On Saturday morning, my husband and I sat in the family room making plans for the weekend. I browsed Facebook for events in our area while my husband, Tim paged through the newspaper. With our digital tools continually no more than a room away and the latest copy of the news on the porch, it seemed natural to use them in tandem. I wonder if Tim even thought about how natural this has become?
So how do we, as writing teachers take advantage of what digital tools can offer us as teachers and our students as writers? In my current role as an instructional technology coach, I have the pleasure of starting many sentences with, “Did you know you could….?” and then watching as teachers look back at me with puzzled faces and then say, “No, wait, what? Can you say that again?”
Let’s take a look at traditional and digital tools in tandem in a writing workshop.
Note Taking and Teaching
Teachers of writing rely on anecdotal notes. The notes we take about our student’s work serve as our guide to planning minilessons, conferences, and provide us with a record of our past instruction.
How we choose to take notes is all about our personal preferences. You may have used many different systems in the past as you searched to find the one that was just right for you. I have been through several systems; spiral notebooks, index cards taped to a clipboard overlapped just right so that only the first name is visible, and something as simple as a sheet of labels. All serving their purpose until they weren’t.
No matter what methods you’ve used for note keeping, there are a few must-haves.
- easy to use
- provide ample space for writing
- easily sustainable.
Can we have all this with a digital note-taking system?
Designing and The Focus Lesson
The central point of the focus lesson is derived from the work of the students. “Kidwatching,” note-taking, and reading student writing all bring the focus into view. Through our trained eyes we are watchful for the signs of writing development and the needs a student may have to take that next step forward.
With our clear focus, the intention of the minilesson is determined, and we are ready to begin planning. We have a myriad of choices in how we design our minilessons. We may choose to model a writing strategy in front of our students demonstrating how to apply a writing technique. At another time, we may determine shared writing would be more effective and write interactively with the class.
As we design our lessons, it’s important to consider the reading our students are doing in and outside of our classrooms. In today’s digital world chances are good students are reading a mix of digital and printed texts. This means we should begin using both digital and non-digital mentor authors and texts in our lesson.
No matter what method or tools you choose for designing and teaching your minilessons, there are a few must-haves.
- meet the needs of the students
- provide clear examples of what it is we’re asking students to do
- show new possibilities to grow writers and writing
- match the interest of students
- be developmentally appropriate to writers
Can we have all this with a digitally designed lesson?
Seeking and Using Mentor Text
In Craft Moves, Stacey Shubitz defines mentor texts as,
Mentor texts are samples of exemplary writing we can study during writing workshops…Mentor texts can be books, short stories, articles, letters and so on. Basically, any text that can teach students how to write well can serve as a mentor text (3).
These words caught my attention, “… and so on. Basically any text that can teach students how to write well can serve as a mentor text (3).” So, when we consider the readers our students are in this digital age can we interpret the “and so on” as the digital texts, videos, photos, articles, blogs, and books “that can teach our students how to write well?”
Regardless of the format of mentor texts we select, there are a few must-haves.
- exemplars of what it is we want students to understand and use
- model possibilities that will push the writer forward,
- be within the grasp of the writers
- model a clear connection between creative choices and the message of the writing
Can we have all this with digital texts?
Let’s Get Writing and Creating
With all the intention and purpose that has gone into planning, gathering, and teaching the minilesson it would seem the hard work is behind us. But, as experienced writing teachers, we know the most important part of our work begins here when our students set off to do the work writers do. It is now that we start again with “kidwatching,” (Yetta Goodman and Gretchen Owocki), conferring, note taking, and planning tomorrows minilesson.
We watch our students write and look for evidence of today’s lesson and lessons of the day’s before. We note areas of need that might be slid into a word study lesson or tomorrow’s shared writing. We record a mentor text that comes to mind that just might be what this writer needs to push them to try something new. We talk to our writers seeking to understand what they think as they work. What are they comfortable with? What are they pondering? We look for pieces of writing that may serve as a model for other writers in the room. We look for what we don’t understand and seek to understand it all with the intention of growing writers who can communicate and share their messages in today’s world and tomorrows.
So as we set off to create writers who write in tandem with the printed world and the digital world there are a few must do’s:
- expose writers possibilities
- connect the digital and printed worlds
- talk about purpose, choice, and technique in all media
- teach students how to choose tools with a goal
- encourage exploration, creativity, and perseverance
- give students time to explore working with the tools separate and together
- be patient