Tag Archives: digital writing

#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.


Part I. Blogging with My Writers and You Can, too.

“Mrs. Rasmussen, can we write on our blogs more than just for assignments for class?”

After we set up our personal blogs, I received a similar message from several of my students. Of course, I replied, “Yes.” (Inside I yelled “YAY!!” and danced around the room a few times.)

Students want to write other than when I assign it. Wow.

And we are off…

I doubt anyone would argue that digital writing is important. Most of our students do it anyway:  texting, tweeting, commenting on YouTube videos. We might as well help them do it well.

We might as well help them share their ideas, opinions, stories, and arguments in a way that allows them to show their learning — and build their credibility as citizen scholars. That’s what I want for my students anyway. I want them to know that their voices matter. Their writing matters.

They have to have an audience other than me to truly understand that. That’s why I blog with my students.

Every year I ask student to personalize an online writing space. I’ve blogged with students when we had to reserve the writing lab. I’ve blogged with students when I had 12 computers we shared in my classroom. Another year I had an ipad cart with 30 devices. Now I’m at a 1:1 ipad school. It is easier, but it is not necessary.

If you want students to blog, you can find a way to make it work. I urge you to not let the lack of technology prevent you from at least doing something with digital writing.

Every year I try something new to help students take ownership of their blogging.  I’ve learned a few things about setting up blogs and getting students to write on them.


Here’s my blogging basics in a nutshell:

  • Build a case for blogging. I read “Blogging is the New Persuasive Essay” a few years back, and it helped me wrap my head around the how and why blogging works for the 21C student. I’ve even used this text as a reading piece with my students. They read, determine the author’s argument, and then have to defend, challenge, or qualify it. I can see pretty easily if a student is climbing on my blogging training willingly.


  • Conduct a little inventory of the blogsospere. Simply ask students to type “most popular blogs” into Google. Then ask them to do a bit of light reading. They might find “Top 15 Most Popular Blogs,” and they might recognize a few. They might find “The Top 10 Top Earning Bloggers in the World,” and you might see some jaws hit the floor. They might find “The 10 Most Inspirational Bloggers in the World,” and if we give them time to explore and read and think and play with the idea of become a blogger, we might get lucky, and our students might think: Hey, I can do this. This could be me!


  • Choose a platform. I’ve use Edublogs and WordPress in the past, and this year I am using Blogger because in my new district all students have google accounts. I’ve had no trouble learning blogger. It’s a Google product, so I figure if I cannot figure something out — or if kids can’t — we “Google it.” There’s a handy chart in this article that compares different blogging platforms used in education. You can decide for yourself which will work best for you and your students.


  • Take the time to get everyone set up. In year’s past I’ve expected students to know more than they do about using technology. Not every student is confident on a computer. Texting, yes. Applications, not so much. This year we took it slow. I created my own Blogger account and then modeled creating a new blog step-by-step in front of each of my six classes. I talked them through every step of their set up. Then I shared these instructions in writing, which include how they will be assessed for creating their blogs and their first blog post.


  • Show off students’ initial work. Besides asking students to follow each other, I think it is important to project their blogs and let everyone see what the class has created. Many students decide to change titles or themes or add different gadgets after they see the work of their peers. Here’s a few of my students’ blogs:  Jessica Ortiz, Mary SassamanDianna Sosa, Beatriz Vargas, Allie Tate.  (I do have male students; however, I have many more young women this year than young men. I just haven’t managed to follow all my writers’ blogs yet.)


Watch for Part 2 soon. I’ll write about how my students and I decide what we’ll blog about and what those choices look like in our AP English Language class.

Please share your questions about student blogging in the comments section. I’ll do my best to answer.


©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

Guest Post: Technology Transforms a Writing Workshop

In response to this post I wrote about walking the talk in our content areas, another teacher has responded to my invitation to write. She says of herself:  “Karen Clancy-Cribby loves learning, especially from adolescents. She’s a teacher, writer, and Writer’s Workshop is her life. Literally.” Find Karen on Twitter @kcribby.

My husband and I live in the country on land that is expansive, scrub oak, tall grasses.  Every time I go to the kitchen sink, my first look is up at the hill, across the valley, and I scan the hillside before my gaze settles to the immediate foreground.  I do this probably twenty times a day.

It hit me today, as I thought about this blog, that how I look out and around, before settling into the immediate, is how I think about everything.

I’m a big picture person, and when I was given the great honor of being offered the opportunity to guest blog about technology and Writer’s Workshop with this amazing group of teachers, I jumped at the chance.

Then I realized I’d signed up to write about a lesson.  Well, therein lies the rub.  To describe a traditional lesson is just not what resonates with the organic nature of the classroom we’ve been so fortunate to run with Writer’s Workshop.  The “we” in that sentence refers to my language arts colleague (and former student, and former student teacher) who I team with daily.

I’ve embraced Writer’s and Reader’s Workshop since I first read Nancie Atwell’s “In the Middle” back in 1990.  I’ve read Fletcher and Calkins and others since, but I’ve mostly just been diving in.

So, back to the whole lesson idea.  Lessons in WW can, and should, of course, be planned, but to speak of them outside the daily dynamic of the classroom doesn’t make sense to me.  Sure, plan for different activities, plan with the end in mind, know and plan for what students should know (even that is a stretch, but that’s another blog), but the ebb and flow of class has to be more dynamic and a response to what happens with students.  So, WW has been an ideal.  Set aside time for mini-lessons, reading and writing time, feedback and closure.

Now, with technology in the mix, well, wow.  So, instead of blogging a WW lesson with technology, I’m going to give you a day in the life of WW with technology.  I need to thank my language arts cohort and daily teaching partner, Emily, who suffered through all of these pages of drafts for this idea for a focus.

Here is our day:

Student working on writing in the winter pulled up a fire for cozy atmosphere.

We have our daily agenda and objectives on a Google Document shared with our students, who walk into class oftentimes having already pulled this document up on their Ipads or phones.  Every day, we ask students to answer a question as they come into class.  Thanks to another colleague, Kris, we call these “Fire-Ups,” given that warm-up seemed too tepid to describe the first lesson of the day which should be big.  So, students pull up the agenda on their iPads and log into their Google Doc on the Chromebooks.  Sometimes they need to look up a few things to answer the question, sometimes they need to just think, and sometimes they need to read and re-read to answer the question, which, ideally takes no more than ten minutes for everyone to feel okay to discuss the question.

Within ten minutes of class, we will ask them how much time they need.  It’s usually no more than a few minutes, but oftentimes, our questions are bigger than we planned.

So, our agenda is a work in progress, and we adapt, as all teachers do,  as the class goes along. Sometimes, all students need a nudge in a certain direction, and we extend the lesson.  This often looks like one of us “saging on the stage,” while the other uploads examples or research hints and tools.

Other times, and I’d hazard to say most times, they all just need to fly.  Then, we have the luxury of sitting down at our desks, reading over their virtual shoulders and giving them individual feedback in person or on their Google Docs.

Writer’s Workshop has been my educator dream ideal since I was in college, and now the ideal is…well, I hate to sound absolute, but it’s possible, truly possible.

Technology allows all of that to happen immediately and in real time.  I am fortunate (understatement) to teach with someone who not only embraces the workshop pedagogy as passionately as I do, but she is a whiz with technology.  Four years ago, when she was my student teacher, we had netbooks, and we started using Google Docs, and I’ll never forget those opening days of my brain exploding.  We had our agenda on the overhead screen, shining from her computer.  The agenda was made in Google Docs.  I had a few students who preferred to access their writing from their phones.  If I didn’t read literally over their cyber-shoulder, I would not have believed how fast they could write using their phones.  As more and more students used their phones alongside the netbooks (we are so lucky to now have Chromebooks!), I started thinking about so many possibilities of all the access they had to information.  Then, there were whispers of our district going 1:1 with iPads.  I’ll never forget standing in the front of the room with Emily, my student teacher, and I looked at her and said, “we can have the agenda online for them to have access to,” and she looked at me and said, “they can write their responses on a Google Doc too.”  That was four long (or short?) years ago.

Now, we’re all online, and I feel as though the newbie teacher dreams of a perfect Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop are now a reality.  Well, perfect is an oversell, but all of those years where I would say, “read and write whatever you want” have been transformed.

Students walk into the classroom, open up their Chromebooks and their iPads. Most students pull up the agenda on their iPad and then start answering their fire-up question on their running Fire-Up Google Doc.   The question is related to where we have been and where we are going.  We try to stretch the question, make it something they need to think about.  Sometimes there is a background/research portion, and then the question.  Sometimes it’s a piece of literature they need to explore for techniques; sometimes it’s a revision piece they need to evaluate.  These Fire-Up questions are very often taken from my own personal writing.  Writer’s Workshop isn’t WW without the teacher as writer.  The beauty of the Fire-Up being taken from my writing is that I am starting most classes with modeling myself as writer.  I can then keep going back to my writing, allowing everyone to critique it.  I have noticed that students are at their best when they are critiquing my writing.  With peers, they sometimes become too gentle, or the reverse, too harsh.  With my writing, they are quick to get to the heart of what needs improvement or what things work and why.

I get to do the think-alouds about my own writing; things I like, things I want to make even better, my purpose, etc.  This leads to them then taking that mini-lesson and my modeling metacognition, and then they look at their own writing, and other’s writing.

My teaching cohort Emily and I were talking the other day about how she needs to do some writing. We have an easy balance together, but she’s right.  She needs to write.  The best way we show ourselves is at our in-progress stage of writing, discussing what we want to do for purpose, topic, and audience.  We should not show ourselves ever thinking we’re “done.”

Back to how technology transforms this all.   Sharing is more immediate; there are multiple modalities for discussion (Edmodo for responding, Padlet for throwing out fire up responses, sharing of Google Docs for commenting).  The transformation, for me, having taught using this model for so long, is that if I ask a student to explore an interest, they can do it, right then, right there.

They can find and access a kazillion mentor texts.  ‘Nough said.

Student finishing up an online literature circle discussion using Edmodo.

Student finishing up an online literature circle discussion using Edmodo.

Here is another snapshot of this transformation.  As we were moving into the second quarter of language arts, Emily asked me how we should frame our lessons as we continued.  It hit me that though we were using the workshop model, it had transformed to such overwhelming possibilities.  It felt like grooming a rock star who had hit the charts.  I have no idea why that analogy came to me, but it’s so hard to describe the little monsters we’d created with so much room for them to stretch, reach, and grow with Writer’s Workshop.  I answered her with a gleeful, big, let’s see-where-this-will go shrug and said, “well, nothing has changed, let’s keep the workshop going, but maybe we need to call it something more expansive, like, “Learning on your own.”

The next day, when LOYO was on our agenda, and many students knew what the acronym was, well, wow.  The teacher learner in me talked about how their learning was officially limitless, and I was excited to sit down and visit with them and see where they were going.
I’m excited to see where I’m going.  I get to do this.  Every day.

%d bloggers like this: