technology · writing workshop

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.


10 thoughts on “Technology in Writing Workshop: When Students Take The Lead

  1. Tara, I love how you describe this process of holding on and letting go of your students, how they have gained confidence in their writing and researching. We do not have access to Google docs, and I’m afraid that day is far in the future. I think my students would benefit from my use of comments using word. But how should I do it so they can access it on different computers?
    You always give me more to think about for my classroom, pushing me to be a better writing coach.
    I do not know what I will write about for Digilit Sunday, but I do know that your post here will be linked.


    1. Googledocs is a work in progress in my classroom, Margaret. We’re piloting it for the middle school, and it’s a bit rough going because we lack enough computers/bandwidth. But anyone with a gmail account can have access to Googledocs and share with each other. So, many of my kids are able to get around our district’s issues by doing this. I really believe that this is the future of writing workshop – one to one access, and working with shared documents for collaboration.


  2. Tara, the part of your year-long writing procedure is “publish.” What does that look like in your classroom? What do you mean, exactly, by “publish?”


    1. Hi Mary Lee! When all revisions and edits are done, and the student feels that their writing piece is truly “done” the final copy is published and ready for our writing celebration. So, if it’s memoir we are working on, we have a target date for our memoir writing celebration when all students share their writing with the class at our writing celebration. The published piece then goes into the writing portfolio. Some pieces remain in draft form, or are abandoned entirely, and these remain either in the writing notebook or in the “working folders”. Sometimes, as with our end of year multi genre project, these unfinished writing pieces are reached into for ideas or for completion. Hope that answers your question!


  3. Tara, this post is awesome. I love hearing the feedback on Googledocs, as I’ve been watching to see how this application has worked for giving students immediate feedback on work. Every chance we have to streamline that feedback process adds exponentially to the students’ ability to grow and become independent, as you describe. (I saw this in revision at the sentence level, as our school tried out a new vocabulary software called WordVoyage this year.) I also love the intuitive resourcefulness students are showing in their research. Thanks for sharing this.


  4. Loved seeing the breadth of your students’ work, Tara, and the varied choices they are making in this wonderful year-end project. It’s synthesis at its best, isn’t it? Will certainly share with colleagues! Have a lovely weekend!


  5. Tara – what grade are your writers? This project looks awesome. I have been experiencing the same thing with my 3rd graders working on Photo story. They started with photo story to tell about an explorer we have studied. Now they are creating a photo story to go with their persuasive essays and they are going to perform poems as well. They are so engaged and excited about their work, it has been awesome to see! I want to experiment with using google docs next year. It seems a great way for me to give feedback. I have a few kids that always write on the computer because of handwriting, but it seems like it could work well for all kids.


    1. Hi Ali, I teach 6th. grade. You are doing amazing stuff with your 3rd. graders! We’re just piloting Googledocs in our school , and so far my students and I are really benefiting from it. Our only glitch seems to be having access to the type of bandwidth necessary to work on Googledocs at school – hopefully, this will be a summer fix.


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