Advance Reviews: Because Digital Writing Matters

In just a few weeks, Jossey-Bass will release the new book that Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, and I wrote with the National Writing Project: Because Digital Writing Matters. Here is part of the official blurb about the book:

As many teachers know, students may be adept at text messaging and communicating online but do not know how to craft a basic essay. In the classroom, students are increasingly required to create web-based or multi-media productions that also include writing. Since writing in and for the online realm often defies standard writing conventions, this book defines digital writing and examines how best to integrate new technologies into writing instruction.

Over the past few weeks, a number of NWP folks have received copies of the book, and here are some of their reviews. If I have missed someone’s, please let me know:

Andrea Zellner’s Book Review

The authors address all of the issues that surround taking one’s students into online and digital environments.  They begin with a discussion defining the nature of this type of composition.  The text then moves into more prosaic concerns, those concerns that ultimately make or break the taking of instruction online or digital: issues of copyright, acceptable use policies, standards and benchmarks, assessment.  I was impressed that even the physical layout of a computer lab was considered: the very physical positioning of the students and teacher has an impact on the overall learning ecology.

Steven Moore’s “Guns, Germs, and… Digital Writing?”

Because Digital Writing Matters speaks to the important idea of balance in many ways; talking first about the value of using writing to organize ideas in new and useful ways and then about the significant role that tinkering with technology plays in learning. You can do too much of either and the communication event fails to have an effect. Too much technology and not enough methodology and the writer or writing teacher becomes encumbered like a soldier whose sword has a one ton hilt. It won’t matter how sharp the blade is if you can’t lift the weapon.

Kevin Hodgson’s Book Review — check out the link, because he has an embedded Glogster file there!

That aside, there are many things that stand out for me in this book (which is the companion to NWP’s Because Writing Matters, which laid out the rationale for writing as a means of learning across all curriculum). Among the points where I grabbed my highlighter and marked up the text (much to the surprise of my sons, who kept asking me why I was writing in a book):

  • I like and think it is important that much of what we are calling writing falls under the term of “composition,” which involves using elements of words, audio, video, image and more to create a sense of meaning. That mixed-up, mashed-up element is highlighted throughout the book, as is the need to be able to teach those elements to our young writers/composers.
  • The book highlights many NWP teachers in the classroom, showcasing a wide range of projects on various themes: engagement, assessment, curriculum alignment, etc. That is very helpful to have. I know a lot of the folks mentioned here, and admire their work immensely from afar. I like that they are being recognized, even though there are plenty more NWP folks doing amazing work, too.
  • The chapter on the ecologies of digital writing was fascinating for me. I guess I hadn’t given this idea enough thought when it comes to the physical setting of a connected classroom. I have thought about the online environment, but pulling these two strands together (physical and virtual space) was an interesting turn.
  • I appreciated the long list of “traits and actions” that are associated with digital writing because they highlight a vast array of elements of what is going on when young people compose with computers and devices. This list runs from creativity/originality to observations/inquiry to the remix culture. Plus, I am a sucker for lists.
  • The sense of play is all over the stories in this book. We need time to play with technologies ourselves, and we need to give students the time to play and experiment, too. It’s hard to overstate this.
  • The authors use the phrase “double helix” to describe the meshing (or not) of technology curriculum standards with writing standards. I love that phrase because it shows both the connections and the separate qualities of both.

Finally, there is Bud Hunt’s thoughtful photo composition: Lenses

Plus two more critical reviews, which I welcome, from reviews on Amazon.

This book makes it seem like digital writing is *special*, different than other writing; but we could say the same thing about writing on wax tablets, then parchment, then on paper, then on a typewriter… I don’t really believe the medium of Microsoft Word or Google Docs significantly impacts how we *think* about how we write. It possibly has more to do with the issue of *audience*, not medium — and in that case, a good “digital writing” book should make this more apparent from the first page. (Dame Droiture)

While this book covers the basic ways of communicating via e-mail, texting, and the way these ‘genres’ have influenced “standard” writing, it’s not a very creative way of addressing the problem. Cultural practice changes very fast, and digital cultural practice changes superfast, so I think it’s preferable that teachers do their own “cultural study” of digital writing and decide for themselves its significance and influence, or better yet, develop personal assignments figuring out ways to get students to meta-analyze the way they write depending on the medium and to whom their writing. (JackOfMostTrades)

So, that’s what people are saying. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

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Notes from Harvey Daniels’ “Best Practice Across the Curriculum”

This morning, I am pleased to be a part of Littleton Public Schools’ Adolescent Literacy Institute, and I am able to participate in Harvey “Smokey” Daniels’ keynote, “Best Practice Across the Curriculum.” Here are some notes from his session:

  • Goals for today
    • Define “Best Practice”
    • Consider the missing link: student collaboration
    • Watch video of kids working together
    • Introduction to Inquiry Circles
  • Books: Best Practice, Content Area Writing, Subjects Matter
  • 91& of the time, 6th graders spend their time listening to teachers talk of doing commercially prepared seatwork (Pianta et al, 2007)
  • What’s missing?
    • Engagement
    • Curiosity
    • Content
    • Thinking
  • Best practice
    • In 1993 when we worked on the first edition of this book, we were thinking about how other professionals look at the “state of the art” in their field and consider what is “best practice.”
    • Sadly, it is now showing up in “best practice” workbooks
    • So, what is “best practice?”
    • Coverage vs. Inquiry
      • Cover the curriculum (a “curriculum of mentioning”) vs. slowing down and going deeper, screened content
      • Atheoretical vs. driven by learning theory (whatever you subscribe to, all theories agree that students must act upon information in order to make it their own)
      • Assigning reading and writing vs. modeling reading and writing
      • No strategy instruction vs. explicit strategy instruction
      • Backloading instruction vs. frontloading instruction (Jeff Wilhelm)
      • Little or no support during reading and writing vs. time, activities and tools that support students (before, during, and after)
      • Textbook-based vs. variety of texts
      • Teacher chosen topics and assignments vs. student choice and responsibility
      • Solitary vs. social
    • See Consortium on Chicago Schools Research
      • Students in interactive classrooms had nearly 1/3 more gain in achievement than non-interactive classrooms
    • Small group work
      • Groups of four seems to be the magic number for group work
      • Small groups are lifelike
      • In small groups, we are smarter
      • Small groups generate energy for challenging work
      • Small groups make the most of diversity
      • Small groups bring “best practice” teaching to life
      • Small groups help us differentiate instruction
      • Employers increasingly require small group skills
      • Linda Darling-Hammond’s book on Powerful Learning
      • Social skills predict earnings better than test scores
    • Common Core Standards
      • “Engage productively and respectfully with others”
    • How do we get predictable and positive outcomes from students?
      • Make personal connections
      • Get them to know each other
      • Mix up the groups periodically
      • Know who can, and can not, work together
      • Teaching them to ask follow-up questions
    • Modeling an open inquiry
      • Studying the future
  • Points to consider when thinking about collaboration with Google Docs
    • We spend our weekend grading student papers while they are out — how can we invite them to collaborate?
    • Students often get information from only one source — how do we help them find more?
    • Solitary vs. social — how do we effectively structure group tasks to involve everyone?
    • Asking follow-up questions — how do we teach students to really interact with one another and ask pertinent, empathetic follow-up questions?


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