Make Writing Workshop Work Better

I will be consulting with a couple of teachers next month who have questions about how to make Writing Workshop work better for their special needs students.  One teacher has a student with Asperger’s Syndrome, while the other teacher has students with other learning disabilities.  Since I’ve never taught a student diagnosed with Asperger’s, I’ve been researching ways to make Writing Workshop a more manageable time for this teacher.

This month’s NCTE School Talk (Vol. 15, No. 3) focuses on integrating 21st century literacies into the lives of special needs students.  One article, written by Kristi Back and Carrie Gaffney, was particularly inspiring.  In “21st Century Learning for All: Online Learning and Students with Special Needs” Back and Gaffney introduce readers to ThinkQuest, which is a free service provided to all schools that serve students in grades K – 12.

On ThinkQuest, each student creates and maintains his or her own page and is completely accountable for all of its content.  Students are free to post school-related documents, surveys, and video and audio presentations.  They also use their ThinkQuest pages to make friends from schools in other states and countries.  Teachers use ThinkQuest to post projects, monitor student progress, and even provide individual feedback on student work (2010, 3).

Initially, ThinkQuest sounded a little like a cross between a wiki and an academic version of Facebook.  However, as I read the rest of Back and Gaffney’s article, I quickly discovered that ThinkQuest is a resource that empowers special needs students so they can work more productively in the writing classroom.  The authors told stories of students who were accepted written criticism through ThinkQuest with greater ease than they did in peer or one:one teacher conferences.  Additionally, students who misplaced assignment guidelines or drafts of their work no longer lost things since everything was stored in one virtual place.

I went to ThinkQuest’s website and discovered how easy it is to set this up for students.  According to ThinkQuest, there are three simple steps for enrolling:

1. A teacher or school administrator completes the online application.
2. We review the application and verify that the school is accredited.
3. The school contact is now ready to create projects.

Click here to view a demo on how ThinkQuest works.  It’s an impressive piece of free technology worthy of being rolled-out in your classroom (so long as your students have reliable computer access) this-coming fall.  If you have the time (and we all know that’s scarce as the school year draws to a close), then consider soft-launching ThinkQuest with some of your existing students.  This way you can get a better sense of how to use it before you try to implement it this-coming fall.