Muddling through the blogosphere

September 24, 2011
by blogwalker

Teaching Writing “Out of a Box” – Can we reverse the trend?

Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. ” (National Writing Project)

Image from the National Writing Project

I was not taught how to teach writing as part of my teacher credential program.  It is through my 16-year affiliation with the National Writing Project that I have joined conversations, learned strategies, and shared best practices on helping students improve their writing skills – in ways that help them see themselves as writers and to actually look forward to writing.

Following my participation in the Area 3 Writing Project’s 1995 Summer Institute, as I headed into the new school year, I could almost immediately see the difference in my 6th graders’ attitudes and progress as I revamped my writing program.  By the time we headed to science camp, many had already transitioned from “having to write” to “getting to write.” I can still remember our first stop on the way to camp, where the students had an hour to explore a sandy beach, watch the seals and seagulls, and marvel at the pounding surf.  I noticed a number of students sitting silently, counting on their fingers.  I realized that, in their heads, they were counting syllables – for words they would include in the haiku poetry they would write down that night in their notebooks. Writers in the making!

Not surprisingly, in our current test-driven climate, many school districts have adopted scripted, formulaic writing programs with the belief that writing can be taught step-by-step out of a box program. Sadly, I think districts often value most programs they have to pay for – over the knowledge and expertise of their own teachers on effective ways to improve students’ writing.

I started my morning reading Paula Stacey’s Let’s Stop Teaching Writing, an article by that was included in today’s National Writing Project Daily. I value Paula’s reflections on teaching writing to 3rd graders and share her belief that “In our desire to help students engage in the process of writing, we have defined a process that really isn’t writing.”

I am currently out of the classroom, working as a technology integration specialist, and therefore am not in a situation of having to take a stand with an administrator or “writing” coach on teaching a boxed program. To those of you who are in that situation, I recommend initiating grade level and site discussions around the National Writing Project’s Core Principles:

  • Teachers at every level—from kindergarten through college—are the agents of reform; universities and schools are ideal partners for investing in that reform through professional development.
  • Writing can and should be taught, not just assigned, at every grade level. Professional development programs should provide opportunities for teachers to work together to understand the full spectrum of writing development across grades and across subject areas.
  • Knowledge about the teaching of writing comes from many sources: theory and research, the analysis of practice, and the experience of writing. Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically.
  • There is no single right approach to teaching writing; however, some practices prove to be more effective than others. A reflective and informed community of practice is in the best position to design and develop comprehensive writing programs.
  • Teachers who are well informed and effective in their practice can be successful teachers of other teachers as well as partners in educational research, development, and implementation. Collectively, teacher-leaders are our greatest resource for educational reform.”

Given the incredible amount of bureaucratic requirements and accountability issues administrators must deal with,  I think it’s easy for them to lose their vision of what students really need to thrive in today’s digital world. I recommend sending good resources their way. Resources such as Edutopia  to provide them with a window into “what works in education,” or the NCTE’s  working “definition of 2st century literacies,” or the NWP’s Digital Is  to inspire and re-energize them with a  “collection of ideas, reflections, and stories about what it means to teach writing in our digital, interconnected world.” Because writing matters.


November 7, 2010
by blogwalker

Because Digital Writing Matters

On this rainy Sunday afternoon, I’m about to curl up in front of the fireplace and delve into my hot-off-the-press copy of the National Writing Project’s Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments. Through my on-going affiliation with the NWP, I’ve been privileged to work with, listen to, and learn from all three authors: visionary educators Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elys Eidman-Aadahl, and Troy Hicks.

I have the book open in front of me and am already pulling the cap off my highlighter pen to mark basically all of page 1, Introduction: Why Digital Writing Matters, and have copied onto a sticky note that “‘much has changed in the landscape of what it means to ‘write’ and to ‘be a writer’ since 2003.

While BDWM is certainly a stand-alone read, my plan is to extend the introduction, each off the five chapters, and the afterword with side trips to the NWP’s much awaited Digital Is website. Over the next few weeks I’d like to create and post an annotated tour of BDWM via the Digital Is lessons, stories, resources, and insights.  I’m only 2 pages in to the book, but am already thinking that Bud Hunt’s piece What’s New, or What’s Good: On Writing Connectively will be one of my side trips for the Introduction.

If you’re also reading BDWM and touring the Digital Is site, I’d love to hear how you would annotate the chapters!

July 12, 2009
by blogwalker

Digital Is – An amazing resource coming your way!

Over the next few months, the National Writing Project will be rolling out a resource that defies description: Digital Is. I had the good fortune the join the group back in April in Berkeley for an initial conversation about resources for 21st century teaching and learning. We reconvened over the past few days at Lake Tahoe, where my colleagues shared works-in-progress that pretty much leave me speechless.

For a starter, check out Bee Foster’s approach to teaching non-traditional text. Let’s start with Bee’s attempt to decode a high school football coach’s diagram for an offensive play. Such a great piece to get us thinking about student literacies not always recognized and rarely valued in a test-driven climate.

And if you’d like a window into how Bee teaches graphic pieces, join her for a tour of Hurdles.

Besides teacher-created media, my NWP colleagues have also gathered outstanding samples of student-created multimedia pieces, such as this documentary by Clifford Lee’ students on crime in the city of Oakland.

The above samples are but the tip of the iceberg in the Digital Is project. The resources to come span K-12 grade levels. Although she hasn’t uploaded her student samples of “smart thinking” yet, I can’t wait to share with primary teachers  Renee Webster’s use of podcasting as way to build literacy using selections such as Bill Peet’s Wump World!

As soon as the Digital Is site is officially ‘live,’ I’ll post the URL! In the meantime, I’ll continue to share pieces that have already been uploaded.

April 21, 2009
by blogwalker

NWP Makes Visible the Intersection Between Technology and Writing

As my tag cloud shows, the National Writing Project is central to my personal learning network (PLN).  In previous posts, I’ve referred to the growing bank of resources (think “mind prompts”) showcasing inquiry, best practices, collaborative projects, etc., from teachers across the nation, who also find themselves in tech leadership positions and/or needing to justify the integration of technology in a test-driven climate.  In the past year, for example, I’ve revisited and directed colleagues to such powerful resources as Clifford Lee and Yumi Matsui’s documentation of Literacy, ELL, and Digital Storytelling, Henry Jenkins’ white paper on participatory cultures, and the dynamic Letters to the Next President project.

It was my privilege to travel to Berkeley this last weekend to join an amazing group of NWP colleagues as part of the Digital Is initiative. As an opening activity, we shared personal stories of a “whack on the head” – experiences that brought the integration of technology into our personal teacher tool kits. For a starter,  Liz Stevens, Director of the Central Texas Writing Project, shared her observation on the shift in the teaching of writing from being all about “stages” to being about “frames” – a huge “whack on the head” for me!

Over the next year, with additional input from the Digital Is Initiative, the NWP will be adding to their website, with a commitment to provide visitors with resources to enhance, shift, challenge their notions on teaching and to make visible the intersection between technology and writing.  For example:

  • Looking for an example to make visible the concept of composing multimodal texts? Checkout Peter Kittle’s Multimodal Documents Inquiry — and be sure to click on the video links!
  • Trying to make visible what collaborative writing via a wiki might look like with high school students? Checkout Paul Allison‘s Latino Pride screencast video.
  • Maybe you’re wondering how to join in a conversation about empowering students to use technology to change the world. Checkout a sample from the weekly Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast show (and join the Wednesday evening conversations!)

Based on the weekend conversations from  Digital Is group, I can assure you the above samples are but a glimpse of thought-provoking resources to come.

How about you?  Do you have a “whack on the head” to share?

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