Developing Student Writing with iSchool Forums

Gone are the days when technology only meant typing a document into Microsoft Word. With the new common core standards, technology is now integrated throughout the curriculum, particularly in writing, and students are being asked to communicate in a more interactive, collaborative way. This requirement, though, means many classroom teachers are feeling overwhelmed by the idea of fitting another task into a jammed-packed schedule.  They are calculating X minutes in the day plus X amount of content equals a hot mess.

iSchool Forum Example: Click on image to enlarge.

However, one possibility for addressing the situation is through forums. These are discussion boards where participants can post questions, answers, etc. If you’ve ever searched for information on a health problem, chances are you’ve run across support groups on the topic. Well, setting up an iSchool forum for your course is a way to create writing support for students when you don’t have a lot of time in the schedule or tons of technology at your disposal. The reason is that forums are asynchronous.

By asynchronous, I mean that students can write whenever – and wherever – they want. They don’t have to wait until a particular time when the netbook-cart or computer-lab gods smile, and the entire class is able to sit down together. Oh, you say your students don’t have access to computers or the Internet at home? No problem. With one student computer in a classroom, you can schedule or cycle your students so that all get a chance to post to the class forum. All you have to do is develop thoughtful prompts and post them ahead of time, preferably at least a week. Once they know the due date, students can access before school, during recess, during downtime in class when their work is finished, in the library, etc.

Brainstorming as a pre-writing activity or making connections to prior learning … forums can assist with this. However, don’t limit yourself to just writing ideas, because forums can also be used as a revision tool. Ask students to post a paragraph from a piece of writing and allow others to help with improving vocabulary or suggesting the need for dialogue. Think about how much better that rough draft could be by the time you, as teacher, actually see it. Students are actually collaborating, and it allows those quieter students a chance to gather their thoughts and post meaningful comments, something they may rarely do openly in class.

Besides the benefits of being asynchronous, another benefit of using forums in iSchool is the security involved. iSchool is maintained by Fayette County Public Schools, and it is a place where students can interact safely. Only people with an FCPS login can access it. Even then, they have to be enrolled in a course, something which a teacher controls.

To learn more about using forums in iSchool, check the Professional Development menu for classes each month. The next forum course will be January 12, 2012. You may also contact Paula Setser-Kissick or Jeff Jones for assistance or more information.

About Paula Setser Kissick

District Technology Resource Teacher for Fayette County Public Schools.

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