A Fresh Approach to Fostering Digital Writers

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I met Troy Hicks (@hickstro) at the Literacy for All Conference in November and he asked how I was redefining my writing instruction now that I had the iPads. After talking with him and listening to his insights, I realized that I had only substituted or modified writing components. I was not changing any aspects of the writing process. Here is my attempt at redefining writing workshop for TCRWP’s literary essay unit of study. My two goals were to get my students writing multiple types of texts (traditional and digital text) and to teach a technology integrated unit that does not take up any more instructional time than a tech-less unit.

LITERARY ESSAY

A literary essay is an essay written about a piece of literature that speaks to you. This was our first essay we have ever written this year. We used the typical five paragraph essay structure.

I’ve organized my writing workshop into five stages and listed what app I used for each. It is most important to notice, however, that the teaching approach during each stage of the writing process than the actual app used. There are numerous apps that can do the same thing. :

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PLAN: Organizers

For literary essays, I need to teach students about thesis statements and how to support their thesis statement with three supporting arguments. To help my students plan these essays, I created a scaffolded table on the Pages app for student to complete. The document was shared with them through Edmodo. No emails needed!

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ELABORATE: Acting & Photography

Elaborating and supporting a thesis statement is quite challenging for writers. We learned to find an excerpt or quote from our inspirational stories that would support our thesis statement. Well the question is why is this excerpt import for my thesis statement? I had my students use their acting skills and photography skills to create photographs that represent the quotes they pulled from the text. In these photos, students are expressing how the character must have felt.

I chose WordFoto because I love their text-embedding feature. After creating the perfect photograph that represents the quote, students chose two to three short words that describes how this quote supports the thesis statement. They then added these photos into their organizers. These photos pushed writers to think how a quote or excerpt supports their thesis statement and find words to explain their ideas.

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LEARN: Interactive Flipped Lesson

I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Richard Allington speak and during his presentation, he expressed concern in our readers and writers not spending enough time to read and write in school. The chances they are writing productively at home are slim to none. For this unit, I tried teaching a writing strategy by putting a spin on the flipped classroom concept. What I like about typical flipped lessons is the ability for students to learn at home and rewatch it as much as they want. However, if I am going to create a video for my students, I want it to provide even more benefits.

I want my students’ learning experience at home to be interactive and collaborative. I also want to be able to assess my students so I know who has mastered the skill and who needs further guidance. I discovered the Touchcast app last year and decided to try it out for this unit. Touchcast has outstanding features that allow you IMG_4211to import websites, photos, and questions to the video such that a student can access everything by tapping on the video screen. The videos are limited to five minutes which ensures student engagement. So how did I use it?

For my “writing a conclusion” lesson, I first carefully planned out a concise mini-lesson that does not exceed five minutes. The teaching point for this lesson was teaching students that writers include a hallmark moment when they write a conclusion. I was able to include photos or websites that supported my ESOL/HILT students in understanding what a Hallmark moment even means. Next, I modeled writing my own conclusion by using Touchcast’s whiteboard feature. The video ended with a link to Linoit. Linoit is a collaborative board site where everyone can post sticky notes onto one board and see what others have written. At the end of the video, students were asked to try writing part of their conclusion and post it on Linoit. This was the active engagement piece.

By the next day, I was already able to assess my students from the Linoit board and knew who I needed to work with today. My students gained 15 minutes of writing time and started workshop with a higher level of motivation than I’ve ever seen in my classroom.

You can check out our writing lesson in two ways. One way is to download the Touchcast app and search for my class channel name, “halenetwork”. (No spaces!) The second way is to click on this link and watch it on your browser. Play around and tap on the vApps! When you click on the Linoit board, your will need our class information to access it. The username is: halenetwork. The password is: abingdon116.

Linoit Board - great for at home peer learning and formative assessment!

Linoit Board – great for at home peer learning and formative assessment!

DRAFT: Word Processor

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You know what to do here! My kids choose whichever word processing app they prefer to write their literary essays. These drafts are considered “traditional text” but, nevertheless a skill all students most know how to do. My favorite part is watching students choose the app they want to use to type their drafts. My struggling writers are intimidated by a Pages/Word document so they prefer using a Book Creator app. Other students like to use Keynote/Powerpoint so that they can manipulate their paragraphs.

PUBLISH: Interactive Digital Texts

After students have published their traditional text, we published our text as an interactive digital text. The point is to provide readers an active reading experience when reading our literary essays. As I mentioned earlier, one of my goals is teaching this unit without needing more time than “tech-less” units. For this unit, I used Thinglink to create these interactive digital texts.

Thinglink is both an app and a website where you are able to enhance an image by add icons for photos, videos, and captions. These interactive photos can then be shared with others. My idea is to treat our literary essays as the image and enhance the text with the media icons. My students transformed their published literary essays into images by taking a screenshot on their iPads. They easily imported the image on Thinglink. Now remember how my students created photographs during the planning process? They just took those photos and added them as icons next to each supporting paragraph. It took no time at all! Others took it one step further and linked to an author or added a definition for an unknown word.

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Moment of Reflection…

For our publishing party, we went on desktops and accessed our literary essays through Thinglink.com so that we could comment on each other’s literary essays.

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As I said in the beginning, this was my first attempt at truly integrating technology, specifically the iPad, into the writing experience. It was incredible to finish the unit ON TIME with not one, but two published texts. I especially loved the interactive flipped lesson. I felt I had gained a whole class period of instruction because I did not need to use class time to assess students and determine small groups. If you read their digital literary essays, you may even notice that many of my students’ conclusion paragraphs are the strongest part of their essay!

I hope these teaching approaches spark ideas for how you can redefine your writing classroom with technology. Take risks and think outside the box! Our writers are growing up in a digital generation and meeting their needs by providing both traditional and digital writing options might be the secret in helping them find their “author identities”.

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