Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Digital Writing Workshop: Confessions of a Not-So-Techie Teacher

"When we simply bring a traditional mind-set to literacy practices, and not a mind-set that understands new literacies into the process of digital writing, we cannot make the substantive changes to our teaching that need to happen in order to embrace the full potential of collaboration and design that digital writing offers." Troy Hicks, Digital Writing Workshop p. 2

An Ending
Tonight was the last night of our book talk about the Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks. Several teachers, in an effort to think more about the use of technology in our classrooms, have been gathering to discuss the book and its implications for our work with children. The group has been a diverse gathering of teachers with different positions and varied levels of tech experience. Julie, of Raising Readers and Writers, was kind enough to host the summer meetings. The bonus to this is Julie is also quite a cook so we were tempted with delicious treats at every meeting.

At first glance one might think this book is written more for teachers of older children, but I found it to be easily applied to younger students. More than a book about tech tools, this book was about pedagogy. Hicks really made us ask questions about our practice as teachers of writing. Our group found there to be plenty to talk about at each meeting. Throughout the course of the meetings I've realized that my thinking needs to move beyond, "What tools should I use?"

I wrestle constantly with my thinking about technology. I know I should not be thinking about it in a separate way from our curriculum, but somehow I'm always finding myself thinking about it as its own entity. Technology needs to be woven into the learning we do. As I said on Twitter, I'm thinking technology should be developmentally appropriate, match curricular goals, encourage collaboration and inspire higher level thinking. Will Rich perhaps said it best on Twitter when he asked,

@willrich45: When can we stop saying that tech. is a priority in schools? Curriculum is where tech. discussions need to start, right?

A New Beginning
So where am I now? Thankfully our group has decided to continue meeting to discuss how it is going in our classrooms. We've learned we can support one another in this endeavor. Our last few meetings have been like treasure hunts; each person sharing some new "gold". It is pretty funny to see everyone sitting around with their laptops up, bookmarking feverously. I know I can't make these shifts alone. I'm counting on two tech groups, my teaching partners, Twitter friends and our technology support person to hold my hand. It takes a village to raise a teacher using technology!

It's hard to share a post like this, knowing that much of my thinking still needs to grow and change. There's still uneasiness as I wrestle with decisions of what is best for the children in my classroom.

Here are some shifts in my thinking thanks to this book talk:
  • I used to think writing was about putting pencil to paper, but now I know it much bigger than that. Writing isn't just about writing anymore. It's about composing a message for an authentic purpose. There are now multiple ways to compose a message. Writers Composers (what is the word now?) will need to have a flexible knowledge of tools they can use to create a message.
  • I used to think purpose was a lot about what the author wanted to say, but now I think it is about how the author wants to impact the world with her/his message. While purpose has always been important in writing, it is even easier to see how clearly pivotal it is in today's world of media. There are so many formats to choose from when planning a message for others. There are so many ways to communicate and purpose needs to determine the format and tools for communicating.
  • I used to see audience as (sorry to admit this!) peers, families or maybe the school community, but now I see the audience as moving beyond our classroom walls to communicate a message to a much larger community/world. Never before has it been so easy to publish our writing and thinking. It is now possible for students to easily have a voice that is beyond the circle of peers in our classroom.
Now I'm wondering:
  • What about space? How will I set up my classroom differently to allow for more use of technology tools in our learning? Mary, of Teaching in the Tech Frontier, really has me thinking about the way I will design my classroom to allow for greater utilization of technology.
  • What is important to consider about safety and security? As we become more comfortable with web 2.0 tools I think we will learn to think realistically about safety. Students need to learn how to make good choices to safely use the internet (it's their reality), and they also must understand how to create a positive digital footprint. How will I help students with this? What is the balance between getting student voices into the world while protecting their safety?
  • How will I manage all of this??? I'd be fibbing if I told you I didn't worry about the management of technology with my first graders. I'm pretty sure my back-to-school nightmares will involve tech this month. However, I know it is a shift I need to make. I will be implementing some tools into our learning in much the way I teach everything. I will start using them with the whole class in "shared reading/writing" experiences. Then I will begin to use them with small groups, and finally students will be able to flexibly use some applications independently.
  • Where will I find time? You would laugh if you were in our tech group meetings. Everyone is playing with new applications and tools. It's never quiet. People bounce from group to group. You'll hear exclamations of, "I didn't know you could...". Kids need this same opportunity to explore. I have to respect that and find time for it in our day.
  • What applications and tools will be useful to my students? I've been viewing class websites, reading blogs, trying new tools and applications, to see what will work with my students. I'm starting to narrow my list of possibilities. I'll share soon...

When I am thinking about technology in much the way I think about pencils, crayons and markers in my classroom I will know I have finally woven it into the fabric of curriculum. Until then, I will keep plugging away.

Other Book Talk Links:
My wallwisher of quotes from the book.
Julie started a wallwisher of links.


  1. Love your honest reflections and thinking to guide your own work as an adult and the work with children. Can't wait to have you share your list of things to try with young students. I'm with you, not so techi, keep pushing me.

  2. Mandy, it's a journey we'll all take together.

  3. Cathy~ I am so happy to be living and teaching in your village! Keep pushing me and sharing, it's a challenge I am finally ready for!