Alisha Portolese: My dream: Learning design project proposal - Collaborative writing in a primary classroom

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Alisha Portolese
12 January 2013


In the next few months I have the opportunity to work closely with a grade three teacher and her class of 20 students. This teacher is excited to work on collaborative writing and integrating technology into her class. At present, the students in her class have never experienced collaborative writing. Like many children of that age, working collaboratively in general is a challenge, and it is common for the best situation to involve students co-operating by dividing tasks rather than truly collaborating. Of course, this is true of many adults too.

The change I would like to see - The challenge:

I've recently begun working with this teacher in designing a series of collaborative writing projects for her class.  I would like to create progressive projects so that the students can build on their skills over time. I would like to integrate as many different learning objectives across the curriculum as possible so that precious class time is spent as efficiently as possible. I would like the design to be specific and easy to use for this teacher and potentially other teachers to use, but I would also like it to be flexible such that changes and mash-ups are possible. I want it to be reusable to maximize what is gained from our work together.

If I succeed, I will have helped to create lessons that are practical, align with curriculum goals, and are reusable. I believe it is important that children learn how to write collaboratively as early as possible. We have all dreaded working and writing in groups in the workplace and at univerisity, and at the same time, we all know how important this skill is in our modern world.

How to bring about this change:

As part of earlier work I've done with a partner in another course, I've learned about some of the options available such as various wikis and the Thinking Together approach developed through The University of Cambridge ( I am ready to continue to build on this early work and expand it with as many concrete and usable outputs as possible (such as lesson plans and related materials).

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Ann Davis
1:16pm 18 January 2013

Brings back memories of when I was in school.  I recall when I was 15 or so, I was in a class where the teacher would drone on and on.  Several of us students who sat closely together would (without the teacher seeing) write a story together.  One student would start the story and then pass the paper to the next who would add to it.  We had a 3 sentence rule, each person couldn't add any more than that.  It kept the story lively and prevented one person from forcing a direction.  I think there were 3 or 4 of us that would contribute. When you handed it off to the next person you were thinking it might go one direction, but by the time you got it back it was completely different.

I think this is a wonderful project because there are so many ways that a story might go.  I can picture the teacher introducing a basic set of characters to the students, and then each week the students write about them.  Perhaps one week they need to write action sentences, and another week descriptive sentences, and so on.  Stories could be put together based on what the students write.  Sometimes the students could vote on the which sentence might be best and other times the teacher could choose one.  Maybe even have 4 or 5 final stories.  Sometimes the students could work in small groups, other times by themselves.  It would be important for the students to change partners on a regular basis to give them a chance to work with other that they would not normally do. 

Students could have different roles within the groups as well.  An example could be where the assigment for the day is to describe something on the playground.  Perhaps one person is allowed to choose the object, another gets to choose the colour and another what is happening with the object.

If there is more than one class doing this, every few weeks the stories could be traded with the classes.  Or perhaps even each class writes a different section of a story and then at the end of the year, the entire thing is put together.

Alisha Portolese
5:15pm 18 January 2013

Thank you, Ann, for this amazing post with so many wonderful ideas!

I love the "3 sentence rule" so that no one ends up dictating the whole story. I'm thinking that could be a fun starter activity earlier on. With the grade 3 students, 1 sentence is probably challenging enough to keep it going fairly quickly. Maybe with 3 large groups in the class, each of the three groups would get started with the same sentence but then each group would take the story in a different direction, and at the end I'm sure the students would be interested in how their own stories and the other groups' stories turned out! Just like you mentioned, you never would know how the story would change. Or also like how you mention they could vote or share with the other class, etc. So much room to build off these ideas.

I very much agree with you about mixing up student partners and groups because it is very important to learn to work with different people.

Sandro Honores
6:51am 11 November 2014

Dear Alisha congratulate you on your project. Collaborative writing is a skill of the twenty-first century would also like to incorporate into my project where I want to develop collaboration and deliberation using ICT, which is part of the so-called digital citizenship. It would be important to direct this script into digital narrative as Ann says.

Estimada Alisha te felicito por tu proyecto. La escritura colaborativa es una habilidad del siglo XXI que también me gustaría incorporar en mi proyecto en donde deseo desarrollar la colaboración y deliberación usando las TIC, lo cual se enmarca en la llamada ciudadanía digital. Seria importante orientar esta escritura hacia la narrativa digital como dice Ann. 

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