After attending the OESIS symposium in Marina del Rey last year, I came back very excited and intrigued about the real possibilities of online education. True, the conference was mostly aimed at high school students, but I began to think very seriously about the practicality of designing online courses for younger students and young writers in particular. I knew how much my students adored Writing Workshop and often begged for more time. Being intrigued myself in this delivery system, I had taken a number of online courses for professional and personal purposes and studied them intently for their design and applicability for younger students.
Would I be able to incorporate the things that mattered most to me in my classroom—a sense of community, engaging conversations, use of great mentor text and conferencing? I decided to pilot a “writing sampler.” I explored different technologies, debriefed with my son at Foursquare and decided to use a Google calendar to set dates, add a video component and use Google hangouts for our sessions. What a treat!
I capped the class at six (including myself). The students loved being able to see and hear each other and had great conversations. Any mentor text that we used, I sent a day earlier as an attachment. Students were able to download it and have it nearby for our sessions. Sessions were an hour long and ran for five weeks. Students looked relaxed and comfortable in their various writing spots—some in the kitchen, others in the study and a few in the car returning from sports activities. Seeing them in a variety of settings added to the charm, and established the notion that regardless of the setting, we were all there for the same purpose, our writing lives. Crafting, sharing, questioning.
Maybe the bigger question to consider was, “Why have this kind of instruction?” That was easy. I found students desperate to continue their “writing life” outside of the classroom. They found it easy to find other extra curricular classes for their varied interests—ballet, ice hockey, art, etc. but virtually impossible to find writing classes and ones that included a community. Running pilot classes with a variety of ages and topics helped me to answer my question -- simply, it is needed and effective.
A future post will elaborate on details and also tell how a special guest, Paul B. Janeczko, enlivened a session about “novels in verse.” Simply magical.