The Thing About Writing . . .

The National Writing Project has added a new book, Because Digital Writing Matters, to complement their earlier book Because Writing Matters. Below are some sections I highlighted from the beginning pages of the book. Some questions to keep in mind when you read:

1. Of what importance should digital writing be, in your mind, in today's schools?
2. What practical problems have you run into when incorporating digital writing into your curriculum?
3. What solutions have you found to common technical problems with digital literacy?
4. What is digital writing?

All excerpts from:
Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments (Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and Troy Hicks)

Writing today is pervasively and generally digital: composed with digital tools; created out of word, image, sound, and motion; circulated in digital environments; and consumed across a wide range of digital platforms. Even when we read and write with paper—as we certainly do now and will continue to do for a long time to come—we bring to that paper a different understanding of what writing is and can be, based on our experiences in the digital world.

Why does digital writing matter? Digital writing matters because we live in a networked world and there’s no going back. Because, quite simply, digital is.
In today’s complex, high-technology world, the importance of writing as a fundamental organizing objective of education is no less valid or practical. Writing, properly understood, is thought on paper. Increasingly, in the information age, it is also thought on screen, a richly elaborated, logically connected amalgam of ideas, words, themes, images, and multimedia designs. —The Neglected “R”, 2003, 13

Writing is still an important act and an essential tool for learning and social participation. Skill in writing is still crucial inside and outside of our schools. Writing is still recognized as a socially situated act of great complexity. And writing is still understood to be hard work. However, in this volume, Because Digital Writing Matters, we argue that—despite the short time frame—much has changed in the landscape of what it means to “write” and to “be a writer” since 2003. Social networking and collaborative writing technologies have taken hold, if not always in our schools, certainly among our students. Bandwidth has increased in many locations, along with wireless access. Spaces and devices for creating, sharing, and distributing writing have become more robust and more accessible. Not only does writing matter, but digital writing matters. Numerous reports and policy statements document this shift in our thinking about education and writing, including two National Commission on Writing reports: The Neglected “R”: The Need for a Writing Revolution (2003) and Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . Or a Ticket Out (2004).

"Social networking and collaborative writing technologies have taken hold, if not always in our schools, certainly among our students. " We keep trying to catch up. I have seen a change in the tech abilities of faculty as our faculty becomes younger, but there are still many of us who just don't seem to keep up no matter how many training sessions we go to. I for one am somewhat intimidated by the thought, "What if something goes wrong, and Kevin isn't available?" Or, sometimes I could figure it out, but not with sixteen kids asking for help at the same time.

Young people today have an unprecedented level of access to a wider range of content and connectivity than ever before, yet access does not ensure that reflection and learning take place. Student writers still need thoughtful and well-prepared teachers and mentors. Computers will not replace teachers, nor should they. Teachers of writing have a crucial role in supporting students in understanding the complexities of communicating in a twenty-first-century world.

Many current educators will remember the introduction of computerized word processing into the writing process. This technological tool provided significant benefits for writers that teachers quickly integrated into their practices. Word processing and desktop publishing allowed writers to create texts that were much more polished in design and able to integrate image and graphic elements with ease, but it did not fundamentally shift the modes of distribution. Today, however, most computers are connected to the Internet and, increasingly, people can connect via mobile phones as well. These devices have become tools for writing; publishing; distributing; collaborating; interacting; and remixing and mashing together image, word, sound, motion, and more into something that goes far beyond our original vision of what they could do. It is something more properly thought of as a whole new ecology with a wide range of practices.


Digital writing is not simply a matter of learning about and integrating new digital tools into an unchanged repertoire of writing processes, practices, skills, and habits of mind. Digital writing is about the dramatic changes in the ecology of writing and communication and, indeed, what it means to write—to create and compose and share. As the Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Collective noted, “Networked computers create a new kind of writing space that changes the writing process and the basic rhetorical dynamic between writers and readers. Computer technologies have changed the processes, products, and contexts for writing in dramatic ways” (2005). Equipping students to write in only one mode—traditionally, black ink on white paper in scripted genres—will not serve students in their higher education experiences or in the workplaces of the future. Equipping students to work across and within contemporary networked spaces, and to write in a range of genres and a diversity of modes to audiences local and widespread, will serve students in their higher education experiences and in the workplaces of the future.
Most respondents initially said something along the lines of “Digital writing is hard to define, because technologies change so quickly.” But after this initial claim, many interviewees linked their definitions to the affordances offered by new digital tools that make new products and practices possible. For these interviewees, digital writing was “Any writing that requires a computer to access it.” (JodiAnn Stevenson) “Writing which, at minimum, would be diminished if it were presented in a non-digital format, and at best, which is effectively untranslatable out of the digital format.” (Dan Waber) “Creative writing that uses digital tools/software as an integral part of its conception and delivery.” (Catherine Byron) “Collaborative/participatory writing, hypertext writing, improvisatory ‘real time’ writing, new media writing (i.e. multimedia authorship), code poetry and programmatic writing, online role playing, journal writing/ blogging, international community building, E-learning, game playing . . .” (Tim Wright) We could, of course, go back even further in terms of humanity’s literacy practices, and define digital writing quite broadly, to argue that it is any act that involves writing, inscribing, or scripting using one’s digits (that is, fingers or toes). The human species has a long history, then, with digital writing.


Rather than attempt to cover the long human history of meaning making, however, for the purposes of Because Digital Writing Matters, we define digital writing as compositions created with, and oftentimes for reading or viewing on, a computer or other device that is connected to the Internet. This in itself is a transformation in the ways in which we write. The bigger transformation is, however, the networked ways in which we can share, distribute, and archive digital compositions using Internet-based technologies. Today’s network connectivity allows writers to draw from myriad sources, use a range of media, craft various types of compositions representing a range of tools and genres, and distribute that work almost instantaneously and sometimes globally. Michael Crawford, one of Chris Joseph’s interviewees (2005), summed up the new possibilities of digital writing well: “I like to think of it as a totally new place . . . where one can experience freedom of form and from the boundaries now imposed.” And for Alison Clifford, “The most positive aspect of digital writing has come from the need to re-think writing and how stories are told. Digital writing requires us to think of multiple possibilities and interpretations of events throughout the narrative and perhaps it encourages a more comprehensive way of thinking about the story as a result.”

From Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The Question:

The thing about writing is that many people, including us, as teachers, are intimidated by it. But how do we expect to teach our students the writing skills they need, and the enthusiasm to make it good, really good, if we can't get a handle on our own insecurities as writers? I invite you into this discussion about writing by providing some readings about teachers as writers. Feel free to begin with whichever article you prefer, but I recommend that you begin with Gillespie's article about becoming your own expert so that the rebuttals make more sense. Next week, I will be uploading articles about digital writing, and the importance of bringing our practice into the 21st Century.

Because the Wiki is a format in which anyone can add information, I have set the settings so that you must first log in. Please remember that this is a forum for professional discussion.


The Articles:
I appreciated the author reminding me to share my own writing with my students. Last year I shared a narrative prompt with my kids. I wrote examples, both good and bad, they especially enjoyed "being the teacher" and critiquing me. -Susannah

Download file "Jost%20Rebuttal.pdf"
I have to agree with this viewpoint, too, the writing I did would not have been feasible in the classroom. I am not good enough at juggling to help students while writing myself. Maybe this is a skill I can develop. -Susannah

I tried this on Monday - writing a poem when the students did. In one class it worked very well, but in another, I didn't get very far. I have written with my class successfully when I write publicly - i.e. I write on an overhead while students are writing the same assignment. We then start the "sharing" portion of journaling by reading my sample and examining it against the criteria I've set for the class. They are very involved in this, and tend to write a better product. I'd like to hear what other people do.) - Judy

Download file "Peterson%20Writing%20in%20the%20Trenches.pdf"

Respond here. This worked well for inspiring the students to be brave about writing their own limericks poems this week. It also was a good way to reinforce the lesson about the rhyme and rhythm patterns. I was able to model strategies by thinking aloud as I composed my poem. Since my limerick turned out somewhat imperfect but amusing, the students got the courage to invent their own.

Download file "Kaufman%20Living%20a%20Literate%20Life.pdf"
Respond here.