Podcast - Digitize This! Digitizing the Writing Workshop

Podcast Script:
Howdy! Welcome to this podcast recorded at the Heart of Texas and Central Texas Writing Project Conference held on Saturday, April 10, 2010. Colleague Diana Benner and I facilitated a session entitled "Digitize This! Digitizing the Writing Workshop" in Austin, Texas.

The event was hosted by the Heart of Texas Writing Project and folks from the Central Texas Writing Project participated! I can't tell you how thrilled I was to revisit my writing teacher roots but with the fresh perspective technology brings.

When Diana and I were brainstorming for what to present at this session, we decided to approach the session from a writing workshop facilitator perspective...while powerful technologies can change how our students approach writing, as teachers, we may not actually take advantage of these to revamp our writing workshop facilitation. 

The fundamental question that I reflected on with Diana was straightforward: How can technology we now have available make the HOW of writing workshop easier for the teacher?

Our work in this process--Diana Benner and mine--was to try to find one possible approach. But we did not create in a vacuum. Over the last two months, we spent time re-reading Nanci Atwell's IN THE MIDDLE, I re-read parts of Luci Calkins' "The Art of Teaching Writing," explored Troy Hick's book on "Digital Writing Workshop," the edited "Teaching the New Writing," and others. I also spoke to Reading/ELA directors in school districts, asking them how writing is taught in their school district's classrooms NOW. 

All of these books and ideas make up a rich tapestry that is how to teach writing...there is no one approach that is perfect or right except the one that liberates the writer to explore his ideas and express them as perfectly as he can. This podcast--quite long, despite my best efforts to cut pauses down--shares the conversation we had with workshop participants, then introduces teachers to the various tools and how we can use them to answer the guiding question. 

Note: I mention Tony Stead in my presentation...and definitely encourage you to check out his books on Teaching Non-Fiction writing, as well as listen to his presentation below.

Tony Stead Podcast Information:

Key Take-Aways:
  1. We need to thrill our learners to be readers and writers.
  2. To be successful in life, what kind of writing will help children in their life? If you’re like me, you’re writing persuasive writing.
  3. In K-2 classrooms, 95% of writing experiences were with personal narrative and story
  4. By 6th grade, children will have spent 84% of writer’s workshop composing personal narratives, stories, and writing from prompts.
  5. Kids wrote a brochure and dedicated it to everyone who is scared of bats. For the us, the use of technology to get online and find out about stuff. With every book, there’s a web site. Kids went to batconservation.com. Bats Conservation said, “If you send us the information and produce it and send it to all 1000 of our members.” Those kids were screaming with absolute joy. All day, all they want to do is write persuasive brochures. Our kids sit in those classrooms and do what they’re told. They write and read without every understanding why.
  6. How did you overcome barriers? Principals want people to teach to the test. How do you get them to take a leap of faith? Response: It was just one school to start with. Let’s see what happens and then finding out you won’t fail. Pilot the program. That’s how the leap of faith happened. Denton ISD tracked the State test. We started with the interested group.
  7. 73% of students read nonfiction at least 3 Reading Recovery levels below that of their fiction.
  8. 15% of students read nonfiction 3 grade levels below their fiction.
  9. By third grade, only 7% of students struggled with decoding nonfiction at their grade level. We teach decoding, how to get through text, but we spend little time helping them understand what the text is actually saying. ESL children can easily learn to decode but because it’s a 2nd language, they don’t have understanding of which words to use for concept. They can read at 28 level of Reading Recovery, but comprehension level of 4.
  10. Students who were competent readers of nonfiction were also competent in reading fiction, but not vice versa.
  11. Boys slow their reading down because they want to make meaning of non-fiction. They do what every child should do–they fight to read.
  12. Children can read 3-4 levels above what they’re benchmarked on topics they’re interested in.
  13. The way the TEKS are written, they are a big turn-off. They’re not written in story format. Response: Tony qualified it by saying, “It’s non-fiction that’s not written in an non-engaging manner. If we go back to the old non-fiction–librarians hate me because I want to weed out from the 1950s to 1960s from science and social studies because it’s out of date, non-engaging; need new fresh resources in there.
  14. 96% of all read-alouds were with shared fiction. Kids aren’t even hearing the language of non-fiction content until third grade.
  15. This is about rethinking a strategy that teachers in the U.S. have been using for the last 10 year. This strategy is KWL. KWL Problem – I believe it’s only effective for kids who already bring good background knowledge to the table. When you ask them what they know, that’s all dependent on content understandings.
  16. RAN Strategy…It’s ok to approximate content knowledge. You don’t have to be true.
  17. A university lecturer came to visit me and I’ve been using the RAN at the university level. “This is the fabric for how we all think. Day 1, I asked my students…write an essay about how they think children learn to read. Over 6 weeks, they had to–in yellow–confirm what they knew, highlight in blue any misconceptions, write down any wonderings and at the end of the semester, they had to write down a new essay and share their wonderings and misconceptions and new facts.
  18. When you ask about misconceptions in Science…I can live with a misconception about Pluto. But in Social Studies, biases and prejudices come up and I can’t live with that.
  19. We have to help kids take risks.

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