Go Digital: Teaching Non-Fiction Writing with @Postachio #PostachioEd @evernote

“My notebooks,” shares Aimee Buckner, author of , Nonfiction Notebooks: Strategies for Informational Writing“make me reflect on what I do as a writer and as a teacher. Sometimes I reflect as I reread, and other times, I reflect when I just look at the stack."  As a writer myself, I find Aimee’s point to be “spot on” since having notebooks helps me organize the vastness of ideas and then put them into context.  Through the use of Evernote and Postach.io, notebooks can become powerful ways to organize and share the work of writers in the classroom.
Image Source: http://sites.duke.edu/digitalwritingandpedagogylab/files/2014/01/4885flyerwords1.png
Note: This continues my series on Evernote and Postach.io to impact teaching, learning and leading. If you decide to get an Evernote Premium account, I hope you use this referral link.

Encouraging Non-Fiction Writing
"By 6th grade,” points out Australian educator, Tony Stead"children will have spent 84% of writer's workshop composing personal narratives, stories, and writing from prompts.” Wow, read that again. Now ask yourself how much of the reading that you do as an adult is personal narrative  and/or stories? If you’re like me, you’ll see that 90% of the writing I devour as an educator and adult is non-fiction. In fact, most adults read non-fiction MORE than fiction.

And, Aimee agrees with Tony’s emphasis on non-fiction writing that it is "a huge genre.” Based on Tony’s well-researched point, as well as Aimee’s, it’s critical that students both consume and engage in informational writing. Our students CAN produce non-fiction, and hear (via podcasts) and learn the language of non-fiction. Aimee points out that “informational writing,” which she also dubs “explanatory writing,” can have a profound effect on students ability to write better.

Let’s review some of the key points from Aimee’s book, Nonfiction Notebooks: Strategies for Informational Writing:
  1. Notebooks help students organize what they know and use what they know all about.
  2. Notebooks help students "grow their writing and strengthen their ideas” by finding other texts they love and studying how those are put together, as well as 
  3. Plan out organization, flow, and key ideas of their writing.
How Evernote and Postach.io Can Help
The writer’s notebook, usually a beautifully decorated work of paper, stickers, glue, and decorative items that students use to track their ideas, like footprints by fairies in a evergreen forest budding with half-formed observations, is central to our writing process. While many students in classrooms—sporting Chromebooks and iPads—see the value of word processing their content, tools like Evernote and Postach.io often go unused.

Let’s quickly review the power of each of these tools then apply them to the key points in Aimee’s book:
  • Evernote.com is a digital notebook, allowing you to organize an almost unlimited number of notes in notebooks. You can even create, as Aimee describes in her book, “stacks” of notebooks. You can easily add tags or one-word descriptors to each note. Evernote apps exist on every platform, from Android to iPad to iPhone, as well as your Chromebook, Windows/Mac laptop or desktop. In short, Evernote works on everything. Furthermore, you can record/save/email content—pictures, audio, video, and, my favorite, text—into a notebook. Imagine clusters of students emailing their writing to a single address, adding a @Period2 to the Subject line of the email. Of course, @Period3 would send work to a different digital notebook. Yes, it’s that easy! Cost: Evernote
  • Postach.io enables publishing of Evernote Notes. Just as Evernote is shifts you and your students ability to work with notebooks, Postach.io allows you to setup an online space where any notes that are tagged with “published” appear in that space.
Let’s explore these two digital tools in the context of Nonfiction Notebooks key ideas that I highlighted above:

Exploring Key Ideas
As non-fiction writers, it’s important to find texts that can serve a dual purpose. Many of these texts are not to be found in print magazine and books, but rather, online in their digital equivalents. As a result, students—and you as a teacher—need an easy to way to “clip” content and then share the relevant excerpt with others. Using Evernote Premium ($50 per year), or just use the free version, writers can organize content they find in notebooks.

This organization is important because it enables students to make choices about topic, genre, and then, with Postach.io as their publication tool, to capitalize on the benefits of content curation with their peers. 

Here’s how it works:

Ashleigh, an 8th grader, wants to write about her experiences raising a calf. She begins collecting information about raising cows to see how others have approached the topic, clipping certain selections that she likes or wants to refer to while writing her own how-to for inclusion in her piece. She knows that her audience will be other teens, but also a general audience. She mixes her own experiences in, as well as records audio interviews with other friends who have had their own experiences. Ashleigh snaps photos of her calf, and attaches pictures she’s taken of her calf to illustrate the steps one must follow. All of this content—pictures, audio, and text—ends up as separate notes in her “How To Raise a Calf” Notebook on Evernote. 

Rather than having this process of content curation dwell in ignorance and darkness, Ashleigh’s teacher, parents and friends have been able to follow her growth as a content curator and drafts at her own How-To in real time. This is because Ashleigh is able to publish what she chooses in her “How To Raise a Calf” notebook online to her Postach.io blog. There is no copy-n-paste, double the effort. When Ashleigh has something to share, she adds the “published” tag to her Evernote Note and it is shared online. In this way, others can see what Ashleigh is reading and clipping. Furthermore, Ashleigh’s writing piece is auto-published online as she revises.

As Ashleigh begins to organize a variety of pieces, she can create new notebooks and “stack” them to organize them according to how she and her teacher have decided makes the most sense. This collaborative process enables Ashleigh, and students like her, to "Plan out organization, flow, and key ideas of their writing” as an interactive dialogue between teacher and student, student and peers, writer and the world.

One of the key components of writing is sharing and publishing. While there are many tools for organizing our writing, Evernote + Postach.io make a winning combination for enabling students and teachers. Specifically, it enables them to pull back the veil between that moment when ideas arise from the chaos, when those ideas are shaped and informed by information, then blended into a draft of non-fiction writing. Making this living, ever-changing draft of writing, updated as it happens, available online makes Postach.io a critical tool.

About the Author
As a lead learner of learners in K-12 public schools, Miguel Guhlin (Twitter: @mguhlin) encourages adult learners to engage in reflection on teaching, learning and leading in educational settings. He is most happy when helping others cross the digital divide via transformative, technology-based experiences. You can read more about those experiences at his blog, Around the Corner-MGuhlin.org - www.mguhlin.org

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