"The Big Screen: Using a Data Projector to Teach Writing" by John Brown
As a high school language arts teacher, John Brown has noticed that students are often unable to grasp that their writing can have a meaning different from the one that they meant to express. Because of the interpretive nature of reading, a text's meaning is largely determined by the audience, not by the writer. Therefore, the writer must remain conscious of the prospective audience and their possible interpretations. However, Brown highlights the fact that when students take their writing assignments home to complete, they are writing away from their audience. This disconnect can lead them to make errors in their writing and produce pieces that pose problems for the reader. Therefore, Brown proposes that writer and audience need to be connected during the writing process, and he offers that technology is the way to do it because it is fast and capable of reaching the entire class. So, once students finish a draft in his class, it is projected on the big screen and the entire class reads it in front of the author and comments on problem areas, which are then corrected as a class and are later used as launch points for the lecture. I really liked that Brown noticed the issues that arise from writing in an isolated environment. Writing is meant to be read, yet if the focus is only put on the writing act, then this important aspect is forgotten, along with its important implications. I think that his approach was a creative one as well, meant to reach the whole class and bring it together to create a reading community. If students write knowing that they are going to project their essay in front of the class, then a clear-cut audience will always be at the forefront of their minds as they write, and students might be inclined to try harder on writing if they know that it will reach more than just the teacher.
Q1: What is a weak point in this technique?
A1: Projecting drafts for perusal and correction by the entire class can be very intimidating for a student writer. The way that Brown wrote the article, it made it seem like the job of the audience was to find the weak points of the essay, and this is problematic because then every finished draft becomes an opportunity for a class witch hunt, in essence. High school students can be cruel, especially en masse. I believe that the whole class setting opens the student writer up to too much damaging criticism, rather than constructive criticism. Also, the student that Brown specifically discusses in the article wrote a story about the death of a grandparent--something that is obviously a very sensitive topic for the writer, and which must be dealt with in just as sensitive a manner. Teachers make assignments to help atudents learn a range of writing skills in a variety of approaches and genres, however, the classroom audience will not be an appropriate one for all of these assignments! Treating the class as a homogenous audience applicable to all writing can damage students not only on the reception of the piece, but also in the crafting of it. If students do not learn to write for a varied audience, it can be just as hindering as not being conscious of an audience at all.
Q2: What is a way to integrate technology into the editing process, but in a smaller group setting?
A2: Obviously, the classroom projector won't work for smaller groups, because the entire class would still have access to the student's work. However, if students worked in clusters at the computer, Google docs could be used between them. Once a student finishes a draft, he or she can make the rest of the group collaborators on the paper and the students can then offer solutions for problem areas. Since Google saves the paper at various stages of revision, the author could track the revisions, and, therefore, still be able to see where the audience had difficulties. Since the groups are smaller, it would be more comfortable for the student, and the groups could change for each project, thereby varying the audience!