Looking for Feedback on the Idea of a Digital Writing Project

As we prepare to head to the NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE Convention in just about a week, I am also plugging away at our Chippewa River Writing Project Continued Funding Application. I have come to one of the most compelling parts of the report, at least for me… the point where we reflect on the summer institute and think about what that means for our site. So, here is where I am at right now and, in the spirit of collaboration, I look for any insights that you might be able to offer me here as I try to articulate my vision of our “digital writing project.”

Thanks in advance for your feedback and I look forward to seeing many of you in Philly next week!

From the CRWP CFA — Troy’s Reflections on the Summer Institute:

Our summer institute, from its inception, focused on a clear integration of literacy and technology. In seeing ourselves as a “digital writing project,” we began our work with the intent that a “web 2.0” ethos of collaboration, creativity, and commitment would infuse our work. As we reflect on our experience as leaders in this first summer institute, and review the comments of TCs, we see that these elements were present. In terms of collaboration, we relied heavily on the wiki and Google Docs as spaces to share all of our work, from our initial writer’s profile to our responses to teaching demos to our own personal writing. Teachers began the institute with the expectation that they would, indeed, become part of a collaborative and connected group, largely enabled by the technologies that we chose.

In terms of creativity, we invited participants to engage in literacy and technology not just from a functional perspective (although, getting the technology to simply function was sometimes a problem!), but from critical and rhetorical perspectives as well. Our use of digital storytelling, for instance, highlights this perspective. While inviting participants to create their own digital stories, we also analyzed the stories that others had created to get a sense of what worked, what made the digital stories more than simply a collection of images set to a narration. By constantly moving back and forth from the technical to the critical and rhetorical aspects of composition – both analog and digital – we feel that participants were better able to articulate what was creative about their work, as well as why that approach worked.

Finally, we look at the commitment or level of engagement from participants. While we are happy to report that participants in our summer institute, like participants at countless other institutes, reported that their summer experience was, to use an oft-quoted phrase, “life changing,” we were also surprised to see the level at which they believed the digital aspects of our work influenced them. For instance, one participant may sum it up best by responding to the “most important thing” question from the final SI survey conducted by Inverness: 

The most important “thing” I gained is confidence with some interactive technology to implement in my classroom. I think implementation of the Wiki will benefit my students. Their mindset is that school work isn’t “real” work, and I’d like to change their mindset. Use of the Wiki will assist, I believe.

Simply stated, we “wikified” our teachers’ beliefs about what it means to be a writer and teacher of writing. Like Wikipedia, where many contributors create a collective whole that is, indeed, much more than the sum of its parts, we feel that our summer institute, with its focus on “collaboration, creativity, and commitment” allowed participants to see writing, and digital writing, in an entirely different perspective. We hope, like all NWP sites do, that this new vision will help inform the ways that they teach writing in their classrooms, especially in the ways that they integrate technology.


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Notes from Dan Priest’s “Rethinking Technology in the Multimodal Classroom”

Dan Priest is a pre-service teacher from Western Michigan University and presented “Rethinking Technology in the Multimodal Classroom” at MCTE‘s fall conference. He suggested that his explorations of the internet and some of the tools available continue to inspire the ways in which he teaches with technology. Using his Wii remote/homemade Smartboard, he argues that “Students are more receptive to graphically designed instruction today than what is considered practical” and cites some of the following examples:

This was a wonderful presentation from a young teacher — some tools that I knew, many that I didn’t — and shows me that there are some great things happening in classrooms with multimodal composition, and even greater possibilities.


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Join in NCTE’s National Day on Writing

Just a quick post to note that on Tuesday, October 20, 2009, NCTE celebrates the National Day on Writing.

Events will occur all day through their webcast, and I will be joining in the chat from 9-10 AM and in a live video cast from 2:30 – 3:00 PM.

Please join in by inviting your students to submit or by submitting your own writing to the National Gallery of Writing.

See you online tomorrow!


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Third Episode of Teachers Teaching Teachers: Conferring and Response to Digital Writing

Teachers Teaching Teachers: Conferring and Response in the Digital Writing Workshop
October 14, 2009

In this final episode of our three part series, please join Troy Hicks, author of The Digital Writing Workshop, and Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project at Central Michigan University, as we continue exploring the principles and practices described in the book.

For this third episode, we welcome three teachers to the conversation as they discuss how they teach students to craft their writing through conferring and response:

  • Melissa Pomerantz of Parkway North High School in St. Louis, Missouri, will describe how she uses audio feedback to respond to students through virtual conferences.
  • Heather Lewis of Waverly Middle School in Lansing, Michigan, will discuss how she guides students through the revision process with Google Docs.
  • Joe Belino, a teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages at Montgomery County Public Schools in Gaithersburg, Maryland, will discuss the ways in which his students offer response to one another through the use of Google Docs. 

As this series concludes, we invite all listeners to continue the conversation by joining the Digital Writing Workshop Ning and follow us on Twitter.

We would invite you to join us on Wednesday at http://EdTechTalk.com/live at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific USA Wednesdays / 01:00 UTC Thursdays World Times


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Do You Use 3×5 Cards? Rethinking the Research Process

This past weekend, our department chair received an email from a local high school English teacher who asked, in short, should they be teaching students how to do a “traditional” research paper — including the use of 3×5 note cards — because some of his colleagues are strong supporters of it and others consider it “archaic.”

He wanted to hear a response from a college professor about how best to prepare students for the kinds of research that they would be doing in composition courses that they would be taking after high school. Below, I have copied and pasted the response that I offered him via email. And, now I ask you… What do you think — is it time to move away from “traditional” research paper writing processes?


Hello ___,

Dr. ___ forwarded your question to a number of us in the English Department who are involved in teaching composition and English Education courses, and I offer you a reply based on my own professional opinions and, to the extent that I can, what I sense are the expectations of a typical college writing classroom.

Before I answer, I want to acknowledge the many tensions that are evident in the question that you ask — between the amount of skills you aim to teach students as they do research and the time you have to do it; between the “traditional” way of teaching and newer ways that have the potential to be both positive and possibly have unintended consequences; between what your community, students, and parents might expect an English teacher to know and be able to do and what you personally and what your entire department may think might be better for students.

Moreover, I am not sure of the context in which you ask it; are you someone who thinks this process is archaic, or are you someone who finds this method valuable?

Thus, I tread carefully when I answer this, noting this complicated context. But, you asked for comments and criticisms, so I will share them. I also invite you to write back, so we can continue this conversation.

So, at risk of sounding rude, my short answer is yes, the process of using 3×5 cards is archaic.

Here is the longer answer that looks at pedagogy, genres in writing, and technologies available for digital writing.

First, pedagogy. The established practice (as I remember it from my own K-12 schooling) of choosing a research topic, gathering info on note cards, creating an outline, and then writing a final paper is, as we all know, formulaic. The writing process is never this clear and, while we do need to guide students in the process, we also need to encourage them to engage in topics in a variety of ways. Along with thinking about models such as Macrorie’s I-Search paper or Romano’s multigenre research paper, I also encourage you to have students do research like real scholars, journalists, and writers do — by talking with people and engaging in multiple forms of media, all the while documenting their research process including the questions that they have, the stumbling blocks they encounter, and the “a-ha” moments they discover. By limiting our students’ experiences simply to taking notes from existing sources, we are not really teaching them how to be active and engaged researchers and writers. We need to open up the research process to them.

Second, genres. As mentioned above with Romano’s multigenre research, the idea of having students write on a single topic through different perspectives and multiple genres is one that has taken hold in the past decade or so, and is evident in a variety of curriculum documents (such as Michigan’s HSCEs) and professional statements (such as Writing Now from NCTE). Having students produce a traditional academic research paper is still a valuable skill, and one that they will need in college. Yet, to limit their writing about that particular topic to creating only a research paper very much limits their engagement with the topic and the ways in which they represent their thinking. To that end, we need to have them write in unfamiliar genres (See Fleischer and Andrew-Vaughan) and share their writing with other audiences besides us as their teachers. We need to make their research process more purposeful by inviting them to write about it for a variety of purposes.

Third, technology. This is a personal and professional interest of mine, so I will go into a bit more detail here. I want to note the concerns that many teachers have about the uses of technology, especially the internet, including their own inexperience and the capability that it can provide for students to plagiarize. These are real concerns, and I am not trying to down play them here. Instead, what I believe is that any teacher, with good professional development and collegial support, can learn how to teach with technology and avoid many of the pitfalls that they think it will cause. In other words, just because students might be tempted to plagiarize because of the technology, we shouldn’t give up on it before we even try.

With that in mind, there are at least two technologies that I think are useful for students as they begin to document their research process and create their bibliographies, both of which are free and students can use at home, school, or other places that they can access the internet. The first is Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) and, in particular, the web-based word processor that they can use to create documents and collaborate with one another. Using this online word processor, students can begin to create an annotated bibliography — either all in one document, or with each annotation in a separate document. They can invite you, as their teacher, or other students in as collaborators on the document, thus sharing their research process with you and their peers along the way. Moreover, students can be taught how to write summaries and gather quotes in these Google Docs, and then they can use these summaries and quotes in their own writing about the research by simply copying and pasting. You can find out more about Google Docs through this PDF from Educause and video from the Common Craft show.

The second process can be accomplished in a variety of forms, but would be either to use a social bookmarking site such as delicious.com or a bibliography management tool such as Zotero, a free plug-in for the Firefox Web browser (zotero.org). Like Google Docs, you can find out more about these from Educause (Zotero and social bookmarking) and videos (Common Craft on Social Bookmarking and the video on the Zotero homepage). Both tools are useful in different ways, and students could use both. If you had to choose one only though for the process of writing the research paper, I would strongly encourage you to explore uses of Zotero. I have taught my students in both intermediate composition and a senior seminar about Zotero, and all of them have found it useful for organizing their research as they go (including tracking bibliographic info as well as keeping notes, quotes, and summaries), creating annotated bibliographies and, ultimately, helping them be more effective researchers.

With these technologies, among a number of others such as wikis and social networks, I feel that students can become more active researchers. While these tools are meant to meet the same goals as 3×5 cards — trying to help writers organize their ideas and prepare to write a research paper — as you begin to use them and teach your students to use them, I think that the ways in which these technologies can enhance the research process and contribute to students’ growth as writers quite powerful. Moreover, there is the fact that we are being asked to teach our students digital literacies such as these based on the requirements of the HSCEs and suggestions of our professional organizations.

All that said, yes, there are there still professors who teach — and demand — a traditional research paper, including 3×5 cards. Yet, it is clear that there are more shifts in our field related to our pedagogical approach, the genres we ask students to write in, and the ways in which technology is influencing that process. I hope that my response here helps encourage you and your colleagues to think about the ways that you might engage students as readers, writers, and researchers.

Finally, if you would like any help with this through professional development services, I would be happy to talk with you more about this, and what we can offer you through our site of the National Writing Project, the Chippewa River Writing Project. I know that there are teachers in the Waverly district who have attended MSU’s site, the Red Cedar Writing Project, so you also have some people “in house” who might be able to help you rethink the research paper process.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions and I look forward to hearing your response.

Troy



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Teachers Teaching Teachers — Episode 2: Exploring Author’s Craft

Teachers Teaching Teachers: Exploring Author’s Craft in the Digital Writing Workshop
October 7, 2009

In this second episode of our three part series, please join Troy Hicks, author of The Digital Writing Workshop, and Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project at Central Michigan University, as we continue exploring the principles and practices described in the book.

For this second episode, we welcome four Michigan teachers to the conversation as they discuss how they teach the craft of digital writing:

  • Dawn Reed of Okemos High School will discuss how students craft audio essays in the form of podcasts
  • Aram Kabodian of MacDonald Middle School will share his insights on the process of composing digital stories and public service announcements
  • Sharon Murchie of Bath High School will describe how she guides her students through the research process for creating multimedia senior projects
  • Shannon Powell of Central Montcalm Middle School in Michigan will discuss her experiences as a new teacher as she has begun to use digital writing in her classroom, including her recent integration of “SSR with RSS” for a class of reluctant readers

Finally, on October 14th, we will discuss the process of conferring and response to student writers as they create digital texts.

We would invite you to join us on Wednesday at http://EdTechTalk.com/live at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific USA Wednesdays / 01:00 UTC Thursdays World Times


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Two Resources: A Digital Writing Tool and 21st Century Storytelling Website

As we settle in to the school year and begin to think more about how to invite students into digital writing, we want to continue our own exploration of tools and resources. In the past few weeks, I’ve received emails from two people sharing info about a digital writing tool and a storytelling website. The tool, RealeWriter, is a program that students can use to create digital books, and it can be used in an almost fully functional form for free. The website, Lit Drift: Storytelling in the 21st Century, is a team of writers sharing thoughts about writing and story telling through “a blog, resource, and community dedicated to the art & craft of storytelling in the 21st century.” Here are some notes from the contacts at these sites:

RealeWriter – Mark Condon

RealeWriter The free RealeWriter prints small picture books, that feature children’s digital photos or artwork. The creations, called RealeBooks are onscreen readable and projectable as “big” books. There’s an email utility that allows children to email their books to family and friends, and a library system where children can publish their books for free. That should be a nice addition to your digital workshop curriculum, especially for pre-school and elementary teachers. In addition sound files may be added to any page, which makes these “local publications” particularly valuable for those involved in language and literacy development, those who work with visually impaired children, or those children who wish to add sound effects, animal noises, etc. to their creations.

I did download and try out RealeWriter for a brief spin, and found it compelling — the interface is easy to use and I could see how children would find the process of creating a story very engaging. The idea that students can share their texts through RealeReader’s online library system makes sharing and collaboration possible, too. So, give the free version a try and see what it can do for your students as they create their own books.

Lit Drift – JK Evanczuk

I’m writing because I would like to let you know Lit Drift, a new blog, resource, and community dedicated to the art & craft of fiction in the 21st century. We aim to uncover innovative and extraordinary examples of storytelling across all media, present them in such a way that’s fun and accessible to both teens and adults, and most importantly, to inspire them to become storytellers themselves.

I hope that Lit Drift might serve as a useful tool for Digital Writing, Digital Teaching’s readers. Besides our editorial content, we offer daily creative prompts, daily short stories, and a weekly free book giveaway
called Free Book Friday. This week, we’re giving away a copy of Crust by Lawrence Shainberg, sponsored by Two Dollar Radio.

The site is free to use, no sign-up required, no strings attached. We just genuinely want to get more people reading and telling stories-and to have a blast doing it.

So, there are two new resources to check out. Give them a try and let us know what you think. And, of course, if you have other resources to share, please let me know that, too. Enjoy digitally writing with your students!

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