Collaborative text writing and editing - pupils working online on the same document at the same time, viewing changes and edits as they happen - opens interesting new possibilities for children writing together.
Here are a few ways of using it that we have tried at my school:
This is a good way to begin a topic. Start with a blank page and let each child add their own ideas.
As pupils read ideas contributed by others, they can add more of their own. As it's online, ordering, organising and analysing can be done by the teacher or the whole class.
You can produce a single document combining everyone's contributions. We used Gobby (see below) with Year 3 to put together a questionnaire with a question contributed by each child.
Each one types their question into a section of a shared document, before tidying it up and printing it.
Collaborative work comes into its own where editing is concerned. Writing poetry as a small group gives a feel of the power of this. The whole class is able to make edits from their own computer and this speeds the process, making it easier for all to contribute. Plus it's a lot of fun.
The real benefits of this sort of collaborative writing and editing come through the sense of teamwork it produces, the opportunity to learn from other pupils' work, the sense of having an audience for your writing and learning to trust others. Give it a try.
Miles Berry is headteacher of Alton Convent Prep School in Alton. See eduspaces.netmberryweblog
YOU CAN DO IT TOO
GoogleDocs (docs.google.com) started life as an online alternative to desktop word processors and now offers powerful collaborative tools.
It lets multiple registered users work together on a document, seeing in close to real time the result of everyone's edits, together with a Wikipedia-like history of changes.
GoogleDocs is free and is part of a suite of online tools that Google can provide for schools under their own domain names. There are also desktop-based tools that can track edits to a single document by multiple users, and can be used on the school's network.
Many of these started life as software development tools, so they tend to work on plain text. We've used the open source Gobby (gobby.0x539.de) ourselves on our Edubuntu linux network (it also runs on Windows), and Mac users can try SubEthaEdit (www.codingmonkeys.desubethaedit), although this is now commercial software.