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Upper-elementary Writing teacher uses web-based tool BoomWriter to create digital student writing journals

Background

First Coast Christian School (FCCS) is a fully accredited private school that serves 585 students from grades K-12. Located in Jacksonville, Florida, the school employs 47 faculty members. Courses are available for the standard and college-preparatory tracks. Advanced math courses begin in the seventh grade. Additional advanced and/or honors courses in math and science begin in ninth grade. For those who meet the academic requirements, dual enrollment through Florida State College in Jacksonville is offered beginning in Grade 11.

In addition to a strong academic program, the school has been ranked as one of the top five schools in the state for its incorporation of technology through its use of 1:1 iPads and Promethean Activwalls for both academic instruction and student engagement. Beginning in Grade 4, the students are immersed in a paperless environment using digital tools to produce and submit assignments.

Challenge

During the 2019-2020 school year, First Coast Christian School identified the need to integrate their existing technology with a writing program that would enhance student achievement and engagement. The overarching goal was to write across the curriculum using a technological platform that would allow the students to reflect and express their thoughts and ideas creatively around a wide variety of topics. To initiate this, existing writing goals and objectives were rewritten to include these new standards. These goals and standards would also improve differentiated instruction, specifically as it relates to writing instruction. Finally, in its move to a paperless environment, the school was seeking a solution to archive the antiquated writing portfolio system by streamlining students’ work digitally and housing individual pieces in a digital writing portfolio.

Solution

First Coast Christian School found a way to incorporate its writing curriculum with technology using the BoomWriter platform. Using their ProjectWriter tool, the students were able to create an online journal. Unlike narrative or expository writing, the BoomWriter Journal is a place where students can reflect upon and then express their feelings in writing involving any topic without judgment. From the very first day her students began using the journals, Jennifer Walker, the upper elementary writing teacher, noticed a huge difference in the way her students viewed writing. “They logged in, read the assigned prompt, and began typing away,” she said. “All I heard in my classroom the entire class period was the sound of fingers typing on the keyboards. When class was over, they didn’t want to leave. They weren’t finished writing yet! It was incredible to see!”

The BoomWriter Journal allows the classroom teacher to view student writing easily, while allowing the teacher to approve student work or request revisions, thus streamlining the writing process for the teacher. This aligns with the new goals and objectives that teachers are trying to achieve at FCCS. It allows for a much more efficient way to view and assess student work. Teachers may leave personalized comments or responses to the individual journal entries for the students to view. This became an instant hit with the students. “I love to read the cool comments Mrs. Walker leaves for me in my journal,” said Sara G-B (Grade 5 student). “She talks to me about my writing and always says something to make me feel good about myself.”

"It is way easier to fix my writing in the journal because I can just delete my mistakes and type the corrections instead of starting from scratch," stated Jamar S. (Grade 4) who is new to FCCS. "I love typing much more than handwriting my assignments"

As typing skills began to improve through the use of the journals, so did self-confidence. Students began taking ownership of their work and even began initiating peer writing conferences with one another. They were eager to talk about writing and would often want to move about the classroom, sharing ideas or strategies about what they were typing in their journals. Some lessons were built around these collaborative work times, giving the students the added time they needed to talk about their work, brainstorm, and learn from one another. This spontaneity and excitement about the written word reaffirmed the original concept of merging BoomWriter seamlessly into the existing curriculum. "I like the journal because I can type really fast!" said Yakiri W. (Grade 5 student). "I can look away from the keyboard and still type the right words! It’s awesome!"

Differentiated instruction was easily implemented with the BoomWriter journals. With the ability to leave personalized feedback to each student, it was quick and easy to leave specific items for low, medium, and high performing students to work on. Since the classroom teacher can see the student work in real-time, conferencing with individual students was efficient and targeted. Students also began leading their own groups and would project their journals onto the Activwall. They would read their journal entries to the class, highlighting the particular writing strategy that was being used. This added to the goals of speaking and listening and incorporated another layer to the journal experience. "When we first started the journals, I could only write a few sentences," said Abigail C. (Grade 4 student). "Now, you have to scroll down the page to see all my words!"

"Writing is my favorite subject now because we write in the journals! I used to hate writing because my handwriting was so messy and kids laughed at me. Now that I can type, my writing looks so cool and adult-like. Last week, I had MY journal up on the big screen and everyone clapped for me! I felt so good inside!" said Daisy S. (Grade 4 student).

Comments like Daisy's became common after students began using the journal. They were engaged in the writing experience and totally immersed in all aspects of the lesson. They wrote with enthusiasm and passion. They shared their ideas and experiences with their classmates. The room became alive with sights and sounds of the writing. "I love the journal! When I walk into class and see the keyboards out, I am excited. I like to beat my word count each week with BoomWriter." said Dezmond T. (Grade 5 student).

In addition, writing across the curriculum was added to the journals, allowing collaboration with grade-level teachers. Science and history prompts were added, which integrated the components of gathering research and note-taking. These elements were added to the journal with a reflection and evaluation piece allowing higher-order questioning skills to be addressed. "I liked writing about science because that is my favorite subject. I can be the boss of my writing," said Mason Fuller (Grade 4 student).

While the academic benefits were undeniable, it was the emotional component of the BoomWriter Journal that caught the attention of students, parents, and teachers alike. The students loved the outlet to share their feelings in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. The parents appreciated the positive conversations that they were able to have with their children after reading their journals. Teachers loved being able to connect with their students on a deeper, more personal level. "All I can say is "WOW! That’s a great way for kids to express themselves!" said Cindy Brusnahan (Grade 5 parent). "I am so amazed to see how well he is writing and expressing his feelings! I definitely see an improvement from last year!" said Danielle Ingram (Grade 5 parent).

Future Plans

After seeing first hand the impact and benefits that include student engagement, writing fluency, keyboarding rate and accuracy, as well as providing an outlet for written reflection and self-expression, it was determined that the BoomWriter Journal would be expanded to include both upper and lower grades. Plus, professional development will be conducted to familiarize and invite other teachers throughout the school to implement this powerful and highly-effective classroom tool.

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