Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Learning Inside the Box

Today, my class of authors are working on their newest writing projects. They wanted to create interviews between two different innovators for our next edition of The Coast to Coast Chronicles. As with any genre of writing, I feel that it's important for my students to learn and analyze real-world writing examples from real authors. When I asked my students why they thought we read from these resources instead of me directing a lesson on the different genres like op-eds or science fiction, one of my students responded, "These authors are the best at what they do. They get paid to be the best writers. If we look at their writing and learn from them, we become excellent writers too." Pretty insightful for 10 year-olds, huh?

Because we are living in the digital age, my students have much easier access to learn about the craft of writing from actual writers. By teaching them how to correctly analyze and apply content knowledge and seek out experts, we are empowering our learners with the ability to learn anything that they want to learn.

With the easy access of online publishing and media outlets, it is now easier than ever to find excellent examples of writing regardless of genre. I know that there is a plethora of tools out there for organizing links to these resources. However, my students for the last couple of years have been very visual. Although they could use bookmarking tools, they often got frustrated because they couldn't remember which link was the one that they were searching for when they wanted to refer back to analyze a particular piece for inspiration in their own writing.

In order to gather the online samples, whether they be Op-eds, PSAs, historical fiction, song lyrics, interviews or any other genre of writing, I use a tool called Simply Box. To use Simply Box, you need to download their toolbar. Once you find a website that you would like to mark, you click on "Box It" and a screen pops up that allows you to box the website and then saves it to your SimplyBox account. Then you can choose whether or not you want to share your boxes with friends, keep it private, or make it public.

My students love using SimplyBox because you can see a small screen capture of the website for which they were looking. They have found may other uses for SimplyBox in different content areas. They especially like the fact that you can comment on different websites, extending the conversation beyond what we discussed in class.

For my young authors, SimplyBox gave them a user-friendly tool which helped them organize all of their website content into meaningful categories and gave them another forum to discuss, analyze and connect with their peers from the classroom and across the country.

Here is a demonstration of how Simply Box works:

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