Last Week @gavirtual

this week lateThis week, er, last week, students started their expository essays. I always enjoy the writing sections; most of the students rise to the challenge and respond well to the feedback. Teaching writing is more coaching than instructing, and it takes a little while to give specific feedback and offer useful resources. I’m always pleased to see the changes between rough drafts and final drafts because seeing how students interpret my comments and whether they follow my suggestions is always fascinating to me. (Similarly, it’s always a little disappointing when the final draft is an exact duplicate of the rough draft.) So if my goal for last week was to feel good about students’ writing, I would have aced it, but instead, these were my goals:

  • Use OneNote for students to share their rough drafts and get feedback on their rough drafts
  • Set up norms for OneNote
  • Encourage more interaction between students (through the pager? Through OneNote)

Pretty basic. How’d I do?

Student to Student Interaction

The discussion board is the best place to observe this in an online course. This week more of my students worked on the Expository Writing DB. For the most part, the posts and replies contained the same level of quality as I shared in my last post, but there are no conversations being developed. To fix that, I might suggest that one of the replies be in response to a reply on the original post. That might help some. Before I implement this, I’ll have to wait for an appropriate DB to come up.


OneNote is the other place where I hope to foster some peer interaction. Last week, zero students have taken advantage of OneNote. Zero rough drafts. I believe students must be shy. This makes sense, especially since most of my students are homeschooled and haven’t had many opportunities to share their work. Writing is personal, and it’s risky sharing your thoughts with others.

This week, I’ll start using 0365’s OneNote Class Notebook feature. It’s linked within Brightspace, so students might have more luck finding it and using it. Also, if I group students in an assignment and let them work together, that might encourage more interaction and collaboration.

Norms for OneNote

I researched what other teachers had used for norms, and I couldn’t find anything too specific or helpful, or anything at all, to be honest. So, if you have ideas, please comment!

Currently, I have three statements:

  • If you didn’t post it, don’t mess with it. Don’t delete pages or sections. If something happens on accident, email me immediately.
  • Offer kind, helpful criticism and suggestions to improve the work. Don’t say, “This is bad,” instead say why it needs to be better. For example, “This sentence is unclear. Maybe think about rewording it.” Or, “This is the wrong spelling of ‘aloud.’ I think you meant to say ‘allowed.'”
  • Make comments by writing off on the side. Don’t delete the student’s work or add words.

Since my online students are already used to posting on the discussion board and are thoroughly schooled in what it takes to be a digital citizen, I’m not too worried.

Synchronous Session

Writing curriculum doesn’t lend itself to games, so this week student interaction was mostly discussion based. The two main topics were graphic organizers and thesis statements. Although there weren’t many games, I did make it interactive using three whiteboard activities:

Web/Bubble Graphic Organizer: What’s off topic?

When students first make graphic organizers without any training, they usually do one of two things: either their webs contain drastically different information than what they write in their rough drafts, like main topics and details don’t correlate, or their webs are copies of their essays, which makes me think they write the essay and then create the web.

I hoped to fix the first problem, by presenting a web and have student identify which bubbles would be off-topic for the main essay. The point being, it’s okay to brainstorm wild ideas that don’t make it into your rough draft.

graphic organizer

Expository Essay Warm-up

Online students, especially in the lower grades where there is a combination of traditional homeschool students, students who left public or private education, and students in special circumstances, differ dramatically in their background knowledge of writing. Therefore, when I begin writing, I like to find out what kind of background knowledge my students have and to reinforce some writing basics. The “drag-and-drop” sorting activity, the Do’s and Don’ts of Writing, works.

Dos and Don'ts fall 2015

Thesis Sentence Sort

When students begin to write thesis statements, it’s important to have them see what works and what doesn’t. I made the following activity from students’ essays last summer. The black square hid the text and created a little mystery. Effective thesis statements were put on the notebook paper and remained in sight, whereas ineffective and non-thesis statements went to the trash, hidden and not reinforced.

thesis sort

Weekly Wins:

  • Many students have A’s in the course and are doing well.
  • Most of the assignments were turned in on time.
  • Good discussion during the synchronous session.

Next Steps

  • Set up Class Notebook
  • Continue to encourage students to post their rough drafts by going back to bribery, er, bonus points.
  • Create a “say hi” page in the notebook to verify students can find it and use it.
  • Create a student activity for students to show they can use some of the tools in OneNote.
  • Try some new games during the synchronous session.


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