For a number of years now, I have been wanting to provide elementary colleagues with a book that offers a glimpse inside a classroom that runs as a digital writing workshop, one that truly embraces the principles of writing workshop pedagogy while integrating digital writing tools into day-to-day literacy practices. I have been fortunate to connect with many elementary educators who embrace the writing workshop approach with digital writing tools, but hadn’t yet seen a book that captured, in words and images, what a digital writing workshop might look like.
Now, having met Kristin quite some time ago at a Michigan Reading Association conference, I knew that she was an educator who was a bit skeptical about the use of technology, but wanted to integrate tech in productive, responsible ways. Or, as Stephanie Harvey describes it in the foreword of the book, though Katie had been enthusiastically integrating technology in her classroom for number of years and, subsequently, Kristin would “peek in, curious about how tech platforms might enhance learning in her first-grade classroom, but not entirely convinced” (vii).
Just as its title suggests, Katie and Kristin’s book does not supersede or replace existing literacy practices with technology-enhanced lessons. Instead, their goal is, indeed, to amplify best practices in reading and writing workshop, modeling literacy practices for their students, and moving them toward a hybridity of reading and writing in both print and digital spaces. As they explain:
Digital learning is at a crossroads, and it’s time for teachers and students to share our voices in how, why, and when our kids should use technology as a learning tool. We invite you to join us on a journey of discovery, exploration, and empowerment. (xii)
Their core principles are ones with which I, and countless other teachers, would certainly agree:
Use a workshop model for instruction
Hold small-group and individual conferences
Engage kids in cross-curricular content
Encourage collaboration and conversation
Drive instruction with assessment
These principles align with their overarching goal — “Technology in the classroom fits easily into this hands-on approach to learning (the writing workshop): our students should be the ones using it” (5).
They back these principles up with numerous examples, and I especially appreciate the way that they create “technology anchor charts” in much the same way they would when exploring a new genre, discussing reading strategies, or documenting a process. Also, they describe how they adapt the workshop model by adding in the element of “play” before a mini lesson. “Play,” they contend, “is collaborative, experiential, tactile, and active,” all ideas that lend themselves well to using technology (33).
The book itself takes the voice that we have come to expect in all Heinemann titles — respectful of teachers’ time, knowledge, and needs for high-quality professional learning and growth. Rather than providing a buffet of tech tools, Katie and Kristin actually focus their efforts on just a few key tools and processes: capturing ideas with Padlet, engaging students in a backchannel with Today’s Meet, teaching them how to record voice and video with a webcam and microphone. Throughout the book, there are suggestions that a teacher can “try tomorrow” with minimal technology knowledge.
As the book comes to a close, they share insights on reflection and assessment. Regardless of any number of digital tools at their disposal, Katie and Kristin remind us that
The simple act of giving ourselves permission to stop and watch opens our eyes to the rich fabric of learning in our classroom. We can examine the quality of the tasks we ask our students to undertake. What impact do they have? Why is this important? How can this be better? (90)
Amplify has provided elementary teachers a glimpse into the workings of what I would call a digital writing workshop and what Franki Sibberson has recently begun to call a “digital reading workshop” in Digital Reading: What’s Essential in Grades 3-8. Though I am curious as to why Katie and Kristin do not use that language, I imagine that they avoid adding the “digital” label to the work that they do for good reason — to keep the focus on reading and writing, thinking and learning. As we all continue to think about ways in which we can purposefully bring technology into the K-6 classroom, Amplify provides us with both the principles and practices for doing so.
NOTE: While I am a Heinemann author and did request a complimentary copy of this book, please know I am writing this review independently, not at the request of Heinemann or the authors.
Update: 12/10/15, 11:33 PM – Katie was kind enough to point out that I transposed two letters in “Padlet,” so that has been corrected.
This summer, I’m participating in KQED’s #TeachDoNow MOOC, though I am just a little bit behind the game. I finally caught up on the week one webcast, and I have been checking out the discussion board on Google+. Later this summer, the week of August 11, I will cohost a webcast on the idea of “How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?” There are many things happening in many places with this MOOC, and I am really intrigued how they are using Tagboard as a hub for collecting resources.
Of all the possible answers to this question that I might consider — such as finding resources that I can use in courses and workshops for preservice and in-service teachers, delving more deeply into the lesson ideas and unit plans of networked colleagues, or simply keeping my finger on the pulse of conversations around education — the biggest value for me, as an educational researcher and teacher educator, is simply making connections with K-12 colleagues.
At the end of the session we were talking about possibilities for engaging readers with e-books. Though we only have a few moments, it turned into a lively conversation and Erica offered me an invitation to visit her classroom next school year. What had begun as a collegial, though semi-anonymous relationship on Twitter before the conference quickly blossomed into a new professional connection and, ultimately, will probably result in me visiting her classroom and — who knows? — perhaps even writing an article together or co-facilitating a conference presentation.
This is but one example of how social media contributes to my professional learning, specifically as an educational researcher and teacher educator. I am talking with teachers all the time, and many times those conversations begin on social media and result in sharing coffee or a meal together. As one Michigan colleague, Todd Bloch, recently reminded me, our K-12 colleagues rarely, if ever, actually see university researchers and teacher educators engaged in real conversations with teachers, visiting classrooms and attending the conference sessions. This continues to exacerbate the “ivory tower” divide between educational research and classroom practice, and he was appreciative of the fact that I present at conferences, visit classrooms, write with teachers, and participate in social media.
All of this is to say that social media — to use the popular phrase — “keeps it real” for me as a professor with deep roots in the K-12 classroom. Social media participation is a must for all educators, especially those of us who do educational research and are preparing the next generation of teachers. To do less is a disservice to the educators that we serve and to our own sense of what it means to be a professional.