The All Write Consortium hosted a summer institute in June in Warsaw, Indiana. I signed up because of the literacy leaders on the agenda: Lester Laminack, Jennifer Serravallo, Chris Lehman, Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, Maggie Roberts, Kate Roberts, Greg Tang, and the list goes on and on…I was only a little disappointed! (Kylene and Bob got stuck in a TX storm and couldn’t fly in.) Truth be told, I wanted to attend the “Notice and Note, Going Deeper with the Literary Signposts” session with Beers/Probst, but I chose “Studying Digital Texts to Improve Writing Craft” with Maggie Roberts instead. She’s one of my rock stars from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and I really needed more experience — I am still a tech newbie, after all these years. I was sure she could help me.

Studying Digital Texts to Enhance Writing Workshop

As I walked into the room, I knew I was behind the technology times, but boy was I out-of-place! People were logging into the website shown in the front of the room, and already looking at presentation notes, and here I was, with my iPhone, which did not turn out to be worthy for this cause of learning about digital texts and how to use them better in my classroom.  All I could think of was, “I WISH we had the technology needed for the 21st century in our district!” (Maybe someday? Maybe I could buy it on my own?) Ugh. Anyway…I listened closely while I retrieved my notebook from my bag, low-tech as it was, and I saw an excellent lesson in action. Roberts said, “Strong writing is strong.” Students know when they see it, and they can learn to emulate great writing. In the first lesson activity, we watched a clip from The Dust Bowl, by Ken Burns. The teacher (Roberts) asked the students (audience), “What makes this a strong piece?” Audience members answered with: word choice, use of quotes, music, images that matched the author’s voice (dark, painful, etc.). Then we “wrote like Ken Burns.” The writing makeover activity helped us to see that students can write, and write well, when guided to notice and use what they already know, in their own texts.

The other two activities presented involved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, I Have a Dream, where we studied argument (front-loading with a chart “12 Techniques That Argument Writers Use”) and answered the question again: What makes this a strong piece? Then we saw a clip from Modern Family (“We Cool” episode), the crowd-pleasing TV show (she called this method “crowdsourcing”). We discussed characterization, conflict, plot, and how the characters on the show played different parts in one scene — talking and making faces at us, the viewers, while also being in character and playing through the scene in the show.

I long to use more technology in my classroom this coming school year.  The lesson activities we saw (we ran out of time, actually) left me wanting more! The idea that students already know what makes good writing, drawing it out with them using digital texts, then leaving the students to try it on their own, is an engaging and wonderful lesson opportunity that I want to use. I definitely have questions about gathering and using more digital texts in my classroom, and I can only hope that I will ask the right administrators — when I ask about technology updates in the fall — and that I will become a better, more advanced teacher of writing.