Helping Writers Listen

I split my teaching days between AP Language and Seminar and working one-on-one as a writing coach with struggling students. Two weeks ago I got to the spend the day at the AssisTechKnow conference to learn about how we can use assistive technology to support students. It was a great conference, but one session in particular has me thinking already about specific ways to improve my practice.

Presenter Craig Steenstra (@csteenst), an Ed Tech Specialist from Kent County ISD, encouraged us to think about ways we can help students “record the storm” of ideas and phrases and words jumbling around in their heads. So many students have a hard time getting their ideas down on paper and, unfortunately, get frustrated and give up.  Craig walked us through several examples of ways to use various audio recording apps on phones, iPads and Chromebooks, and I realized quickly that this was something I could apply right away. My students are willing to listen to me when I talk to them about their writing, but I’m starting to wonder how I can help them listen to themselves as writers.

Three common instances stick out to me as places where I’m going to experiment with using audio recording with my students.brainstorming-2

I don’t know where to start!

One strategy I like to use with writers struggling to get started is scribing what they say to me. So often, kids seem to have an idea, but they’re terrified to just start writing. If we’re conferencing, I say, “Do you mind if I write down what you say?”  I can get a student’s ideas down on paper for him. After our conference, he can walk away with a page of his ideas from which to begin writing.

That works well when I’m there to conference with the student, but I can’t always be there.  A great next step for students who have used that strategy with me is recording themselves and then scribing for themselves.  Hit record on your phone, talk through your ideas and then go back and take notes as you listen.  It feels a little awkward at first, sure, but students who practice this skill can begin to be more independent with their brainstorming and, hopefully, will know what to do when they don’t know where to start.

I forgot!

Another great place to use audio is for recording writing conferences. Last week I received a frantic email from a student the night before a final draft of her essay was due:

Mrs. Maguire: Do you remember the word we came up with for me to use in the last paragraph of my essay? I remember talking about how the one I had wasn’t quite right and we brainstormed some different choices, but I can’t remember what they were! Help!

I remember that conversation. I know we talked about language precision. I can’t for the life of me remember what we said, though. What if she had had her phone out recording what we talked about? She could go back and listen to our conversation, take some notes and proceed from there.

This doesn’t sound right!

A third place I think audio recording would work well is editing. In two different writing conferences this week, I found myself reading a student’s writing aloud to the student and the student was hearing problems with the writing. The first was an AP student who was struggling with a natural, authentic voice. He was hitting the thesaurus hard and trying to sound like someone he wasn’t. As I read, he cringed a little and heard the problem. He made notes on his draft of the places he needed to continue to edit. Usually, I encourage students to read their writing aloud, but what if I encouraged them to record themselves reading aloud and then go back and listen, pen in hand, and edit their draft while listening?

Another student, this time a ninth grader, was working with me because his teacher was concerned about his sentence construction. His writing contains almost no punctuation, but when I read his writing aloud and asked him to tell me when there should be  breaks, he knew exactly where periods should go. He wasn’t always dead-on with commas, but he was closer than his original draft. It was great to do it sitting with me one-on-one, but when I’m not there, recording himself and editing as he listens would be a great strategy.

I love conferencing with students about their writing, but I won’t always be there. Teaching them strategies to use audio is one way to encourage them to move toward independence as writers. I’m starting new writing units in my classes and will continue working with writers in my coaching role. I’ll update in a few months about how this is going, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you do! Do you use audio to support your students’ writing? How do you help your students make moves toward independence? Comment below or connect with me on Twitter @TeacherHattie!


1 Comment

  1. The use of audio recordings in the classroom would be such a benefit to the fostering of student-independence! Obviously, students won’t always have teachers to hold their hands so helping them recognize their own mistakes will serve them well in the real world.

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