By Teachers, For Teachers
Knowledge is meant to be shared. That's what writing is about -- taking what you know and putting it out there for all to see.
When students hear the word "writing," most think paper-and-pencil, maybe word processing, but that's the vehicle, not the goal. According to state and national standards (even international), writing is expected to "Provide evidence in support of opinions," "Examine complex ideas and information clearly and accurately," and/or "Communicate in a way that is appropriate to task, audience, and purpose." Nowhere do standards dictate a specific tool be used to accomplish the goals.
In fact, the tool students select to share knowledge will depend upon their specific learning style. Imagine if you -- the artist who never got beyond stick figures -- had to draw a picture that explained the nobility inherent in the Civil War. Would you feel stifled? Would you give up? Now put yourself in the shoes of the student who is dyslexic or challenged by prose as they try to share their knowledge.
When you first bring this up in your class, don't be surprised if kids have no idea what you're talking about. Many students think learning starts with the teacher talking and ends with a quiz. Have them take the following surveys:
Both are based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Harold Gardner's iconic model for mapping out learning modalities such as linguistic, hands-on, kinesthetic, math, verbal, and art. Understanding how they learn explains why they remember more when they write something down or read their notes rather than listening to a lecture. If they learn logically (math), a spreadsheet is a good idea. If they are spatial (art) learners, a drawing program is a better choice.
Here are seven categories of tools that address specific learning styles, with suggestions:
A picture is worth a thousand words -- what better way for a writer to understand the intricacies of a story than to draw them. Daniel Tammet, a high-functioning autistic savant, is famous for seeing the answers to math problems as a colorful landscape across the horizon of his brain. He always communicated his math artistically, as fit his learning style. The link shows a picture of Pi.
Here are five excellent online drawing tools:
A popular medium for using art to write is comics. Here are three comic strip creators:
Audio "writing" is simply taping words rather than putting them on paper. They are not distracting, can be consumed without eyes (great if you're driving or watching TV), and appeal to learners who have difficulty with traditional writing methods. Its popularity for presentations is the engine behind the burgeoning growth of podcasts: In 2014, Apple had more than 1 billion people subscribed to podcasts.
There are three great options for audio writing in your classroom:
Desktop publishing blends a wide variety of media -- pictures, text, audio, visual, color, and layout -- to communicate a message. Students must be comfortable in multiple media, by a master of none. Here are suggestions:
For some students, it's all about music. Celine Dion's wildly popular “Titanic” song ("My Heart Will Go On") drenched millions of listeners in the debilitating emotion of a lost love. Nothing "examines complex ideas" better than music.
Here are three popular intuitive choices for composing music:
Slideshows have long been the alternative to the written report, used when the written word required an oral presentation. Most slideshows include bulleted draft text, images, sounds, videos, color, and movement. Here are three popular tools that accomplish this task and more:
For numbers-based communication, nothing turns data into information better than spreadsheets. Here are several traditional options:
MS Excel -- from Microsoft.
Google Sheets -- from Google.
For students who aren't writers and have difficulty presenting to a group, a video is unintimidating and stress-free. Here are three options:
The next time your summative assessment is a report, let students choose their “writing” method. Grade the result on whether they fulfilled your expectations, not on the quality of their prose.
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.