Digital Mentor Text #5: “Changing Education Paradigms”

As we continue to look at professionally produced videos as digital mentor texts, the fifth video genre that I want to explore is what I would, for lack of better term, call “infotainment with a creative twist.” I mean this less in the sense of “soft journalism,” as described in this Wikipedia entry, and more in the sense of information presented in a creative manner that — while not exclusive to the internet — is powerfully enabled by distribution on the internet.

For instance, the often-humorous, yet clearly-written and produced “Common Craft” videos offer overviews of many technology-related topics, all “in plain English.” I use them all the time in workshops and courses.

Another slightly different (and more “live action”) take on the genre has been made popular by sites like eHow, which also uses videos, and who knows how many individual examples of how-to videos on YouTube and other video sharing sites. In short, people can make videos about how to make stuff, or do stuff, and they keep on making those videos.

One of the interesting takes on this kind of video comes from the group RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and their RSA Animate series. What I find amazing about these videos (besides the animation itself) is that they are, in many ways, born of the collaborative, open nature of the internet. For instance, the video below is crafted from Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Talk (he also does a similar talk on TED), which was made available online, for free, and then adapted to this animated storyboard. For a little more info on how the videos are made, check out this (and other) forums on Quora, this overview on Cognitive Media’s site, or this interview with Abi Stephenson from the production team. So, on to the video…

As an exercise in visual literacy, then, I wonder how we can use RSA Animate — “scribing” ideas as they are spoken to create a visual synthesis — as a digital mentor text for students. Some possible questions:

  • As you view the video, note which concepts are drawn and which are printed as text. Why would the scribe make that choice for each of the different ideas?
  • What are the drawings representative of? Are they meant to be literal or symbolic? How is the main speaker represented?
  • There is very minimal use of color in the video, so what does the use of color say about the importance of ideas? What is emphasized through the use of color?
  • When the scribe chooses to write words that are not spoken (for instance, at about the :54 second mark when writing, in a speech balloon, “I know where I am from”), what meaning does that add to the spoken text and the visual synthesis as a whole?
  • At about 1:15, notice the animation of the baton and the hearts. How does this contribute to/detract from the “scribing” approach that has been used up to that point in the film?
  • At about 2:23, notice how the scribe changes one of the existing characters in the scene. How does this approach work as compared to drawing an entirely new character?
  • From about 3:40 to 5:50, the scribe draws a map, most likely one similar to what the speaker used in his actual talk. How does the scribe’s representation of (and additions to) the map accentuate the speaker’s point in ways that he may not have been able to do himself in the live speech?
  • The editing of the actual speech from about 9:10 to 9:46 leaves out the subsequent statistics from the speaker’s talk and the scribe does not write them down and, at about 9:50, begins making a claim about the results. What are the challenges in making meaning from this?
  • At the very end of the video, what effect does the camera panning back and out on the entire visual synthesis have for you as a viewer? Would a different panning/zooming strategy have been more effective for you?

Also, we can consider stop motion, as Kevin and others in our series this week have shared. Punya Mishra, for instance, has worked with his own children to create a wonderful series of stop-motion videos highlighting ideas about creativity. This led to a series of stop motion videos we produced this summer in MSU’s MAET program, too, as well as this one that I did with my own children. Although these videos do not rely on narration, specifically the type of natural speaking that occurs in the RSA lectures, they do require digital writers to think carefully about the story being told. With the right kinds of questions from a thoughtful teacher, those decisions can be seeds for great discussions about the storytelling process.

Finally, when thinking about the possibilities for creating videos, I also wonder how we might invite students to construct infographics and, via screencasting, capture their thoughts. Almost like a kinetic type construction of an infographic. Hmm…

I hope to get one more digital mentor text tomorrow and, over the weekend, some reflections on what I have read from everyone else’s posts this week.

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Digital Mentor Text #4: “Size Matters Not”

Here we are, midweek, in our series on mentor texts in the digital writing workshop, and I’m feeling just a bit left out in the sense that I’ve chosen to focus on professional mentor texts in that I am not commenting on student work like BillKatieKevinTony and Franki are. The thinking on these topics so far has been awesome, and it will take me quite a while to actually go back and digest everything they’ve shared from the writing to watching the videos and viewing the projects that they and their students have done.  In particular, Tony’s post today about how his students use visual literacy to revise a slide —  as well as showing the relevant screen captures from that revision process — are wonderful!

But, I digress, and I must return to a much more important topic: Star Wars.

Yes, Star Wars.

For many of my generation, there are very important decisions to be made about how we introduce Star Wars to our students and especially to our own children.  Studying the hero’s journey, and helping them realize that the main protagonist in the Star Wars saga is not Luke Skywalker, but instead Anakin Skywalker, is not just an exercise in pop culture literacy, as the Wikipedia entry on Darth Vader demonstrates.  Even though my own children have seen all six episodes of the saga, and can recite the lyrics to the Weird Al song that came out with episode one, it really has been quite interesting to watch the saga with them again. And, despite the quite humorous nature of the public service announcement from the link above, it really has been an interesting discussion with kids to help them think about how characters are portrayed as well as their motivations as we watch the Blu-Ray versions together (a hearty post-Christmas thanks to my wife for the discs, and my dad for the new player!).  And, yes, for the record, we did start with episode four.

Anyway, I digress again, because the real point of this digital mentor text exploration is about the use of kinetic type. If you’re not familiar with the phrase “kinetic type” or “kinetic typography,” then you are certainly familiar with the concept, defined succinctly here from Wikipedia: “an animation technique mixing motion and text to express ideas using video animation.” You’ve likely seen kinetic type in the series of Ford commercials narrated by Denis Leary, and even politicians (or, at the very least, their PR people) are getting into the kinetic type game. My colleague and mentor Danielle DeVoss introduced me to the concepts of kinetic type quite some time ago, and has captured a great collection of resources in the NWP Digital Is website. Inspired by that collection, Kevin created his own resource, too, that outlines the process he used to create a kinetic type-style poem.

So, this fourth mentor text is a favorite of mine, and given that we are right in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back, perfect timing.

The force is strong in that example… 🙂

There are a few points from the video that, as a digital mentor text, encourage me to think about how we can ask students to connect and represent characters, dialogue, setting, plot, and other narrative elements through the use of kinetic type. Rather than try to plot out every possible question that this one segment of dialogue from Yoda — and this kinetic interpretation of it — could raise for us as readers/viewers of both Empire and the entire saga, I will just make some points here about the way the this digital text has been constructed. For each, you could simply ask “why did the digital writer make this choice,” and how that could lead to further discussion:

  • As the video begins, notice the choice of font, color, and background. How do these choices situate this remixed text within the larger discourse of Star Wars?
  • At about the :04 second mark, “judge” as a verb appears in a much larger font and is then eclipsed by the even-larger “Hmmm?” followed by the disappearing question mark. What does that say about Yoda’s beliefs?
  • At about the :12 second mark, notice how the word “for” appears and then changes to “force.” How is that symbolic of the ways in which the Force is described?
  • From the :13 to :15 frames, notice how the word “ally” is used and the scope of the camera angle on the original text changes. What does this say about the role of the Force and Yoda’s larger purpose for this speech to Luke?
  • From :20 to :24, pat attention to the period and it’s relation to the word “us.” How might that be used as a way to discuss Yoda’s grammar?
  • From :27 to :29, notice how the “S” connects the words “binds,” “us,” and “luminous.” Along with the lighting effect on the word “luminous,” why else might the digital writer have used the “s” as a connection point?
  • How does the rotation of the text from :26 to :31, as well as the tone in Yoda’s voice, affect you as a viewer?
  • At :51, how does the text change to indicate a conclusion?

My hope is that you could look for similar types of moves that digital writers make in other kinetic typography, and use those as mentor texts, too. There are plenty out there, although not all are appropriate for school.

Last, yet certainly not least, I want to point you to another resource created by a teacher, Jillian Johnson, from earlier this summer when I taught in France for MSU. In her efforts to “hit the sweet spot” of TPACK, she made this instructional screencast about hacking PPT to create kinetic type, using Kevin’s resource on Digital Is, as well as his poem, as a text to build from.

More tomorrow…

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Revision note (1/13/12): Reading Tony’s post that referenced this one of mine, I realized that I didn’t go back to do a really good proofreading of my writing. I had used MacSpeech Dictate to get much of the text from my head onto the screen, and totally overlooked “genetic typography.” Whoops! I changed it to the correct term, “kinetic typography.”

Digital Mentor Text #3: “The Power of Words”

My third contribution to the digital mentor text series centers on the idea of creating a short, live action film. As I mentioned in my post last week, and Franki reiterated, so many times in video production we give students the camera and simply hope that something good comes from it. As (digital) writers, we need to help them become much more intentional about their storytelling.

This short film, “The Power of Words,” went viral (I first saw it from a forwarded email). Sadly, the concept was not original, yet this short commercial gained more traction than the original short movie, “Historia de un letrero, The Story of a Sign.” Yet, that is part of what makes this digital mentor text — an imitation or, more artistically stated, an homage — so interesting. Matt Eventoff has outlined a number of key points related to the construction of the film (as well as implications for public speaking and advertising), so I won’t repeat all of them here, and Lou Hoffman interviews the filmmaker, who acknowledges the influence of the original film. Take a moment to view the video, then let’s think about how we can watch this as a digital mentor text.

There are times when we ask our students to imitate published authors, and to do so quite intentionally. We recognize this not as an act of plagiarism, but as a way for them to study and learn technique. It is interesting to think about the different teachable moments that could come from this conversation about the idea itself — and whether it is “unique” as an intellectual property — as well as about the media employed in the film, thus raising questions about copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. In academia, it is so ironic that we are all about enforcing the idea that students come up with original writing and that they don’t steal the words of someone else, yet we cram five-paragraph essays and scripted research papers down their throats. If we invite them to imitate a digital mentor text, we need to help them learn how to do it appropriately, and do it well.

I think that this film, as an imitation of another Cannes Festival short, can tell help us generate a number of important questions about when, how, and why we may want to use imitation. Obviously, there are so many examples of what we could want our students to do ranging from movie trailers to PSAs, yet the idea of creating a short film, especially one that imitates an existing film, could be useful for a variety of reasons.

  • What are the decisions that the digital writers will have to make about the characters, setting, dialogue, framing, pacing, and other related elements of the film itself? How might you adapt this to your own context?
  • What is the main message from the original film and how is that message conveyed? Are there elements in the original film that could be replaced? What must stay the same?
  • In what ways can you construct a complete narrative to fit within a certain timeframe, both in terms of the time you have to film it as well as the total length you want for the film? (This reminds me, in some way, of creating a six word story).
  • What are the rhetorical techniques at play in this film? Why did the filmmaker(s) construct it in the manner that he/she/they did? What can you, as a digital writer, learn from that construction?

So, those are some thoughts on this short film, one that was created in the image of another short film. If the film itself doesn’t raise some questions for you, then I at least hope that this idea of imitation — when, how, and why to use imitation — certainly does.

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Digital Mentor Text #2: Dove’s “Evolution”

For the second professionally created digital mentor text, I will focus on Dove’s Evolution Video, part of their Campaign for Real Beauty. (This version posted is from the director, which doesn’t allow for embedding; the version below is another one that does allow embedding, although it isn’t as high of quality, despite the name. Sorry).

As with many topics, Wikipedia offers some interesting background and critical analysis of this video specifically, as well as Dove’s campaign for real beauty in light of the many products and advertising campaigns of their parent company, Unilever. On the surface, a feminist reading/viewing of this digital mentor text might suggest that it is, indeed, a powerful message for women about the construction of beauty and the pervasive influence of advertising. Yet, a critical approach would force us to look deeper at the larger corporate interests behind the Dove brand and question whether or not the real message is something different. In either case, a great follow up to this video is Jean Kilbourne‘s documentaries, such as Killing Us Softly 3. At any rate, the video.

Of course, a video like this invites both imitation and parody, also forcing us to think about critical media literacy and the effects of advertising. There are a number of great resources on these issues including AdBusters, Renee Hobbs’ work with the Media Education Lab, and Common Sense Media, to name just a few. This also invites me to think about how students can use Hackasuarus to create hacked versions of websites in order to create critiques and parody. Three particular points about the production of this video that I find interesting:

  • Time lapse/showing a process: Clearly, there hundreds if not thousands of videos that show time lapse photography and demonstrate the way in which a process occurs. For instance, my children absolutely love watching “How It’s Made,” and the plethora of nature films and cityscapes that show clouds, cars, and people moving by have a strong appeal to us as viewers. When Bill presented at NCTE,  he talked about time lapse is one of the ways filmmakers can show a story, or at least part of the story, and I think that this short, effective film does a great job of doing just that.
  • Screencasting: When The film shifts from the model and the photo shoot over to the computer in the graphic design program, it moves from becoming a live-action film into what essentially amounts as a screen cast. Now, at the end, it does go back to live-action shot to show the true nature of how the image was constructed. Yet, it is this added effect of demonstrating the process (with time lapse) on the computer screen that is interesting. What might it look like if we asked students to take screenshots along the way as they construct their own projects and then use them as a way to reflect on the process? Or, what if we asked them to imitate this video, and to try showing some kind of transformation on the screen in relation to some image, website, or other digital writing?
  • Deconstructing through constructing: In some ways, the short commercial reminds me of the film Memento,  at least in the sense of time is represented. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, yet I do recall that it moves forward sequentially, yet not that sequence which readers and viewers normally expect because the main character experiences some sort amnesia and is retracing his steps backwards. In this commercial, the process is shown as a construction of an image. Normally, with media literacy, we are asking students to deconstruct existing images and videos, yet this one shows the process of construction instead. How might we have students to create digital writing that explicitly shows them constructing an advertisement, or critique of advertisement?

Again, I find myself thinking about how we can invite students to look just slightly below the surface on some of the videos that they have probably seen and even shared, both to help them become critical consumers of the media as as well as to become digital writers and composers who think carefully about topics and techniques.

I need to do some reading to find out what everyone else is thinking today, and I look forward to sharing more tomorrow.

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Digital Mentor Text #1: “The Majestic Plastic Bag”

There are already some great conversations getting started about mentor texts in the digital writing workshop, and I have lots of reading to catch up on!

Before I share my thoughts on the first video, I have to say that I am truly humbled to see how the ideas that I have been thinking about, reflecting on, and continuing to develop for years — especially related to the digital writing workshop — are coming through in so many other teachers’ voices. For that, I am both humbled and truly thankful.

When Franki shared her session about digital mentor texts at the conference in October and again at NCTE, I saw the ideas that I introduced in the book take yet another form, and gain momentum from another thoughtful, reflective teacher. Being able to write this series with my long-time NWP colleague, Kevin, as well as the many new colleagues I have met in the past three years — Franki, Bill, Katie, and Tony — is a great way to think about my next book, this next semester, and the future of digital writing in our schools and classrooms.

So, all that said, it is time to jump into a first video. For each video that I share this week, I will try to offer a few questions and ideas for you as a bit of pre-viewing thinking, then I will post the video and/or link to it on YouTube, and then will offer some kind of video annotation/commentary. I do all of this both to show examples of great mentor texts as well as to share, at least indirectly, ways of responding to digital videos. While I will not talk a great deal about assessment, at least not in the descriptions of the videos, I do hope that you will think about how tools (like my use of Jing today) can help you assess digital writing, both formatively and summatively.

For the first professionally-produced video that could work as digital mentor text, I thank my editor from Heinemann, Tobey Antao, for pointing out this mockumentary, “The Majestic Plastic Bag,” produced by Heal the Bay, located in Santa Monica, CA. A smart and concise summary comes from Sami Grover on Threehugger.com.

For the first time ever, a team of crack wildlife film makers have tracked the “majestic” plastic bag on its long journey from its urban birthplace all the way to its natural habitat—the pacific ocean. Quite remarkable. Narrated by Jeremy Irons, this BBC-style mockumentary captures the journey of one lone plastic bag as it traverses many dangers—from terriers to park services—on its long and arduous journey to join its fellow petroleum products in their natural and enduring habitat—the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Created by Heal the Bay, the video is a fun, and in many ways eerily (and ironically) beautiful, call to action. Campaigners are urging Californians to support to support AB 1998, a California bill that would ban plastic bags at major retailers.

While the statewide ban did not go into effect, the video offers us some lessons as a digital mentor text, especially in relation to point of view, and of parody. So, please watch the video, then my commentary (my apologies in advance for the screencast, as it is taking a long time to buffer and I am not quite sure why).

I am using Jing for the annotation, and while this allows me to put audio comments on the version of the film playing in the background, it does not necessarily allow me to create an online space for students to respond and have a discussion. I tried using VideoANT, and may again later in the week, but this particular video didn’t work well with that annotation tool. That said, everything about using technology in education comes down to the fact that we often need to improvise, and this works fine. So, here is my “director’s cut” type of commentary, via Jing.

http://content.screencast.com/users/hickstro/folders/Jing/media/cb4a7126-4b8b-4295-897e-d7fd44bd71a5/jingswfplayer.swf

As a professionally-produced digital mentor text, The Majestic Plastic Bag has quite a few points to take in mind as we talk with students.

  • In order to enjoy this film — or any other parody — a viewer has to have enough knowledge about the genre being parodied, as well as enough knowledge about the topic in order to make things funny. This reminds me of Barry Lane’s ideas behind Wacky We-Search, where the facts are presented in a different, humorous manner, rather than in a straight “research paper” kind of way. Humor — good humor — requires the writer to bring wit and insight to a topic through creative ideas and expression. While I hesitate to make connections to texts that we may not be able to use in school, obviously The Onion, the Daily Show, and the Colbert Report offer us many opportunities to examine parody.
  • This particular film uses a variety of action shots — close ups, mid-range, and wide-angle — to show the journey of the bag. Music and sound effects also help to set the mood of the movie, mimicking the style of a nature documentary with perfect precision. Two University of Minnesota professors offer some great resources on documentary film-making techniques: Robert Yaknhe’s list and Richard Beach’s strategies from the Teaching Media Literacy wiki. Helping students understanding the techniques, those moves that a digital writer can make, will help them craft a better video. Doing digital writing well is not just a copy/paste, point/click endeavor. It requires technique.
  • Finally, as a film ultimately intended to be persuasive, not just informational, this film speaks to the larger political purposes of designing, composing, publishing, and distributing digital writing. As a video on YouTube, it is easy for people to tweet or post to social networks, and of course is open for commentary. Also, this film brought in Jeremy Irons as a narrator, sure to help its search/ranking on Google and YouTube. The filmmaker and Heal the Bay have been very savvy in producing this film, widely appealing to a variety of audiences, just in time for the vote in CA. Also, it is brief and clearly a parody, which helps its ability to “go viral.”  I am not sure how popular it was in the regular media outlets, as most Google searching reveals links from niche websites focusing on environmental issues, yet the nearly 1.6 million views suggest that it did have a wide reach.

As you think about documentary (or mockumentary/parody) as one possibility for your students, I hope that some of these initial thoughts are helpful for you, both in viewing and composing this type of digital text.

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Digital Mentor Texts Preview

This will be a busy weekend of writing as I prep for our series on mentor texts in the digital writing workshop.

I would like to say that I can write most of these posts as the week progresses, but my past history as a blogger (being somewhat irregular in my posting patterns) as well as the start of the new semester next week tells me that I need to get some things organized this weekend. Also, I want to respond to what Bill, KatieKevinTony and Franki post over the next few days as well, so I am getting as much of my writing done as possible this weekend.

To that end, I have decided to focus my attention on digital mentor texts that are professionally produced videos, readily available on YouTube. I’ve chosen to do this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that when I talk with teachers about digital writing it seems that the most difficult week for them to make —  moving from traditional, textual form of writing into more multimodal pieces —  is this shift to composing video. I think that most teachers can see the value in creating a piece of writing and having a student read it aloud to be recorded as a podcast, and that all teachers recognize the need for our students to become public speakers and to be able to prepare a slide deck for an oral presentation. I also think that many of them see value in using particular tools such as screencasting or Prezi, although the projects that get created sometimes did not go through an entire “writing process” in the way that we would expect the traditional essay, book review, or research paper to go through.

Yet, creating videos, good videos — whether they are live-action, a series of images either digital or hand-drawn, a demonstration via screencast,  or animation —  takes time, energy, and effort that goes above and beyond simply asking students to “make a video” without much direction or support. Many teachers asked me whether or not video production really falls under the purview of English class, rather hoping to delegate it to no luck of course in film production or simply ignoring it altogether. It is one thing to put a flip video camera into a child’s hands and asked them to create something where is this something entirely different to frame that video production process through the lens of writing or, more broadly, composing.

For instance, while I appreciate what Alan Sitomer did with his “digital book report” contest last year, I feel that the production value of the short films could have been much higher had students thought more carefully about the craft of composing video. For instance, the middle school winners who produced the video report on Holes were on target with their general script for the video and the major events they wanted to include from the book. Yet, the video itself moves forward in a very haphazard way, and it is clear that the students are only using the props and locations easily available to them rather than doing any kind of set design or other planning.  I mention these aspects not to criticize the students for what they did, because obviously Alan and the other judges for this contest from the video entertaining and useful. Still, I think that there could be other examples of how students might compose the digital book report that would show more complexity of thought, as well as artistic expression. It’s the difference between handing them a flip camera and giving them an hour to pull something together as compared to spending time talking about the craft of digital writing.

Thus, in focusing on digital video (and on professionally produced digital videos in particular), I want to invite teachers and students to think about how the video was made as well as their emotional and intellectual response to it, yet to also think about how writing —  from brainstorming initial ideas, to creating a script and storyboard, to imagining the types of processes that one must go through to compose a visual text —  plays a major part of the process of creating such a video. I also want to think about some tech tools that we use, like screen casting, and how we might be able to repurpose those tools as a way for reflection and assessment. I will also try to connect the video for each post that I write to some of the larger goals that we have for teaching writing, such as stating a clear thesis, adding appropriate details and examples, and making connections to other texts. Finally, of course, the production of video automatically brings up a number of concerns about copyright and fair use, as well as Creative Commons licensing. since this is a component of our work as English teachers that will only continue to become more and more a part of what we do each day, I think that digital video offers us good opportunities to discuss these issues.

So, those are some thoughts from a Friday morning as I prepare to find some digital mentor texts to write about this weekend. I already received one great lead for my editor at Heinemann, and I have a few other ideas to follow up on.  I look forward to the conversation that will unfold over the next week.

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Opening the Conversation on Digital Mentor Texts

Just about a week from now, a number of us will be blogging about mentor texts in the digital writing workshop. Inspired by this announcement and reflecting on her own experience with integrating digital writing into her work as a librarian, Buffy Hamilton offered me many things to think about in a recent blog post on The Unquiet Librarian. She outlines a thoughtful approach to why and how she is integrating digital writing into her library curriculum, and leads into a series of great questions/points, three of which I will quote from and respond to here because I see them as intricately intertwined and important to our work as teachers of digital writing:

I felt frustrated in the professional books I read this fall in that they never seemed to address concrete strategies for scaffolding the digital composition process or effective assessment strategies.

How do I do better job of helping students articulate the learning goals in these projects and to take on more ownership and involvement in constructive, meaningful assessment of their work?

Ultimately, I think some of these challenges come back to the larger challenge of encouraging teachers and students to take an inquiry, participatory stance on learning…

Buffy raises the key issue here about digital writing that could be said for much of the history of writing instruction; this is the tension we feel between allowing students the freedom to choose topics, genres, and assessments that they find personally meaningful and will help them grow as writers in contrast and/or competition to what we feel we should or must do as teachers of writing. In the simplest terms, it boils down to whether or not we prepare students to write five paragraph essays and to be able to respond to prompts on the test, or whether we want them to be real writers. In practice, this means that we are forcing students to engage in a “writing process” and spend more time focused on using rubrics than actually talking with students about their writing. This is a classic model of teacher driven instruction where we must “motivate” students become better writers. The onus of responsibility — not to mention the topics, word limits, and structures of organization for the writing — fall squarely on the shoulders of the teacher.

What Buffy appears to be advocating for, and what I would completely concur with, is a more student-centered approach that invites students to think carefully about the process of writing, however messy that process may be. Traditionally, we’ve had about three genres in school writing: the (five paragraph) essay, the research paper, and the book report. As soon as you open up any one of those genres for multimedia expression, you immediately expose the constraints of those structures and, in turn, make it very difficult for teachers and students to apply traditional rubrics and language of assessment to the products that they create. What does a “thesis statement” look like in a slideshow or a public service announcement? Thus, Buffy hits the nail on the head when she mentions ideas about ownership, meaningful assessment, inquiry, and the participatory stance on learning. These are not just problems with writing, or with digital writing; these are problems with what my colleague Anne Whitney calls the “schooliness” of school. Writing is normally very “schooly” and, when it isn’t, it’s too “touchy/feely.” We are caught in a trap of either living up to a formulaic model or praising students for their efforts without any substantive feedback.

So, to that end, I really appreciate how Buffy raises points and asks questions that force us to think about the thinking process students are involved in during the digital writing process. More importantly, she clearly aims for students to document their own learning and to have teachers focus formative assessment on that process, ultimately leading to many of the goals that we’ve had for years when employing a writing workshop/portfolio pedagogy.  And, since she asked for some specific advice about how to move forward, I’ll offer a few points here that will also inform my thinking in the next week as I prepare to write about the digital mentor texts:

  • Use the tools at hand. Teach students to use the digital tools at hand in order to become better readers, writers, and researchers. I know that there’s still a digital divide and that not all students have access to smart phones, tablet PCs, and high-speed Internet in their own homes, yet cloud-based services such as Diigo and Evernote are allowing students to capture their own thinking as well as links to websites, audio and video just about anywhere. They need to take responsibility to do that. See a link? A video? A podcast? Save and share it. Since teachers are using the library in a variety of different ways, from a very casual to very intense and thoughtful, help students become digital learners by inviting them to use these tools and share resources on-the-go.
  • Embrace the messiness. The writing process has never been a linear one, at least not the same straight line for everyone. Despite what the posters in our classroom and the programs that people try to sell us may say, no writer worth his or her salt has ever gone straight through a process of pre-writing, drafting, revising, proofreading, and publishing. I’m not even able to do it in this one blog post, let alone for an article or a book. Thus, we need to acknowledge that the writing process is recursive and messy, and that needs to happen both in our instruction and assessment. For digital writing, we can invite students to literally take snapshots or record screen casts of what they are doing, what they’re thinking, and the questions that they have while in the process of researching and writing. Have students create inquiry guides for their peers using social bookmarking, wikis, or some other collaborative tool. Invite students to pose questions to one another about their research, and part of their assessment is based on how well they respond to these questions and concerns that their peers have raised.
  • Make the process public. Whether your school is using wikis, a course management system, or some other type of social network to help students connect online, make sure that they are documenting and describing the process along the way. In addition to the suggestions above about embracing the messiness, they could have periodic checkpoints during a writing project in which they would be responsible for certain things (as, indeed, many students have always been responsible for having parts of projects done along the way). Part of what they might need to do is technical: set up accounts, watch screen cast tutorials, find _ many sources from academic databases and _ many more on the public web.  I am not saying that teachers should have every single one of these tasks are checkpoints set up before the project begins, as it could very well depend on the student, the topic, and the digital writing that he or she undertakes. Yet, holding them accountable along the way can still be done even if it is not tied to a formal quiz or essay test.
  • Make the final product public, as well as the responses. Again, this returns to this idea that students should be accountable not only for their own work, but for their thoughtful critique and commentary on the work of others.  They can use tools like Diigo to annotate webpage products, Jing to record screencasts describing a website, or Video ANT to insert commentary on a video. As they read/view the work of others and respond to that work — in conjunction with their own experience as digital writers — they can then work together to develop evaluative criteria for their projects. Some of those criteria will be shared, and will most likely be focused on the content of the projects, will some of those criteria will be specific for each particular project. For instance, everyone may have to meet the broad goal of finding at least 10 sources and accurately documenting their work, yet individual students may go about this in different ways to the use of social bookmarking, bibliographic tools, or hyperlinks, based on the digital writing that they do.

So, those are some thoughts in response to Buffy’s insightful reflections on this first half of her year integrating digital writing. Sorry that they kind of read like a list of new year’s resolutions, but I hope they are helpful.

Also, as I prepare for the collaborative series, I’m looking for examples of what I would call “professional” digital mentor texts that I can write about. The first one that came to mind for me was Dove’s “Evolution” video. While I know that students would not be expected to create something exactly like this, I do think that it opens up opportunities for many conversations about what digital writing is and could be. If you have other ideas for mentor texts that have been made by professionals yet would still be appropriate to share with students as models of exemplary digital writing, please do let you know.

Until 2012…

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