#3TT Workshop — Digital Writing in the Writer’s Workshop

Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop in our Secondary Classrooms. Read more about us here.

We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.

Despite the proliferation of e-readers, tablets, and digital reading and writing technology, recent research is making digital texts look a little less appealing.  This article discusses the slow reading, complex-text, and comprehension literacy skills we just can’t get from reading electronically.  This one has lots of great links to the reasons digital reading “fail[s] to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.”

As Shana’s school in West Virginia is increasingly making the move to one-to-one technology, digital learning, and an increased emphasis on electronic reading and writing, she wondered how this shift would impact writers’ literacies.  Her discussion with Amy follows.  Please join the conversation in the comments!

writing rhet and digital media_1Why is one-to-one technology such a big deal? Does every child really need a laptop or a tablet?  Isn’t their generation suffused with enough technology as it is?

Shana: I surveyed my students this year, and 98% of them have a smartphone with data access that they’re accustomed to using all day.  This troubled me–there was no space in their routine for slowing down their thinking.  I don’t think the reader’s-writer’s workshop works without deliberate attention to reading, writing, talking, revising, thinking, and pondering.  So, I invited my students to simplify their lives this year by putting away all smartphones, but wondered if I was being a hypocrite when we wrote frequently on the laptops I keep in my classroom.

Now that it’s November, I’ve decided I’m not actually a hypocrite–the experience of writing drafts in print, revising and workshopping them, and then transferring them to a published form digitally is far different than the instant-gratification experience of using a smartphone.  Still, though, I watched a student just yesterday play a game on his smartphone while he waited for his computer to boot up.  My students don’t seem to know how to handle free moments to just think, or wonder, or daydream–at stoplights, in hallways, or just waiting for a computer to load.  I worry that this reliance on technology to fill their time will prevent this generation from thinking slowly enough to learn, grow, solve problems, and just think.

Amy:  Just like the literacy gap that happens between children who grow up in print-rich home and those who do not, I’ve started to see a digital literacy gap. Haven’t you? The idea that students are digital natives does not mean they are digitally savvy. Most of my students do not have internet access at home, but they do have cell phones. They can text like thumb-numbing tornadoes, but they cannot format a Word document to save their lives. And since their thumbs do not work so well on iPad keyboards, most tap at the keys like chickens pecking at the dirt. They are slow typists. Now, having said that — that does not mean that I do not think they should learn how to write digitally, format correctly, and type efficiently. All students in this age need to become digitally savvy, and I haven’t found that one mandatory technology class in high school is enough to help them get there. No even close. As English teachers, our role shifts as the literacy shifts. If we are not including some element of digital literacy, I think we do many students a huge disservice.

Shana: “Thumb-numbing tornadoes.” Amy, you are a wordsmith.  I agree that our role shifts as literacy shifts–it’s scary to have to learn new skills fast enough to teach them to our readers, but it’s our reality.  I know writing at Three Teachers Talk has helped me immensely to learn how to write and publish digitally–and it’s a skill that has benefited my readers and writers in the classroom.

What are some authentic best practices related to digital writing?

Amy:  The cool thing about writing is that the skills we need to write on paper are not so far from the skills we need to write digitally. Typing excepted. We still need to think on the page, study models, learn from experts, practice drafting, review and revise… And publishing can be so much more fun — at least I think so. We have the opportunity to share our writing much more through digital means than we had via paper. I like that. I like that my students can share writing with yours. Yours can share writing with mine. I know, we could stuff a big fat envelope with student essays, but I am not so likely to do that. I will however send you my students’ blog links.

Shana:  In a perfect world, my school would mandate a typing class for all ninth-graders that includes not just keyboarding skills (which they are TERRIBLE at), but also digital publication skills.  There are vast opportunities for meaningful discourse that can take place between readers, writers, and thinkers when we get students writing and publishing digitally.  I still very much believe in the power of print writing–but, I know, thanks particularly to Amy, how valuable digital writing is, too.  As Whitman says– “Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes.”  I can’t wait to have our students writing digitally with one another!

What are your thoughts on digital vs. print writing?  Join the conversation in the comments, and check out yesterday’s discussion of digital vs. print reading.



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