Preservice-Rural-Urban Writing Exchange-Story and photos courtesy of Jennifer Selting Troester
During the Fall Semester 2008, Nebraska Writing Project teachers Robert Brooke, Jenny Bahle, and Jennifer Selting Troester collaborated to join UNL pre-service teachers, Omaha Burke sophomores, and O'Neill 8th grade students in order to share their writing in the NeWP online forum.
Students were divided into small groups to exchange writing for peer review on this secure site. The use of forums gave students access to a broader audience to view and give feedback on their writing. The online exchange motivated students to post their writing and give adequate responses to their partners who were online strangers. Two things played a role in this motivation: 1) students were using technology; 2) students did not know their partners beside the brief online introduction each gave at the beginning of the exchange.
It was easier for students to "talk" online to other students rather than face-to-face with their same age peers in their classroom. Students were bolder with their writing and willing to share when they had the "mask" of a computer screen. In addition, students felt accountable to their online writers.
Before the writing exchange, one 8th grade student complained about the chore of writing and how he much disliked it. Having posted his writing online, he checked the response, then called his teacher over to see what another student had written. He stated, "Wow, she gave me a lot of feedback! When I respond to her writing, I should take the time to give her a good response because she took the time to really look at what I wrote and give good feedback." This is one example of how students valued one another's peer reviews.
The forum was set up so teachers could look at anything posted and make comments within each small group. Students were often eager to check the forum to see if any group member responded to their work or posted something new. On two occasions, teachers opened up the discussions to the full group in the "Coffeehouse Forum". This gave students a chance to post and respond to people in the entire exchange. They were also able to receive feedback from the full group giving them a wider audience to share their writing with.
At the end of the exchange, students met on the UNL campus for a face-to-face meeting with their small group members to share writing, eat pizza, and read during an "Open Mic" session. Students were anxious and excited to meet their online group members and share their writing. On the survey given to participants at the live exchange, many reported that they liked being exposed to different genres of writing.
Other respondents wrote:
"I learned what we can improve and to be confident in our writing."
"It changed my writing to something great. I mean it is very cool that other students helped us out."
"Writing is not just a contest on who is better than who."
"I learned ways to improve my own writing and ways to create good feedback and support for people's writing."
"I learned that writing is a unique and individual process, no two people approach it the same way--we all have different things to say and ways to say them."
"That revising and correcting your paper can be very important and you can improve as a writer if I just keep trying."
The students' voices exhibit the success of the exchange and the teachers are eager to bring a new group of students into the forums next school year because as one student put it, "We are all writers!"
--Jennifer Selting Troester, O'Neill Public Schools