Reading Krista Kennedy’s and Rebecca Moore Howard’s “Collaborative Writing, Print to Digital,” one word kept reverberating through my brain: choice.
Collaborative writing can be challenging to say the least. Teachers are faced with an overwhelming amount of choices in all stages of teaching: planning, teaching, and reflection towards revising. I appreciated that Kennedy and Moore Howard provided such thoughtful and practical strategies and options in this chapter, and they ended with a call for choice of methods and platforms as to not overwhelm the teacher with all the potentials available.
Once teachers assign collaborative writing, students are then faced with a myriad of choices: trying to come to an agreement of a product and often more importantly, the process to achieve said product. This process looks different for each classroom, even if the class instructor has taught the same assignment before.
Teachers make choices; students make choices. However, sometimes students need more guidance with their choices. Thus, I even more so appreciated that they built in choice for students to have responsibility of not just the product but the process. A few examples I want to try in my classroom:
- Asking students to decide what type of groups to have while discussing the pros and cons of both (41)
- Allowing students the option to write a minority opinion (42-43)
- Including students in on the discussion of how the “shirker” (if one were to exist) would be fairly assessed (43)
Although some teachers might be afraid to allow students into the conversation of how to structure some classroom components, this does not give up control, but instead accomplishes a few important elements.
First, it allows the teacher to model the collaborative process in a respectful, productive manner. (Perhaps the teacher can be seen as a mentor allowing access to a discourse community a la Gee.) Second, it creates an environment in which students (hopefully) feel comfortable participating as they have noticed that their voice is a valid and slightly powerful one in the classroom.
Allowing students more control in the classroom is vital if teachers want collaborative writing assignments to succeed; however, one must never mistake allowing students more control and choice in the classroom with a lack of structure. In fact, this approach often requires much more structure on the teacher’s part, but the reward is that students should learn that all collaborative writing needs a semblance of structure or chaos could quite readily ensue.
Collaborative writing is risky, yet it is a reality of many workplaces as the authors point out in their first paragraph of the chapter (37). Thus the question becomes
To assign collaborative writing or not to assign collaborative writing?
That, dear addressed/invoked audience, is a choice.
- Kennedy and Moore Howard include some ideas for allowing dissensus. Any other ideas?
- What about students who are concerned about privacy when writing digitally? Or conversely, what about the lack of concern about privacy? Should discussions of privacy be inherent in a classroom that employs/requires public digital writing?