ACE Workshop
Web Pals: Connecting Students with Mentors who Care

In the Beginning

It was Ted Nellen's Murray Bergtraum students who first introduced me to the idea of telementors. As one of his scholars explained to me how she had been corresponding with a professor in Milwaukee and the about the kinds of things they "talked" about, I thought the experience of using email for mentoring was a fabulous idea. So, of course, I knew I had to try it with my Cyber English students.

Who Are Web Pals?

Web pals are partners in understanding the writing process. An adult mentor is paired with a high school student and the two correspond through email. A Web Pal partnership exists for a brief period, generally over the course of several months, a semester, or in some cases, a school year. Students from Sheboygan Falls High School have published their work on their web pages. The web pals engage in conversations about the writing they find there:

  • What they like/don't like, in general
  • What could make a piece of writing stronger (in ideas, word choice, organization, conventions, sentence fluency, voice, and presentation: the Six+1 Traits of Writing)
  • How the writing is presented on the web, whether or not it is easy for the reader to see and follow, is another good thing to talk about

A suggested Process

The first email from adult should

  • Introduce the adult web pal to the high school student
  • Explain about his/her experience (briefly: remember my students are 9th graders)
  • Say something to my student about his/her web page as a way of breaking the ice and opening conversation. Perhaps even asking a question would be good.
  • Invite a prompt reply.

The first email from my student should

  • Introduce him/her to the adult web pal
  • Give his/her experience (what other interests, activities, etc. he/she is involved in)
  • Respond to the comment/question about the web page.
  • Show a willingness to continue the correspondence.

From then on, the direction of the conversation can be about any or all of the following:

  • Writing content, using the language of six traits.
  • Writing process, focusing on revision strategies
  • Web page design, construction of, benefits of, problems with
  • Hypertext: writing on the web, how hyperlinks change writing for writer and for reader
  • Ideas in general (from poems or whatever source)

Our 2005-06 partners

Cybermentoring is part of Vicki Hester's  Issues in Composition class at Texas Tech University. Hester has her students create and use Blogs to chronicle their experiences. They also summarize what they have learned about student writers in a report at the end of the semester, attaching actual emails as documentation.

Vicki's comments

Louann Reid from Colorado State University is also working with us. Sixteen of her students are trying Web Pals for the first time.

Conversation with Louann

The Ups and Downs

  • Positive relationships:
    • High school students enjoy their correspondence with an outside voice, someone they perceive as not really "adult"
  • Extension of audience:
    • In CE, I often talk about audience and how it's potentially anyone. With Web Pals, this extended audience gives students another point of view on their work, reinforcing the idea that our teacher is not the one we write for.
  • Timing:
    • College schedules aren't always compatible with high school schedules. When the college class is over, we're still going. It can be an abrupt end to a fun experience.
  • Tech problems:
    • Email is not always a fool proof means of communication. Web pals on both ends need to be problem solvers. Spam filters may snare messages, and assuming that the web pal simply isn't corresponding will damage the process.
  • Commitment:
    • As of now, participation on the high school side is voluntary, so it may be hard to make match ups.
    • One or the other of the Web Pals may not "get into" the experience. This can be frustrating for the other one.
  • Getting connected:
    • It may be difficult to connect with college teachers who are ready and willing to get involved.
      • Use local colleges
      • Retired teachers
      • NCTE list serv
What students have to say

Emily on a having a second teacher

Sami on feeling good about her writing

Jackie on fun

Kelly on email problems

Rachel on frustration

Trent on disappointments

Things to take note of:

Ted Nellen's work on telementoring & more & more

My CE9 page for web pals

Self-evaluation assignment for CE9 students

Peer Review/Cyber Partners

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With Technology for All: Strategies for Integrating Technology into Every Classroom