At the beginning of the year I took a survey of students' access to technology outside of school and it revealed that 18 of 26 students in this particular class have a computer at home and access to the internet. Also, 2 of the 8 who do not have a computer at home, do own a smart phone and they use it to access the internet. Five years ago, this picture looked much more dire and to expect a paper to be typed was a futile pursuit. I am most hopeful this time. Another important point is the fact that those students who have easy access to technology outside of school are not using it for academic purposes. Their knowledge of Microsoft Word is limited and their ability to use regular email pales in comparison to that of Facebook. I want to devote a couple of days to offering brief tutorials on the basics of typing a paper and submitting it digitally. Additionally, this will give me more time to hold one-on-one conversations with students who need further assistance.
Many of my students already have a Google account. Those who don't have already been asked to get one. Students are quite savvy at setting up accounts online so they can be expected to figure it out on their own. I tell students that we are going to the library today and use the computers in there to type their papers, but before we go, I need to give them a brief tutorial on the program I want them to use, Google Docs. I want them to use this program because they can share it with me and that allows me to edit and add comments that the student can access online. I tell students that they can also use their smart phone to type their paper on Google Docs. Unfortunately, the library may or may not have enough working computers for the number of students I have, so I ask students who feel very comfortable using their smartphone to go ahead and plan on using it today to free up more computers for those students who have neither at home. I have found in the past that some students actually prefer to use their phone to type their paper, especially those with a brand new version and a large screen. I am perfectly ok with that. The paper can get done in whatever way works for them.
To teach them how to create a Google Doc, I go over the following on the LCD projector:
I ask students if they have any questions and clarify any confusion. These steps are pretty simple and they generally approach technology with confidence so there are no questions about this today.
Because I know my students who have access to technology outside of school are not using it for academic purposes, I can't assume they know the basics of a typed paper. I give them this brief tutorial. I print a document I created several years ago, Typing Instructions page 1 and Typing Instructions page 2, and distribute it to students. I point out the top half of the front page and let them know that this image is a sample of what their paper must look like. I read every element around this image: 1" margin all around, Times New Roman Font in size 12, single-spaced header, double-spaced essay, and centered title. I then tell them that to format their paper in this manner, I have also included directions with images. I point out that this was done for the 2008 Word version and that the newer version does not look like this anymore. To create this is very time consuming and it will not stay the same for too long. I communicate this to students and let them know that even though the look is different, the functions still have the same names and that as long as they know what they are looking for, they can apply their savvy techie skills and figure it out. I strongly believe that and it is the reason why I did not put in the time to create a document like this one for the newer versions of word. I spend the rest of the tutorial highlighting the names of the functions that they must look for: "align," "line spacing," "font size," etc.
I then tell students that I am sending a prayer to the technology gods in hopes that the computers work and that we can all access Google Docs, and we head to the library.
Students have the option of working on a computer or at a table on their smart phone. Several opt for the second option. During the first part of this activity, I mainly focus on assisting students with the computers. Once everyone is settled in, I focus on working one-on-one with students. Today, these conversations are still largely focused on their introductory paragraph and the argument they have put forth. My students struggle to take control of this part of their writing. There is a ton of potential in their writing. For instance, today I am able to read introductory paragraphs with purposeful attention grabbers. One that particularly stands out opens with the following sentence: People always wonder who they will be in ten years. Others overwhelmingly open with a question. Students will get their typed draft back with my feedback in a few days, and they will be editing and producing one more draft. At that point, one thing I will ask them is to experiment with the other types of essay hooks that I showed them and I do not expect that to be terribly difficult. For now, I am happy that they are purposely attempting to engage their reader.
The other important element in their introductory paragraph, their stated argument, is more important to address now. I can tell that, still, the purpose of an argument has not quite clicked. As per the Common Core, students are to establish precise knowledgeable claims and support these with specific evidence. For this, students must make arguable statements about the topic, Identity. My students are currently struggling with this task. Many of their initial claims fail to make an argument and they are now trying to add arguable elements to their thesis. This student draft is a good example of a student with tons of potential. She is experimenting and developing a voice in her writing. However, in the initial draft of her intro paragraph (which did not include what she later wrote on the left margin) it is unclear about what she is going to argue. I hold a one-on-one conversation with her where I ask her to tell me what she is trying to argue and she has a difficult time pinpointing. She realizes she needs to work on this. I am able to suggest to her that I can imagine an idea developing from the last sentence, "In reality, I'm just trying to figure out who I am as well."I ask her what she means by this and if she believes that everyone is trying to figure it out too. Her response leads her to the idea that people's identity changes, and this is what she ends up adding to her paragraph. Now, her essay is arguing that we can never fully understand identity since it is always changing, which is an interesting argument to make and one that will definitely allow her to analyze the texts we have studied. I attempt to have as many of these one-on-one conversations during the period as I can. These are important revisions that are necessary for students to work towards meeting Common Core writing standards.
I emphasize to students the importance of continuing their work at home, particularly because of the obstacles we encountered today. I urge them to transfer their paper to Google Docs at home by cutting and pasting. We all hope the librarian can get help with whatever issue was keeping us from accessing Google Docs today so that we may be able to use it the next day.