Technology in Writing Workshop: When Students Take The Lead

We are neck deep in drafting various pieces for our multi genre writing project these days, and I am noticing (and celebrating) two ways in which our workshop has changed, both of which make this project do-able and enjoyable.

First, a year of rigorous writing workshop, with carefully adhered to routines and practices,  has created a class ready to be independent and take writing risks.  I no longer need to be as present in every phase of the writing, since my kids have truly taken ownership of their topics and the direction they want to take their writing.

Second, and I think that this comes from the fact that I have taken a back seat so that my students can take the lead, I find that they are teaching me new ways to research, and new tools with which to enrich our writing.  I have always known that they are a tech savvy bunch, adept at texting/Instagramming/Tweeting/Vining (and a host of other things) often all at the same time.  What is really fascinating right now is watching how they are able to manipulate these technologies to advance their writing.

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Working with Googledocs:

All year long, we’ve followed the same writing procedure in our workshop:

  • sketch and quick write in our writer’s notebooks
  • draft and revise on our yellow legal pads
  • type up our revised drafts on Microsoft Word
  • peer edit/copy edit
  • publish

Now, with three weeks of school left, my kids are confident writers who are able to go from first draft directly onto Googledocs in order to confer with me and peer edit with their writing partners.  Here for instance is a poem in its final stages of revision, with my comments:


The first time I’d seen this poem was when this student shared it with me – all the sketching and drafting was done independently, and she is now ready for just those final tweaks and words of advice.  Sometime in the next few days, perhaps when she wants to take a break from the feature article she is writing, she will be ready to open this document, consider my comments, and make some writing choices.  She knows that I am ready for one-on-one conferences at any time during writing workshop, and she knows that I can also open her shared document at any time to guide her if the need arises.  Both of us, student and teacher, take comfort in this.

Using technology inventively:

The thing that I am most amazed about, however, is how my kids have taken charge of the research process, using tech resources in ways I would never have thought of.  Here, for instance is how one student solved a rather thorny issue.  She was writing a memoir from her grandmother’s perspective for her multi genre project on “My Italian Heritage”.  She had interviewed family, collected stories, and  decided to write about a moment from her grandmother’s life as she was preparing to leave Rome for America.  She wanted to imagine what her grandmother must have felt like as she walked those well loved streets for the last time. An excellent idea, but Catherine had never been to Rome…so, what to do?  Here’s what:

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GoogleMaps to street views to instant access to Rome!  Catherine spent the period exploring Rome, gathering all sorts of information and ideas about the layout of the city and particular historic sites that her Grandmother would surely have passed by many a time, and know she was going to miss in her new life in America.  Since much has changed over the years, she found and bookmarked another site to examine next – one with vintage photographs of Rome.  Our kids are such naturally visual learners, and Catherine’s method of researching is so revealing of  the way in which they are inclined to tap into visual resources in inventive ways.

Since we have such a short time frame within which to work, my students seem to understand that they need to be gathering and storing ideas, photographs, data and anything else they may need for the four elements of their project at every opportunity.  Smart phones have been put to wonderful use these days, here’s one student sorting and cataloguing photographs he has transferred from his phone  to his Googledoc:

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Other creative tech avenues:

  • some students  have used Soundcloud and Voice Memos to conduct interviews, and record notes.
  • some want to embed soundtracks in their photo essays, and are creating and storing playlists they can later upload onto their presentations.
  • some are experimenting with photo apps like Waterlogue and FxCamera to give their photographs just the right quality.  One student has used Waterlogue to give the photographs in her memoir piece an antique effect, which was a lovely inspiration.

Watching my kids in action, I am reminded of something Troy Hicks wrote about the interplay between writing and technology:

if we engage students in real writing tasks and we use technology in such a way that it complements their innate need to find purposes and audiences for their work, we can have them engaged in a digital writing process that focuses first on the writer, then on the writing, and lastly on the technology.

Sometimes we are the ones who discover new ways in which technology can enhance our writing workshops, but the best moments are when we look around our classrooms and discover that our students have made their own discoveries.