This week I am celebrating technology in the Writing Workshop.
We just finished our first writing unit: Personal Narrative. It may seem like the most natural thing to write about oneself. But, to write in a way that shows who we are is not an easy thing for anyone let alone a fifth grader. If you don’t believe me, try it. It takes courage, self reflection, and a lot revision.
Last year, I started writing weekly with two writing communities. First with Ruth Ayers’ Celebration link up. The weekly practice of celebrating the past week was and is a perfect place for reflection on my teaching. Not too long after that jump, I added a “Slice of Life” weekly post with Two Writing Teachers to my writing life. With these weekly posts, my perception of myself as a writer changed dramatically. These writing communities offered models and support for my writing and pushed me quite naturally towards a new understanding of reflection, “small moment” writing, and myself as a writer and a teacher of writing. I knew I wanted this community experience for my students, but by the time I figured this out I wasn’t sure where or how to fit it into Writer’s Workshop.
This year, with our narrative unit of study sitting behind us, in fact beside us as a tool, “slicing” bits of our life seems to be a natural next step. All of what we learned or started to learn can now be practiced and supported by our community of bloggers. We have a toolbox of strategies, models and checklists. And as our “slices” accumulate, we will have home-grown models to reflect on, a community to learn from. This week I celebrate our new writing unit: Slice of Life writing on our blog. Other teachers have done this work with their students, most notably Tara Smith who is guiding a lot of my work through her posts here and here.
Last year, one of the biggest benefits of blogging was the feedback kids got from each other. Kids wrote for other kids. This made blogging like no kind of writing they had ever experienced. Many didn’t consider it writing. It was more like a conversation. It was fun! My concern was while blogging and iPads are engaging, and students were writing more, does the blogging environment and iPad technology make better writers.
This week, I’m happy to report a few ahas about technology.
1) Viewing the blog as a publishing tool limited its power. This year, students put their writing on the blog during their revision stages. That move alone has opened doors. Things I didn’t anticipate.
2) The power of “pinch and pull” typed text. Typed text, even in an approximated form, is easier for students to see what has and has not been done. We can look at mentor text and then at our own writing. It is there in a typed format. Not a crossed out, whited out, taped over, hand written form but typed text that can be enlarged by a pinch and pull on the screen making it easier for students to see what they have written and compare it to mentor text.
“S” had written three simple sentences: “We went to the park. It was warm. I wanted to swim.” He writes simply throughout his piece. His thoughts are there. I wanted to teach him to vary his sentence length to develop a more complex writing style. A quick “I-do, we-do, you-do” move in a conference got him to revise his work easily and teach into this skill for all of his writing, not just this piece. With the iPad “S” can play with different sentence structure possibilities without being frustrated.
Another group of students were approximating dialogue and we celebrated. Their next steps were to tag, punctuate and paragraph so readers can understand who is saying what. This is difficult to teach with hand written documents. But with typed text the differences and similarities between student and mentor text become more apparent. The leap is less and the approximation closer still.
3) Emojis can provide a bridge to elaboration and craft moves. Some students found the emoji keyboard and “secretively” started to play with it. My first reaction was ok, just don’t over do it. But then I saw the power in it. One English Language Learner put an image of a rocket into his text. “I ran fast (rocket image) to the park.” He had done the thinking work towards figurative language with an image naturally. He understood the move but not how words could give him the same image. It was an obvious leap for me, but it took some coaching for him to “see” this. The leap wasn’t vocabulary, he knew the word rocket; it was how to use the word like an image. Other students who understood similes had already written the words, and then found the image to enhance their words.
Showing not telling emotions is still a struggle and emojis created a perfect bridge for some students. Students looked for the emotion they felt with the emojis and inserted it into their text. Then we worked together to describe the way the eyes and mouth looked in the text. Mind you, I had taught this lesson explicitly earlier, and some got the idea. The emojis helped others see how to show not just tell their emotions.
4) Editing with typed text makes the tricky stuff teachable. The issues surrounding editing when keyboarding is involved are interesting. Some of the work requires typing lessons: how to shift so capitals are created and where spaces need to be placed. This is something you don’t know until you start to type. Tricky but very teachable when text can be enlarged with a simple pinch and pull and then compared to a mentor.
5) There are limitations to technology access, and that’s good because it pushes use of all of our writing tools. I have one iPad for every two students. That means all can’t be blogging at the same time. This limitation allows for continued use of “old school” tools. When one partner is blogging, reading blogs or commenting on blogs, the other partner is in their notebook, ruminating in that space, drawing on old entries, lists, heart maps, stored strategies — using the pen and notebook to craft. This isn’t bad, in fact it is good. Sort of cross training for writing muscles.
Year two of blogging with iPad technology in Writing Workshop has just begun. Today I celebrate the writing we have done and the learning how, why and when to use our our tools, new and old. We are grateful for all of it: notebooks, looseleaf paper, Flair pens, Kidblog and iPads. These tools grow us as writers.