Last night, my friend, colleague, and co-author — Dawn Reed — and I were featured on the National Writing Project’s weekly podcast, NWP Radio. Enjoy this episode in which we discuss the interwoven themes of reading, writing, and technology through a conversation about our book, Research Writing Rewired.
This past year, my sabbatical has provided me time to do a number of activities that I don’t normally have the time to do, most notably visiting numerous colleagues in their classrooms. A close second to my interactions with teachers and students around Michigan and the country has been, of course, the opportunity to write.
Along with the articles, chapters, and books that will (eventually) be available, the more immediate products of my work have shown up through blog posts. Each May, CMU faculty are asked to fill out their TPS reports (actually, they are called “OFIS” reports, but I think the point is clear). At any rate, I am making the claim that my blogging this year should go on my service record, and I will make a similar claim in my promotion portfolio next year. So, I had to collect the many posts into a list, and I figured I could share it here, too.
Hope that some of it is useful for you as you prepare your summer reading lists, both print and digital.
Though I first met Meenoo Rami before a National Writing Project retreat in January 2011, it was over that long weekend that my wife, Sara, and I were able to talk with her about a new venture she was beginning, #engchat. I was intrigued by her idea that a weekly chat could be something interesting and useful for English teachers, many of whom were still brand new to Twitter. I knew right away that this would be the first of many conversations with Meenoo, and the past three years have proved me right. Since that conversation, I have hosted #engchat a few times myself, and given it a shoutout at many professional conferences. So, last fall when Meenoo asked me to “blurb” her upcoming book, Thrive, and I gladly obliged. Here is what I’ve already said:
“Meenoo Rami has written the right book at the right time. In an era of corporate education reform, Thrive reminds us of how we, as teachers, need human interaction, intellectual fulfillment, and empathy just as much as our students. Rami encourages us to move beyond the mechanical acts of scripted schooling and mandatory professional development, offering us numerous ways to pursue our own passions and bring them to the classroom. She notes that “the rewards of this work will be paid with your students’ success and engagement.” Filled with practical suggestions, stories from fellow educators, and smart questions, Thrive will reward you as a reader, too.”
—Troy Hicks, author of Crafting Digital Writing
And, now, I want to add one more thing.
I recently asked Meenoo to share her thoughts on this question: “As a digital writer yourself, most notably through your blog and via Twitter, what specific lessons have you learned about digital writing that transfer back to your own students as you teach them how to be better writers?” Her thoughts, as always, demonstrate her compassion and dedication to her students:
There are several things I have learned that have helped me to become a better teacher of writing by actually doing some writing of my own:
Overcoming fear: Whether you share your work with one other person, keep a public blog, or never go beyond writing in a journal, I have come to appreciate how difficult it can be for students to share their work. I am even more committed to building a safe space for writers in my classroom after going through an intense writing period in my life where I worried about doing my best to articulate the ideas that meant so much to me.
Building trust: I think it is so important for me to earn my students trust so that they can share their struggles and fears when it comes to writing. I think I can also earn their trust by being more open about own writing process with them. Writing in front of my students, as I have learned to do so from Kelly Gallagher has fundamentally changed my classroom. I think when my students see me grapple with things in my own writing, they tend to trust me more when I give feedback.
Information vs. Stories: There is no dearth of information in our age today, however, I think we need to think about helping students shape stories out that abundance of information. We readily buy into the idea of the power stories in shaping us, I think we need than take the next step and help our students shape powerful stories based on their experiences and inquiries.
So, if it isn’t clear yet, I would strongly encourage you to get Thrive. In interest of full disclosure, I am a Heinemann author, too, and received a digital pre-print version of the book in order to write the review. Still, I am going to be happy to buy my own copy, and share with my colleagues this summer as well. I hope you do, too.
Last night, I had a Skype conversation with students of my friend and colleague, Carl Young, who are taking a course on teaching composition and reading The Digital Writing Workshop. It was a robust conversation, and they had really smart questions.
I have, with permission, simply copied and pasted the text from their original wiki page with questions and pasted it here as a resource, without much editing. Hopefully their questions — and my answers — are useful for you, as well as the links.
As a culminating experience to our reading of The Digital Writing Workshop, please add your questions below for Troy.
How do you reconcile the differences of technique in professional writing and the typical writing seen in digital channels? (i.e., professional vs. entertainment blogs, etc.) – Elisha
As with all kinds of writing, I think that this is a good opportunity to talk about audience, purpose, and situation. Clearly, a paparazzi report on a celebrity from TMZ has a different purpose than would an interview on NPR. So, I think that it is valuable to see what digital texts are produced by different individuals and organizations, then prompt students to think critically and carefully about what the writing is and why it was composed in the manner that it was.
In a recent chapter I co-authored, we distinguished some of this as a difference between “focused writing” and “writing-by-the-way.” If you are interested in hearing more about this, I can share the chapter with you.
What are some tips you have to teach students that good digital writing is similar to that of a well researched paper or report? – Elisha
All of us can agree that writing is a process, whether a traditional research paper or a web page or a digital story. So, helping students become aware of their processes — as well as strengths and weaknesses in these processes — is crucial.
Which would you recommend for an upper elementary teacher to use for digital writing a wiki or blogs? – Amy
Honestly, it depends on what task you are hoping to have your students accomplish. I’ve seen teachers and kids do great work in both spaces, and we can talk about the advantages and disadvantages of both. For blogs, you might want to look at Kidblogs as a tool and for wikis I am a Wikispaces fan.
How can we use digital writing workshop in mixed classrooms where tiered or scaffolded instruction is necessitated without creating numerous lesson plans? What pedagogical value does it add? Lee
In a very real sense, writing workshop is all about differentiation. You are teaching mini-lessons that are responsive to the general needs of the class and then conferring with individuals or small groups of writers. Layering in the digital writing component opens up additional choices for students in terms of producing and publishing their work.
One way to do this work without going overboard would be to, quite literally, have students help you find resources based on the tool they are learning. There are, for instance, there are at least 15 tutorials for using Kidblog that show up in a search on YouTube. As you work with your students through various digital writing projects, I would ask them to help curate a list of high quality resources, and then organize one wiki page with links to all of them.
Does digital writing technology appeal to various individual’s natural or habitual pattern of acquiring and processing information, allowing students to augment knowledge and information, not just utilize digital writing, and how can we predetermine if it will fit a classes learning abilities? Lee
If I am understanding your question here, basically you are asking if we can figure out ways to engage students in authentic work and not simply using technology for technology’s sake, right? I would encourage you to watch Joel Malley’s video about how he teaches in a digital writing workshop. It is highly adaptive, yet he still has clear objectives for what he wants students to accomplish.
In your book you reference particular web sites that help support Digital Writing Workshops. Given how quickly technology changes, are there any new sites that you would recommend which were not available when the book was published? (Guen)
How do you manage a digital portfolio for your students? Since we do expect students to type and compose using computers now, is there a system that is best to track changes and keep all of a student’s writing in one place? (Shannon W)
Personally, I am a huge fan of Google Apps for Ed, and students can produce a portfolio using Google Sites. If you are looking for a tool to specifically track changes in writing, Google Docs has a “track changes” plugin now. In a broader sense, I would encourage you to think about how students could reflect on their writing by using screencasting to give you a virtual “tour” of their digital portfolios, reflecting on their growth.
How do you assess your students? Rubrics? Final product or during the process or both? (Shannon W)
If I had it my way, I would only assess process, and only in formative ways. But, I don’t, and grades have to be earned eventually. So, I do try to use lots of feedback while in process, very little at the end. I work with students to develop criteria for writing projects and, yes, those often turn into rubrics. Still, I do try to balance out the final product grade that I assign with a students’ own reflection and, sometimes, self-evaluation.
Do you advocate a balance between digital writing and traditional print writing, or do you feel they require the same process? (Jen H)
If anything, I am pragmatic. Sometimes, it is simply easier to have students pull out pen and paper to write me a quick note in class rather than have them turn to the computer and send me an email, if it means that they need to get logged in, boot up a web browser, etc. However, if they are already online, then sending an email or sharing a Google Doc could be easier. So, I generally lean digital, but I am pragmatic, too.
In terms of the debates about whether we should still teach handwriting/cursive, and the effects that has on the brain as compared to word processing, well… I will leave that for the neuroscientists to decide.
How much time should a teacher spend teaching the technology aspect of digital workshops? (Jen H)
Just like any other element of craft, I think that you teach the technology in small bursts, as mini-lessons. Or, again, look to the resources that exist online, especially screencast tutorials, and help students figure out their own tech support questions. While you have time with them in class, you want to talk with them about crafting their writing in effective ways, which may include some technical components, but you don’t want to get hung up on tech support.
Not all students have access to technology at home. Do you feel this puts them at a disadvantage in a writing workshop since others have time in class as well as at home to work on their writing? (Jen H)
Yes, of course, there are varying levels of privilege in our classrooms. Still, when looking at the most recent reports from Pew Internet, the vast majority of people are online, and I feel that the responsibility we have to teach digital literacy is significant. As I have heard many times before, it is terrible that we have a society where some kids don’t come to school with breakfast, or proper clothes, or other needs (like internet) met. But, we still have a responsibility to teach the masses, and being digitally literate is a huge part of that.
In our study of teaching writing, we have used Twitter as a tool for connecting with a community of writers and writing teachers. What other digital tools do you use to stay connected to the community of writing teachers? (Shannan K.)
So glad to know that you are using Twitter! I really enjoy using Flipboard as a tool for reading and sharing all kinds of news, especially related to education. I am pretty fond of a few key “hubs” for educators, too, including Edutopia, BAM Radio, and TeachThought. I try to stay on top of the ideas discussed in these spaces, and follow links to educators that they recommend. Also, watch for “events” that happen, whether a regular Twitter chat, a face-to-face EdCamp, or some online happening like the Slice of Life Challenge. Get involved with other educators online and they will reciprocate.
What criteria do you use to evaluate the effectiveness and usefulness of a digital tool as a teacher and as a writer? (Shannan K.)
The tool has to fit into my teaching/writing life in a seamless and useful manner. Seamless and useful doesn’t mean that there won’t be a learning curve, because there always is, no matter what the tool. The cut that the tool has to make for me is whether or not it will fit into my workflow and, ultimately, make my digital life more productive and useful. If it is just something gimmicky, then I generally steer clear. I can talk more about some of the tools that I use in both teaching and writing.
Also, I was honored to be asked to begin a new podcast series on BAM’s Pulse Network. Designed as a tool to help every educator begin sharing his or her own voice, I wanted to make sure that I was using the new show as an opportunity to talk with teachers, not just at them. Fortunately, around the same time, I was in an email conversation with Katharine Hale, an outstanding young teacher that I met last year at a conference in Rhode Island. We had been talking about various ideas she has for integrating technology into the reading and writing workshop, many of which she shares on her blog: TEaCHitivity.
In the first episode, Katharine and I discuss some of the shifts that she has seen happening in her instruction this year while working to integrate iPads into her 5th grade classroom.
Then, in our second episode, we discuss how Katharine is conceptualizing the idea of “flipped learning” as a crucial component of her reading and writing workshop.
Each episode hovers at about the ten minute mark (a specific and intentional technical limitation of the BAM site), so each episode is short and sweet. Here is the RSS feed for the show notes, where I will provide links to the audio for each episode, too.
Of course, we are interested in your thoughts and questions, and we will also soon be looking for some guests. Please give them a listen and let us know what you think!