Teaching Digital Tools in Writing Workshop: Plan, Purpose, Model

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 11.47.53 PMTechnology devices are omnipresent, and by now, they’re in most of our classrooms.  The appeal of the devices presents a challenge to even the most vetted teacher.  The initial excitement can bring misguided use by our students and teachers if we aren’t mindful of our intentions and our purpose.  

 

So let’s press pause and take a careful look at digital tools alongside something we are familiar with here at Two Writing Teachers, the Writing Workshop.

Let’s start with thinking about the variety of tools already available to our students in the writing workshop:

  • different types and sizes of paper
  • chart paper
  • pencils
  • pens
  • colored pencils
  • crayons
  • markers (thin and bold tipped)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • tape
  • staplers
  • paperclips
  • hole punch
  • post-it notes
  • correction tape

When we see the plethora of writing tools available to writers, we have to wonder how our students manage all these decisions each day.  The choice not only of which instrument to use, but the choice of words, genres, voice, tone, punctuation, audience, and author’s message are just a few of the choices writers grapple with routinely. Writers are intentional, and because they work with purpose, many of these decisions happen naturally.  They may even be seamless without the writer even realizing they’re choosing one over another;  moreover, the choice seems obvious.

So, now let’s think about adding digital devices to the list of tools writers use.  And just like when children learned the purpose of paper, pens, pencils, scissors, or glue we will begin by considering what technology can bring to a writer:

  • audience outside of the classroom
  • ongoing audience (not just when work is posted by the teacher)
  • audio recording/oral storytelling
  • inserting of photos or video of the actual event or occurrence
  • ability to type v.s handwriting which may be labor intensive for some
  • share work with families in real time
  • archiving of work
  • self publishing
  • finding a group with similar passions and interests
  • ease of editing and revising work
  • increased ability to read peers’ writing
  • ability to give feedback to peers
  • ability to receive feedback from peers

How are we going to teach our students to use this shiny new tool of infinite possibility?  We will do it just like toddlers first learned to put pen to paper, by showing them mentor writing, analyzing the choices of other writers, and by watching writers use digital tools.  Who are these writers? They’re us. Our writers need to see us purposefully navigating digital tools to compose a written message.

So tomorrow, when we sit down in our minilessons to model writing let’s choose a digital tool (Draw and Tell, Pixie, or Google Docs) from our toolkit and write in front of our students.  The lesson focus doesn’t change.  Our purpose is the same; to write a story, share a message, and demonstrate the writing process to our students. Here are a few things to help us keep our focus on the work and not the tool.

Do

  • keep your focus on the story and your message
  • think aloud as you write
  • talk about word choice
  • share your thinking about how to organize the page
  • choose a variety of tool options as you write, modeling the possibilities of the tool for students to see
  • share the reasons for your tool choice
  • redirect the conversation to the writing when and if necessary
  • edit and revise naturally as you go
  • reread your writing to ensure your message is developing clearly
  • illustrate or add images to support writing
  • record the story orally using the microphone as appropriate for language learners or early readers
  • share your story with a broader audience
  • if possible, invite students to leave feedback or a comment digitally on your work
  • have the app available for student use

Don’t

  • say or announce we are going to learn about a new app
  • praise the app
  • allow the attention to focus on the app
  • use app features without thoughtful purpose
  • enable the focus to be on the app
  • ask students questions about how to use the app
  • abandon the app
  • assign or require the use of the app

With guided intention and careful planning, we can teach our students to use digital tools to enhance and grow our work.  By blending the choice of digital tools into our lessons, we are showing students how they can purposefully use devices and keep the thinking where it belongs, on the writing, not the tool.