Collaborative Case Studies

Last night during the combined #engchat and #sschat some folks were asking m about how I use collaborative case studies to improve argumentative writing. Since my original post was deleted I thought I would try to recreate it.

First I am a huge fan of collaborative writing to support argumentative writing. Not because it is backed by empirical research (it is see Writing Next ) but because I know it works.

Increases Strategy Exchange
I am a firm believer that teaching isn’t about learning new strategies to read and write but it is a matter of building in opportunities for emerging reader and writers to exchange Just in Time strategies embedded in literacy practices. Collaborative writing allows for in-depth discussion, meaningful revision, and thoughtful composition over time.

More Efficient and Effective Assessment

Collaborative writing also eases the assessment burden on teachers. Much of my teaching is online and managing hundreds of post while reading twenty essays is daunting. Having students write in groups of 4-5 reduces my load.

The assessment is also more meaningful. I can look for growth not simply in the final product but using the comments on a wiki or GDocs I can see students growth through the process of writing.They leave comments to each other and I can look at these comments to see if student “X” understands supporting details.

New tools also allow for greater accountability. As teachers who have assigned group projects we have all had the pushy parent proclaiming their child was the only productive member of the group. Using the revision history we can show students how we track the work load.

Real Life Experience
We are all now familiar with the adage, “In the real world it is collaboration in schools it is cheating.” Last night during #engsschat folks, who had spent time in actual writing careers, commented that my description of collaborative case study reminded them of editorial meetings. If we are going to prepare students to write themselves into the world we need to build in opportunities for collaboration.

How it Works
I begin by giving my students a controversial issue or inquiry question such as is “Google Making us Dumber?” Then I give them multiple sources to consider such as the Cspan book talk  with Mark Bauerlein and Neil Howe debating “The Millennials: The Dumbest Generation or the Next Great Generation?”
Then in groups they decide how they will read the sources and compose a document. They then start composing on a wiki or gDocs.
I then sit back and watch the writing process unfold:
After taking collaborative notes the students plan their essay:
Then they draft and revise:
Finally they publish a piece:
Overall it is very effectice and I encourage everyone interested in supporting argumentative writing to give it a try.

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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