Guest blogger: Shaelynn Farnsworth

Guest blog: Supporting striving students: Using EdTech for differentiation in the innovative writing

Teaching writing is difficult. Results from a quick survey I typically give to the hundreds of educators I work with each year found that I am not alone in saying that I don’t recall ever being taught how to explicitly teach writing in my undergraduate work. It wasn’t until I entered my Master’s Program that I learned how to truly teach writing. It was around this same time I started graduate work that the school I was teaching at adopted a one-to-one laptop program, meaning, the school provided all students with a laptop for scholastic use and bring home with them each night. What I realized early on in this technology adoption and graduate learning was that I had the ability to differentiate in my innovative writing classroom much, much easier. 


Inspired by the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson, differentiation in my writing classroom centered around 4 areas:


Content – DIfferentiated content can take place in two ways, student interests or student readiness. Students’ interest centers around what they are passionate about, writing what they are interested in is one way to personalize and differentiate instruction. Student readiness not only aligns with assistive technology but also looks at the skills they have mastered and what they are on the cusp of grasping. In writing, standards are in the form of skills and can be applied mostly to whatever a student writes. When you focus on the writer instead of the writing, everyone wins. 

Process – DIfferentiated process allows students to consume information in multiple ways. For example, at times, we all like to consume information visually, perhaps on a different occasion we would like to read it, and still other times we would like to have it modeled and practice with a “mentor” alongside. While there are many debates surrounding learning styles, differentiating process focuses on providing multiple ways and modes information and learning are consumed. 

Product – Differentiating products promote students’ voice and choice in the classroom. How students demonstrate their learning is amplified in a technology-rich, differentiated classroom. No longer do students have to uniformly write a five-paragraph essay in the writing classroom to show their understanding. Now students can write a blog post, create a video, or design an infographic to apply the attainments of writing skills in a current mode.
 
Assessment – Finally, differentiation in the innovative writing classroom based on assessment can play a role at any time during the writing process; pre, during, post. Technology allows assessment to be streamlined, interpreted, and shared much easier than in years past. We know all students have different learning paths, so starting on page one of a textbook does a disservice to many. We also know that formative assessment does much more to increase student achievement than summative assessment. Adapting instruction, feedback to teachers and students to inform instruction and learning allow educators to use assessment to personalize and differentiate in their writing classroom. It also provides motivation, feedback, and metacognitive information to the students themselves. 

Where does WriQ fit in?

Texthelp and WriQ can support both teacher and student in the innovative writing classroom, particularly in the area of assessment. Teachers can not only use the information to inform their instruction but use the data collaboratively with their grade-level team or PLCs to discuss writing, strategies, and progress students are making in an area that is oftentimes viewed as subjective. 

Students can also use the information and data provided via WriQ as extrinsic motivation, goal-setting, and understanding how they learn and their “writerly life”. Data from writing burst and the word cloud features were two of my favorite WriQ discoveries. Not only can students set fluency and stamina goals while writing, but dig into their diction and conceptual understanding through the word clouds! 

The teaching of writing is hard, but technology has provided many advantages to both educators and students. Technology will never replace the expert teacher, but it has provided opportunities for personalisation and differentiation of learning.  

You can connect with Shaelynn on social media to catch up on all things literacy and technology: Blog, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

If you missed it, you can check out the full webinar over on EdWeek's website.
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Resources
Gambrell, Linda B., and Lesley Mandel Morrow, eds. Best Practices in Literacy Instruction 
Hinchman, Kathleen A. and Heather K. Sheridan-Thomas, eds. Best Practices in Adolescent Literacy Instruction.
Beers, Kylene, Robert E. Probst, & Linda Rief, eds. Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise Into Practice  
“Dysgraphia: What You Need to Know,” Understood.org
Tomlinson, Carol Ann. The Differentiated Classroom.
Fisher, Douglas, Nancy Frey & John Hattie. Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12: Implementing the Practices That Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning.

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