Action Research

I am just beginning an action research project under the guidance of Dr. Barrie Bennett who is working with our board for one more year.

Last year, in my role as a learning coordinator, I helped facilitate a similar project for a larger group of elementary teachers, and I remember wishing that I had a classroom so I could do my own project. Well now I’m lucky enough to be asked to participate in this project as a classroom teacher. If feel particularly lucky because it’s as though I’m doing a mini Masters with Dr. Bennett for free!

I had hundreds (okay 5) of ideas floating around in my head for this project but decided to settle on this question: How does having an authentic audience for student writing impact student motivation and writing quality?

Due to tight timelines I wanted to pick a topic that I could already integrate into what I was working on, namely the student “This I Believe” oral essays. So I created a writing attitude survey and tried to gauge where students were in terms of their attitudes about writing and whether or not they thought it was important to have a real audience for their writing. Most students agreed that having a real audience would probably improve the quality of their writing, but a number of them said that they would not be willing to post their “This I Believe” oral essays to our blog.

So I’m wondering about a couple things. First of all, is it the content that makes them uncomfortable about sharing? Based on the rough drafts I’ve read so far, there are some students who don’t yet seem to understand the connections between audience, purpose, and content, even though they’ve analysed a number of model essays. Some students think that the only type of writing worth doing is that stream of consciousness ranting about how unfair the world is. Also, even though I have stressed that this is meant to be personal but not private, some students are still confused about that line.

I also wonder if some students are confused about what we are talking about posting. I am using this project to assess their oral communication skills, so they are recording their essays and posting the MP3. I think some students are concerned that their spelling and grammar is going to be criticized by others (even though I’ve told them that we will work on those skills a little later).

For now, I think I will go ahead with this project and invite those who said they were willing to post to do so and then interview them to see what their responses are to the process. I would like to invite teachers and students from other schools and perhaps other countries to comment on their essays (moderated comments of course). If the response is positive, then hopefully that will encourage other students to post their work next time. I wonder if a more informal type of writing would garner more student participation. After all, the ones who are most anxious about their writing abilities tend to also be the ones who need the most help.

2 thoughts on “Action Research

  1. Hi Danika
    So interesting to read your post, as I have blogged about the same theme a few times. It seems that certain students of any age, and whether they are using their mother tongue, or a foreign language, are reluctant to have their work publicly viewable online. Just as you, I often wonder whether it’s due to their fear of peer criticism and ridicule, or is it just the long, long tradition of always writing privately for the teacher’s eyes only?
    I do believe that all students should be introduced to net publishing in one form or another, and related issues such as acceptable online language use, copyright, hyperlinking and the idea of positive digital footprints. But I still sometimes wonder if this should be optional for those students who feel comfortable enough to express themselves online. After all, not everybody will be a writer in the future. Or will it perhaps be an essential future literacy skill to be an active member of the rapidly changing society? I am struggling to come to terms with these questions, since some of my EFL students produce such horrible English that I should more or less rewrite it all for them for anyone else to have the slightest clue about what they want to say. That hardly serves a purpose, does it?
    I look forward to reading more about your project. How old are the students involved?

  2. Students in 4U who did this project (some anyway) expressed concern about presenting their beliefs to their peers – that is way intensely personal (many wrote about their faith in God etc.) and were wary about student ridicule. Some asked me to present privately – I agree with your take about audience purpose and content – they need to learn to craft their ideas in a form and voice which gives them some safety – a certain distance perhaps? Just a thought.