Digital Tools for Writing

I wanted to diverge slightly off the suggested resources for Thing 8 of 23 Teaching Things and share what I use for digital writing in my iPad classrooms. Although we all have access to Google Docs, I really like taking advantage of the digital mark book offered by iTunes U, combined with PDF Expert for its superior annotation functions!

A really successful task I did with my Y11 Classics class recently involved the students choosing a Greek sculpture of their choice, then creating a submission to the curator of the Auckland Museum. We imagined that the Museum had the funds to put on a show of Greek sculpture and was inviting suggestions from the public; they had to use their knowledge of Greek sculpture to identify and recommend a particular work. The students wrote their submission using the app of their choice (usually Pages) and we did a peer review lesson where they worked in groups of 2-3 to read and critique each other’s submissions, before handing in their final version. I don’t normally do this but, somehow, they were very self-conscious of their peers reading their spelling and grammatical errors! (They don’t have the same feeling towards me, unfortunately…)

Here you can see the dialogue between me and the student as they hand in work
This is the student’s written work, which I have annotated in PDF Expert then imported back into iTunes U
This is my mark scheme, adapted for an NCEA L1 Context

I export the assignment into PDF Expert (it can be directly annotated within the iTunes U app, but I find this really glitchy!) and I mark the work as I would on paper. I then import it back into iTunes U and fill out a mark scheme using a document I’ve imported from Pages into PDF Expert, which links to the level/standard we are studying. Despite how complex I’ve made it sound, the process is pretty efficient and has been working well so far this year!

Advantages of iTunes U for Digital Writing

  • All my marking is easily located on my iPad, so I can do it at school or home. No more carrying around (and losing) bits of paper!
  • Students can use a range of different apps to do their writing; they just need to export it as a PDF for me to annotate.
  • It’s pretty quick and easy to mark on my iPad (with a bit of teething time) and I find I write longer comments because I can type faster than I can write.
  • Both the students and I keep my feedback – invaluable for parent-teacher interviews and report writing!


  • The process does involve several steps and can be confusing until you get used to it.
  • Students have to have, and bring to class, their iPad – iTunes U doesn’t work on all platforms.
  • The dialogue is just between me and the student concerned, so it is tricky for students to collaborate on work – I get them to upload a copy each, and I give them both the feedback separately.

I would love to encourage students to take greater pride in, and ownership of, the work they produce. I am keen to get students to do some blogging next year, so that they can investigate topics in more depth, create resources of improved quality and share them with the world. I think this would also help my teaching to reach a more transformative level!

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