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Friday, January 20, 2012

Online Discussions Defrost Brain Freeze

Do simple writing prompts freeze the minds of your students?  How do you use technology to help students flesh out their essays?  How can you help them get out of the "I don't know what to write, so I will write the same thought in 16 different ways?

Writing is often assessed for focus, organization, development of ideas, voice and conventions.   We found that most of our students were familiar with the writing process, but did not know how to develop their ideas into meaningful and detailed prose, a skill required in state testing.  How do we help our students develop ideas and voice when faced with a simple prompt?

 Improving Student Writing
Studies show that students’ writing improves when they have an audience and purpose, an interest or passion, and time to think about it.  Unfortunately, when it comes to high stakes testing, students don’t feel like they are given the time or information to develop the content.  We give them a process or strategy to deal with writing and mechanics, why not also give them a process to help them build a framework for developing their ideas?  Giving students practice and a set of questions can help improve their writing by helping them learn how to elaborate and incubate ideas from a writing prompt.  Using online discussion tools can help provide students with an engaging and motivational tool to practice this thinking process.

SCAN Online
Similar to Glogster, Voicethread, MovieMaker, PhotoStory and any number of other great Web 2.0 tools, the SCAN tool provides a communication interface for students to share, review and respond to each other’s work.   However, what elevates SCAN above all of the other tools is that students do not use SCAN after their research or thinking is complete.  SCAN actually provides a process to help students see other perspectives and develop a depth of understanding of the issues.  Exploring other perspectives and considering them in their writing can help students develop writing that is thoughtful and insightful.
Giving Kids Perspective
Using the SCAN online tool, students take on the part of a perspective provided in a scenario that they will represent by identifying and clarifying issues, assessing what is important and communicating what they think should be done.  This built-in process helps students collaborate to resolve the issues and present real solutions.  These same four steps (See the issues, Clarify the Issues, Assess what’s important, and Now, Name your next steps) can be used by students to help them develop a thoughtful essay when given a simple writing prompt. Simply going through these four steps in the pre-write, can help students avoid the “I don’t know what to write so I write the same thought over and over in different ways” problem.  We have found that using the SCAN tool can help our students assimilate this simple strategy to organize their thinking when faced with a simple writing prompt.

For resources to help students use the SCAN process in writing go to
To see a short video on how the SCAN tool works go to

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