Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Writer's Toolchest: Using Collaboration to Write and Teach Writing

One of the most important things to remember for librarians these days is that collaboration is key to our survival. Web 2.0 is providing us with a number of tools to make this collaboration much, much easier, and if we don't take advantage of them, it's our own funeral. Frankly, I use a number of these tools in my writing already, and writing fiction has helped make my professional writing better. After participating in NaNoWriMo and writing 1,667 words a day for a whole month, suddenly a six page paper isn't nearly as scary, even if it is with such thick language. That's kind of my thing. Of course, these can all be used to teach as well. Here are a few great examples of programs I use in my writing that would also be great collaborative teaching tools:
  • Google Docs: One of the more obvious choices, Google Docs is really useful for collaboration. I use it to store my writing in the cloud, organize my thoughts, and write wherever I please, whenever I please. This is obviously a great collaborative tool, and I used it for NaNoWriMo the past two years to have my fiance and one of my friends edit my winning novels. This would lend itself really well to collaborative lesson planning for teachers, work on projects for students, and is a generally universal tool with a million uses. Probably the most useful thing I've taken away from Web 2.0 so far, I highly recommend Google Docs to anyone who will listen. 
  • Scrivner: A writing tool available for purchase, Scrivner is a program that allows writers to plan with great efficiency. It is a one-stop place for all aspects of a story, from plot breakdown, character lists, research material uploaded from PDFs, auto-spellcheck, and a number of tools, including my favorite, the name generator, complete with thousands of first and last names from dozens of nationalities. Yes, it's made for writing, and yes, it has to be purchased, but once it is, I feel as though it could be a place to organize thoughts for essays as well, especially essays on fiction novels, like Touching Spirit Bear or The Hunger Games (Oh Lord, would it ever be good for keeping track of the wealth of characters in The Hunger Games). With the number of students I notice in my teaching who write, I think this would be a welcome addition to any school program. 
  • Twitter: I tweet poetry. I tweet fiction. Just the other day, my fiance and I were at Pastabilities and made a great Twitter fiction story. What's Twitter fiction? Why, it's a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end, contained in a single tweet.  Think that sounds easy? Think again. It's a great exercise in brevity, and would be very useful for students whose papers tend to ramble on, as many student papers do. Writing a complete story in 140 characters is incredibly difficult. Go ahead, try some. Here are two of the ones I wrote so you can get an idea of what I mean:
    • I almost said time would open those arms with a breeze of care. 
    • Though she thanked her mother, Rachel knew stories of heroes and white knights who always won were just that. 
  • RSS Feeds: Like Twitter, I use RSS Feeds to follow a lot of blogs about writing and publishing. RSS feeds are pretty simple. Since I talked about them in a previous post, I'm not going to go into them any further. I think student blogs and RSS feeds would be a great way to have students talk about something without having to write essays. Much like we grad students do, have the kids write a blog post every week. 'Write a paragraph or two about symbolism in Macbeth'. The students will be more inclined to do the writing because it is shorter than a full-fledged essay, and the teacher can still evaluate them on their knowledge, so it's a win-win. 
  • Write or Die: An exercise in overcoming writer's block, Write or Die is a website that sets a timer while you write. If you stop writing, the screen starts getting redder. Stop writing long enough, and a horrible noise comes from the speakers, anywhere from screeching cats to Rick Rolling. The implications of this are pretty obvious. This is a great way to force yourself to write, and would be very good way to help students write their first drafts of essays. 
If you have anything to add, feel free. I just know there are programs I've forgotten. 

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