Friday, October 11, 2013

Revising with 'Draft': Collaboration Writing & Classroom Implications

Draft is a writing platform that strips away excess functionality to focus on the act of writing. For minimalists, this platform is designed for you: simple typeface, no visual clutter, clear and concise options. Draft also recently incorporated a 'Hemingway Mode' which turns off the functionality of the 'delete' key (I was quickly faced with how terrible a typist I am, but it did force me to keep writing, which was the point).

Draft just released an update that allows easy visual comparison of edits that someone has made on your writing. I had to edit my biography for an upcoming brunch (so this post uses an awkwardly self-serving text), and decided to test out the new features.

I wrote my bio and imported it (Draft will sync with Drive, Dropbox, upload from your computer, and most other options you will need). 

Then I  made some edits, which I could compare side-by-side. 

You can see the Current Version is editable, so I can still tweak while I look what I've deleted, what I've added, and how I've changed wording.  

If, however, I want to have someone else revise it for me, it's easy to export the document via a link. 

In this situation, I sent myself a link to edit, I edited it, and then I 'shared my edits of the original.' 

While this might be confusing because I'm one lady trying to do two roles, the point is that it's easy to send a document for feedback and for the reviewer to send back edits. 

Back in the role of Original Author, I'm able to see what Editor Katrina wrote. As you can see by the tri-split screen here, I'm able to accept or reject changes based on the changes themselves, but can also refer to the text to see them in context. 

This way, I can judge the sentence on its own merit, or see how well it flows from and into the rest of the text. 

Classroom Applications & Implications 
Using Draft effectively depends on the relationship between the writer and the revisor. Often in classrooms, re-wording someone else's sentence for them could be a sign of 'doing their work for them.' With that said, what does productive collaborative writing look like in the classroom? Where are the spaces for it to happen, and when are teachers talking about how to best integrate it? The topic rarely, if ever, came up in my department meetings. 

Most of my writing instruction was about productive individual writing, and I avoided assignments where students wrote together. I figured that the partnership would result in 'one student doing all of the work.' And I needed to grade them individually anyway. But how could I have used a tool like Draft, as opposed to say Google Docs, to have students give each other feedback? 

Actually, I can't come up with any meaningful classroom-applicable examples. So instead, here are a few musings about why: 
  • School's reliance on an individual grading paradigm: Because activities must be assessed, collaborative writing activities force teachers to individually divide shared intellectual work. Using Draft as part of the writing process would prevent neat division of who wrote what for the final product.
  • The real reasons authors ask for edits: Within the constraints of time, curriculum, and technology access (to list only a few), teachers can't always ask for authentic writing tasks, which in turn doesn't provide space for authentic revision processes. However, when I ask someone to look over my work, I ask because it's in progress and will be published and eventually represent me. Where is that ownership/investment in a traditional essay on Hamlet? Can we design classroom writing processes and publication spaces where students want to ask their peers and others for edits? 
  • Technical barriers in the time we have with students: Draft is an account-based platform, and students probably already have Google Drive set up (and, as many of us know, creating accounts can eat up half of a class period). This is not a critique for Draft - but it is of so many schools with limited technology access, compounded by what number of students don't have Internet at home. In practical terms, it's a simple tool that would not be simple for students to take advantage of. 

In an ideal world (and wouldn't we all love one of those), students would add Draft to their 'technology toolbox' and be able to draw upon it as writers and editors. High school teachers could support this individual use with CCSS Writing Standard 5 & Standard 6. However, collaboration in the CCSS is only mentioned in reference to discussion, not in writing/production. 

I look forward to using it in my own writing process, am delighted with every update I get from Nathan Kontny, and will continue pondering about how schools can design their space, roles, and technology to promote authentic student learning.