“Today’s young people are using a range of digital tools to compose and create in utterly new ways. It is a game-changing moment for teachers of writing. The very notion of what it means to write is shifting, and educators are faced with adapting their teaching practices to integrate new technologies while redefining writing and learning for the 21st century. ~Sharon J. Washington, executive director National Writing Project.
Have you ever been in a room with 1,200 people writing at the same time? Heather and I have. Most recently we were in November at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida. The energy in the room was tangible as NWP educators composed a flurry of words on paper and computer screen. The following is a passage from my notebook:
“I am a coil of words with a thousand languages loose on my tongue. Life lives me and I make connections with images and moments. Writing helps me document my impressions. I am a writer and a teacher. I am an encourager of stories. It is my job as educator to help my students become living and breathing action words. Writing is an act of creation and as humans we must: thirst, question, reflect, publish, narrate, connect, respond, revise, amplify, listen, invent, define, interact, ruminate, change… ”
Attending the NWP Annual Meeting Heather and I found ourselves once again caught up in the excitement of exploring digital literacy. The NWP had recently unveiled the Digital Is website to help share resources, connect and support educators, and open dialogue and discussions about what it means to teach writing in a digital world. We were prepared for our presentation at the Holocaust Educators’ Network session and at the National Council of Teachers of English NWP strand. Our presentations would include a collaborative digital story we had crafted at the NWP Rural Resource Development Retreat in Austin, Texas last summer and we had student digital examples to help give creedence to our work. We were also eager to share a link to our blog with other educators and use it as a tool to connect and share our story.
At one round table session we were given a few minutes to contemplate what Digital is… My interpretation was: “Digital is pushing the boundaries of writing in a new direction. Limitless possibilities. Digital media allows the writer to reinvent and refashion genres and publish on public spaces. Digital is erasing time and space to span the miles and connect ideas and generations. Digital is making our writing breathe. We can layer the spoken voice, images, text, sound and music. Digital transcends paper and ink. I believe that delving into digital literacy in our classrooms gives us a fresh perspective on how we can interact with text. Digital media becomes a lens in which we can look at our curriculum in a new way. Digital modes of expression are compelling and have the capacity to reach all learners.“
After the NWP Annual Meeting I found myself back in my classroom energized and eager to continue the digital literacy journey. My creative writing students were assigned a digital story and spent time carefully crafting their scripts and choosing visual elements to help relate his/her narrative. My 9th grade English classes were beginning a poetry unit and were given the option to create a digital version of a “Where I’m From” poem that was inspired by George Ella Lyon. We watched the digital pieces in class right before winter break and I felt extremely proud as my student’s flexed their voices.
It takes great courage to “put yourself out there” in the digital sphere and I could feel that my students felt validated as they shared their labor. The viewing/sharing helped connect our classroom community and we learned so much about the students through photos, artwork, text, music and voice. When invited to explore the digital avenue with their writing, students begin to invent new genres as they fashion extensions of themselves.
Headed into 2011 I am eager to see the advances in technology that unfold. Heather and I have made the resolution to begin blogging again on a weekly basis. We want to connect with other educators and publish the amazing writing that our students are creating. As always, we are thankful for our involvement in the Upper Peninsula Writing Project and for those who help and support our adventures in education. Happy New Year!
The following are digital projects that my students generated. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. I thank them for their hard work, diligence, and the lessons they teach me.