The Next Decade of Digital Writing

Cover from Voices from the Middle (Vol. 25, No. 4, May 2018). Courtesy of NCTE.
Cover from Voices from the Middle (Vol. 25, No. 4, May 2018). Courtesy of NCTE.

With the support of Sara Kajder and Shelbie Witte, I am pleased to share that I recently published a “Leading the Call” article from  Voices From the Middle, “The next decade of digital writing.”

Through NCTE, they have made it available through open access, and here is the abstract:

The author, a leader in bringing digital tools into the writing workshop and writing classroom, discusses how the use of digital tools in the classroom has evolved in the first decade of this century, especially in the writing workshop. He examines ways several ELA teachers are using specific tools to assist with literacy learning in the classroom right now and makes some recommendations regarding the future of digital writing instruction.

Read more here: Hicks, T. (2018). The next decade of digital writing. Voices From the Middle, 25(4), 9–14.


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Creating MINDFUL Readers and Writers

MINDFUL Graphic
Image Courtesy of Heinemann

Based on the book that I wrote with Kristen Hawley Turner, Argument in the Real World, one of the tools/strategies that I have been sharing in workshops this past year is the “MINDFUL” heuristic for readers and writers as they engage in academic arguments with, through, and about social media.

When we were wrapping up the book in early 2016, even before “fake news” and “alternative facts” became a phenomenon, Kristen and I designed this heuristic to fill in the gaps that we felt existing website evaluation checklists were missing.

In short, those checklists and other tools were created in the early days of the web when we – as educators and information consumers – generally placed the onus of responsibility on the creator for being accurate. This, of course, was a holdover from our view of the printed word having gone through extensive review and editing in order to be published. The power of books, periodicals, encyclopedias and similar sources came from the fact that they were curated by experts.

Yet, with the abundance of material emerging on the information superhighway, educators, especially librarians, knew that careful editing and peer review weren’t happening all the time. We needed to create a way for students to understand that some creators were thoughtful and accurate, while others were misleading or creating an outright hoax. So, we  held those creators to task by engaging with such checklists as readers so we could bring a critical eye to what we were reading/viewing. We also encouraged students to never trust a blog, or Wikipedia, or other sources that were not well-vetted. (Of course, we have since changed our tune. A bit).

At any rate, website evaluation checklists worked okay, for a while at least.

However, this was before the vast majority of us became content creators in the Web 2.0 era. Blogs, wikis, and other forms of media were being created at a constant pace and, unfortunately, with different audiences, purposes, and degrees of veracity.

More recently, through social media,  we are all creators, curators and circulators. Our roles as writers have changed. The role of the reader – as someone with agency and perspective in the online reading and writing process – also needed to take responsibility for the types of arguments being created and perpetuated.

What Kristen and I wanted to do, then, was to rethink this instructional strategy of website evaluation. We came from the stance of helping students –as both readers and writers of social media – to recognize that (borrowing from  Lunsford, Ruszkiewicz, and Walters’ book title) everything is, indeed, an argument.

Retweets and likes are, despite the disclaimers, endorsements. And, by extension, arguments. The way that we see evidence presented in social media matters because it will inform our own stance, as well as the perspectives of others with whom we engage. We create arguments through the act of liking, retweeting, reblogging, or otherwise endorsing, let alone when we create our own updates, tweets, or blog posts.

Rethinking the traditional website evaluation tool meant that we need to consider the challenges that new media, new epistemologies, and new perspectives all bring. In other words, it was no longer enough to simply read the “about” page, do a WHOIS lookup, or even try to understand more about the language/discourse being used on the page/post.

We needed something different. Hence, MINDFUL.

We wanted to help teachers, in turn, help their students slow down just a bit – even a nano second before retweeting, or a few moments when crafting an entire post – and to think about how arguments in digital spaces are constructed, circulated, and perpetuated.

I think that MINDFUL is helpful in doing just that. Below, you will find slides that I have been using over the past few months as well as links to additional resources I discuss in the presentation.

Additional Resources

  • Argument in the Real World Wiki
  • Our post on the Heinemann blog:  Seriously? Seriously. The Importance of Teaching Reading and Writing in Social Media
  • For the MINDFUL elements
    • Monitoring our own reading and writing means that we must be aware of and account for  Confirmation Bias. Of course, helping students (and ourselves) to do that requires a number of strategies, which are outlined in the rest of the heuristic.
    • Identifying the claim means that we must separate the opinions that someone offers from the facts that may (or may not) support the claim. A refresher on Fact vs Opinion from Cub Reporters is a useful place to begin, even for adults.
    • Noting the type of evidence and how it supports the claim is useful. As a way to think through different types of evidence – In the claims they can support – it is worth taking a look at the Mathematica Policy Research Report “Understanding Types of Evidence: A Guide for Educators
    • Determining the framework/mindset is perhaps one of the most difficult elements for anyone, especially children and teenagers, to fully understand and accomplish. Without taking a full course of study in critical discourse analysis, a few resources that are helpful include the idea of Sam Wineburg’s (of the Stanford History Education Group) idea of  “reading laterally,” explained here by Michael Caulfied. Also, using sites like AllsidesOpposing Viewpoints in Context, and Room for Debate can help. Finally, there is the Media Bias Fact Check plugin for Chrome and Firefox (which, of course, has some bias, and questionable authorship). But, it’s a start.
    • Focusing on the facts requires us to check and double check in the ways that researchers and journalists would. Despite claims to the contrary from those on the fringes, sites like SnopesPolitifact,  and FactCheck are generally considered to be neutral and present evidence in an objective manner. Also, there are lots of objective datasets and reports from Pew Research.
    • Understanding the counterargument is more than just seeing someone else’s perspective and empathizing/disagreeing. We need to help students understand that arguments may not even be constructed on the same concept of information/evidence and in fact some of it could be one of the 7 Types of Mis- and Disinformation from First Draft News.
    • Finally, leveraging one’s own response is critical. Understanding the way that fake news and other propaganda is constructed  and circulated will help us make sure that we do not fall into the same traps as  writers WNYC’s On the Media provides a Breaking News Consumers Handbook for Fake News that is, of course, helpful for us as readers and viewers, but could also be a guide for what not to do as a writer.

My hope is that these websites/resources are helpful for teachers and students as they continue to be mindful readers and writers of social media.


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Sharing Our Insights on NWP’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program

Yesterday, at the annual MCTE fall conference, I was fortunate enough to share a presentation session with my CRWP colleague, Andy Schoenborn, and one of our CMU English Education students, Rachel Kish. Our focus was on the way that Andy has been implementing NWP’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program.

In the session slides, Andy and Rachel share the ways that he taught the Connecting Evidence to Claims mini-unit. In particular, they described the ways in which students engaged in dialogue, a point that I tried to summarize… and captured quite well by Jen Ward:

Thanks, Jen, for capturing the spirit of the presentation, and I hope that others find the resources we shared to be useful.


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Review of Stover and Yearta’s “From Pencils to Podcasts”

New books about ed tech hit the market everyday, and it is sometimes difficult to find ones that truly meet the needs of teachers while being approachable and accessible. So, a few weeks ago, when I was tagged in a Twitter post about a new book, it definitely caught my attention:

Cover Image from Solution Tree Press
Cover Image from Solution Tree Press

Flattery aside, as an author and educator, I always appreciate shoutouts like these, and I was a bit dismayed that I had not yet heard about the book.

And, after a quick hop to the Amazon website where I previewed the book and read a review, I could tell that my own ideas about teaching reading and writing were, indeed, in line with those of Katie Stover and Lindsay Yearta.

With that knowledge in mind, I asked Stover if I could take a look at the book and, thanks to Solution Tree Press, my own copy arrived just a few days ago.

And, in much the way that Stover described the teacher’s endorsement in her tweet, I would certainly agree: From Pencils to Podcasts is a book that adopts the same stance toward reading, writing, and digital literacy that I, too, hope to imbue in my own work.

From the opening pages, the authors articulate their belief that “[t]echnology, when used intentionally, enhances teaching and learning as students have more opportunities to create, collaborate, communicate, and share” (6). I couldn’t agree more. Throughout the early pages of the introduction and into the fourteen chapters that follow, Stover and Yearta offer a variety of digital reading and writing tools that will be useful to elementary-level educators.

Cover Image from Solution Tree Press
Cover Image from Solution Tree Press

The book is segmented into four major parts. In part one, Stover and Yearta focus on tools to facilitate comprehension and analysis. Here, the authors provide many examples of teachers and students at work, as well as descriptions of the technologies that they employed. I was most intrigued by an example where a fifth grader and a college student discuss the shared reading using Edmodo. At one point in the dialogue, the college student records herself on video providing an additional response and clarification for her fifth-grade reading buddy (25). These types of small, yet powerful, examples are sprinkled throughout the book and demonstrate how readers and writers can flourish when supported through effective teaching and creative applications of technology. Also, Stover and Yearta provide links and QR codes throughout their book that lead directly to the apps/websites being mentioned, and they also have created a companion webpage with those links conveniently listed along with reproducible handouts.

In the second part, Stover and Yearta move on to discuss tools that can facilitate evaluation and revision. Again, the authors provide a number of different lesson ideas and technologies as examples, and one of the most unique twists is the application of digital video to the classic strategy of “reader’s theater.” They describe the ways in which students develop fluency as they engage in multiple readings of their selected book and, ultimately, produce and publish their own interpretation of the book using digital video (70).

The third section of the book offers even more opportunities for teachers to think about performance and publication as Stover and Yearta explore infographics, digital story retelling, publishing with a digital book creator, and incorporating speech-to-text dictation. Similarly, the fourth section pushes teachers to think creatively about new applications of existing technologies such as using timeline tools to create reading histories, conducting digital conferences using tools like VoiceThread, and composing digital portfolios with Seesaw or Weebly.

Additionally, throughout the book, Stover and Yearta share many case studies of teachers using tech in critical and creative ways. For instance, in the final chapter on formative assessment, they invite us into the classroom of Katharine Hale, exploring the ways in which she uses Lino and Padlet as spaces for students to capture their reading ideas, questions, and connections in-process.

On the whole, Stover and Yearta have designed and delivered a very useful book. My only concern is this: while the authors do present many examples from students and teachers, especially text-based examples such as digital discussion boards, as well as screenshots of the interfaces for various websites and apps, my one hope would have been to see more examples of student work, both in the book as well as through hyperlinks on the companion website.

For instance, Stiver and Yearta share overviews of many tools including infographics, digital movies, and a book creator app, yet the reader is left to her own imagination in order to visualize what these final products, created by students themselves, would actually look like. In other words, it would be helpful – especially for teachers new to digital reading and writing – to see even more examples of how students were able to utilize these tools in different ways, and to have them available online as mentor texts that teachers could click on and share in their own classrooms.

If a teacher is new to using 1:1 technology, the book offers numerous ideas that will be adaptable across grade levels. And, even if a teacher is familiar with many of the apps and websites, Stover and Yearta provide new insights into the ways in which these tools can be used. For any book that is written for teachers, it is a challenge to create a resource that is overflowing without being overwhelming, and with From Pencils to Podcasts, the authors have certainly accomplished their goal.

I am, indeed, flattered that a teacher has compared my work to theirs, and I appreciate their insights into the connection between emergent/early literacies and technology. For any K-6 educator who is new to using technology in her classroom – or wants to look at integrating technology with a fresh set of eyes –From Pencils to Podcasts should be on your summer reading list.

Disclaimer: At my request, I was provided with a free copy of the book by Solution Tree Press.


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Announcing “From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age”

9781138949287Today marks the release of my second book with my colleague and friend, Jeremy Hyler: From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age. Also, we are extremely grateful to Liz Kolb, who offered her endorsement of the book by writing the foreword.

From the book’s description on the Routledge page:


Don’t blame technology for poor student grammar; instead, use technology intentionally to reach students and actually improve their writing! In this practical book, bestselling authors Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks reveal how digital tools and social media – a natural part of students’ lives – can make grammar instruction more authentic, relevant, and effective in today’s world.

Topics Covered:

  • Teaching students to code switch and differentiate between formal and informal sentence styles
  • Using flipped lessons to teach the parts of speech and help students build their own grammar guides
  • Enlivening vocabulary instruction with student-produced video
  • Helping students master capitalization and punctuation in different digital contexts

Each chapter contains examples, screenshots, and instructions to help you implement the ideas. With the strategies in this book, you can empower students to become better writers with the tools they already love and use daily. Additional resources and links are available on the book’s companion wiki site: textingtoteaching.wikispaces.com


Additional resources related to the book can be found in the presentation that Jeremy and I have offered at a number of conferences as well as through the Oakland Schools webinar series.

My continued thanks to all the teachers who read and support my work, as well as to Jeremy for his passion, patience, and willingness to entertain countless hours of writing and revision!

Updates from Our Book: Argument in the Real World

Image courtesy of Heinemann
Image courtesy of Heinemann

As a writer — both in the sense that I am a blogger and the author of texts for teachers — I am well aware of the fact that writing is never really “done,” it is just “due.” I am thankful that I have the opportunity to keep writing, keep sharing, keep updating. It is as important now as it has ever been.

When my colleague and co-author, Kristen Turner, and I were putting the finishing touches on our book, Argument in the Real World, last summer, we knew that the world would be experiencing digital arguments in many ways across the closing months of the US 2016 election cycle. However, we had no idea that “fake news” or “alternative facts” would become part of the Orwellian discourse. Over the past few months, the incredible team at Heinemann has been sharing a number of posts and videos related to the book:

They also helped us refine the MINDFUL poster:

How to teach students to be MINDFUL readers and writers of social media.
How to teach students to be MINDFUL readers and writers of social media.

Finally, here is a video in which I demonstrate how students can remix existing news content to analyze the implicit arguments presented in the news.

As teachers continue to work with their students to overcome the many challenges we continue to face with media literacy, we will continue to update the book’s wiki page and share more ideas. My hope is that this collection of resources is a good place to begin those difficult lessons and conversations.


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Conversation about Connected Reading on LitBit Podcast

Connected Reading Model
Connected Reading Model

Many thanks to Brooke Cunningham, creator of the LitBit podcast and a doctoral student in the University of Tennessee PhD in young adult literature program, for inviting Kristen Turner and me to share our thoughts on Connected Reading with her listeners. Please listen to and share the episode!