This is part of a series exploring alternatives to the five-paragraph essay. You may also wish to read the series introduction.
The idea for the collaborative essay comes straight from Pirie’s Reshaping High School English. Students begin by writing informal responses to their reading, which become the basis for small-group discussions and written exchanges between students. In their exchanges, students should practice the following:
- actively listening to the other’s ideas
- considering how that perspective impacts their own thinking
- and explaining where they agree and differ.
This exchange can then be transformed into a shared product that develops some of the issues raised. It’s important to emphasize keeping the tone friendly and respectful, as the main goal of this exercise is to stretch students’ thinking and empathy for others’ perspectives. I haven’t tried this alternative yet, but it strikes me as one that lends itself remarkably well to the medium of the blog. In their own blogs, students could reflect on their reading and then comment on one another’s posts. The first round of written exchanges could be accomplished in this way, and would be done in a way that allows students to learn from a broader group of classmates. Using a service like Diigo, which allows for web annotation, I as the facilitator could comment on specific points without getting in the flow of the conversation. I imagine the final product could take the form of a web/wiki page or a paper-based document. The former would allow students to easily reference specific points from their earlier exchanges, thus highlighting their own progression in thought. The latter might be more rigorous, however, taking the discussion offline and putting it in black and white on paper. It’s an alternative that I’m planning on trying next semester with my Grade 12 University students. Providing our school internet security allows us to get onto blogs, of course.
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