Sunday, June 22, 2014

10 Ways Social Media Can Improve Writing in Your Classroom

Guest Post by Vicki Davis


Editor’s note:  Vicki Davis just wrote a new book called, Reinventing Writing. I asked her if she could contribute a post to The Innovative Educator explaining specifically how social media has reinvented writing. This is that post.  
As hall of fame baseball player, Babe Ruth said, “Yesterday’s home runs won’t win tomorrow’s games.” To level up writing, we need to take advantage of the out-of-the park features and capabilities that social media inspired concepts give writing instruction.

Most of us know how it feels to write an exciting Facebook status update or a powerful tweet. Without delay, we know the impact of our words as they are retweeted, commented on, and liked (or ignored.) With this in mind, it stands to reason that students want a response too. Paper essays that are only seen by the teacher with a wastebasket as their final destiny are a needless waste of time and potential. Writing can be so much more exciting and it isn’t that hard to do.

Notably, social media is impacting writing in the classroom in ten powerful ways. You don’t have to be on social media (or even like it)  to feel the lift social media concepts can give writing in your classroom, as I share in my new book  Reinventing Writing released just this month.

10 Ways Social Media Has Reinvented Writing and Tips to Benefit Students

Social Media Impact #1 - Connect with an Audience.

Research shows that audience improves student writing effort and work. It makes sense, writers want meaning.

Tip: Use methods like Quadblogging,  #comments4kids, or encouraging parents to comment and view student work to help promote audience of your students’ public work.

Social Media Impact #2 - Find Your Voice.

A student without a blog is a student without a voice. Writing in first person is more like writing an editorial for the newspaper. I’ll never forget the personal note I received from one of my student’s psychologists saying, "He [my student] has a voice and can connect with kids outside his classroom, it gives him purpose and meaning." In my experience blogging helps introverted and left out students most of all.

Tip: Set up a classroom blog on a site like Edublogs, Kidblogs, Edmodo, Ning, or another network. (See Chapter 8 on p 127 of Reinventing Writing for more best practices.)

Social Media Impact #3- Write More Efficiently.

While we need them on paper, footnotes aren't as efficient as hyperlinks. Teaching students how to correctly hyperlink is an art, but when done well you can quickly see a summary of student findings with their resources.

Tip: Review my contextual linking tips. For example, students should link the first mention of a key word and to any research or sources of information they cite. For some linked items, they’ll still need citations (research and pictures fall in this category.)

Social Media Impact #4 - Write More Authoritatively.

An often overlooked advantage of hyperlinks is that a teacher can tell at a glance if a student can prove the points they make in their writing. In my classroom, text without hyperlinks is “dead text” and is a red flag for a lack of research and citation.

For example, this page my students co-wrote with partners in Iowa on the future of Space Travel includes blue hyperlinks to their sources. In this case, some items are defined (Mars One) and a few are “dead” and need citations like the proper noun “New Space” which I would have like to have seen defined with a link.

Tip: When students write nonfiction online look for dead text as a cue that they may need hyperlinks.

Caption: Students on the Physics of the Future project used hyperlinks to explain what they were sharing. Text without hyperlinks is “dead text” and points to either lack of research or authority. Student writing is only as strong as the hyperlinks and references.

Social Media Impact #5 - Interact with Experts and Peers.


Learning from peers. As seen in Silvia Tolisano's connection with the poet Taylor Mali teachers and students now have unique ways to connect with authors including Skype, Google Hangout and more. Frequently classrooms connect with other students to learn about other parts of the world  using Mystery Skype.

Learning from experts. Students can attract attention of experts by writing meaningful comments on the blogs of popular people, identifying themselves as a student and hyperlinking to their own work on the topic. My friend Jamie Ewing had students studying the strength of parachutes connect with experts in the military because Jamie shared their work on Facebook.

Early this year, my students Skyped with Bing in Education's lead behavioral psychologist Matt Wallaert for a powerful conversation about search engines and behavioral science. This happened via few tweets Matt and I exchanged over Christmas Holidays 2013.

Tip: The first step in connecting your students is to connect yourself. (As seen in Step 1 of Flattening your classroom from my first book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds.)

Social Media Impact #6- Get Faster Feedback.

When you look at reshares and tweets, you know what your audience likes and reads. For example, learning to write a good title is art. I take my students through Copybloggers's crafting an effective title (download their free ebook). Writing good copy becomes the focus and kids get excited because they can see immediate results.

Tip: Download Copybloggers free ebook on How to Write Magnetic Headlines or play with Portent’s Content Idea Generator (I recommend using this with older students.)

Social Media Impact #7 - Use a Grammar Guide App.

Every teacher should be thrilled with editing tools like Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid. I use Pro Writing Aid with my students and my own blog.

For example, inside Pro Writing Aid, it states that non fiction text is easier to read when 25% of the sentences begin with a transition -- Pro Writing Aid will measure for that. It will look for things teachers can't dream of seeing like overused words and it will count the words in a sentence and show students every run on sentence.

You can also shift to fiction writing and have grammar helpers give you tips for more eloquence. With fiction, you’ll take the opposite approach of nonfiction. In fact, as Stephen King recommends in his seminal book "On Writing" - go on an adverb hunt and slash them out of your fiction.
Tip: Teach students to spell check and use a grammar helper before written work goes to peers or gets to you.

Caption: This is the report from Pro Writing Aid on my first draft of this article. You can see it finds details that would stretch a human editor’s patience and take too much time. While it can’t help you with creativity, grammar tools like Pro Writing Aid can help with editing.

Social Media Impact #8 - Improve Feedback.

Level Up Teacher Feedback. For a more personal connection, tools like Kaizena,  Adobe Connect, and Acrobat Pro will let you add your voice comments to student work. You can also add comments via Office 365 and Google Drive.

Tip: Figure out a way to leave voice feedback on student work, particularly for your struggling writers who may be overloaded by text and will benefit from hearing your voice instead.
Engage Peer Feedback. Before a post goes live, students should feedback from their peers first. For example, when I wanted to write Chapter 1 of Reinventing Writing, I took my second draft and posted it into Google Drive. Then, my collaborative editors added their thoughts and quotes directly in the document.

Tip: Intentionally encourage student commenting on each other's work to improve engagement. When working with Theresa Allen a few years back, she taught me a tool I use to this day. For every blog post my students write, I want them to comment on 3 of their peers. If you're going to require blogging, require commenting as a key part of two way communication via blogs.

Social Media Impact #9 - Research Collaboratively.

Notecards are now online (see Chapter 5 of Reinventing Writing.) We used a Diigo Research Group for the Physics of the Future Project  between my students and classroom in Iowa so that the students could read the same articles and watch the same videos as they prepared to write..

Tip: Select a collaborative research tool like Diigo and use the educator-created resource Student Learning with Diigo to get started.

Social Media Impact #10 - Write Collaboratively.

Over the past nine years, I've connected my students with more than 30 countries through 20 different global projects. This year, my ninth graders worked with Master's Students at the University of Alaska Southeast to study educational games in the Gamifi-ed project created with Verena Roberts and Dr. Lee Graham. Not only is this is a different writing technique than writing solo, it is a vital skills for the 21st century.

Tip: Find online communities where you can connect your students to write collaboratively. See the book I co-authored Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds or join networks like ePals, Global Classroom Projects, or Taking IT Global.

In Conclusion.


Writing has been reinvented. Teachers who are ready to update their practice from the way they learned it in high school decades ago can pick up Reinventing Writing. When you do, you’ll learn more best practices to help your students benefit from these new, often free tools in your classroom.

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher is the author of the new book Reinventing Writing and the Cool Cat Teacher Blog. She is a full time classroom teacher in Camilla, Georgia and host of the bi-weekly show Every Classroom Matters on BAMRadio.

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