Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Digital Writing Workshop II

Troy Hicks 

Deep Revision with
Collaborative Word Processors

What is collaborative editing?

Taken together, the opportunities that blogs, wikis, collaborative word processors, and even recorded responses offer to you as you confer with student writers are numerous. While students are able to track their own revisions and directly comment on the ways in which they have incorporated your responses, there are no more lost disks or postdated rough drafts. These features allow for more comprehensive conferring and deeper reflection, thus encouraging our students to engage more fully in their writing, both during our workshop time in school as well as for their own purposes outside of school.

Reading the “MAPS” to Examine Author’s Craft

As outlined by Swenson and Mitchell (2006), there is a simple acronym that offers teachers a heuristic to help students think critically about the texts they are reading and writing: MAPS. The original acronym was built from mode, audience, purpose, and situation, both for the writer as an individual as well as the context of the writing; I add a second M to this heuristic: media. Like Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwen (2001), I make the distinction between the mode (or, to use a synonym more common to writing teachers, genre) of a particular text and media (that is, according to Kress and Van Leeuwen, “the tools and the materials” used to create a particular text) (22). For instance, a writer can compose in the mode of a memoir or, as in the following example, a persuasive text, yet present that memoir or persuasive text through different media, such as a digital movie or podcast. A digital writer constantly questions the ways in which a text is being produced . . .

Multimodal Authoring
"How do I incorporate digital storytelling into my curriculum in a way that meets students where they’re at, complements their knowledge, thoughts, and feelings, and challenges each student in meaningful ways … and still ensure that I teach my entire curriculum? “Should a digital story begin with an idea/assignment or with photos? “How can I possibly get enough computers often enough to create digital stories? “How many digital stories do I need to create before I feel competent enough to lead my students in the process? “Is teaching the writing part of a digital story different than teaching writing as I usually teach it? And if so, how?”


Audio Anthologies

No matter what the tool and the approach, in terms of MAPS, one of the primary tasks of formative assessment is to help writers frame their writing project. To reiterate:
  • Mode and media: What genre am I attempting to write in and what medium (or media) will help me best convey my message?
  • Audience: Who is the intended audience? What other audiences might I reach, intentionally or unintentionally?
  • Purpose: What is my purpose? How does the broad choice of mode and media as well as specific choices about the topic, organization, and even words I use affect my purpose?
  • Situation for the writer and the writing: What do I know about this topic and the digital writing tool I hope to employ? How much time and training might I need to create this piece of digital writing?

Another interesting way to think about design, and how to create pieces of digital writing, comes from Robin Williams and her Non-Designer’s Design Book (2008). In this text, she outlines four principles of design:

  1. Contrast: creating visual elements such as type, color, and shape that are very different from one another so as to have them stand out in the text
  2. Repetition: using the visual elements multiple times in effective manners to organize the text
  3. Alignment: visually connecting every element of the text with real or imagined lines
  4. Proximity: grouping elements together that are related in order to organize information in the text.

These four principles can help digital writers structure the visual elements of their texts so that they have the maximum effect on the viewer or reader. Design, then, is an essential component of digital writing. For instance, the Writing in Digital Environments Research Collective, in its article “Why Teach Digital Writing?” (2005), argues that “[w]riting isn’t just scripting text anymore. Writing requires carefully and critically analyzing and selecting among multiple media elements.” During the process of formative assessment, digital writing teachers help their students do this careful and critical analysis. Keeping this principle, as well as these broad questions from MAPS, in mind, teachers can focus on more specific traits to consider for digital writing, which build on a set of traits articulated by teacher and author Jim Burke in his book Writing Reminders (2003).

Imagining a Framework for Instruction
in Your Digital Writing Workshop

No question, assessment is complicated, as is the process of digital writing. Unlike other “Looking Ahead” sections of this book, where I offer a particular technology tool for thinking about how to use digital writing, the best suggestion that I can offer here is that you ask your students to document their work over time in a variety of ways and, ideally, in a centralized location such as a class wiki where they can embed media or link to other work they have online.

The process of multimedia composing can become, unfortunately, rather artificial once we try to make it more “academic” requiring certain steps and outcomes. Any proposal for a pedagogy of teaching digital writing, indeed for structuring a digital writing workshop, must account for the formative and the summative, the process and the product, not to mention both the tools and the techniques. It is with this idea in mind that I developed the framework in Chapter 7 for creating your digital writing workshop, which I hope will guide your instruction by looking at the students you teach, the subject of digital writing itself, and the spaces in which digital writing occurs, both physical and virtual.

TPACK – Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge

. . . a concept of “technological pedagogical content knowledge” (TPACK) that suggests there is no single technological solution that applies for every teacher, every course, or every view of teaching. Quality teaching requires developing a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy, and using this understanding to develop appropriate, context-specific strategies and representations.

The Read/Write Web 

The read/write web finally delivered the promise of having a real audience and varied purposes that writing teachers had so long looked to bring to their classrooms. Suddenly, writing teachers felt as if their students could have a purpose and audience beyond the classroom and school.

Digital Writing

Not only do they need to understand the technical aspects of creating hyperlinks, posting to a blog, or collaborating with a wiki, but they need to have the intentional focus as a writer to understand the audience and purpose for which they are writing. Moreover, they need to consider the ways in which we can compose with multiple modes and media.

Understanding when, why, and how to use different forms of media to convey a particular message requires a working knowledge of the mode -- that is, what an audience expects from a piece of writing in order to be moved to action -- and how to effectively manipulate the media in which it is composed.

In short, students must be made aware of the ways in which their writing is distributed and perceived across the many networks in which they participate, in school and out. And writing teachers need to consider the many ways in which students see themselves as writers . . .  and invite them to be intentional about how they read and write in a digital age.

Thus, writing has always been a complex act, and relying on our long history of understanding the writing process as well as the writing workshop approach helps us now understand how newer technologies can offer writers numerous opportunities to get their message across. Writing in a digital world means that, as writers and teachers of writing, we need to be aware of these choices and how we can best utilize them to have the intended effect on our various audiences.

We need to understand the ways in which writing has been taught in order to better understand our students, the subject matter of writing, and the spaces in which digital writing happens.


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