Using a collaborative approach to develop writing skills

Traditional Approach – posters, paper, group writing

Digital Approach – wiki, group planning, comment functions

Success in IB Economics requires students to develop their writing and literacy skills to the highest level possible. In the final examinations students are required to write an extended response to a set question. Developing the skills to structure an answer, use precise terminology, integrate models, include examples, all within an hour is a tricky task. Often students from an ESL (English Second Language) background often find these types of written tasks difficult. I therefore spend time in the beginning of Grade 12 to refine these skills.

My current teaching approach is to use a wiki where students write an essay in an online space. I set three subtly different questions about the same topic. An example is included below.

First step – interpreting the question

Initially students read the three questions and we discuss the similarities and differences. I intentionally use a different command term “discuss” for the third group. This enabled me to highlight the difference between discuss and evaluate as command terms. The students all understand and use a evaluation framework to help answer the question.

Second step – planning the essay in groups

I break students into small groups so that they can plan the essay together. This is easy with a small class but harder with my big class of 22. I resorted to using poster paper with the big class. Once the plans are created they are added to the wiki. The groups then get time to tweak and check the other groups plan. This is a good method of peer assessment and for the group to broaden their thoughts.

Third step – developing the essay

Finally students select a question that they wish to answer. They complete an answer by creating their own page within the wiki and copying the original plan. I give them perhaps 30 mins to write as much as they can, in a closed book situation. The plan and template provides ESL students with an excellent scaffold and it feels like “writing by numbers” After 30 mins they change and continue writing into another students essay. You can complete this rotation a few times as it exposes students to different writing styles and abilities. Students finally go back to their orginal essay to tidy it up. Finished product – Extended Response – colloborative example

Fourth step – comment and reflection

Sometimes the students will use a comment function to peer assess each others work. The great thing about this whole process is that it is very student centred. The teacher facilitates the activity by shifting students around. It is also a slightly different way of developing writing skills. Without laptops and the internet I used to put plans up on the wall around the class. Students would write for 10 mins then pass their work to another students.
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