3 Creative Tech Tools to Teach Writing
What is ‘writing’? If you look it up in the Free Dictionary, you find this definition:
The act or process of producing and recording words in a form that can be read and understood
This focuses on recording words that are then communicated to others. In fact, if you ask students (and too often, teachers), to define ‘writing’, they probably agree with the Free Dictionary, adding that writing uses a pencil and paper (maybe a word processing program), requires language skills such as grammar, spelling, sentence fluency, and paragraph construction, and revolves around activities such as taking notes, conducting research, writing an essay, or composing a story.
Today in the 21st Century schools, they’d be wrong. What they have defined as ‘writing’ is actually writing conventions, tools, and activities rather than its purpose, goals, and definition. Let’s look at a different definition, this one from Merriam-Webster:
…the way you use written words to express ideas or opinions
This one is well-aligned with the goals of most popular writing curricula and the Common Core Standards:
To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students need to learn to use writing as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying, and conveying real and imagined experiences and events. They learn to appreciate that a key purpose of writing is to communicate clearly to an external, sometimes unfamiliar audience, and they begin to adapt the form and content of their writing to accomplish a particular task and purpose. They develop the capacity to build knowledge on a subject through research projects and to respond analytically to literary and informational sources.
Best-in-Class Digital Storytelling Tools
A digital story is a series of images connected with text and/or a narrated soundtrack — captured by a digital device such as an iPad or smartphone — that tell a story. It can be fiction, non-fiction, narrative, biographic, expository, or even poetry. Think of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, or Colin Low’s City of Gold. Because of its multimedia approach and appealing blend of text, color, movement, sound, and images, it has fast become one of the most popular writing exercises in schools.
According to Center for Digital Storytelling, there are seven elements critical to a good digital story:
- Point of View — What is the perspective of the author?
- Dramatic Question — A key question that keeps the viewer’s attention and will be answered by the end of the story.
- Emotional Content — Serious issues that come alive in a personal and powerful way and connects the audience to the story.
- Voice — personalize the story with the author’s unique writing style to help the audience understand the context.
- Soundtrack — Music or other sounds that support and embellish the story.
- Economy — Using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer.
- Pacing — The rhythm of the story and how slowly or quickly it progresses.
These elements are the goal and may not be included in the first digital story written by a kindergartner, but by middle school, using the vast swath of multimedia tools available in digital storytelling, students will have no problem including all elements.
Writing a digital story includes five basic steps:
- Research the topic so you are clear on presentation.
- Write a script, a storyboard, or a timeline of activities.
- Collect the required multimedia parts — text, images, audio, video, oral selfies, and more.
- Combine everything into an exciting story.
- Share and reflect on the completed story.
These five steps are stepping stones for beginners and critical to experienced storytellers.
There are so many online options for digital storytelling, rarely is there a student who can’t find a webtool that fits their communication style. Here are nine of the most popular. Try them all and then let students pick the one that works best for them:
Thirteen Writing-with-Tech Tips You Don’t Want to Miss
Here are thirteen of the top writing-with-tech tips according to Ask a Tech Teacher readers:
- A Helping Hand: Assistive Technology Tools for Writing
- Tech Tip #124: Editing is Easier with Digital Writing
- Revision Assistant–the Most Comprehensive Virtual Writing Assistant Available for Students
- 4 Ways Students Can Plan Their Writing
- 7 Innovative Writing Methods for Students
- Technology Removes Obstructed Writers’ Barriers to Learning
- 66 Writing Tools for the 21st Century Classroom
- How Minecraft Teaches Reading, Writing and Problem Solving
- Common Core Writing–Digital Quick Writes
- Will Texting Destroy Writing Skills?
- #112: 10 Ways Twitter Makes You a Better Writer
- How Blogs Make Kids Better Writers
Turnitin Launches Feedback Studio
One of my favorite classroom management tools is Turnitin, especially with the addition of Revision Assistant–one of the most comprehensive virtual writing assistants available to students (here’s my review of Revision Assistant).
Well, now Turnitin has launched Feedback Studio. It’s a revamp of their flagship product, with some twists:
Today, Turnitin announced a new version of its flagship product with a focus on ease-of-use, accessibility for students, and new mobile features to support instruction in the modern classroom. Formerly known as “Turnitin,” the new version is being renamed “Turnitin Feedback Studio” and will be made available to its two million educators and 30 million students on an opt-in basis beginning today. Click to Tweet.
Feedback Studio offers:
- Great feedback, fast
- Anytime, anywhere learning. Responsive design works on PCs, tablets, and smartphones.
- Accessibility improvements
Turnitin Feedback Studio will be available to all current Turnitin users and is available on a per-student, annual subscription basis to new customers.
3 Comic Creators That Will Wow Your Students
Comics are a robust medium for sharing empathy and perspective in a story. It’s equally appropriate for fiction and nonfiction and does a solid job of reinforcing Common Core standards related to writing in a fun, agile way that appeals to students.
When your students write with comics, they’ll follow a few simple rules:
- Each panel includes detail to support the plot, characters, and setting.
- Each panel flows into the next, just as story paragraphs and scenes flow.
- Images, text, bubbles, and captions communicate ideas, story, and empathy.
Here are three great options for writing with comics:
31Websites for Poetry Month
April is National Poetry Month. For thirty days, we celebrate the value and joy that poetry brings to our world. According to the Academy of American Poets, the goals are:
- Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
- Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
- Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
- Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
- Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
- Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
- Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry
All across the nation, school, teachers, students, libraries, and families celebrate by reading, writing, and sharing poetry. Here are fifteen websites that do all that and more. Share them with students on a class link page like the class internet start page, Symbaloo, or another method you’ve chosen to share groups of websites with students:
From ReadWriteThink–students learn about acrostic poetry and how to write it
Tech Tip #124: Editing is Easier with Digital Writing
As a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents about their home computers, how to do stuff, how to solve problems. Each Tuesday, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!
Q: I can’t convince my students to give up their paper and pencil. What’s a great reason that will resonate with them?
A: Digital writing is easier to edit. By a factor of infinity. Anyone who has tried to erase, smudge the notes, tear the paper, knows that the digital version of editing with a simple insert is miles ahead. Why force our students to use a method that is so inferior?
I was reminded of this attribute by efriend and fellow keyboarding advocate, Dr. Bill Morgan over at Keyboarding Arts Institute.
Plus, by middle school, with even a modicum of keyboard training, students type faster than they think (about 25-30 wpm). That makes it easier to keep up with the teacher as they are note-taking.
One more: Much easier to share digital notes and other writing.
Revision Assistant–the Most Comprehensive Virtual Writing Assistant Available for Students
English teachers know the key to writing is rewriting, but getting students to do that has always been a challenge. That is, until I found Turnitin’s Revision Assistant. Revision Assistant makes rewriting easy to understand, self-directed, and believe it or not–more fun. In fact, it uses features from the gamified classroom to encourage students to maximize the strength of their writing ‘signals’ by revising and editing. Geared for grades 6-12, it builds writing skill with suggestions that are formative in nature, well-explained, and based on tips from actual students who completed the same exercise.
The learning curve is shallow for both teachers and students–easily accomplished with minimal guidance, though Turnitin offers a variety of instructional videos to cover salient points. The goal is to aid students in recognizing their weaknesses and build on their strengths.
Here’s how it works:
- The teacher sets up their class dashboard and invites students to join via a Join code.
- The teacher shares one of the many grade- and topic-specific prompts (divided into three categories: argumentative, narrative, and informative) with students, including any required resources and special instructions. These prompts are aligned with Common Core and/or a variety of state standards.
- The student signs in to their Revision Assistant dashboard and locates the required writing assignment. They can pre-write their response if desired before moving into the first draft. A rubric is provided so students are clear about expectations.
- When ready, students request a ‘signal check’ to see how they’re doing. This provides color-coded feedback on language, focus, organization, and evidence with suggestions on how to improve what they have written. Students can request as many signal checks as they wish during the rewrite process. Improvement is reflected in an increased signal strength from a low of one bar to a high of four bars in each category.
- When students have completed the assignment, they submit it to the teacher (with an optional comment) who then reviews and grades it as fits the class environment (Revision Assistant does not assign a grade).
- The teacher can track each student submittal and download a spreadsheet of area-specific progress for the class.
Revision Assistant has an intuitive interface, a clean non-cluttered canvas, easy-to-use dashboards for both teachers and students, and no advertising. It is also part of the Turnitin family, a trusted name in student writing.
4 Ways Students Can Plan Their Writing
Few people can sit down and start writing. Most of us hem and haw as we mentally walk through how to get from introduction to conclusion. It’s called ‘prewriting’ and students are no different. Where they diverge from you and I is they haven’t tested all the available methods for planning a story, constructing non-fiction, or building the evidence-based argument. It’s up to us–as their teachers–to introduce these alternatives so they can pick one best suited to their learning and communication style.
Disclaimer: These are presented in a random order because what works for your students will depend in large extent upon the writing method used in your school, whether its the 6+1 Traits, Common Core Writing Standards, or the tried-and-true who-what-when-where-why.
Brainstorming, also called ‘mindmapping’, is a collaborative visual approach to thinking through and presenting ideas. It enables students to come up with many ideas without worrying about whether it’s realistic. It’s great for collaborative writing, note-taking, or an individual effort.
Here are basics for brainstorming in the classroom:
- There are no wrong answers.
- Get as many ideas as possible.
- Don’t evaluate ideas–just record them.
- Build on the suggestions of others.
- Stress quantity over quality–get as many ideas as possible. Sort them later.
There are many online tools that facilitate this process. If you’re looking for a webtool, try Inspiration, MindMeister, or another from this list. For iPads, try iBrainstorm, Ideament, or another from this list.
7 Innovative Writing Methods for Students
Knowledge is meant to be shared. That’s what writing is about–taking what you know and putting it out there for all to see. When students hear the word “writing”, most think paper-and-pencil, maybe word processing, but that’s the vehicle, not the goal. According to state and national standards (even international), writing is expected to “provide evidence in support of opinions”, “examine complex ideas and information clearly and accurately”, and/or “communicate in a way that is appropriate to task, audience, and purpose”. Nowhere do standards dictate a specific tool be used to accomplish the goals.
In fact, the tool students select to share knowledge will depend upon their specific learning style. Imagine if you–the artist who never got beyond stick figures–had to draw a picture that explained the nobility inherent in the Civil War. Would you feel stifled? Would you give up? Now put yourself in the shoes of the student who is dyslexic or challenged by prose as they try to share their knowledge.
When you first bring this up in your class, don’t be surprised if kids have no idea what you’re talking about. Many students think learning starts with the teacher talking and ends with a quiz. Have them take the following surveys:
- North Carolina State University’s learning style quiz
Both are based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner’s iconic model for mapping out learning modalities such as linguistic, hands-on, kinesthetic, math, verbal, and art. Understanding how they learn explains why they remember more when they write something down or read their notes rather than listening to a lecture. If they learn logically (math), a spreadsheet is a good idea. If they are spatial (art) learners, a drawing program is a better choice.