Today's question for writers and teachers: How can writing be taught effectively as a collaborative activity? To help launch the discussion, here are a few points to consider.
Throughout the instructional process, the heart of writing development is the dialogue in which teachers and students collaborate, inform, question, think aloud, self-correct, challenge, and construct meaning together (Gould 1996). Rather than practicing writing skills in solitary situations, students acquire writing knowledge through discursive interactions with others, and through these dialogues talk their way into deeper understandings about writing practices.
(Carol Sue Englert, Troy V. Mariage, and Kailonnie Dunsmore, "Tenets of Sociocultural Theory in Writing Instruction Research." Handbook of Writing Research, edited by Charles A. MacArthur et al. The Guilford Press, 2006)
Because many organizations today require a set of members or employees to prepare . . . proposals, position papers, or grants, the practice of writing together as a committee or team can provide a valuable experience. A "blended" project might call for members of a team to write individually and then compare their efforts, selecting and revising the best ideas and prose as they craft the final piece together. A "composite" approach might ask students to assign each team member a different task (investigate a problem, research a study, conduct an interview, etc.) or a particular section to write, with the group responsible for smoothly meshing the parts into a whole.
(Jean Wyrick, Steps to Writing Well, 11th ed. Wadsworth, 2011)
For collaborative writing there are various tools which you can use, notably the wiki which provides an online shared environment in which you can write, comment or amend the work of others. It can be a great way of writing together, while maintaining a copy of all amendments, so that you can always revert to a previous version if necessary.
(Janet MacDonald and Linda Creanor, Learning With Online and Mobile Technologies: A Student Survival Guide. Gower, 2010)
"[T]he data I amassed mirrored what my students had been telling me for years: not the research they carried out, not their dogged writing of essays, not me even, but their work in groups, their collaboration, was the most important and helpful part of their school experience. Briefly, the data I found all support the following claims:
- Collaboration aids in problem finding as well as problem solving.
- Collaboration aids in learning abstractions.
- Collaboration aids in transfer and assimilation; it fosters interdisciplinary thinking.
- Collaboration leads not only to sharper, more critical thinking (students must explain, defend, adapt), but to a deeper understanding of others.
- Collaboration leads to higher achievement in general. . . .
- Collaboration promotes excellence. In this regard, I am fond of quoting Hannah Arendt: "For excellence, the presence of others is always required."
- Collaboration engages the whole student and encourages active learning; it combines reading, talking, writing, thinking; it provides practice in both synthetic and analytic skills."
- Peer Review: Benefits and Pitfalls
[A] number of practical benefits of peer response for L2 [second-language] writers have been suggested by various authors:
- Students gain confidence, perspective, and critical thinking skills from being able to read texts by peers on similar tasks.
- Students get more feedback on their writing than they could from the teacher alone.
- Students get feedback from a more diverse audience bringing multiple perspectives.
- Students receive feedback from nonexpert readers on ways in which their texts are unclear as to ideas and language.
- Peer review activities build a sense of classroom community.
On the other hand, researchers, teachers, and student writers themselves have identified potential and actual problems with peer response. The most prominent complaints are that student writers do not know what to look for in their peers' writing and do not give specific, helpful feedback, that they are either too harsh or too complimentary in making comments, and that peer feedback activities take up too much classroom time (or the corollary complaint that not enough time is allotted by teachers and the students feel rushed)."
(Dana Ferris, Response to Student Writing: Implications for Second Language Students. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003)
If you have experience writing collaboratively (or teaching writing collaboratively), click on "comments" to tell us about those experiences and the lessons you have learned.
* Introduction to Best New American Voices 2003 (Harcourt, 2003)
More About Collaborative Writing: