Fandom Mashup with Mozilla’s Popcorn

Mozilla's Popcorn, part of the Webmaker suite of tools

Mozilla’s Popcorn, part of the Webmaker suite of tools

For anyone that has read this blog, seen my guest post on the Heinemann website, or heard me speak in the past few months, you know that I am becoming more and more intrigued with Mozilla’s Popcorn as a digital writing tool. Last week, my students in ENG 201 started playing around with Popcorn as one possible tool for creating their final, multimedia projects.

Before I share this example from one of my students, Cali Winslow, I wanted to note just a few quick notes about helping guide students to this point of the semester.

First, I have been fortunate enough to teach and honors section this semester. While most times I teach English 201 I am focused in on various forms of academic writing, and especially on the techniques of argument, this particular semester has been interesting because I am guiding students, as freshmen, to think about what they want to do for their senior honors capstone research project. As a part of this work, students will be submitting what I’m calling a “very rough draft” of what they would like to do as a senior honors project proposal.

Second, because we’ve been talking about digital writing throughout the semester, I am asking them to share their final presentation not just as a PowerPoint, but in some kind of multimedia form. Over the past few weeks we have begun looking at a number of different tools, and Popcorn is one of them. My hope is that the few students will use this tool for their final projects, especially since I have so many students interested in topics related to media.

All of this is a lead up to what I found to be a truly wonderful project. Mind you, this was meant as an opportunity for play and exploration, a formative assessment opportunity just to see what students could come up with in a limited amount of time. My guess is that Cali spent much more than just a “few extra minutes” outside of class to get this creative representation of her many “fandoms.” In fact, she noted in her reflection, there are many things to consider when embarking on such a project:

This project revealed some important benefits and drawbacks of using multimedia presentations. One clear benefit is that, if executed properly, it can provide a concise, engaging presentation related to the topic. A one-minute video can be much more compelling than a page of text presenting the same information. It also allows the author to be more creative in how they present their message, which can draw a wider audience. As with any media, however, there are some limitations. The biggest problem, in my presentation, was due to technological issues. As I mentioned, I had five tracks that were all timed precisely to fit with one another. Several times I tried to play them back and one would glitch and become out-of-sync with the others, which in some cases, even somewhat changed the message I was trying to get across (some of you may also have had this problem if you tried watching my video).

This is one of those projects where a student clearly went above and beyond, and I think you’ll find the final results to be compelling and creative. If this is what she was able to create just playing around with Popcorn for fun, I can’t wait to see what she — and all of my students — with their final projects.

Enjoy!


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Introducing Connected Reading

Connected Reading Cover (Courtesy of NCTE)

Connected Reading Cover (Courtesy of NCTE)

This month marks the publication of my fifth book, a co-authored work with Kristen Hawley Turner entitled Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World.

The research and writing process for this book took over two years, though it was well worth the effort. Combined, Kristen and I visited a dozen classrooms, interviewed nearly two dozen students, and surveyed 800 teens about their uses of digital reading devices. We discovered that reading was about much more than just the device; it remains, at the heart of it all, a conversation about words, stories, and ideas. Here is the official “blurb” from the back of the book:

As readers of all ages increasingly turn to the Internet and a variety of electronic devices for both informational and leisure reading, teachers need to reconsider not just who and what teens read but where and how they read as well. Having ready access to digital tools and texts doesn’t mean that middle and high school students are automatically thoughtful, adept readers. So how can we help adolescents become critical readers in a digital age?

Using NCTE’s policy research brief Reading Instruction for All Students as both guide and sounding board, experienced teacher-researchers Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks took their questions about adolescent reading practices to a dozen middle and high school classrooms. In this book, they report on their interviews and survey data from visits with hundreds of teens, which led to the development of their model of Connected Reading: “Digital tools, used mindfully, enable connections. Digital reading is connected reading.”

They argue that we must teach adolescents how to read digital texts effectively, not simply expect that teens can read them because they know how to use digital tools. Turner and Hicks offer practical tips by highlighting classroom practices that engage students in reading and thinking with both print and digital texts, thus encouraging reading instruction that reaches all students.

We summarize our model in this graphic, and hope that it sparks conversations about the nature of reading in a digital world.

Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World Graphic

Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World by Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks © 2015 by the National Council of Teachers of English. This figure may be printed, reproduced, and disseminated (with attribution) without permission from NCTE.

Check out the first chapter on NCTE’s website as well as our companion wiki. We look forward to continued conversations about connected reading among teachers, parents, and, of course, our students.

Make Write Repeat: Free Webinar on March 30

Join me on Monday, March 30 at 5:00 EST!

In partnership with Chris Lehman, Laura Fleming, and their colleagues at the Educator Collaborative, I will be presenting a webinar this coming Monday, March 30, at 5:00 PM EST. You can participate in the live stream of the keynote for free by registering here.

Also, as it happens, I will adapt this keynote into an Ignite! style talk this coming Friday during Colby Sharp‘s “Pure Michigan: An Evening Celebrating Michigan Educators” at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. Condensing a full presentation into 5 minutes will be a bit of a challenge, but I am sure it can be done!

For resources that I plan to share, please visit my wiki.


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Digital Learning Day (Week/Month) 2015

DLDay Logo

Image from http://www.digitallearningday.org/

Celebrating Digital Learning Day this year has been quite an experience, beginning last week and going all the way through this weekend, with the “official” celebration happening, of course, this Friday with a live feed from the Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington DC.

Last week, I was honored by my friend and colleague, Dawn Reed, who nominated me as a Digital Learning Champion. She and I are working on our new book with Corwin, and “Research Writing Rewired” should be published later this year! She is a digital champion herself, and I have enjoyed collaborating with her again over the past year.

Then, last Thursday, I joined Greg Mcverry for part of his open “Question the Web” course, discussing ideas for teaching with blogs and RSS. He recorded the conversation via Hangouts on Air, and we tried to keep it brief and focused coming in just over 20 minutes. You can watch the episode below and find more resources on pages linked above.

This week will have me moving right along, too. Earlier today, I participated in a hangout on air with Amber White and other colleagues from North Branch Area Schools and the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative to discuss the conference we are offering in the district this Friday. In short, here is what’s happening:

District colleagues involved in the TTI have been working diligently to prepare a wide-variety of interactive sessions to provide a small lens into some of the learning and thinking going on in the realm of technology as a result of their participation in the Teacher Technology Institute.

It was a great conversation — and brief, so very viewable — and I encourage you to view the recording. I look forward to seeing how all our colleagues in North Branch share their own inquiry and learning this Friday, and hope to blog about it soon.

TandL Logo

In DC this weekend for http://teachingandlearning2015.org/ Join us!

So, that will be a great day, followed by a quick trip to Washington DC to join in the second day of the Teaching and Learning Conference. My brief trip to DC will include two presentations with my NWP colleagues Tanya Baker, Janelle Bence, Gail Desler, and Kevin Hodgson: “Mixing Sources, Amplifying Voices: Empowering Students Through Connected Learning” and “Readers, Writers, and Citizens: Principles and Practices for Digital Literacy.” I will post our handouts and materials on my wiki later this week.

Earlier this morning, Heinemann published my new blog post, “Connecting + Making = Digital Writing.” Here is the opening…

Often, while I’m delivering professional development workshops or webinars, teachers ask me about new tools that have been released since I wrote Crafting Digital Writing in 2013. While I try to keep links updated on the book’s companion wiki page, I know that many resources come and go each year. There are some stand-bys, such as Google Docs and Wikispaces, that have long track records and that many educators find quite useful. Sharing a link to these tools is often enough to point teachers in the right direction.

Yet, when teachers want to dig deeper, to think about creative ways that they can invite students to play, transform, and critique existing materials with digital writing tools, sometimes the stand-bys aren’t enough. Yes, it is great that Google Docs allows us to embed images and links and that Wikispaces allows us to create a collaborative online classroom; but once our students are familiar with these tools, how can we help push their thinking and learning in new directions?

Moreover, I am happy to announce that NCTE has opened up the site for pre-ordering my new book with Kristen Turner — Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World. A quick summary, courtesy of our back cover copy:

As readers of all ages increasingly turn to the Internet and a variety of electronic devices for both informational and leisure reading, teachers need to reconsider not just who and what teens read but where and how they read as well. Having ready access to digital tools and texts doesn’t mean that middle and high school students are automatically thoughtful, adept readers. So how can we help adolescents become critical readers in a digital age?

Using NCTE’s policy research brief Reading Instruction for All Students as both guide and sounding board, experienced teacher-researchers Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks took their questions about adolescent reading practices to a dozen middle and high school classrooms. In this book, they report on their interviews and survey data from visits with hundreds of teens, which led to the development of their model of Connected Reading: “Digital tools, used mindfully, enable connections. Digital reading is connected reading.” They argue that we must teach adolescents how to read digital texts effectively, not simply expect that teens can read them because they know how to use digital tools. Turner and Hicks offer practical tips by highlighting classroom practices that engage students in reading and thinking with both print and digital texts, thus encouraging reading instruction that reaches all students.

Connected Reading Cover

From ncte.org

This afternoon, I recorded a podcast with Kristen and our editor, Cathy Fleischer, and I will share that link when I have it. Thanks to everyone who has shared the link via FB, Twitter, and G+. We appreciate the initial positive reaction and hope that the book lives up to your expectations! For some preview of the material, you can visit our companion wiki page.

Finally, this month of digital learning continues next week with the MACUL conference next week and the Educator Collaborative’s Maker Space Camp, where I will deliver a virtual keynote on Monday March 30 (which is available for free viewing).

So, this will be a busy Digital Learning Day (Week? Month?). I am pleased to be celebrating digital learning in so many ways, yet still I caution us all think about this day in the same way we would ask our students to think about ideas that they encounter online — critically and carefully. My 2013 post about Digital Learning Day is still as relevant today as it was two years ago, especially as the new assessments are upon us, and upon our students, too.

Thanks to all my colleagues who are making my experience with digital learning so rich and fulfilling. I appreciate the work that all of you are doing and look forward to celebrating it this month and well into the future.


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(Advance) Response to Pre-Service Teachers’ Questions about Technology

Students at computer

Some rights reserved by Barrett.Discovery

This coming Monday night, I have been invited to join Sean Connors‘ preservice teachers at the University of Arkansas through a conversation on Google Hangouts. They created a very smart list of questions for me, and in order to maximize our time, I’ve written this brief response with lots of links, some of which we can explore together or, more likely, students can review on their own after our chat.

Here is my response to their questions:

First, I want to thank you for asking such smart, challenging questions. You are all clearly thinking deeply about what it means to be literate, what it means to teach literacy in modern American schools, both rich and poor, and how to balance your own relationship with technology in light of what you want and need to accomplish with students. This is the kind of thinking that all teachers should be doing. Thanks for starting your journey as teachers with this mindset.

Second, as you have likely figured out, there are no easy answers with technology and education. Even in the cases where a school has all the tech it could want, teachers still struggle with these questions. And, of course, they struggle even more when they don’t have the tech. So, I want to address that big question. There are no perfect solutions, but both Dr. Turner and I have spent lots of time in lots of schools and we can tell you that teachers get creative in order to get the technology they need. We have seen them use Donors Choose, or other similar sites, to ask for technology one bit at a time. We are seeing them work with local businesses to get old computers and tech through programs like InterConnections. Finally, we see teachers encouraging parents to get connects through programs like Everyone’s On. Again, no perfect solution here, but just as we would advocate to have books in our students’ hands, we need to advocate for technology, too.

This leads to a third theme that came out in your questions — is it our place, as English teachers living in a Common Core world — to teach digital reading and writing along with more traditional academic literacies? You will, undoubtedly, not be surprised by my answer: yes. This is not an either/or situation where technology competes against learning how to write an argument essay. It is a both/and. We teach students about making meaning in both alphabetic text, using words, sentences, and paragraphs while, at the same time, discussing the ways that students can construct arguments with images, videos, and sound. By working in tandem, we help students make connections and develop all aspects of their literacy learning.

Now, on to some specific questions and what we can talk about tonight. I’ve tried to honor the spirit of all your questions here, some of which have been summarized or condensed for time and clarity. Basically, I am sharing a list of links here, and we will talk about them in more detail.

  • Starting with the question about being a middle school teacher and getting involved with the National Writing Project.
  • Us as (digital) teachers and (digital) writers
  • Definitions and understandings of literacy
    • In what ways can you discuss what it means to be literate so that others in our school/district will be more open to the idea of teaching digital literacy? Is all literacy about conversation?
    • Digitalk, code switching, and online conversation
      • Ryan Rish’s point about being dexterous in literacy
    • Where do we strike the balance between technology as a crutch (spelling and grammar, for instance)?
    • Content completion/coverage vs depth — again, where is the balance?
    • Technology just being a “tool” — who decides?
      • We do. My stance is that we need to actively resist technological determinism.
  • Balance
    • Have we fallen into a trap with technology? Do we prefer it?
    • On the other hand…
    • Yes, technology has affordances, but what are the constraints that we should be aware of as well? How do we get beyond the “cool” factor and use technology in ways that are meaningful?
      • I have no hard and fast rule on this, but I suggest that you weigh the time, energy, and usefulness of the task with what the tech can do to add value
      • SAMR and E3 models
  • Creating online opportunities for students
    • How do we help steer students toward more positive aspects of online learning and away from parts of the Internet that are, of course, not good?
    • How can we foster discourse among students across schools? How can we create projects that allow for student choice and building digital projects over time?
  • So, what now?
    • How to manage distractions?
      • Mindfulness and meta cognition
      • Also, some apps and browser extensions can help
    • What are some examples of practical steps both Access and Exodus could take to address their respective problems? How to teach digital literacy in a low income school?
      • Analyze existing infrastructure and policy
      • Focus on specific goals for literacy learning that can (must) be accomplished with use of free or affordable web based tools
      • Design assignments, activities, and assessments that demand collaboration, not just cooperation, using the technology in purposeful ways
      • Plan community events – parent nights, digital media celebrations, etc

Anything else that we should add to this list?


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Hosting #engchat on 1/12/15

Flickr Image

CC Licensed Flickr image from JLM Photography.

As more and more students bring mobile devices to school, we have more opportunities (and challenges) to teach reading and writing, speaking and listening.

For next week’s #engchat conversation (1/12/15 at 7:00 PM EST), join co-authors Jeremy Hyler (@Jeremybballer) and Troy Hicks (@hicsktro) as they share some strategies from their book, Create, Compose, Connect! Reading, Writing and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge/Eye on Education, 2014).

More importantly, we invite you to share your ideas about how best to engage students in authentic literacy activities with smartphones and tablets. Some questions we may pursue during the chat include:

  • What is your school’s policy for mobile technologies? If your school has a BYOD or 1:1 program, how did it begin? If not, what do you want to know in order to start one?
  • What are the literacy skills that mobile technology enable? How are you working with students to develop their skills as readers and writers, listeners and speakers?
  • What lesson ideas do you have for mobile tech — daily, weekly, or just once in awhile — what works for you and your students?

We look forward to creating, composing, and connecting with #engchat colleagues soon!


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Podcast for NCTE’s Language Arts

NCTE's Language Arts

NCTE’s Language Arts

Many thanks to Teri Holbrook for the invitation to talk with her and Franki Sibberson about teaching digital reading and writing in this podcast from NCTE’s Language Arts “Conversation Currents.” The transcript of the interview will appear in the January 2015 issue.

More Thoughts on the Digital Reading/Writing Workshop

Earlier this month, Kristin Ziemke and I co-authored a blog post in response to Nancie Atwell’s blog post about the role of technology in her classroom. In short, the response to our response has been, well, overwhelming and positive. As so many of us in the world of English language arts prepare to head to DC this week for the NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE annual convention, I wanted to capture just a few of the smart, thoughtful, and creative ideas that our colleagues have shared over the past few weeks. A few other edubloggers have jumped in with their insights:

  • Julie Johnson reminds us how “When using technology in thoughtful and authentic ways, our students are given one more avenue for both consuming and producing text.  In a true digital workshop, students have choice in how they read, respond, and write.  Sometimes they choose traditional tools, at other times they chose digital tools.”
  • Franki Sibberson demonstrates that, in a “workshop of the possible,” digital reading and writing are parallel to print literacies because “The key is that the teaching focuses on the writing, not the tool.”
  • Cathy Mere describes the possibilities of what technology can offer her students including the fact that digital tools are “ONE option of many possibilities,” “A way to connect with other learners,” and “A place for students to have a voice TODAY.”
  • Finally, Jessica Lifshitz rethinks how her students work as readers: “Because now we are not just reading alone in our classroom, now we are reading in a great big world of readers. And it feels so much bigger, and better, than just us.”

I want to thank Matt Renwick and Sara Holbrook for their thoughts as well.

Teacher-Writer Network

Teacher-Writer Network

It is simply amazing to me how powerful teachers’ voices can be when we reach out and share our thinking. I look forward to doing much more of this over the coming week at NWP and NCTE 2014, as well as on our new Teacher-Writer Network page on FB.

Thanks again to all of you for sharing your insights on teaching digital reading and writing. Let’s keep the conversation going.


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From Sentence Combining to “Revision Decisions”

Revision Decisions Cover

Image courtesy of Stenhouse

This week, I am happy to be one stop on the blog tour for Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean’s new book, Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond (Be sure to visit stops one, two, and three for some great insights from Stacey, Sarah, and Donalyn, too).

In interest of full disclosure, I was provided an advanced copy of the book by Stenhouse, though I have long been an admirer of Jeff’s work to effectively integrate grammar instruction into the writing workshop and Deborah’s work on genre study and best practices in writing. More importantly, even though I got one for free, you can win a copy, too… read on!

So, it was my pleasure to read their book and converse with them about some related topics.

First, a quick overview of the book from the perspective of an English teacher who was always reluctant to “teach grammar.” I tried to integrate grammar instruction into my mini-lessons and conferences with students, but very rarely could I get beyond the idea of simply introducing my middle schoolers to using commas in a series or, if I was really lucky, to add an appositive phrase. Jeff and Deborah have provided teachers with a road map for how to make grammar instruction, through an alternative form of sentence combining, much more effective than simply winging it during those teachable moments and hoping that something would stick. Indeed, Revision Decisions provides us with the theoretical and practical glue to make grammar lessons meaningful and memorable.

Jeff and Deborah remind us that “Writing is a series of attempts that is often messy — drafting, revising. Many things are tried; some will be fixed, some discarded, and others memorialized in print, making it the best it can be — for now” (17). They encourage us to teach students how to play with language, to make words and phrases move on the page, to help our ideas take shape, reform, and then take shape again. Teaching in this manner is not necessarily easy, because we need to be willing to take risks with our students, playing with language while inviting them, too, to engage in the process. It is important that we provide ample wait time as students explore, remembering that “[t]he most important part of these activities is letting the students discover as much as they can” (44). Jeff and Deborah show us exactly how to do this by offering their DRAFT heuristic (18):

  • Delete unnecessary and repeated words
  • Rearrange sentence parts/chunks
  • Add connectors
  • Form new verb endings
  • Talk it out

Then, in the second half of the book, our co-authors walk us through a number of “lesson sets” which explain these revision decisions in more detail. All in all — and not just because I am a big fan of their previous work — I can say that Revision Decisions will guide my teaching practice as I continue to think about how sentence combining (and, as Jeff and Deborah show, “uncombining”) can be a great teaching strategy.

Second, and equally as interesting, I was able to interview both Jeff and Deborah via email. They provided me with some compelling answers to burning questions that I have about the teaching of grammar. I share my original questions and their responses here:

Question 1: First, as we consider the many ways in which students knowledge of grammar could be assessed, part of our reality is that the new common core tests, as well as other high-stakes tests such as the ACT, are asking students to identify grammatical structures and problems and then reply to a multiple-choice question. How do you balance teaching “revision decisions” with authentic pieces of student work against these constraining types of test questions? In what way are we able to have students transfer their knowledge of grammar from their “revision decisions” into the reality of test prep?

Jeff’s Response:

Jeff Anderson

Jeff Anderson

The cool thing about the concrete acts modeled and experimented with in Revision Decisions is that they are based in a sound research-based instructional methods and help prepare kids for test. Sure, it will work best for critical thinking, revision, and sentence combining questions that students are sure to encounter. It’s not so much about editing; however, since we only use grammatically correct sentences to play with and combine, they are getting exposure to correct texts as they reformulate and revise.

Thinkers. That is what we want our students to be in our classroom, in the world, and even on tests. Thinkers. Thinkers evaluate what best communicates and idea, analyzing, testing it. This is all built into the lesson cycle or progression in Revision Decisions. Based in the Writing Next research on sentence combining, study of models, and collaboration, students will think. Thought requires flexibility, risks, and options. We demonstrate options, we allow students to tinker with and combine sentences, all in the name of making beautiful, rhythmic sense. The concrete doable actions of the DRAFT mnemonic let young revisers in on the concrete things they can do (options) to create effective prose: Deleting, Rearranging, Adding connectors, Forming new verb endings, and the essential piece of Talking it out. Luckily higher standard tests won’t ask students to identify a part of speech or structure, but the applied knowledge they’ll get from sentence combining and revising will set them on a path for success.

Deborah’s Response

Deborah Dean

Deborah Dean

One of the ways I would say the work we present in the book helps prepare students for testing is that Revision Decision work is consistently putting options about writing in front of students and asking them to consider the effects of the different choices, much as the test does. As students and teachers work with making writing choices (revision decisions!), they consider effects, to be sure, but they also consider issues of clarity and, in some cases, correctness—issues the tests focus on. All of these are elements of the decisions writers make. In our classroom talk about choices and effects, a certain amount of talk about correctness is sure to come up: it is, after all, something readers might expect in some writing situations and it is possible for writers to violate expectations for grammar when they are playing around with parts of sentences. Therefore, correctness (or lack of it) also creates an effect that writers need to consider in revision. There is room in this practice for helping students get ready for tests; it is just woven into the talk and decision-making about sentences. Long answer put short: although we don’t focus on correctness directly, it will certainly come up in discussions of choices and their differing communicative effects.

Question 2: Second, just as the Writing Next report indicates that isolated and grammar instruction has a neutral to negative effect on students writing, it also notes that word processing has a positive effect. How could a teacher transfer some of the ideas that you both have shared in your book to a technology–infused lesson? What might you suggest for teachers as they help students use word processing for smarter revisions?

Jeff’s Response

Ack. This one is hard for me. I have lost many a good idea by revising on a word processor program. I do think it’s handy for small stuff, but I have lost things too. I almost always print my writing out at some point, open a new file, copy and paste the section in need of revising. When and if it works, I paste it into my doc. So I guess, sharing my process isn’t a bad way to do that. Wait, I am sharing my own process discovery. That’s writing process, by jove. Also considered a huge plus in the Writing Next research report.

Deborah’s Response

It certainly seems to me that the practice we present in the book works with students who are word processing as well as, if not better than, for those who are writing out their sentences. In fact, one of the challenges of this work is that when students are handwriting, they sometimes don’t like to make multiple versions, “writing the same words over and over.” Some of my students acted as though the physical act of writing was almost painful in these instances. For those students, being able to copy and paste to move sections of sentences around would be a great benefit, allowing them to create more ways to frame the ideas of a sentence with relative ease.

An additional benefit that is available for handwriting but that may be a little less noticeable is the way that copying and pasting helps students to see how ideas group themselves into grammatical structures for movement. It is easier, I think, for them to see a prepositional phrase or verb phrase as a unit if they are moving chunks with a word processor.

Question 3: Finally, though I’m sure it is difficult to pick only one, what grammatical structure do you think most students could learn to use in order to add power and voice to their writing? What is it about that particular grammatical structure that you find so useful? Do you have an example of how an author has used that grammatical structure in a book, essay, or poem?

Jeff’s Response

For me (but Debbie has a love affair with this structure itself. I am surprised we didn’t dedicate the book to right-branching sentences), it is the idea of the right-branching sentences. So primary to both of us that it is Lesson Set 1 in Revision Decisions. Whether a writer adds an appositive to the right of the main sentence or clause or a participial phrase to the right. This is manageable and replicable for both fiction and nonfiction writing. In the book, we reference a sentence by Albert Marrin from Rats!:

A rat can collapse its skeleton, allowing it to wriggle through a hole as narrow as three-quarters of an inch.

The main clause is really expanded by the right-branching modification. This is true in appositives or participial phrases or any other appropriate structure.

Deborah’s Response:

I don’t know for sure how to write the sound I just made.

PPFFFFSH!

It’s a little like asking which is my favorite child. Impossible to answer.

But, okay. I don’t know what Jeff would say, but I would go to participial phrases, I guess. (As soon as I say that I think of dozens of others—should I say appositives????) Why do I find them useful? They allow me to add details; in fact, if I’m thinking about using them, I usually add details I might otherwise leave out, adding those details in concise ways, without duplicating words or making placeholders necessary.

I always remember a passage of Where the Red Fern Grows that we use on pages 103 and 104 in the book. It’s a passage that shows how powerful participles can be (and so does the example on page 105 from Sheinkin’s Bomb). Participles and participial phrases are useful in so many places and in so many texts. We have lots of examples in the book of them—I guess both Jeff and I really are drawn to them.

I thank both Jeff and Deborah for their responses! And, now for the fun part. GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond, courtesy of Stenhouse Publishers.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Revision Decisions, please leave a comment on this post by Monday, November 17th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, who will be contacted via email.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you if you win. Stenhouse will be shipping the book to you, so I will share your mailing address with them.

Thanks to Jeff and Deborah for their timely, useful, and fun approach to teaching revision!


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Creating and Composing in a Digital Writing Workshop

Note: This post, co-authored by Troy Hicks and Kristin Ziemke, has been prepared in response to Nancie Atwell’s blog post about the role of technology in her classroom.


In her recent blog post Nancie Atwell opens up about the role of technology in her classroom.  As a leader in our field of teaching writing, Nancie, suggested that:

I do think classrooms in grades four or five and up should have computers, so kids can experience and experiment with word processing, but I have concerns about them in the younger grades. In fact, I think the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake.

We’re grateful to Nancie for starting this conversation as districts across the country purchase more and more mobile devices without thinking about the pedagogical practices that must go hand-in-hand, if not lead, how we think about using these new tools.  This dialogue is necessary and overdue. Nancie is one of the literacy leaders who has guided our thinking about student writing, the reading and writing workshop approach, and how best to frame our own thinking about the teaching of writing, both of us appreciate and admire Nancie’s work. We respect her opinions about what works in reading and writing classrooms.

Girl Writing on iPad

One of Kristin’s students composing both print and digital writing.

We agree with Nancie that many schools are using technology poorly; instead of embracing redefinition as Dr. Puentedura has advocated for, teachers are often misguided and use digital devices for sight word practice, prompted responses and (sadly) weekly assessment and test prep.  We recognize that there are poor models of classroom technology out there.  We also respect and acknowledge how Nancie employs technology at her school.

However, in this case, we humbly suggest that her opinion on students writing with technology is limited, and we feel compelled to offer a different vision of how students can become digital readers and writers.

First, in the upper grades, we feel that her insistence on computers for word processing is too limiting. Let’s unpack this assumption just a bit. First, though it can feel like our students have their noses stuck in screens for far too long throughout the day, technology is not the enemy here. In fact, word processing is just the beginning of what technology offers to writers. According to leading researchers in the field of K-12 writing instruction, Jill Barshay reports that:

In 83 percent of 30 studies on the use of word processing software, students’ writing quality improved when they wrote their papers on a computer instead of writing by hand. The impact was largest for middle school students, but younger students benefited, too. The theory is that students feel more free to edit their sentences because it’s so easy to delete, add and move text on a computer. The more editing, the better the final essay.

Steve Graham and Delores Perin shared these results in the 2007 Writing Next report, and — sadly — in many K-12 classrooms we still don’t see technology being used for revision and editing in this proven manner. Yet, word processing is just the beginning of what students can, and should, do with computers.

Students with Laptop

Kristin’s students compose using a laptop.

Second, as we dig a bit deeper into Nancie’s claim about using computers only for word processing, we know that there is more to consider. Indeed, we know from our own research, teaching, and professional writing that computers — as well as tablets and smart phones — provide students with countless opportunities for reading and writing. And, when we say “reading” and “writing,” we are talking about both traditional alphabetical texts (books, articles, essays, poems) as well as digital texts including blogs, ebooks, and hypertexts. Our professional organizations — such as NCTE, IRA, and NWP — have been calling for a broadened view of digital literacy for well over a decade. We would hope that Nancie would consider doing so, too.

Now, to unpack the second part of her concern: that “the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake.” While Troy does not have the benefit of being in the classroom everyday with younger students, Kristin does. And, from this experience, she would argue that the primary grades are exactly where kids SHOULD be using technology as it transforms their ability to create, share their ideas and connect with an authentic audience beyond the classroom. In fact, it is essential.

Let us explain a bit more.

In the early childhood years, many students are challenged by the physicality it takes to produce a piece of writing. Ideas are often generated and lost before a young writer can transmit them to the paper. In today’s digital writing workshop, students can scaffold their own development by recording a video snapshot of the story they want to tell. Once the ideas are captured on video, the child can transfer the story to paper while going back to rewatch the video as many times as needed in order to remember and include all the parts of the story.   Video recording tools allow us to meet the writer where he is and nudge him to become a more proficient writer and idea generator.

Using digital publishing tools like the Book Creator App or Little Bird Tales, we find new ways to celebrate active literacy in the classroom as students can draw, write, speak, listen, view and read all within a piece they create. The ease of which a child can add audio to their own book signals to the learner that each child has a story to tell and is the owner of that story. Embedded audio provides a window into the thinking and gives us a picture of what a child knows and is able to do, not merely what their fine motor abilities allow them to produce on paper.

Screenshot of Kristin's class interacting with author Seymour Simon

Screenshot of Kristin’s class interacting on Twitter with author Seymour Simon

Most importantly, technology expands our youngest learners audience as students publish their writing online. Enhanced eBooks, student blogs and classroom Twitter accounts invite primary age students to move beyond the writing wall in the classroom and into a writing world. Feedback from their families, blogging buddies and experts in the field inspires them to write even more. Students view themselves as important contributors to the global writing community and move beyond learning about writing to living life as a writer.

And of course, we provide balance and choice in all we do. We explicitly teach kids that tablets and laptops are tools that writer’s use, just like paper and pencils. We want kids to be intentional about how they choose the tool and think about how the tool enables them to revise, alter the layout and share the writing.

Moreover, these observations extend beyond the early grades. We can point to numerous examples where teachers in upper elementary, middle school, and high school are using digital reading and writing to support their students’ literacy development. As a point of reference for upper el and middle school, we would suggest that Nancie look at some really innovative educators who teach writing with technology such as Kevin Hodgson, Jeremy Hyler and Katharine Hale.

Finally, we suggest that the concerns Atwell suggests are less about her students’ abilities — as well as the capabilities of the devices — and more about her stance as a teacher. Certainly, we want students to feel positive about their reading and writing experiences: reaching fluency with the written word, providing opportunities to talk about books with one another, holding a well-worn novel or favorite pen in our hands. These are tactile, valuable experiences. As she notes, there are social reasons embedded in writing and reading that make these practices both pedagogically useful as they humanize our classrooms.

In this blog post, one of Kristin's students shares her "wonders" as a part of an inquiry project.

In this blog post, one of Kristin’s students shares her “wonders” as a part of an inquiry project.

However, if as teachers we discount the opportunities that crafting digital writing and engaging in digital reading can offer students, then we are doing our students more than a disservice. We are failing to prepare them for academic, workplace, and real life opportunities to engage in literacy practices. This is not about our personal preferences for or against technology. It is about the ways that we teach students to become literate.

We are grateful to Nancie as a thought leader and for her decades of work, as well as for her blog post in which she invites us all to reflect on the role of technology in our classrooms. However, we disagree with her stance that word processing is the only way to use technology in the writing workshop and encourage Nancie and others to rethink how we engage students as writers. We strongly believe the trend of iPads (or any tech) in elementary (or middle or high school classrooms) is, indeed, not a mistake, but a necessity.

Student Response on Twitter

Student Response on Twitter


Photos provided by Kristin Ziemke.

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