Thursday, 11 February 2016

DCI Assessment 2: Collaborative editing to scaffold writing...

Collaborative editing to scaffold writing
Allana Taylor, DCI 2, 2016

In this essay, I will set out to demonstrate how a change initiative involving collaboration and digital learning had a positive effect on student writing within my class. The purpose of this initiative was to develop in students the skills and motivation to independently edit their own writing as supported by their peers. The end goal is an improvement in writing.

As a teacher, I want students to be having powerful discussions about their writing in a safe, supportive environment with their peers, rather that the information just coming from me. These socially constructed opportunities for learning are more powerful and immediate, especially when supported by collaborative editing. There area huge number of benefits I predicted would result from this collaborative writing initiative:

1.   The skills of editing would be developed and reinforced in a social context until they became independent. (Vygotsky 1978)
2.   Published writing would show more success criteria because time has been spent on effective editing. 
3.   Writing levels would improve as students knew what their next steps were and how to edit their own writing.
4.   Attitudes to writing would be more positive as it is no longer so ‘Hard’ with the support of a buddy.
5.   Students would see each other as a source of AKO[1] support.
6.   The teacher would be free to run more workshops to meet specific student needs.

The only aspects of this initiative easily measurable given the short time frame were:
1.   How many incidents of editing were completed in the task?
2.   What types of editing were completed?
3.   Student attitude to the innovation in regards to supporting their writing.

Reason for the initiative:
My class has a strong digital focus, where systems have been set in place such as students publishing writing on individual blogs for an authentic audience in the wider community, where teachers, students and parents write constructive comments that indicated success criteria and give next learning steps. The issue that has risen is that students fail to go back and edit their own work, thus ignoring the wealth of editing suggestions they have already been given.

Many of the errors visible in student ‘blog post’ writing were in sense, spelling, sentence and also paragraph construction. Student voice gave some interesting insight to the reasons they failed to go back and edit their own work.

‘Cause sometimes I can’t figure out how to do it.’ Ella, Year 4 student.

‘Cause I forget because I’ve gone onto another story.’ Max, Year 3 student.

‘Because I don’t know what to fix.’  Tegan, Year 3 student.

The key issues were that students didn’t know where to start, how to proceed or needed help to be accountable and actually get the editing done.

A collaborative plan:
To increase the student ownership of this initiative, the class was instrumental in brainstorming possible solutions to the identified needs of supporting the getting started, skills of actually editing and providing accountability for the completed process. The other criteria were collaboration and the use of digital learning in the process. Student suggestions focused on their learning being better with a buddy, a range of tools to support spelling and a scaffolding tool to remind them of the steps.

I looked at how to set systems of support in place for my writers. An existing collaborative editing tool[2] formed an excellent scaffolding support, but the change was in the AKO buddies editing the work together, based on a collaboratively identified ‘Mission’. This provided the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ required by Vygotsky for students to perform at a higher level when they were supported by more able peers than what they could do independently. Vygotsky suggested that what these students could do today with scaffolding, they could then do independently in the future. This was the very thing I was looking for. How could I maximise the effectiveness of student learning, with only one teacher?

What did it look like?
During an AKO Conference, the writer identified their initial target. Both students collaboratively identified the success criteria achieved in the form of a ‘Medal’ and then determined the ‘Mission’ or next step challenge. They then carried out that mission together. The ‘Nature of Learning’ article  (Dunmont, Istance & Benavides, 2010, pp. 3 & 4) suggests that learning is actively constructed through social negotiation and that learning is more effective if students feel like they are in a safe and supportive environment. This social aspect of our learning was a perfect example of the Māori concept of AKO, where we are all learners and teachers. It was in this environment that my learners were both supported and challenged to make their writing better.

How did this simple change meet the needs of my learners?
First, it gave them a reason to be accountable about actually completing the editing because their buddy was waiting to complete the task with them. Secondly, the scaffolding sheet continued to support them in the steps to take in their editing. Thirdly, it gave students a chance to celebrate what they were doing well, while also reinforcing their personal writing target. Finally, they collaboratively identifed the next step for learning in the form of a ‘Mission’ and most importantly complete the editing together, scaffolded by a more able writer.

This initiative met many of the aspects of collaboration on the 21st Century Learning Design Collaboration Rubric of: (21st Century Learning Design, 2013, pp.3-9)
1.   Students collaboratively identify success.
2.   Students collaboratively determine targets.
3.   Shared responsibility for the editing of the text.
4.   Collaboratively share feedback.
5.   Writer has overall ownership of the text.
Digital tool:
We found Google Docs gave a better platform for collaboration than Blogger or Kidblog as it allowed for multiple users, was motivating and allowed for easy repeated revisions of the text. The effectiveness of Google Docs for collaboration was also found by Suwantarathrip & Wichadee (2014, p.154) in their study of collaborative writing. Another positive aspect of Google Docs is the commenting tool with which I was able to add additional constructive comments for writers, which disappeared after the editing had been completed.

After a week of writing and collaborative editing, 15 posts[3] had been published on the class blog and were available for analysis.

The average number of editing changes made within the posts was 10, while student 7 got confused and posted up their ‘pre-edited’ piece twice. Students 2, and 8 had very few errors in their work, hence the low number of edits. Students 1, 12, 14 and 15 were struggling writers and showed much higher levels of editing than the other students.

The majority of the editing focused on adding detail, using a range of connectives, including punctuation and adding paragraphs.

Number of edits in each piece: The average number of edits per piece was 10.


Types of editing used by each student:
(the number of students using this editing not the occurrences of them within a text)

Read for sense
Further punctuation
Adjectives – detail
Speech marks
Sentence construction

There was a sense of excitement within the class during our editing times where fourteen students were engaged in rich learning discussion about their writing with personal collaborative editing coaches. This was in direct contrast to the normal attitude of students avoiding having to go back to edit their work. This AKO or Buddy Editing was a supportive environment where according to ‘The 7 Principles of Learning’, (Dunmont, Istance & Benavides, 2010, pg 6 & 7) the learners were both actively engaged, their learning was social, emotions were protected within a supportive environment, individual needs are both met and challenged and their learning was tracked on the AKO conference sheet. The only challenge from these principles remaining was for the teacher to help students make connections between this learning and other areas of their lives.

Students said that it was much easier to edit their work with a buddy.

‘My buddy helped me with the hard editing.’ Ella, Year 4 student.

‘We looked for a ‘Mission’ and did it together.’  Tegan, Year 3 student.

Much more work was completed within a week of writing and collaborative editing that was normally completed. A total of 15 before and after posts were published to the blog. This blogging platform was an excellent way to track progress, celebrate improvement and show how we as a learning community value the importance of collaborative editing in our writing. Not only was the class Blogger Blog a good place to publish, as discussed above, Google Docs gave a great platform for multiple editing of a text, where the teacher could track student collaborative progress while also adding both encouraging and constructive comments.

According to the ‘Lean Canvas’ view, (2015) the unique value of this AKO Conference approach was that there were 26 teachers in our class of 25 students, a perfect example of AKO at work. This increased the levels of support and scaffolding so every child had 1:1 attention, leaving me as the teacher to run workshops to meet other specific needs.

The effect of socially creating knowledge in a scaffolded environment was hugely effective, as could be seen in the struggling writers making the greatest number of edits to their work with 54, 19, 10 and 20 edits. Those struggling students felt like their learning was easier using this approach.

‘It was much easier to edit when I had a buddy to help me’. Ella, Year 4 student.

‘I did more editing with my buddy that I could do by myself.’ Charlotte, Year 4 student.

With further analysis of the approacah against the ‘Lean Canvas’ view, (2015) we can see that it took very little time or effort to adjust an exisiting editing tool and no further training was required for students to use the tool. It was a sustainable initiative as it carried no additional time or financial costs, and could be applied to other subject areas where socially constructing knowledge is valuable. The only additional time was student editing time – the very thing students had avoided in the past.

While this action was small, the impact on student editing and motivation was large, as noted in the number and type of editing completed along with the positive student responses. The long term improvement on writing levels should be significant but would need a control group and longer time frame in which to gather and analyse data.

As a teacher I have discovered that it can sometimes be the smallest of changes that make the biggest impact in student learning. It requires that I continue to reflect and am willing to apply the lense of educational theory and research to my practice.


Before and after writing on the class blog:

AKO Conference Checklist: See attached image.


Dunmont, H., Istance, D. & Benavides, F. (2010) The Nature of learning: Using research to inspire practice. In Educational Research and Innovation. Centre for Educational Research and Innovation OECD (pp. 3 – 12).

Lean Canvas: Downloaded 8/2/2015

Research, I. (2013) 21CLD Learning Activity Rubrics. In 21st Century Learning Design, (pp. 1 - 44).

Suwantarathp, O., Wichadee, S. (2014) The effects of Collaborative Writing Activity Using Google Docs on Students’ Writing Abilities. In Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology – TOJET (pp. 148 – 156).

Vygotsky, L. S, (1978), Interaction between learning and development, in Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, pp. 79-91. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

[1] AKO - Māori concept of teaching and learning being reciprocal or interdependent.
[2] AKO Conference Checklist – see a copy in the appendix.

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