What Are Your Best Practices in Digital Literacy?

What are your best practices in digital literacy? If you — or a K-12 classroom ELA educator that you know — are doing exceptional work and might be interested in being interviewed during the month of October or November 2021, please fill out the form linked in this post.

Students at Sutton Middle School use online research to answer questions during a lesson in history class. Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages. As we transition from “emergency remote teaching” and into a new era of hybrid learning that embraces technology more fully, I am working on a chapter for an edited collection that will share classroom case studies of best practices in digital literacy.

Beyond lessons that are just digitally delivered because they must be, I am looking for exceptional examples of K-12 ELA teachers inviting their students to engage in digital literacy practices that NCTE describes as “interconnected, dynamic, and malleable.” I wonder: how are you encouraging students to engage in active inquiry, connected reading, media literacy, and digital writing in ways that support authentic literacy learning?

If you — or a K-12 classroom educator that you know — are doing exceptional work and might be interested in being interviewed during the month of October or November via WebEx (video call or phone call-in), please take a moment to complete this brief Google form between now and October 15, 2021. I will get back to you about a possible interview after mid-October.

Thanks for spreading the word and sharing your work.

Thanks,
Troy Hicks
Central Michigan University


Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Marshall Memo Summary: Helping Elementary Students As They Use Digital Writing Prompts

In this article in Language Arts, Holly Marich (a Nevada professional development coordinator) and Troy Hicks (Central Michigan University) suggest ways that elementary teachers can help students make the best use of word processing tools like spell check, autocorrect, predictive text, automatic grammar feedback, and voice dictation.

NOTE: With permission of thanks to Kim Marshall of “The Marshall Memo,” a summary of my recent article with Holly Marich is shared here.

Helping Elementary Students As They Use Digital Writing Prompts

In this article in Language Arts, Holly Marich (a Nevada professional development coordinator) and Troy Hicks (Central Michigan University) suggest ways that elementary teachers can help students make the best use of word processing tools like spell check, autocorrect, predictive text, automatic grammar feedback, and voice dictation. “Many educators bemoan digital technology as an unnecessary distraction or even a sophisticated form of cheating,” say Marich and Hicks. “But it’s important to recognize that the choices these tools force writers to face matter, both for writers and for writing instructors.”

Marich spent time in a second-grade class in which the teacher regularly gave students the opportunity to write two sentences in the class’s Twitter account on what they were learning, why they were learning it, how they would use the information, and questions they wanted to ask. The teacher checked students’ tweets before they were posted and conducted individual mini-lessons on usage and content as she circulated. Marich observed a number of “micro-moments” when students got digital feedback on their tweets. Four examples:

  • A student started to write This and the predictive feature inserted The. The boy deleted the whole word and took a few moments correctly typing This and completing his sentence. He needed help dealing more quickly with the predictive text suggestion.
  • A student decided to use the iPad’s speech recognition feature (he’d learned about it on his grandmother’s computer) and quickly found the correct spelling of the word giraffe. Some students may bring sophisticated knowledge to the classroom and teachers need to teach when it’s allowed and appropriate.
  • A student misspelled a word in her tweet, got the correct spelling from Marich, then chose to ignore at least one incorrect predictive-text prompt – peas for piece. This student needed more teacher guidance on spotting words incorrectly suggested by the predictive feature.
  • A student spelled lizard incorrectly – first listed, then liserd – and spent several minutes brainstorming about possible words, ultimately finding the correct one. In the process she thought creatively about her reptile project.

Marich and Hicks acknowledge that it’s impossible for a teacher to be looking over every student’s shoulder and providing everyone with just-in-time suggestions. But teachers can give some general words of wisdom for students as digital tools pop up during their writing, encouraging them to ask themselves:

  • What do I know about the sound or letter that’s being suggested?
  • Do I like this word choice?
  • Do I agree with this suggestion?
  • What do I as a writer plan to do with this information?

“These are genuine dialogues with students that help them think deeply about their work as digital writers and the relationships they have with their devices,” say Marich and Hicks. “Before simply clicking without a thought on automated suggestions or corrections, we need to help our students pause to question the algorithms that are influencing them. In this way, we teach them to be critical, creative, and persistent writers and problem solvers, one micro-moment at a time.”

“Writerly Decisions in Micro-Moments of Composition: Digital Tools and Instructional Opportunities for Elementary Writers” by Holly Marich and Troy Hicks in Language Arts, July 2021 (Vol. 98, #6, pp. 330-339); the authors can be reached at holmarich@gmail.com and hickstro@gmail.com.


Permission to share this summary was granted by Kim Marshall. Please seek further permissions by emailing him at<kim.marshall48@gmail.com>.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages. CC BY-NC 4.0

CCIRA Podcast (July 22, 2021)

Troy Hicks, professor of English and Education at Central Michigan University, former middle school language arts teacher, and Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project shares about New Literacies in the classroom.

Have you listened to CCIRA Literacy Conversations yet?

Thanks to Molly Rauh and Jessica Rickert for the opportunity to talk about teaching, writing, and technology with the @ColoradoReading podcast!

(Link to episode and show notes.)

The “Roumy Cheese Analogy” for Teaching Writing

As part of her keynote, Dr. Maha Bali invited us to build on Ian M. MacKay’s “Swiss cheese model applied to COVID19 prevention” to think about application to writing pedagogy and the use of these tools, as well as systematic and individual challenges that might inhibit our work.

As an inquiry group of about two dozen educators, teacher consultants from four National Writing Project Sites have gathered together in monthly meetings over the 2020-21 school year to explore what we have broadly named “writing assistance technologies” and their impacts on our teaching, our students’ writing, and the field of teaching writing more broadly. This project has been named “Ahead of the Code” and, yesterday, we met for an open conference, inviting colleagues to join in our inquiry, making our practice public, and sharing some ideas from our exploration of tools ranging from grammar and spelling checkers to automated essay scoring. 

What I found most compelling about our conversations from the day is that many of the questions that teachers have explored this year have moved beyond our initial queries such as “what are these tools” and “how might I use them” into deeper, more substantive questions about what these tools really are, algorithmically, how they work with assumptions about academic language, and what purposes they ultimately serve. There were a number of creative ways that these educators have been pushing on the edges of writing assistance technologies that would previously have been seen as confining (e.g., inviting students to choose the writing assistance tool that they feel will best help them rather than being assigned a particular tool) as well as rethinking the use of these tools to make them better fit in a process-oriented pedagogy (e.g., using peer review tools at the sentence-level to offer feedback on compound and complex construction, rather than essay-level feedback, which can feel overwhelming). My hope is that more of their reflections (and resources from the sessions) will appear on our group’s blog soon. 

As part of our day, we were welcomed in a keynote with Dr. Maha Bali (@bali_maha), an Associate Professor of Practice at the American University in Cairo’s Center for Learning and Teaching, whose work includes posts in Hybrid Pedagogy and as a founder of Equity Unbound. As part of her keynote, our conference planning team had worked with her to think through the keynote session, and she wanted to build on Ian M. MacKay’s “Swiss cheese model applied to COVID19 prevention” to think about application to writing pedagogy and the use of these tools, as well as systematic and individual challenges that might inhibit our work. Though we didn’t quite have enough time to think through the version I created during the keynote talk (as she had us engaged in a great breakout room discussions with one of the Liberating Structures protocols), I did want to share some brief thoughts here, as well as my image. 

Roumy Cheese Analogy for Teaching Writing - Hicks
Roumy Cheese Analogy for Teaching Writing (Created by Troy Hicks with a template from Maha Bali)

As I constructed my version of the Roumy Cheese model, I tried to think systemically about where we find ourselves with writing instruction, broadly, and with the use of writing assistance tools. That said, I didn’t make notation of the tools in my model. Instead, I focused on the context in which we find ourselves teaching writing, which includes diverse causes of inequity in the teaching of English that include the need for Linguistic Justice (Baker-Bell) and a long-held recognition of Students’ Rights to their Own Language (NCTE/CCCC); these both not the ways that teachers must balance the tension between students’ home languages and dialects, some of which can be seen as conflicting with more commonly-held conceptions of “academic” or “proper” English. With that, I took the “larger” to “smaller” approach as I moved left-to-right, beginning with school culture and the prevalence of the workshop structure in ELA classrooms, broadly, on the far left, and then to some of the ideas from Graham et al.’s work on the use of “model-practice-reflect” and explicit strategy instruction, heading toward the middle. 

Continuing to the right, I thought that we should look at moves that individual teachers make during workshop instruction including an analysis of mentor texts, effective design of transparent assignments, and generative (as compared to punitive) grading policies and practices. Then, we move further into individual teacher decision-making, we think about the ways that students build in intentional time for conferring and scaffolding intentional peer feedback. These moves inside the classroom are then supported by timely and effective feedback outside the classroom, too, the final slice on the right, and the best way to support student writers as they continue to learn and grow. 

Of note, I don’t talk too much about any particular writing assistance technology in my model. If there are moments where these technologies could be used (at a system-wide, school-wide, grade-level, or individual teacher level), my argument is that a skilled teacher can probably figure out a way to do so (even if the use of the tool, such as a grammar checker or plagiarism detection service might be used in a way that is slightly at odds with the way that it was originally intended to be used). For instance, we talked during the conference about how we might take a gamified grammar experience and invite students to think not only about correcting errors (like fixing commas in a series), yet also taking those model sentences and adapt them to one’s own writing. Or, another colleague talked about how she had students choose a writing assistance technology to focus on one element (concision, for instance, with the Hemingway editor), and then would be encouraged to pick a different technology and focus the next time, such as a grammar checker. 

There is probably a place to think about the writing assistance technologies in a more explicit manner by layering them into the Roumy Cheese Analogy. That will need to wait, for now. Again, I thank Maha Bali for introducing it to us as a way to stretch our thinking about systematic challenges we face in education. And, as we move from the questions about what the tools are to more substantive questions about how to use them (and repurpose them from their original use), I am encouraged to see the ways that we can continue to stay “ahead of the code.”


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CFP: Better Practices: Experts and Emerging Instructors Explore How to Better Teach Writing in Online and Hybrid Spaces

those that teach high school students preparing for college, as well as those at two- and four-year institutions — continue to extend and adapt their teaching practices in a post-pandemic world, we know that there are still no “best” practices, yet we continue to get better. We want to learn from you! http://bit.ly/better-practices

Better Practices FlyerAs online literacy instructors — including those that teach high school students preparing for college, as well as those at two- and four-year institutions — continue to extend and adapt their teaching practices in a post-pandemic world, we know that there are still no “best” practices, yet we continue to get better. We want to learn from you!

In this edited collection, we invite co-authors to propose chapters that explore on-the-ground practices anchored in research and expertise in online writing instruction, delivered in formats that are easy to read and immediately applicable by new-and-aspiring online teachers. We ask that all contributors draw from the OLI principles as outlined by either GSOLE or CCCCs and are informed by at least one other guiding document of your choice that fits the theme of your chapter and your teaching context (e.g., CCCC Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing, NCTE Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing, WPA/NCTE/NWP Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, etc.). 

Each chapter within this digital publication will include course materials, accompanying text where authors narrate their experience and reflect on course content, and video interviews. Each chapter will be co-authored by an expert in online writing instruction specializing in the particular theoretical approach alongside a colleague teaching the approach for the first time. This parallel view offers readers expert knowledge of research-based practices as well as insights into the questions and challenges new instructors will encounter as they apply this approach for the first time.

Topics/themes to be explored could include: 

  • Ungrading/Contract grading
  • International/Global Contexts
  • Support for Multilingual Writers
  • Design and Accessibility 
  • Social Justice and Anti-Racism
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • Reading/Literacy Support
  • WAC/WID Initiatives
  • Multimodal/Digital Composition
  • Bridge or Accelerated Learning
  • Or, other writing-related topics

Proposals, submitted via Google Form, should include the following:

  • Contact information for both co-authors (name, institutional affiliation, position, email)
  • The broad topic(s) or theme(s) of online literacy instruction better practice(s) that will be addressed in the chapter
  • Brief overview of theories/scholarship that inform your teaching and this practice (apx 250 words)
  • A description of your online teaching context and students (apx 250 words)
  • A description of the “better practice” and how you implement it (apx 250 words)

Proposals due May 31st with editors notifying authors by July 15, 2021.

Authors of accepted proposals will be invited to participate in an iterative, inquiry-driven process of chapter development throughout the fall of 2021. Instead of drafting chapters in isolation, the community of contributors will regularly meet to discuss practices, draft chapters, and give feedback. Attendance is, of course, voluntary, though highly encouraged. At the end of this process, authors should have a complete initial draft of their chapter. 

Please submit by entering the necessary information into this Google form.  

Please contact editors Amy Cicchino (atc0057@auburn.edu) and Troy Hicks (troy.hicks@cmich.edu) with any additional questions. PDF Version of Flyer

Resources from Moving Writers Forward: Using (Free) Dictation, Audio and Screencasting Technologies to Provide Feedback

Moving Writers Forward

Using (Free) Dictation, Audio and Screencasting Technologies to Provide Feedback

Webinar for CMU’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

When they are engaged in the writing process, students need timely, specific and goal-oriented feedback. During this workshop, we will briefly discuss research-based elements of successful writing instruction that focus on feedback. We will then explore how to make textual feedback more efficient with a comment bank and voice-to-text dictation, audio recordings and screencasts to efficiently provide feedback to our writers.

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash
Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Resources to Try


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Renewing Revision – Teaching Targeted Peer Review – MRA 2018

Renewing Revision: Teaching Targeted Peer Review

2018 Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference

Saturday, March 17, 1:00 – 2:00 PM

Room 251 B

Resources to Try

Resources from MACUL (March 9, 2018)

Here, please find resources for my workshops at MACUL 2018 on March 9.


Friday, 10:00 – 11:30

Now I See It: Integrating Video Tools

Many districts are currently implementing BYOD and 1:1 models to support blended and online learning, often on different platforms and different devices. Because of this, video is coming to the forefront as a primary tool for teachers. Teachers are utilizing video for instruction, remediation, and assessment. They are creating their own videos, using others’ videos to provide content for students, and having students create their own video artifacts. Thinking about how to assess student learning of the content they watch – as well as content that they create – is critical, and teachers must be aware of tools that can support both formative and summative assessment. During this workshop, we will learn how to use a wide range of resources to create videos through screencasting and animation, provide feedback quickly and easily on videos, use video for assessment, and use video to create community and support discussions.

Still need other options? Search on AlternativeTo.

Special promotion sponsored by MyVRSpot.

Resources from MACUL (March 8, 2018)

Here, please find resources for my workshops at MACUL 2018 on March 8.


Thursday, 10:00 – 11:00

From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age

Studies about Grammar

Tech Tools for Future Use in the Classroom

Books by Troy and Jeremy

Other Links 

Additional Reading Resources


Thursday, 3:00 to 4:30

Renewing Revision: Teaching Targeted Peer Review

Resources to Try

Recording of “Exploring the Craft of Digital Writing, Grades 2–8”

Enjoy this archived recording of “Exploring the Craft of Digital Writing, Grades 2–8” with Dr. Troy Hicks and the Center for the Collaborative Classroom.

More and more, our students encounter a daily dose of digital texts, ranging from websites to social-media messages, from class assignments to YouTube videos. As they encounter these texts, what are the strategies that they need to be close, critical readers and viewers? Moreover, as students craft their own digital writing, what do they need to be able to do as writers, producers, and designers?

Resources from the Session

Additional Resources


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