Friday, April 15, 2011

Diigo for Digital Writing Reflection

As I've written about in past posts, I feel quite strongly about the role of educators in equipping students with the skills they need for both life and learning in an increasingly digital world.  With respect to the essential skill of organizing web content, I've been having my students use the social bookmarking site Diigo since the start of the school year.  They've used it to keep track of information they find on the web, to share information with our class group, and also to respond to digital texts they read.  And even though the bookmarklet, Diigolet, is significantly less convenient than the Diigo toolbar (which can't be installed on our school computers), most of my students are now are at a point where they have seamlessly integrated this bookmarking tool into their web browsing. 

It was because of their proficiency with it that when an idea came to me today 5 minutes before the start of class of a new purpose for which I could have my students use Diigo, I didn't hesitate to throw out the plan I had in place and give it a try.  It went amazingly well.  So well, in fact,  that I have resolved to finish writing this post before I leave school today and officially start my spring break.

It seems like most of the posts in this blog have been in some way or another focused around my students using digital tools to compose.   Presently, the writing my 8th grade students are doing has taken the form of a fairly open writing workshop, where students write across various genres about about topics of importance to them, publishing these pieces to their blogs every couple of weeks. Here are some of the pieces they've done recently.

The purpose of such writing is for students to develop as writers and thinkers, while also establishing their presence in a global community of learners.  Assessment of how students meet these goals is done by the students themselves, as for each piece they publish they write a reflection where they identify and explain aspects of their piece that show the following:

   -evidence of themselves as thinkers
   -evidence of using revision to improve their writing
   -evidence of how they worked through challenges

I love using this method as a way to assess my students' writing, which I was introduced to last summer at the UNC Charlotte Writing Project.   It focuses students attention on their own process, encourages them to try new ideas and approaches, respects their diversity, and guides students in being better able to talk about their own thinking and learning.

Up until today, I've been having my students complete this reflective/metacognitive assignment by responding to these directions on their own sheet of paper, which they then would turn in to me. 

But this morning while I was preparing my class for the day, it occurred to me that Diigo's web highlighter and sticky note tools would allow students to carry out that same assignment without paper.  In addition, it would also take students less time to complete, let others read the reflections they wrote, and make it easier for me to access and assess their work. 
Student blog with Diigo highlights and sticky notes

If you are not familiar with Diigo, it is a free social bookmarking tool.  With it, users can bookmark web pages to their online library from any computer,  highlight text on web pages and include sticky notes with their own typed messages, and share these sites and annotations with others. Diigo also allows users to create groups, which I have done for my students, so that in addition to saving bookmarks to their own libraries, they can also save them to the group.

Since all of my students publish their writing on their individual blogs, they can use Diigo to bookmark their posts, highlight parts that demonstrate their thinking, revisions, and challenges, and include sticky notes on the page to include their written explanations and reflections.  Click here to see the full assignment. 

Student's highlights and sticky notes as seen in our class Diigo group library
Students would also select the option that allowed the page and its annotations to be shared with our class Diigo group, so when I or any other student visited our class Diigo library they could see each students' bookmarked blog post, and beneath that post, a display of the excerpts highlighted and the sticky note responses that had been recorded.
For grading, I only needed to visit our Diigo page and use this rubric to assess my students' work.  Alternatively, I could also visit the student's blog post, and so long as I had Diigo open on my computer, I could see the annotations on their post.  If I wanted to respond to any part of my students' reflections, I could use Diigo to type in my comments and they would then show up in my students' libraries.  Though I have not done so yet, I also see potential for students to respond to each other's assessments in the same way.

Now that I'm starting to rethink my uses of Diigo, I'm sure that some other new possible applications will come to me when as I start reading through these posts and pages of self assessments.  Honestly, I am excited to do so, but outside my window the empty parking lot and setting sun are telling me that grading can wait.  I'm sure my family would agree.

Hello Spring Break!