regarding its use. Plagiarism, always a concern for educators, is now easier than ever.

How can educators check student work and ensure that students are using their sources appropriately? How do we teach students to respect the work of others? These are challenging tasks, but technology can help us address them.

If your school uses a program like TurnitinSafeAssign, or Viper, the program can help you do more than just check the content of a paper. Showing students how these tools work creates an opportunity to

• discuss plagiarism,

• show students a report and how you interpret it, and

• show students how to address common citation errors.

This gives students more agency to evaluate their work and helps reduce the anxiety they may feel when submitting a paper.

If you subscribe to Turnitin, a free iPad app allows you to check a student’s paper for plagiarism, mark it up, and grade it all in one place. Turnitin also has a pay-per-use tool for students, WriteCheck, that checks for both potential plagiarism issues and grammatical errors.

Teaching students to research more effectively can go a long way in preventing plagiarism. The free web-based tool Citelighter, for example, helps students integrate their sources into a paper as they collect information. Students can highlight text from websites, add comments, and save these annotated sources online. Citelighter also stores and formats bibliographic information. Student can download all of this information as a Word document. The professional version offers more features, such as access to a database.

As research shifts away from brick and mortar libraries, copy machines, and highlighters, so must the tools we use to teach students to be responsible scholars. If we embrace them, we just might find ourselves molding eager, more confident learners.

Dagmar LadleDagmar Ladle is Manager of Consulting Services at Green Light Professional Development. Before Green Light, Dagmar worked for Chicago Public Schools, Promethean, and Apple. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.