During my student teaching experience, I worked with a class of fifteen fourth graders, some of who were really fast and efficient when using the computers and keyboard and others who had a really hard time. The only time they really used technology or even went to the computer lab was for standardized test preparation and for educational games. They had little knowledge of word processors, Power Point, or browsing the internet. When writing, a lot of them would write like they would text message. They would use “lol” or “omg” in their writing and found nothing wrong with that. Their reading curriculum was a basal reader and it gave writing prompts to go along with the story. My cooperating teacher just told me to use those prompts for my writing time. There wasn’t a writer’s workshop set in place, just a half an hour a day for the students to work on their writing. On this particular story their writing assignment was to write a letter to someone they admire. Since some of them had never used Microsoft Word, I decided that for their final drafts I would take them to the computer lab and let them publish their work and print it out. I showed them through the steps and when they were finished typing their letters they could choose a font and add a picture. They had never done that before and really liked it and if they had time at the end of other writing assignments, they had permission to go to the computer lab to print out and publish their work.
As I stated, the school that I was teaching in followed a basal reading curriculum and the writing topics were always chosen. The students never got a choice. My cooperating teacher said that since the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs) were coming up, they needed to know what it was like to write about things they might not necessarily want to. It was really hard to hear that because I could see that the students didn’t like the topics and weren’t having any fun with their writing. The topics didn’t interest them (and they didn’t really interest me). I would have really liked to see if there was a change in their writing if they could have chosen what they wanted to write about.
In the elementary school where I student taught there were two computer labs and four computers in the classroom (which the students never used). The computers in the classroom were set up right beside each other so that students could talk to each other IF they were to work together. Once I started taking over if the students had free time they would work on a group project that I had assigned. The two computer labs were set up exactly the same: in rows like desks in a classroom facing a chalkboard. There was a walkway in the middle that separated two sections but it would have been hard for students to work in groups or to move around. Hicks (2009) states that we should, “...attempt to create as open a classroom as possible. Having small pods of computers or tables along the outside walls where computers sit allows for easy movement and communication.” The computer labs definitely didn’t have that flow and it didn’t have an open feeling.
Going into student teaching, I wasn’t quite sure what writer’s workshop was. I had heard the terms before, but even throughout student teaching, it wasn’t really put into action. Now that I know what exactly writer’s workshop is and how it works, I am excited to use it both manually and digitally when I am teaching in my own classroom. I think that the only thing that was in place for my digital writing workshop was my students. Hicks (2009) challenges you to question: “Overall, in what ways do you view your students, and their uses of technology-positively, negatively, or neutrally? Do you see them as capable, naïve, or more advanced than yourself?” A lot of my students didn’t have a computer, and if they did, they couldn’t afford the internet, so they knew how to play the standard games and could use paint but that’s about all. As I taught my first lesson to them on using Microsoft Word, I viewed all of them equally and on neutral terms because it was fairly new to most of them. At fourth grade, I had expected them to be pros at Word. I went in with a positive attitude and answered a LOT of questions and it was probably one of the most exhausting lessons I’ve taught. Since the room was set up in a way where I had to weave in and out of people, I wasn’t just mentally exhausted, I was physically exhausted too, but my positive attitude paid off. They loved it and they did a great job at publishing on Word. I think at the beginning they viewed digital writing as a scary, unknown thing and now it was a little less scary and a little more fun, which meant that writing, could become more fun.
What needed to be put in order was the subject of writing and the spaces that we write in. Hicks (2009) states that, “Digital writing changes the contexts and purposes for writing.” When I think of the purposes for writing I think of PIE: persuade, inform, entertain. Going along with that is Hicks’ (2009) critical question, “In what ways can we transfer our understandings of good print-based writing into ideas about what constitutes good digital writing?” That takes me back to the purposes. We need a clear, concise vision of where we are going with our writing, and when we can do that when we are manually writing, I think that we can transfer that over to our digital writing as well. I think that good digital writing is professional, doesn’t use slang, and is something that you can understand, just as print-based writing should be. I loved Hicks’ (2009) advice: “Craft a variety of modes using one digital writing tool.” Instead of using a blog for a fiction piece and a wiki for nonfiction, just use one blog with separate blog posts. I think that’s an awesome idea.
Lastly are the spaces we write in. The computer lab I was in was not a productive environment for learning and collaborating in a digital writing environment. Hicks (2009) states that, “We teach digital writing in both face-to-face as well as virtual spaces.” Students couldn’t interact with each other because of the set-up of the room and there’s no way they could ever do a group project. It was just the wrong set-up. I wasn’t really quite sure what a virtual space was when I started reading the book, but I thought it was really cool how students can interact over the internet, just as we did as a class in Google Docs. Hicks (2009) says to, “Create a central space for your digital writing workshop, most likely a blog or wiki.” I think that’s a great idea. Everything is in one spot so they don’t have to look at two or three different places searching. They just know exactly where they need to be.
Hicks (2009) gives so much great advice on how to set up a digital writing workshop; things I didn’t even think to consider. I think that it’s a great start for me and I can’t wait to put them in place.
*A little side note: I read the book on my Kindle, which doesn’t have page numbers, so I wasn’t able to put page numbers beside the quotes, but they can all be found in Hicks (2009) Chapter 7.