Digital Writing is Different

Digital writing is different than what we do with pen and paper. It is different from what we typed on old-school word processing programs.  It is different because–

  • Digital writing is often collaborative.
  • Digital writing anticipates immediate feedback
  • Digital writing allows a variety of audiences to read student work
  • Digital writing may include images, video, and even audio components.
  • Digital writing is 3-dimensional. Hyperlinks make reading (and writing) a different experience than simply going from left to right and top to bottom.
  • Digital writing is often public in a way that was unavailable to student writers in years past

Yes, we writing teachers are responsible for teaching students how to navigate the world of digital writing.  Even if we are new to it ourselves. My students are young and their skills are still developing, but writing has changed and we need to change with it. When I was in junior high back in the mid-1980s, we wrote in cursive on college-ruled lined paper. I did take typing class–I learned to type on a typewriter–but there were no computers at school. My family was lucky enough to have one of the first Apple home computers, but my brother and I used it mostly to play computer games. I don’t remember having to turn in typed papers until 10th grade. And that was only two or three times a year. I certainly do not miss that old dot matrix printer. There was no audience besides the teacher for the writing I did as a student. In fact, we did very little writing, outside of the standard 5-paragraph essay. I have no memory of any other type of writing in my core classes. The most useful real-world writing experience I got was when I took yearbook as a high school senior. It was there that I was exposed to strategies about writing leads, captions, and fluffy high school yearbook copy. Also, there was a very real and high-stakes audience for my work: my peers and their families. I still remember the thrill of seeing my name printed next to the groundbreaking article I wrote about high school fashion trends. Lots of striped socks and flannel. It was 1992 after all.

The point is that student writers now have more options. The five-paragraph essay is no longer relevant, but student writers still need to have clear, original ideas and they need to support their ideas with evidence. They still need to choose the best words to fit the purpose and the audience and they still need to put it all into a coherent format. The question is, how can I help them through this process?

At my school we have two iPad carts and I’ve been looking for the best way to utilize them for digital writing. For my most recent experiment, I asked students to use Educreations to draft, illustrate, and record a sample of writing. We started this project around Halloween, so it made sense to try this with my students’ “Monster Show Not Tell” descriptive pieces.

Here’s my silly example:

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 3.49.17 PM
Medusa by Amy McMillan

Right now my students are in the middle of making their own. Educreations allows me to sign them up as my “class,” so I don’t have to worry about their work being public on the web. They also don’t need an email, which turns out to be a high hurdle if your student population is mostly twelve years old. Instead, students write on Educreations and then copy and paste the link to our class learning management system. From there, they can watch? / read? each other’s and write comments.

So far, this is working well. The part I love the most is that students record their voices reading what they wrote. Besides that it is super cute, reading aloud forces my students to take ownership of their writing. It make the work more real somehow.

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