Tips on Tech in Class: Using a Strategic Writing Framework

Following last week’s blog posts about the affordances of composing with various tools both on and offline, writer and educator @erinehsani and I had a quick exchange on Twitter:

In thinking about “Tips for Tech in Class,” I immediately thought of a section of our  forthcoming book due out to the public any day nowDeveloping Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age:

There are at least three ways digital multimodal composition might be used in our classrooms today. First, the teacher might use digital multimodal composition for delivery of content. A teacher using a Smartboard for instruction is an example of this application.  Second, a teacher may plan to integrate digital technology into the activities students will do to learn content. We see this when students provide feedback to peers on their writing in a writing lab. Third, we can teach the use of digital technology directly, such as learning how to manipulate an image in PhotoShop. All three of these applications are applicable and necessary to teaching writing in the digital age.

Many resources are available to teachers interested in these three applications of digital multimodal composition in the classroom. Check out:  Because Digital Writing Matters (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl & Hicks, 2010) and the National Writing Project companion website ‘Digital Is’ (digitialis.nwp.org). In true Web 2.0 style, this is not a resource website, but a growing compilation of recourses under these areas with interactive discussion boards and threads.

The “Tip” to Rule Them All:

A Strategic Writing Framework

Beyond these three ways of thinking about tech in the classroom (and the myriad of resources available to support classroom use), for me the most important tip for using tech to teach composition is introducing a strategic-use framework. Writing in classrooms often devolves into assignment-completion. Prewriting becomes a brainstorming-by-webbing assignment. Revising is a rewrite-it-neatly assignment. Teachers and students alike quickly tire of such empty work. My worry is that without a re-framing of composition in the classroom, any use of tech—no matter how cool and innovative—would eventually turn into the same. Brainstorming by webbing on paper could just turn into webbing on the computer. “Rewrite it neatly” becomes running it through TurnItIn.com. Still just “assignments my teacher gave me.”

Many people have addressed this problem. The response I most responded to was Deborah Dean’s Strategic Writing framework. In this way of thinking about any tool for composing—analog or digital—is that we are all building a repertoire of tools, activities or approaches that we can use when we are composing—whether we are inquiring about an idea before composing, investigating a genre, considering the audience and purpose of the piece, and producing a product. Then, we work to become strategic in our use of the tools with which we are gaining facility. In addition to introducing our students to digital tools for composition, we work to help our students become strategic or savvy—intentional, creative and critical—in their decisions of which tools to use when to help with what compositional conundrum. We want to orient our writing instruction in such a way that our aim is to guide and facilitate students as they: 1) recognize the tools, activities or approaches they have in their repertoire; 2) build that repertoire of tools, activities or approaches; and 3) become more intentional, creative and critical in their use of that repertoire.

As teachers, a great place to start in re-orienting from writing assignments to strategic writing is working on our own list of tools that help us with our own writing. In addition to Digital Is, as a go-to site for me as a teacher, as a writer I RSS feed ProfHacker to learn of new digital tools that are working for others for particular compositional issues. (This blog post on ProfHackers’ authors’ favorite apps for composing is a great place to start.) I’ve tried several of the apps, tools, software, hints, etc. from the site and many have become part of my repertoire. Here’s a list of some of the digital tools that help me for particular compositional needs. I’d love to hear some of yours!

Compositional Issue

Digital Tool

I need to force myself to write text. www.750words.com (A friend just recommended Write Room. I am going to try that next.)
When I have the wording “just right” in my head. Voice Memo and/or or Dragon Dictation App on my cell phone
When I am designing the final look of a page. I flip my secondary screen vertical and use the Display Extended Desktop option with a 90 degree rotation.
I want to think about the relationship between the ideas in my piece. Make a Prezi.
I need to remember how to do APA formatting. Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)
I can’t remember the specifics of a conversation or an idea. I Direct Message or tweet someone I know will remember. [I did this for this post. Thanks to @briancroxall for quick ProfHacker finds.]
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8 thoughts on “Tips on Tech in Class: Using a Strategic Writing Framework”

  1. Hey, Anna! I found your post and thought, “Cool ideas! Who is this teacher?” What a wonderful surprise to find you! I am looking at the same kind of question: how digital tools can function as strategies for writers. So I’m glad you are looking at this, too. I’ll RSS your site so I can see whenever you have a new idea! Thanks.

      1. Awesome, Amy. I am interested to see how the repertoire approach at looking at digital tools takes shape for other people. How, when and why do you use 750words? What are the other tools you have in your toolbox?

      2. I find that the typing 750 words is just the right amount to type.
        Also you Anna mentioned Dragon Dictation apps and I have found the Dragon Speaks app very helpful for one of my 5th grade students who has severe dyslexia. Dragon speaks has been a life savor for her to just “get her ideas out there” first and not have to tackle to humongous spelling errors that she had been imprisoned with.

  2. Thank you for the link to the writing lab Microsoft in Education website. I clicked on the educator tab and loved the Mystery Skype Video: Connecting Classrooms Around the World. It really gave me some good ideas of how to enhance learning activities through the use of technology.

  3. These are some great ideas and I think not only will they be great to use for my students but also apps/websites that I can use for my personal life. I am sure there are many more out there since this post was written.

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