Renewing Revision – Teaching Targeted Peer Review – MRA 2018

Renewing Revision: Teaching Targeted Peer Review

2018 Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference

Saturday, March 17, 1:00 – 2:00 PM

Room 251 B

Resources to Try

Reflections on Panel Discussion: The Current State of Ed Tech

Delia DeCourcy and I prepare for the panel discussion at Sylvan's owners' meeting.
Delia DeCourcy and I prepare for the panel discussion at Sylvan’s owners’ meeting.

Earlier this morning, I was invited to speak with my colleague Delia DeCourcy, Executive Director for Digital Teaching & Learning, Chatham County Schools, on an educational panel for Sylvan Learning during one of their annual owner meetings in Houston, TX.

The topic was the current state of educational technology, and I was able to share some insights and resources on the questions below. In particular, they are in the process of updating their Sylvan Sync digital learning platform, and they wanted to glean ideas about what they could be doing with this tool, in particular, as well as with broader initiatives related to digital literacy and citizenship.

In interest of full disclosure, please know that I was invited to speak at this event by Sylvan’s Vice President for Education, and my travel costs have been covered. I received no honorarium, nor do I have a financial interest in Sylvan Learning.

That said, here are some thoughts and resources.

Question 1 – How has ed tech changed the way students learn today?

On one level, we could say that learning is more personalized, that students can get immediate feedback through automated scoring, and that they are able to make better decisions about their own learning. We have many great technologies that will help — especially with some of the more mundane aspects of memorization and ensuring comprehension — and there are ways to use those, within reason, and for purposeful learning.

At a deeper level, however, I would encourage us to think about the approach to learning — and the assumption about what “good” learning is — that underlies these practices. What is it, exactly, that we are asking our students to do with technology, and asking the technology to do with and for our students? In this case, we need to look at the pedagogical assumptions underlying the tool, the website, the program.

As it relates to the way that many educational technologies are packaged, I would want us to think more about the ways in which we can use technology to help students do more than consume, to answer questions that fall on the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Instead, we need to teach them both how to be conscientious consumers of technology and media as well as how to be creative producers of their own products. They need opportunities to represent their learning in many ways, with many forms of media from the written word, to an audio recording, to recording themselves solving a problem with a digital whiteboard demonstration recorded as a screencast.

Question 2 – What is your experience with students as “digital natives”? Are there any assumptions that need to be rethought?

First, we should remember that the term “digital native,” used as shorthand to describe kids who have grown up with persistent and ubiquitous technology, was long ago dismissed by the ed tech community. There is a great article that pushed back on this phrase from both a cultural and intellectual standpoint.

That said, yes, that are quite a few assumptions that we need to consider who millennial students are, what they value, and how they learn. There are technical, social, and academic aspects.

From the technical standpoint, millennial may be on their devices all the time and have exceptional proficiency with a number of apps, websites, games, operating systems, and so forth, yet is safe to say that the vast majority of them still need explicit instruction with technology when we consider higher-level thinking, communication, and problem solving tasks. For instance, I seriously doubt that most students know how to use more than 10-20 basic features in a word processor, most of those having to do with font selection, size, and color. We talked about the use of Ctrl+F for find/replace as a basic tool, but also an opportunity for editing and revision.

We need to acknowledge the social context in which these texts are situated. If you are writing an academic paper for a college course, you better not use spaces to indent. You need to learn how to use tabs. If you are producing a flyer that will be distributed on social media, you better understand the effects of warm and cool colors on a reader/viewer.

So, there are many assumptions that need to be thought, including those that we — as adults and educators — have, including the fact that (though we may not know everything about technology) we do have many experiences as readers, writers, and thinkers that we can reference and build on as we teach students to be thoughtful, productive users of technology.

Question 3 – Has technology created a set of new fundamental skills? What are they? Whose role is it to make sure students have these skills?

Yes, technology has created a new set of fundamental skills, both technical ones (like how to use a device, install a program, and operate software) as well as social ones (such as being a good digital citizen who uses social media in a responsible manner, treats intellectual property in an ethical manner, and engages with technology in a critical, yet creative manner).

Depending on who you ask, that particular set of skills can be very granular — knowing how to keyboard efficiently, being able to operate XYZ program — or they can be quite broad like, as noted here, being a “good digital citizen” which includes many technical and social skills.

We all play a role in teaching students these skills. Of course, parents are their children’s first teachers, so modeling an effective approach to using technology across a variety of contexts, managing one’s own screen time, and setting expectations for children about their use of technology and media is important. Then, yes, the responsibility will fall squarely on the shoulders of educators, as it so often does for all other “wrap around” elements of our work in terms of emotional, financial, health, and other elements of a child’s whole self and education.

We discussed a few resources that could be helpful in this quest, including Common Sense Media’s incredible curriculum for digital citizenship.

Question 4 – What should our centers be doing to make sure we continue to support students with technology expectations of schools and ultimately the job market?

At a minimum, we should be teaching students how to evaluate their own uses of media and technology, to help them be metacognitive about the decisions they are making, both in and out of school. At the next level, I think that we should be teaching them how to explore, evaluate, and employ digital tools and information in creative, academically-appropriate ways. Then, we need to teach them how to collaborate effectively with one another, as well as with others (peers and adults) outside the walls of school.

Open Q & A with Audience

What advice would you give teachers who want to help students identify real news from fake?

As it happens, this is something that I have been working on quite a bit lately. That said, to be very concrete and concise, I will point out two resources, one a website and one a strategy:

What writing types/formats provide the best digital literacy practice for students prepping to enter college or the workforce?

First, let me begin by saying that, just as I would want for my own children, I want all kids to learn how to read and write, both with pencil and paper, as well as with smartphones and laptops. These are tools. So, let’s not confuse the tool with the task.

That said, I would also want for all children, including my own, the opportunity to write in many different genres, for a variety of audiences, and a whole continuum of purposes. So, we know from research on best practices that students need models, they need practice, and they need feedback. They need all of these things, all the time.

Check out Traci Gardner’s list from chapter 4 of her Designing Writing Assignments book:  “Defining New Tasks for Standard Writing Activities”

Is informal language (text speak) ever okay in school writing assignments?

Yes. Depending, of course, on the assignment.

For instance, in writing an essay on text speak, you would certainly want to include examples. If you were writing a story. Even in informal writing assignments (quick writes).

But, as has always been the case with grammar, when we get our writing to a point that it will be made (more) public, we want to make sure that we are using an appropriate tone, with appropriate vocabulary. Context matters.

We also tossed out a number of other ideas/tools in various parts of the conversation, including:

There are, I’m sure, more… but this is what I could recall from the conversation this morning. My hope is that the conversation was useful for those at the event, and that this round up is useful for my readers.

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Creating MINDFUL Readers and Writers

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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My New Metaphor: Being the (Hyper)Link

Image from Oregon Writing Project Facebook PageYesterday, I was fortunate enough to lead a workshop for teacher consultants at the Oregon Writing Project at SOU. Fall in Oregon is beautiful, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be here.

Like all the workshops I do, it was a unique experience in the sense that I begin with some idea of a plan and, as I interact with the teachers, I make moves from one topic and activity to the next based on their needs and interests. I’ve used this model for nearly all of the workshops that I have done in the past ten years. Call it flexibility, call it intuition. I am not sure. I just can’t plan out, minute-by-minute, a workshop that will be “delivered” to an unwitting audience. I want to be a professor who teaches, not just one who professes.

At any rate, their site director, Margaret Perrow, and I had time to talk on Thursday night, and I had shared my strategy for leading workshops. We talked about flexibility, especially as it relates to using digital tools. She then told me how each teacher in their summer institute will often choose a guiding metaphor to describe themselves, and how they will carry their metaphor throughout the SI and into their writing.

Her metaphor, for me, became “the hyperlink.”

In all the best ways, that gave me pause to think. And I kept thinking about it all day yesterday and into this morning.

Unlike many workshops that I do, this one (on the west coast) didn’t require me to rush off yesterday afternoon to catch a plane (because the flights home didn’t go that late!), so I was able to stay another day. I’ve had some time to think, and I have continued to ponder this guiding metaphor over the past 24 hours.

Immediately, I thought of Bud Hunt’s “Teaching Blogging Not Blogs,” which has been a seminal piece in my thinking about what it means to teach and learn digital writing, and I am spending my few minutes at the airport to reread his work and think about it even more.

Despite Bud’s concern that he is aging (hey, aren’t we all), I think that his post has, indeed, aged well. Written in 2010 as a summary of ideas about blogging (and hyperlinking) from 2005 forward, here are some of the relevant quotes for me as I reflect on what occurred in yesterday’s workshop and, metaphorically, think of myself as the hyperlink.

Blogging is that set of skills that he [Will Richardson] talks about. It’s the reason why I want the students that I work with to use blogs — in the end. But I don’t think that many of them will start with that skill.

Bud’s point here — that students need to experience how we, as writers, use blogs — resonates with the broader philosophy of the National Writing Project: teachers must be writers themselves. In this case, he is talking about how teachers can be digital writers and think about using links in strategic ways. In turn, when I lead a workshop, I want teachers to see me model the kinds of teaching that I want them to do. Without being trite, I want to be the change in the world (of teaching with digital writing tools). When teachers can see a model for digital writing and learning in my workshops, my hope is that they, like students, will begin to build their own skills. Linking requires us to stretch in these new directions.

Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.

This is a quote that I’ve cited before, and I agree with Bud’s hunch. Reading and writing (in a digital space) has the potential to make you a better reader and writer overall. As the news media and some sensationalist scholars would have us believe, it has the potential to make things (much) worse, too. I suppose that the jury is still out on that.

Anyway, during my workshops, I am usually faced with a question. Many versions of the question abound, but one teacher I worked with yesterday asked it pretty bluntly: why should we be asking our students to do this (digital reading and writing) work?

I am not entirely sure how I answered: modeling and mentoring are important, it’s the world in which we live, it’s part of the standards and digital literacies. Something along those lines.

But, at the core, I want teachers and students to be smarter, more productive readers and writers. Being the hyperlink — connecting them to new visions for teaching practice — is, indeed, what I hope I am doing.

Blogging as experimenting. Want us to try out a tool or a lesson or an activity? Post it here along with some instructions and, perhaps, a question or two to guide our exploration/experimentation.

Experimenting is risky, and doing so in front of an audience is even more so. I want the teachers with whom I work to experience risk by trying out new tools and practices, so I need to risk, too. Without a doubt, there will be a link that doesn’t work, a question I can’t answer, or a tool that won’t load on someone’s machine. That is risky, and it causes many teachers to feel (at least) a small degree of panic. I want to model for them how I handle that stress, how I problem solve, how I adapt and move on. Hyperlinks take us from one place to the next. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

But, you have to keep clicking, keep linking.

Again, being the metaphorical hyperlink is something that I can aspire to. Thank you to Margaret for the metaphor, to Bud for your reflections, and to the entire NWP network for continued opportunities that amaze and enlighten me.

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4C’s Collaborative Comprehension Activity

Image by Anna Demianenko from UnsplashThe past week has found me presenting to both pre-service teachers (three times!) and to fellow faculty (just once), and with each audience I shared the same activity: the 4Cs for Collaborative Comprehension.

Adapted from Ritchhart, Church,, and Morrison’s Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, my spin on this particular lesson invites students to collaborate using a Google doc as a space to engage in shared reading of a particular text. As they note in their book, “[T]he 4C’s routine allows for a rich and fairly complete discussion of a text nonetheless, each step can be used as a standalone discussion,” and “[a]s students become familiar with the routine and expectations, it can act as a protocol to structure student-directed discussions of the text” (144). 

There are a number of reasons for why this particular reading, writing, and thinking strategy is well-suited for an adaptation using Google Docs:

  • We know that reading is a social experience and, unfortunately, we also know that students are not likely to read – at least with a deep level of comprehension – their homework. While this activity does not solve all the reading problems that students may have – and they most certainly should still be reading outside of class – this does emulate the types of thinking that good readers will use while engaged with the text.
  • We know that writing, too, is also a social experience and can have many purposes. With this activity, writing is a tool for thinking, and asking students to write both individually and collaboratively allows them to see one another’s thinking unfold, in real time, and in a low-stakes environment.
  • We know that thinking – and, in this sense, I mean thinking like a disciplinary expert – is a skill that must be modeled, rehearsed, and assessed. In order to help students understand the ways in which we might approach the text, we need to make the actions that we undertake explicit and clear.
  • Finally, as a way to incorporate technology in a purposeful manner, I taught this as a lesson that was designed for a collaborative group work session that students would engage in during class time. That said, once students become familiar with the routine, they could likely engage in some aspect of this protocol outside of class time and come prepared with their writing done in the Google Doc.

Thus, the idea behind the activity is to have students engage in a shared reading, document their initial thinking – in this case, by connecting to the text, challenging the text, identifying key concepts from the text, and recognizing how the text is asking you, as a reader, to change – and develop a consensus about the most important takeaways from their shared reading. And, they do so using the collaborative technology of Google Docs.

As you’ll see in the instructions embedded in the document, each group will make a copy of this initial template. What’s important to note is that you – as the instructor – could make any modifications to the thinking that you want students to do. Though I like “the 4Cs” as a nice, alliterative phrase to describe what students are doing, you could certainly invite them to do any number of other learning tasks such as interpret, examine, or evaluate.

I begin the activity by ensuring that each student in the group, typically groups of four, has a role. I talk through the different tasks with them, give them a moment as a group to decide who wants to do what during the reading, and then I ask, “Who’s my connector in each group? Who’s the challenger?” Who’s identifying key concepts?” and, finally, “Who’s thinking about changes?” Depending on the particular class, as well as the reading that I am asking them to do, I may do a little bit more of a discussion about the text in order to prime the pump. However, the main goal here is that students jump in to the reading activity with their particular lens (connect, challenge, key concept, change) in mind.

Additionally, before sending them into the reading task, I ensure that at least one person in the group is comfortable making a new version of the Google Doc template and then sharing that new version with their group mates. Thus, each group has their own copy of the 4Cs activity and are then able to write ideas in their squares while they are reading. If it is a group that I feel would benefit from the task, I may also suggest to them that they find relevant sentences or phrases from the article and copy/paste them in to the Google Doc, with appropriate quotation marks. They can then use these segments of the text to make further connections, invite other challenges, identify key concepts, or indicate where the author is encouraging the reader to change.

Then, it is time to have everyone begin reading. As they read, I set a timer for a modest amount of time (usually about 5 to 7 minutes with an article such as the one linked here: “A Month Without Sugar“).  As they read, I encourage them individually to take notes in their group’s Google Doc. Then, after they have had sufficient time to read, I invite them to continue the “silent” conversation in the Google Doc. Once it appears that most students are done with the reading as well as with their writing in Google Docs, I invite them to engage in a face-to-face conversation with one another around the table.

Depending on my goals for the particular reading and how this activity fits into the scope of our overall course of study, I may have students offer comments upon one another’s documents, I may have the groups write a summary, or I may have individuals summarize the main ideas from both their reading and the small group discussion. There are many possibilities for formative assessment, depending on whether the article is being used mainly for getting their thinking started, or inviting them to delve much deeper into a topic we have been studying for a long time.

In talking with the pre-service teachers as well as with my fellow faculty members, a number of interesting extensions and adaptations came to light:

  • The activity could be redesigned with different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy or cognitive tasks in mind for the 4Cs, it could be used for different genres of reading material, or it could be reconfigured around entirely different articles for each group that they could then bring to a larger, whole class discussion.
  • The activity could also be done out of class, inviting students to thoughtfully read and annotate the article as well as to write their brief response, then coming prepared to class and ready for discussion.
  • The activity could also be done with entirely different kinds of texts including images, paintings, charts, videos, or other forms of media as the basis for response.

Again, the main purpose of this activity is to invite all students to read actively – with a particular perspective in mind – and to bring that perspective to their shared conversation about the text.

Yes, this is an activity that could work perfectly fine with pencil and paper. Still, as many of the pre-service teachers and faculty with whom I worked this week have noted, engaging in this activity with the use of Google Docs allows them to see one another’s thinking unfold in process.

It is a very visual reminder of the fact that we all come to a text with a slightly different perspective and yet can still glean meaning from the text when engaged in substantive conversation.

Update, 4/15/17: Minor editing for a typo

Image by Anna Demianenko from Unsplash

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Thinking Through a Digital Deliberation, Part 4: Handwriting, Typing, and Fluency

Summer Institute in Digital Literacy Logo
2016 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy

Today, I head to Rhode Island for the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, and next Thursday I lead a “Digital Deliberation” session on “typing vs. handwriting.” In my first post for this series, I shared an overview of the debate. Then, in the second post, I look at handwriting curricula and typing tools. The third post explored the rhetorical approaches that proponents and opponents of handwriting and keyboarding both take. Today, I take one more dive into the deliberation, specifically trying to discern what — if anything — we can make claims about when it comes to students’ writing fluency, and what we can reasonably expect of them when handwriting as compared to typing.

I close this part of my inquiry and deliberation delving deeper into a point that Seán McHugh posed in his own blog post about typing vs handwriting, though I want to look at it in a different manner. His idea was this:

In other words, when you can touch-type, the cognitive load of writing and thinking at the same time are lessened and free up working memory for thinking—a bit like cycling a bicycle—once the effort required for remaining balanced, and changing gears et cetera are automatic, you can spend more time noticing/enjoying where you are going. The same idea applies to things like decoding in reading via ‘sight words’, this frees thinking space for understanding instead of decoding. The absence of effort in one frees cognitive space for the other…

In short, he equates fluency in touch-typing with gains in the composition process in the same manner that we know gains in fluency for readers will lead to better comprehension. This makes a good deal of sense, and is also backed up by all the research that he summarized. I thank him for contributing that part of his thinking so I could use it to further this deliberation.

So, to elaborate on the idea of writing fluency: in a NAEP report entitled NAEP 1996 Trends in Writing: Fluency and Writing Conventions, writing fluency is described as “a writer’s facility with language both in terms of the development and organization of ideas and in the use of syntax, diction, and grammar” (4-5). Much like a reader develops fluency (speed and accuracy) as well as prosody (performative measures such as volume, tone, and expression), so, too, must a writer develop these skills.

Returning to McHugh’s point above (and summary of the research), touch-typing frees up the cognitive load in our brains so we can focus on the composing process at the level of words, phrases, and clauses in a manner that, for many writing tasks, is superior to handwriting. Again, common sense would dictate that the words can flow more quickly with touch-typing when doing simple transcription tasks. Also, it seems that touch-typing also allows us to focus on higher-order concerns in the composing process.

This is not to say that we cannot, with handwriting (or cursive), compose intelligent, elaborate, and emotionally-rich written texts. Of course we can, and anyone who has his or her own writer’s journal, or enjoys the art of calligraphy or simply prefers to write by hand, can attest to this. What it does suggest, however, is that “handwriting vs. typing” — regardless of neuroscience or nostalgia, is a moot point.

Students must learn both how to touch-type for purposes of transcription (copying from their own handwritten texts or other texts) and composition (creating their own, original written products) in order to be fully literate in today’s world.

Back to the Standards

Because the CCSS offers no clear direction about how much writing a student at any grade should do in one sitting — a composition process that, much like reading well, requires both fluency and prosody as writers — I am going off the writing samples in Appendix C,  as representative samples of fluent writing, completed in one sitting. And, at the moment, I am not even looking at the quality of the writing or the commentary provided about how those pieces compare to the standards. I am, indeed, just looking at word counts and assuming that students produced those texts in “one sitting.”

In the table below, I provide a simple summary of the word counts of these pieces (I copied and pasted the selections into Word) so we can think carefully about this question of writing fluency as it compares to the time that it will take. For what it’s worth, the three kindergarten pieces, both first grade pieces, and the argument piece for the second grade sample and the third grade narrative were handwritten. Also, some of the older grades had pieces where handwritten, too. Thus, I started looking at arguments that were done as on-demand that were “on-demand” or noted to have been written in one sitting (and, I assumed, typed).

Grade Word Count
4 408
6 1026
7 473
10 719
12 582

In order to build this out further, I needed some reasonable estimation of how many words a child might compose based on age. After much searching — both through Google and the academic databases — the most concise document that I could find is this “Curriculum-Based Measurement: Written-Expression Fluency Norms” created by Jim Wright of Intervention Central who, in turn, had built it based on research from Gansle et al (2006) and Malecki & Jewell (2003). Take a moment to click on those fluency norms, and then take a look at Utah’s keyboarding standards, which was one of the few curriculum guides that, again, offered any kind of specificity in terms of the number of words a student should be able to produce at any one “sitting” of writing time.

Here, then, is my best attempt to combined Wright’s version of Gansle et al’s WPM of handwriting with a parallel match to Utah’s WPM of typing at the same grade level. I then compare that number to the average number of words in those samples from Appendix A and, finally, try to calculate an average sitting time for a student composing a text of that length, by keyboard, with the Utah standards. Please note that the Utah standards max out at 25 WPM in fifth grade and then suggest that, beginning in sixth grade, students “will demonstrate correct keyboarding techniques while increasing speed and maintaining accuracy.” For sake of this argument, then, I am adding 5 WPM each year until they make it to 12th grade and are fluent at 60 WPM.

Also, note that Wright’s fluency norms only go up to sixth grade, at which point the range could be from 44-72 (and this is just for total words written per minute, not counting errors). I am going to top out the students at a max of 80 WPM for no other reason than, based on my own experience, I don’t know that I can be in a state of “flow” while writing and pump out more than that. And, as you may recall from my earlier post, I tested myself a few times and I ranged between about 70 and 73 WPM. I’ll assume, however, that we can get our high school students to be accurately composing their written expression at 80 WPM, max.

So, what do we have?

Grade* Word Count Utah Typing Standard WPM Wright’s Fluency Norms (by spring) Wright’s Fluency Range (by spring)
4 408 20 46 30-62
6 1026 30* 58 44-72
7 473 35* 66 (No rates reported, but adding 6 WPM from 6th grade) No rates reported
10 719 50* 80 (No rates reported, but assuming that students top out at this level) No rates reported
12 582 60* 80 (No rates reported, but assuming that students top out at this level) No rates reported

OK, so one more table, now condensed a bit and adjusting for time. How long would “one sitting” be for our hypothetical, Common Core exemplar students, using a keyboard and allowing for a straight-on composing process (no time for planning, organizing, reorganizing, revising, or editing… just putting words onto the screen in a coherent manner).

Grade* Word Count Utah Typing Standard WPM Time Needed to Meet the Standard and Compose This Many Words (Rounded Up) Wright’s Fluency Norms (by spring) Time Needed to Meet the Standard and Compose This Many Words
4 408 20 21 Minutes 46 9 Minutes
6 1026 30* 35 Minutes 58 18 Minutes
7 473 35* 14 Minutes 70 (Estimate) 7 Minutes
10 719 50* 15 Minutes 80 (Estimate) 9 Minutes
12 582 60* 10 Minutes 80 (Estimate) 8 Minutes

Conclusions (For Now)

I will leave any more deliberation to my readers — and the participants in this week’s institute — but for the moment I will leave with some questions:

  • Are these times realistic given the time we have devoted to writing instruction in our school days and adequate access to computers?
  • Are they realistic given the time our students’ attention spans and ability to compose in on-demand or very short time frames?
  • How much more time do we need to allot in terms of allowing students to actually go through a writing and revising process that, even under ideal circumstances, would mean that they are not writing at the maximum WPM throughout?

Tying all of this together, I share the voice of one more teacher, Terri Fortmeyer.

I just wanted to let you know what we do at our school – North Muskegon Elementary. As a 3rd grade teacher for 16 years, we’ve had many of the same discussions about cursive and keyboarding skills. Currently, we teach cursive during our first semester so students are able to read any cursive they may encounter as well as have a cursive signature. We do not, however, spend large amounts of time on learning cursive letters – maybe 15 min. at the end of the day when students winding down for the day. We also begin teaching keyboarding skills during the second semester of second grade and more consistently during all of third grade. We notice that by fourth grade, students are able to read and write cursive as well as type at a decent speed so that they can begin to move away from paper/pencil writing. Last year I started teaching fourth grade and except for my on-demand assessment pieces and writer’s notebooks, my students drafted, revised, and edited on netbooks computers . . . and they preferred it.

So, what can we learn from Terri’s experience — as well as this entire series of blog posts? What is the state of handwriting and typing in our classrooms? I’ve got to tie all of this together into a 30 minute presentation before Thursday, so I hope that I will have some more ideas by then. And, as always, I appreciate your comments, questions, and insights.

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