Encouraging and Supporting Writers through Technology – NVWP Summer Institute – Day 11 pt. 2

Next up is Teacher Consultant Jennifer Orr.

Writing is hard

Encouraging and Supporting Writers through Technology

Quickwrite1: On a scale of 1-10, how challenging is writing for me / my students? Why?

I don’t think I could reduce the difficulty of writing down to a single number because, like everything, context matters. There are times when I just get in the zone. When it feels like the words and sentences are pre-ordained and I’ve somehow gotten lucky enough to stumble into the flow. Those are the times when I feel like a vessel, a conduit for expressing what’s already in the aether. Then there are times when every single word is a challenge. When eeking out a sentence feels like pulling my own teeth. This is also what I see in my students. The herky-jerky stop and start of in the flow vs. out of the flow. Catching the tail end of a sentence or two only to lose it the very next second. Sometimes the beginning is easiest. I can burn through my first thoughts (which are usually pretty similar) at a quick pace. But when I have to start really digging deep, that’s when it can get difficult. 

We share! Here’s a collection of things everyone says: how the difficulty of a piece affects how challenging the writing is. For many of us, the writing process spans from 1-10, often times within the same paragraph (for me, at least). Some of us write things we know we’ll have to take out later. The genre of the piece and the audience and the subject seems to dictate the number we select for ourselves and our students alike.

We talk about high stakes vs. low stakes. Also maybe that our students don’t really have a sense of what writing is difficult and what isn’t, or when it’s challenging and when it isn’t.

Writing is hard!

Jen talks about the disconnect between the stories students tell and the stories students write. They can spin for us the most elaborate stories, yet when it comes time to put it down on paper something happens and the rich tale becomes two anemic sentences. Writing is often seen by students as something you only do because you’ve been told to do it.

This is the problem that led down the path of education technology. What follows is what she says.

Pixie – ;records the voice and allows the student to focus on the craft of writing and not just copying it down from memory. You can record it in video form, add in some rudimentary images. This lets students tell their story without getting hung up on the mechanical act of etching graphite letters onto paper. Geared towards a younger audience.


Voice Thread – Lets you record ideas so you can then focus on the organization and sequencing. Lets you record, mark up with text, sequence images and photos and slides, lets others comment on each other’s stories. You can type them, record them, or video record them. This is useful for research. Kids can set up a series of slides while talking over them. You can also then make them public, allowing parents to comment on them (in any language!). Nice. Jen embeds the videos in the class blog so parents can follow them.

Voice Thread

Making Movies – No specific app here. Just the idea of capturing images and clips and fitting them with a student-created narrative. Cameras on lanyards! Take them on field trips, to capture learning (go around the building and find examples of ___). (Maybe have a daily photographer!)

Comics/Graphic Novels: Chogger, ToonDoo, Comic Master, Make Beliefs Comix These are free tools that help students create graphic novels, text bubbles, etc.!

Revising and Editing (Jen points out that these are two different things, btw, and she hates lumping them both together here. Revision is how it sounds. Editing is how it looks)

Voice Thread – Making a voice thread of the child reading their draft, requiring them to read it aloud.

Microsoft Word (no link, cuz duh) – Making any level of significant changes to a piece is way easier on a computer and a word processor. Inserting images and adding captions

Using Word

Quickwrite2: Which is more challenging for you as a writer: composing or revising/editing? What about as a teacher? What about for the students?

For me, the hardest part of the process is definitely the revision. This is because of the Jackson Pollack style of writing I prefer. I typically throw up lots of blops and goops of information. Sometimes a page, sometimes a mere sentence. Then, I have to go back through all of it, delete, add, reorder, etc. Actually put together a coherent piece out of all of these seemingly disparate parts. Then, once I’ve done that, I usually realize I need to write the whole thing over again now that I’ve got the basic gist down. 

In terms of teaching, I find both of them difficult, albeit it in different ways. Teaching revision is difficult because of the “one and done” syndrome plaguing pretty much every writer who isn’t professional. Teaching editing is a challenge because most of them automatically tune out the second they hear talk of commas and periods and punctuation. 

We discuss our answers. So much good stuff! Which is hardest? I think revision can be easier to teach because they’re often strategies and tools. Teaching proper editing requires understanding of a more complex system of interrelated pieces.

(Random tidbit: Use PVC piping as a “telephone” to let students whisper their draft out loud so they can hear it without bellowing it for everyone to listen to.)

Jen finishes up by telling us how important it is to give the students an authentic audience beyond the teacher. This doesn’t have to be major. Hang these up in the hallway. Post on a class blog (hers is ExploreOrrs. It’s amazing! Check it out! Notice the no names, the no school identity, etc.She uses Google Translate for the Spanish translations. Jen starts out doing the blog entirely herself. Throughout the year she gradually releases the responsibility to the students).  School newspaper. Morning announcements. Print out student work and keep them in the classroom (make sure to label it!).

Outstanding presentation, Jen! Time for lunch. 🙂


One comment

  1. Pingback: Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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