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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Free Webinar on 1/23/18: Exploring the Craft of Digital Writing, Grades 2–8

1/23/2018 Webinar AdExploring the Craft of Digital Writing, Grades 2–8

A Complimentary Webinar with Dr. Troy Hicks and the Center for the Collaborative Classroom.

Join us for an hour of inspiration and learning with Dr. Troy Hicks as he leads us in an exploration of the craft of digital writing. 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? Join Dr. Troy Hicks as he shares insights about the craft of digital writing and its implications for our students, grades 2–8.

Date and Time

Tuesday, January 23, 2018
4:00–5:00 PM EST

Register Now!

This webinar is free but you must register to attend. To register, visit


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Please note: This webinar will be recorded. If you are unable to attend the live session, register to receive a link to the recorded webinar. The recording will be made available 5–7 business days after the live session.

Sponsored by Center for the Collaborative Classroom and the National Writing Project.

Hosting #engchat on 1/12/15

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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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Conversation with Carl Young’s Class

Digital Writing Workshop Book CoverLast 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.
    • A great thinking tool to share with them are the Habits of Mind from the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing.
  • 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 EdutopiaBAM 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.

Other sites/tools that we discussed:

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Updates from Recent Collegial Conversations

Over the past few months, I’ve continue to have wonderful opportunities to speak at conferences and workshops, publish my work, and then share in conversations with fellow teachers. Two conversations in particular stand out as we had for the end of the calendar year.

First, Kristen Turner and I were contacted earlier this fall by Brian Newman, a high school teacher from Joliet, Illinois. He had read our English Journal piece, “No longer a luxury: Digital literacy can’t wait,” and wanted to ask us our opinions about blogging and how to engage students as writers. After recommending Youth Voices as a tremendous resource, I offered some specific advice about having students respond to one another:

Over time, as they post — and respond — I would encourage you to pursue some self-evaluation strategies. Ask them to go back and review their best blog post, and why they think it is so. Ask them, too, to review the best blog post from someone else that they have read. Then compare those posts. In that process of writing and responding, talk with them about the power of peer response and specific praise and constructive criticism.

Recently, Brian wrote us back and told us about the work that he and Sean Hackney has shared on their blog, Ancient Geeks. In this post, he discusses the end of semester writing conferences that he had with his student bloggers.  He outlines 13 steps to take in order to become a better blogger and teacher of blogging:

  1. Make the posts occur regularly.
  2. Give them choices.
  3. Use the blogs as formative writing practice for summative writing assignments.
  4. Check in with them regularly.
  5. Get testimonials from previous students about the positives and drawbacks of the various blog platforms.
  6. Make them read each others’ blogs.
  7. Use, the blog search engine, to get them reading blogs.
  8. Conference with them.
  9. Grade them with care, because they care about being assessed on how they feel.
  10. Identify your tech wizards in class and empower them to help others.
  11. Create opportunities for kids to teach each other how to do make posts more interesting.
  12. Help them expand the audience: email the links to parents, other teachers, or other classes.
  13. Oh yeah, and write along with them. That’s what got Hackney and I writing this blog in the first place.

I appreciate the work that Brian and Sean are doing with their high school writers, and hope that they continue to find success in the new year.

Image courtesy of Katharine Hale (
Image courtesy of Katharine Hale (

The second teacher with whom I’ve been communicating this semester is Katharine Hale, a fifth-grade teacher from Arlington, Virginia, who is working diligently to integrate digital writing into her traditional writing workshop. She blogs at Teachitivity and in her recent post, “A Fresh Approach to Fostering Digital Writers,” Katharine describes the multiple goals that she had for integrating technology and making her classroom workshop time more efficient.

The entire post is worth reading, as she has numerous lesson ideas and examples. She concludes that:

As I said in the beginning, this was my first attempt at truly integrating technology, specifically the iPad, into the writing experience. It was incredible to finish the unit ON TIME with not one, but two published texts. I especially loved the interactive flipped lesson. I felt I had gained a whole class period of instruction because I did not need to use class time to assess students and determine small groups. If you read their digital literary essays, you may even notice that many of my students’ conclusion paragraphs are the strongest part of their essay!

Katharine worked critically and creatively to both integrate the use of WordFoto and Thinglink, allowing her students the opportunity to go from brainstorming to publication on both a traditional essay and multiple pieces of digital writing. As with Brian and Sean, I wish Katharine luck in the new year as well.

Thanks to all of my colleagues who have shared their work — and their students’ work — with me over this past year. There are more books, blog posts, chapters, presentations, workshops, and other pieces of writing on their way in the new year. I will try to blog some more over the holidays, but if I don’t get to it then I thank you now for another year of reading my work and invite you to stay in touch.

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A (Parent’s) Rant on Rubrics

This school year, I’m involved with our faculty development center’s “High Impact Teaching Academy.” Tomorrow, we focus our conversation on assessment, specifically on rubrics. After I replied to the questions for our discussion forum posting this week, I had to go on and write another one. Selections are below:

First, I think I’ve mentioned before that I come from a background as a middle school teacher and have transitioned into the role of a teacher educator. In this entire process, I’ve seen rubrics used for a variety of purposes. Early in my teaching career, I was introduced to the idea of rubrics with examples such as the “six traits” of writing analytic rubric and the MEAP’s holistic grading rubric. In each of these cases, I was unable to figure out exactly the right words to describe my discomfort with using these tools for assessment, even though I became more attuned to helping students figure out exactly what they need to do in order to move from, say, a 4 to a 5 on the scale.

Then, in grad school I was exposed to two professional texts that really changed my thinking on rubrics. The first was Bob Broad’s What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing and the second was Maja Wilson’s Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment. These two texts taught me a variety of things, two of which stick with me today as a teacher of writing:

  1. Our students are individual writers and, even in a common writing assignment, we need to recognize and respond to their differences.
  2. When students have rubrics as the only guide for writing instruction, much like a computer that is given the wrong command, students will only do exactly what we tell them to, leaving no space for writing as an act of discovery.

Second, another main idea that concerns me about rubrics in the broadest sense is that they can really be helpful when coupled with response. However, when they are only used as a way to “justify” a grade (in a sense, providing a CYA for the teacher), then that is a reprehensible use of assessment, and shows that there has been little to no actual instruction supporting the writing task or the individual writer.

Sample Rubric
In what ways does this help my daughter become a better writer?

For instance, take a peek at this rubric my daughter received on her essay last week. With all due respect to her teacher — who, of course, has dozens or perhaps even hundreds of assignments to grade each week — what does this tell me about my daughter’s performance as a writer?

There were no additional comments on the paper itself, and if I didn’t know anything about the teaching of writing, I would look at this as a parent and wonder how to help my child become a better writer because there is nothing on this sheet (or in the teacher’s non-comments) that helps me understand the difference between an “exceptionally strong” or “generally clear” point of view.

Fortunately, I do know a bit about teaching writing, but not all parents do. How do they help their children become better writers with “feedback” in the form of a rubric?

So, sorry to burst the rubric bubble the day before we plan to talk about them at the Academy. But, I figured it was better to get my rant out on blackboard before we met than to take up too much time talking about it tomorrow.

Thanks for listening.

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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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