Yesterday, I spent my entire day at a UIL competition. All day. No
connectivity. No computer. No internet…and, I had a GREAT time.
One of the frustrations I have had with the way writing is taught in
most schools–this stems from my wonderful experiences as a writing
teacher–is that so little is done in the "creative" writing vein. I see
creative writing as a terrible term to use, but for me, a more
indicative statement is that it is self-directed writing. That is,
writing that does not come as a result of a prompt or some specific
exercise. While it is possible to introduce the genres students can
explore, they are not necessarily limited to writing just ONE piece in
that particular genre or style. Instead, they can do the writing in that
genre/style, then go on to write about other things. Their writing is
self-directed, and my task is to help them focus that writing and
As I sat at the table with these teachers who brought 24 inch stacks of
papers to be graded–I’m NOT kidding–with them while students were
engaged in UIL competitions, two of the ones I was listening to (Ms. B
and Ms. S) were commiserating about how to approach newspaper writing.
This is my poor attempt at reconstruction of that conversation:
"I’ve started getting my advisory to do a newspaper," said Ms. B, "and
although it’s like a whole other preparation for me, I wanted to get
them writing. I’ve assigned 3 editors to edit the newspaper but I’m not
sure what to do."
"Are you going to schedule the computer lab?"
Ms. S asked.
"Yes. I’m thinking of using MS Word but I want something
different than that because…."
"You could try MS Publisher. It
comes with templates to use, and…." Ms. S interjects
sounds good." Ms. B replies, "I’m just not sure how to get the editors
to get access. Maybe I could get the students to save their work to my
shared network folder then the editors could come in after them and read
the writing when it’s their turn to come to the lab."
[at this point, I’m squirming as I read my copy of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistadores.
I’m thinking of the possibilities here with easy to setup blogs or
perhaps, even a wiki. But, I know from the conversation that these
teachers may not be too tech-saavy. Maybe, working with a wiki would be
too difficult. So, on the spur of the moment, I decide that if I was
doing this, I’d probably do a blog with them. In retrospect, probably a
wiki (e.g. jot or wikispaces) would have been a better solution for a
newspaper online. However, this doesn’t occur to me until later. In the
meantime, I’m caught up in the excitement of keeping my mouth shut.
There are a few interruptions as students flow in and out of the room,
and I have a moment to speak to the teacher seated directly across the
cafeteria table from me. My credentials as a parent are already
established and we’ve shaken hands although she doesn’t know I’m a
writing teacher and director of instructional tech for a large school
district in the city]
"Hi, Ms. S. My name is Miguel Guhlin and I couldn’t help but overhear
your conversation. Have you heard of blogs?"
"What are blogs?"
logs, or blogs for short, are simple ways of publishing student writing
online. Think of them as an empty notebook, sort of like a naturalist’s
book where the pages are blank and you can put information in them."
mean, like a journal?"
"Yes, exactly…but you can write
anything you want in them as well as include pictures and sound." At
this point, Ms. B comes back and sits down, having sent off students to
their respective UIL competition. I’m introduced and by this time they
know what I do for a living.
"So, how do I get access to a blog? Can I use it for a newspaper? "
you can. You know what web editing is, and how technical it is to do,
right?" They nod their heads. "With blogs, you don’t have to be a
techie. You can also assign rights to users in the blog and set up the
editors you were talking about. They could post revisions of student
writing as comments, and everything would be there on the Internet for
you and students to access. More importantly, for me as a parent,
parents would be able to read this online and you wouldn’t have to do
all the work with MS Publisher, unless you wanted to publish the work
The conversation went on for another 20-30 minutes, and was very
rewarding for me. I left her with a short list of links to get started,
my email address, as well as that of my counterpart in her school
district. I even offered to host her advisory blog in my district if
worse came to worst, a move I’m sure wouldn’t endear me to the
technology staff of the other district, but hey…I’m a parent who’s in
a unique position to advocate for publishing student writing online.
Maybe, this conversation will nudge them in the right direction…and
maybe it won’t. After all, they have that 24 inch stack of papers to
grade. I’m hopeful, though.
I never imagined I’d be explaining blogging without a computer handy, no
Internet access. However, the concept isn’t that hard to get across.
It’s the starting them off that will be difficult. I hope that the
teacher will follow through.
In short, it was a great coversation–and this excerpt doesn’t do it
justice…one of those times I wish I was carrying my digital audio
recorder and that it masqueraded as a mobile phone or something–to have
on a day that we all saw as sacrificed for the benefit of children.
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