Friday, October 4, 2013

iPadifying the Writing Workshop #iPad #iPaded #edtech #writing

Note: This was previously published as a series over the last two weeks. This blog entry contains the full version for your reading pleasure.

iPadifying the Writing Workshop
by Miguel Guhlin (Twitter:@mguhlin)

“One of my students,” shared the 5th grade teacher whom I was interviewing for a podcast, “has trouble filling up the page. He just can’t do it. It’s too much. But, when writing on the iPad, using the on-screen keyboard, he can. He can type a few words at a time in the small space and pretty soon, he’s written a page. That’s amazing.” This may also be true for dyslexic readers who find the confines of the small screen comforting (read the transcript of this NPR broadcast).

Small screens can be inviting and there is no reason why, given the ubiquity of iPads in some school systems, that students can't draw and color by hand, snap a photo with an iPad, then app-smash that image of their handwriting, drawing into another app like 30HandsLearning (make videos of handwriting), ExplainEverything (blend handwriting with video), or better yet, BookCreator (mix it all in).

Furthermore, there are many apps that one can write with; here are some of my favorites:
  1. eNotebook (Free) - This is a free app that integrates with Evernote and makes it quite easy to organize notes into notebooks.
  2. Penultimate (Free) - An app designed for note-taking that integrates into Evernote.
  3. AudioNote ($4.99) - This is one of my favorite apps for note-taking since you can record audio and take notes with a keyboard OR by hand.
  4. Kids’ Journal (Free) - For younger students, this app may work well.
While publishing student writing online fundamentally hooks students as writers, as teachers, we can take advantage of available tools to make our jobs easier. In this article, we'll explore 5 ways that the iPad can enhance, or, “iPadify,” the writing workshop as commonly taught in schools.

iPadifying Writing Workshop Facilitation
Here are a few ways we can iPadify a teacher’s facilitation of the writing workshop. You will have to find your own workflow, figuring out what the best path is for you. These suggestions may help you along the way and are organized into 5 categories:

  1. Aim for Engagement
  2. Make App Smashing a Daily Act of Creation
  3. Re-imagine Elements of Writing Workshop
  4. Facilitate Online Conversations about Student Writing
  5. Offer feedback in audio or video, rather than written, format

Remember, the iPad is one of the most versatile pieces of technology. Don’t limit your thinking to the act of writing on paper. Writing has jumped from one technology to another many a time. If we were traditionalists, we might be scratching out words on stone tablets, on papyrus, rather than fingers dancing with electrons and glass.

“More milk!” demanded my son, thrusting his hand out from his place on the couch. His words caused my father, gone since October, 2006, to jump from his Lazy-boy recliner to refill the bottle. As the video plays on, showing picture after picture featuring a grandson and his doting grandfather, brilliant white hair growing back after chemo-therapy months before dying, I realize how I miss him.

Telling that story isn’t something I did for a workshop assignment, but to remember, to immortalize a memory hovering at the edge of forgetfulness.

Story isn’t a frill in human life—something we do just for kicks. Story is a vastly powerful tool. By educating ourselves about story, we can use to learn that power in our own lives. (Source: Daniel Pink's blog, Interview with Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal)

“Whether it’s something that happened twenty years ago or only yesterday,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I must start with an emotion—one that’s close to me and that I can understand.” As a blogger, making personal connections to other’s writing, I know how true this is. Like us, our students are human beings for whom the art of story is not a workshop act, but an act of life. Whether you read or write, aim for engagement. Start with emotion.

Yet, digital storytelling can be tough a la computer. You have to have a computer with a microphone, know how to mix photos and images together. In fact, the workshop where I crafted that digital story wanted me to learn Final Cut Pro. Now, iPads make the storytelling easier.

iPads can make digital storytelling, as well as digitizing the writing workshop process, incredibly, powerful experiences for students and staff. Just as our students have new digital tools, so do we as their teachers. If stories restore power to us as human beings, iPads make sharing our stories all the easier. Why not take advantage of that as teachers?

iPadify Tip #1: Use iPad video and camera features to tell compelling stories about what you and your students are learning about. Take advantage of apps like 30HandsLearning, Haiku Deck (watch age limits) to create engaging, image-rich slideshows that require students to deeply reflect about their message then add audio narration. It can be as easy as taking a photo of a student’s piece of writing, inserting that image into the 30HandsLearning app, then asking the children to narrate that. Publish the series of student writings and children’s voices as a video on a video-sharing site (e.g. YouTube).

"iPads are our best option for regular and special needs students in K-12," pointed out a teacher. "They are so versatile and meet the needs of students." Students are now using iPads to create digital books, a.k.a. ebooks with Book Creator, that incorporate text, images, audio and video in their creations.

Students can take what they make in one iPad app, save it as a picture or video into the iPad’s Camera Roll, then use that creation in another app. This process is called “app smashing.”

Below, please find a short list of app smashing apps you can use. You may also want to get your own free copy of The Ultimate App Smasher's Guide, an ebook I put together one evening using Book Creator.

For example, check out this APPlied Poetry: A Multimedia Anthology of Poetry Illustrated with Apps published by Mrs. Hockenbrocht's 6th grade Language Arts class.

According to the blog entry (which incidentally, is a Google Sites web page):

This book is a multimedia anthology of poetry created by sixth grade students, illustrated with a variety of apps, and compiled using the Book Creator app. The poetry was written in Mrs. Hockenbrocht's Language Arts class.  Students were asked to illustrate their poetry using images, text, and audio.  They were to use and cite copyright friendly images and needed to include at least one video. They needed to use a variety of apps to create the media for this project. When done with their chapter, I uploaded each book from Book Creator to Dropbox. I then downloaded each book onto one device and used the merge feature in Book Creator to combine each chapter into one anthology.

"...young children [can now] write and illustrate their own stories before their fine motor skills are developed enough to allow them to do so by hand" (Source: National School Boards Association, Student writers can publish their work, not only in print, but in a variety of media. Text, audio, and images combine when students capture images, audio, and video with their iPads using Level 1 apps and then combine them in Level 2 apps.

Some phenomenal digital storytelling apps include 30HandsLearning, Explain Everything,  ShadowPuppet, StoryKit, Storify, Tellagami, and Videolicious. To craft a digital story, you can encourage students to take these steps:
  1. Gather and sequence a few pictures that represent a journey, a challenge they have encountered.
  2. Write a story that builds with each picture added.
  3. Record the narrative--documentary or fiction--of the story with each picture, then export to a movie.

iPadify Tip #2: Use an app like Book Creator to author a book, adding illustrations and images that other students have created or are available via Creative Commons Search. You can also make a class digital repository of content that all students can contribute to using cloud storage tools like Google Drive, Dropbox (although beware of the age limits in the Terms of Service), and/or Evernote.

Our job as writing workshop facilitators can be pretty harrowing. Even a paper-centric writing workshop involves juggling colored sheets to create books, setting up writing centers, helping students deal with the daily struggle of journals and journal responses, and, crafting mini-lessons that engage and endure. The focus is always on student writing. As workshop facilitator, you can work to find the answer to the question, "How can technologies we now have make the HOW of writing workshop easier for the teacher?"

One possibility is to reflect on the teacher's role in the writing workshop, and the technology available to organize the writing workshop. Let's review the essential components of the Writing Workshop; those include the following:

  • The Mini-Lesson;
  • The Status of the Class;
  • Write/Confer; and
  • Group Share.

There are many more components and activities, but these present a starting point. Consider taking just one of these--such as the mini-lesson--and building an online writing space that allows you to share and archive your mini-lessons. Here are some simple ways you can iPadify these Writing Workshop components:

a) The Mini-Lesson: Creating and sharing mini-lessons--which can be based on anchor charts, like the one shown on the ECISD's Literacy Today web site at --can easily be created using various tools on the iPad. One of my favorites is the $2.99 Explain Everything app that enables you to blend photos/images, web sites, video, text, and add your recorded audio to each slide in a presentation. In less than 10 minutes, you can create a mini-lesson to share with your students that will be available long after you have moved on to another topic. Accomplish that by posting to Google Sites wiki.

b) The Status of the Class: If every child in your class has an iPad, then why not get them to quickly submit via a GoogleForm or contribute to an Edmodo assignment, sharing what their status is. At a glance, you will be able to ascertain where students are at with their writing. But don't limit your students to words. Ask them to snap a photo of the writing and submit it via Edmodo or email it to your Evernote or ThreeRings account. You can actually see words on a piece of paper, then offer feedback.

c) Write/Confer: During write/confer portion of the writing workshop, consider recording your conferences with students as a way to easily document their progress. You can aggregate their work by posting your conference audio into Evernote in a notebook for that child. At the end of the year, the child will have a notebook of audio feedback that documents their growth. You can also ask students to snap pictures of their work, then record audio feedback from their peers.

d) Group Share: One of my favorite aspects of group share is the ability to have students share what they are writing about. In my writing workshop, I often asked students to share the lead sentence of their piece. Students in the circle could follow the TAG approach:
  1. Tell one thing you liked about the written piece shared;
  2. Ask one question;
  3. Give one suggestion.

With iPads, students are able to record this feedback--audio or video--and reflect on it for later. This is very important in group share and the recording(s) can stimulate further growth and work on a student’s piece.

While some of the ideas above are elaborated in this article, consider how technology, rather than complicating your life, can make it easier for you and your students over the long run of a writing workshop, eliminating the constant paper chase.

iPadify Tip #3: Take advantage of the multimedia recording and sharing capabilities of the iPad, not just the text.

Often, writing folders serve as the central repository in a classroom in the throes of a writing workshop. As a writing workshop facilitator, my efforts involved storage of students' writing folders in crates and/or file cabinet, depending on what was available. All writing resided on pieces of paper. Specific areas of writing workshop can be moved online. If your students are publishing online--whether via a blog, wiki, Edmodo--then an online space to bring all the artifacts together is critical.

"In the mini-lesson," my mentor teacher explained to me, "someone--usually the teacher, but it can be a student or a guest speaker--introduces a new concept to writers. The mini-lesson, lasting 10-20 minutes, can also be focused on meeting the needs identified in students' writing. The mini-lesson facilitator models the approach introduced, writing alongside the students." Using Google Sites, you can create a reference point that can house your mini-lesson content, including audio and/or video recordings. Group content around topics.

Several solutions are available to the problem of creating an online writing space, such as:
    • Google Sites
    • Edmodo
    • Schoology

Once you know where you are going to put your writing workshop content--where you can share anything, everything you and your students will need for writing workshop--decide what format you will put that information online in.

iPadify Tip #4: A variety of “learning management systems”--like web sites make it easy to organize content and share it with students. My favorite is GoogleSites because it’s no-cost and can be easy to edit on an iPad.

“Writing to an online audience allows one to start a conversation with a world of readers. Who wouldn’t want that?” When I first started facilitating writing workshops, one of the best sources of insights for students came from the students themselves. Facilitating large group share provides students a place for them to find out what others think of their ideas. When writers gather to share their thoughts, there’s magic in the air. Each of us is writer, reader, audience member, active participant in learning. That’s important because teachers cannot offer ALL the feedback students need.

However, online discussion forums through Edmodo and Schoology, attached to wikis, or with blog postings and comments CAN facilitate student to student interaction independent of the teacher. Edmodo allows teachers to create a rich, safe environment with ample "brain food" for learners.

Some workflows to be aware of:

Book Creator App Sharing:
  1. If you're using the Book Creator app to create multimedia ePub ebooks--they contain student videos, audio recordings--then you will want to publish to GoogleDrive, Dropbox, or some online location that allows you to store ePubs. 
  2. Then, get the "shared link"--that's the link to the ePub file--and share it with you class via GoogleSites web page or Edmodo. 
  3. When students or others click on the ePub file link shared from your favorite cloud storage location, they will be prompted to "Open In" and they can choose apps like iBooks, Readdle Documents app, or if they intend to edit/remix content, BookCreator.
PDF Sharing and Annotation:
If student work is created in PDF format, consider using the Paperport Notes or Evernote app to offer feedback on that PDF.

  1. To organize student work for PDFs, you could have students email PDFs of their written work to Evernote to your secret email access, ensuring they put @notebookname (for an existing notebook) in the Subject line, as follows:
  2. Subject: Title of Project @NotebookName #tag1
  3. If annotating in Evernote, you can record audio feedback to the student writer then share that note with the writer.
Some other Evernote tips:
  • This only works for existing notebooks and tags.
  • You cannot create new notebooks or tags with this feature; they must already exist
  • In the subject line, always put the note title first, then add any notebooks or tags
  • This feature will not work for notebook names that contain an ‘@’ or a ‘#’, and it will not work for tags that contain a ‘#’ in their name.
Paperport Notes

  1. PaperPort Notes (free iPad app) allows you to annotate PDFs. There are many PDF annotation apps, but PaperPort works quite well.
  2. Once you've annotated, you can share the annotated PDF file back to the student.

Video Creation App Sharing:
Apps like 30HandsLearning, iMovie, Tellagami, and the iPad's Camera empower you to create video. You can share those videos in various places, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Dropbox, and to a limited degree, GoogleDrive.  
  1. After you create the video, 
  2. Publish or send the video to your storage location of choice.

Collecting Student Ideas or Feedback on a Product:
  • Use Edmodo to quickly collect student ideas via the iPad. It’s social media aspect enables easy sharing and polls.

iPadify Tip #5: Figure out the workflow for publishing and collecting student work ahead of time based on the app your students are using. If you want to get global feedback, consider publishing to a GoogleSites wiki announcement section (provides you with an RSS feed that others can subscribe to) that has comments turned on, a blog (e.g. Blogger, KidBlog are two possible choices) allowing comments, or site which features a discussion area.

Did you know that it’s incredibly easy to offer feedback to students on their writing? Make a screencast--less than 5 minutes--that captures critical feedback for students regarding their writing (View an example - Those videos can be hosted in a variety of locations, such as Evernote, YouTube, Dropbox,, GoogleDrive and the link easily shared with students.

This kind of feedback can connect with auditory learners who may prefer to get their feedback in another format besides cryptic comments on a post-it attached to their piece of writing. The teacher reviews student writing online, offering specific feedback, recording the feedback as a video recording. The teacher reports taking only 5-8 minutes to record feedback that would normally take 20 or more minutes to write out as feedback. Again, you can easily snap a picture of a piece of student writing, drop it into Explain Everything and then offer critical feedback the student as writer needs to grow on.

If video is not for you, you can also take advantage of digital audio tools. A variety of tools are useful in this category. You and your students can easily record audio on the iPad using free apps like Voice Recorder Pro:

  1. Teacher can record the mini-lesson and post it on class web site (e.g. blog, wiki). This is an ideal tool for field trips or "on the go" recordings where a mobile phone is not desirable.
  2. Students can record a reading of their written piece then email it to the teacher or to other students.
  3. Record audio, then share it via cloud storage (e.g. GoogleDrive, Dropbox) or email it from your iPad.

These are only some of the technology tools available. And, don’t be afraid to only use a few apps. Like some writers only prefer a certain brand of pencil or pen, get to know the apps you rely on to write with.


While iPads are often eschewed as writing machines--often because they do not come with a keyboard--it’s great to imagine that they can be used to “iPadify” the writing workshop process from the teacher’s perspective. This can be a tremendous aid to our work as writing workshop facilitators.

Check out Miguel's Workshop Materials online at

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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