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Update: There’s a Part 2 to this blog entry.

The following are my notes on Troy HicksThe Digital Writing Workshop, an engaging book about revamping the writing workshop with digital tools. Earlier this month, I shared my thoughts about revamping the Writing Workshop but, obviously, I had not seen Troy’s book.  And, reading it was a who’s who of folks I’ve interacted with via the blogosphere (whatever that is) over the last few years. Fascinating.

I have to admit, though, I feel a bit left out. The fault is mine no doubt. I started out a writing teacher teaching a la Atwell and Calkins and then went on to become an educational technologist. Reading these ideas again, but through the lens of technology has helped reinvigorate me in terms of writing. Peter Drucker wrote that 1 of the 3 answers for a second half of life was to start a second career. What joy it would be to start that career in writing, where I started so many years ago!! What a thrill! 

Here are some of the points that jumped out at me while I was reading Troy’s excellent discussion of digital writing workshop:

  1. Core principles for writing workshop approach include:
    1. student choice about topic and genre
    2. active revision (constant feedback between peer and teacher)
    3. author’s craft as a basis for instruction (through minilessons and conferences)
    4. publication beyond classroom walls
    5. broad visions of assessment that include both process and product
  2. When we simply bring a traditional mind-set to literacy practices, and not a mind-set that understands new literacies into the process of digital writing, we cannot make the substantive changes to our teaching that need to happen in order to embrace the full potential of collaboration and design that digital writing offers.
  3. This book connects the writing workshop approach with the integration of newer technologies such as blogs, wikis, social networks, podcasts, and digital stories.
  4. “When writers write every day, they begin to compose even they are not composing. They enter a ‘constant state of composition'” (Donald Graves)
  5. “Teach the writer, then the writing.”
  6. Recent work through the National Writing Project’s (2006) Local Sites Research Initiative showed that students of teachers who had attended an NWP summer institute outperformed their peers in classes of teachers who had not attended a summer institute in all six traits of writing measured, save one, in which there was no difference.
  7. Writing is an individual act mediated by the world around us, an act that we must be constantly conscious of while we engage in it.
  8. Newer technologies and social norms are changing what it means to be literate.
  9. Concept of being multiliterate means that we need to both teach linguistically diverse students and honor the languages and dialects that they bring while also introducing them to the larger discourse of schooling and the community. Also, it means teaching about visual, aural, spatial, gestural and other literacies that move beyond basic print texts.
  10. We can no longer allow them [students] to write just stories and poems; we must teach them the forms of nonfiction writing as well, specifically that of writing on demand.
  11. Today, students’ lives consist of a variety of information sources, and teachers need to understand how to teach students to best access, organize, and utilize that information.
  12. Through the read/write web tools of social bookmarking and RSS, students can decide what information they want to come to them and how best to manage it.
  13. National Writing Project semester long course on RSS readers, inquiry, blogging:
  14. 4 questions are asked:
    1. What are you passionate about and how do these interests fit with our big questions?
    2. What voices or sources of information do you think are important to include in your search for answers?
    3. How do you become an effective networker and get people with shared interests to value your voice online?
    4. How can you use our social networks as personal learning sites that lead to social action?
  15. Without a digital writing and networked spaces, certain types of dialogue may have been only possible in a single classroom or by doing a pen pal exchange. It would have lacked the immediacy that an authentic purpose and audience can bring to the task. 
  16. “Being a blogger is about what young people do when they sit down to work at their computers. It is about creating a space in their lives to safely extend and explore their online voices with a group of peers, both at school, in another part of town, in another state, and around the world.” (Paul Allison)
  17. Teachers often look for ways of fitting new technologies into classroom “business as usual.” Since educational ends are directed by curriculum, and technologies are often regarded by teachers as ‘mere’ tools, the task of integrating new tech into learning is often realized by adapting them to, or adding them onto, familiar routines.
  18. This mind-set essentially nullifies any experience that the students have using technologies, such as blogs, in their own ways to connect with one another and create networks…it replicates traditional teacher-centered practices and keeps us from using the new technology in a manner that makes it a new literacy.
  19. How does sharing, revising and publishing happen in twenty-first-century writing workshop? In blogs.
  20. Teachers can help individual students share their ideas with a wider audience, trace, and build on their ideas over time, and present rough and final drafts of writing in an easily navigable site. Some teachers have helped their students create “blogfolios” of writing.
  21. The bottom line is that digital writing tools such as blogs, wikis and collaborative word processors (e.g. GoogleDocs, iEtherpad) can enhance the writer’s workshop principle of good conferring, in which we allow the writer to do most of the talking and guide him to better writing through careful questionning and feedback.
  22. When scaffolded as part of your writing workshop, you can teach students how to respond to each other online as well, potentially increasing both the quantity and quality of responses that they may have received before only in class.
  23. “Blogging is not the same as traditional writing in that blogging invites writers to synthesize ideas and opens up conversations between writers through commenting on the posts of others and then incorporating those posts into one’s own writing. (Will Richardson)
  24. When used as a writer’s notebook, a blog allows students the opportunity to live what Calkins calls their “writerly lives” online, sharing their initial ideas with others and opening them up for feedback.
  25. Wikis lend themselves especially well to collaborative writing for a number of reasons. Wikis can grow and develop over time, with additional pages added as a writer (or class full of writers) finds new ways to share her work.
  26. 3 different types of collaborative writing (Tori Haring-Smith (1994)):
    1. serial writing – individuals add small parts to a large document like a report
    2. compiled writing – writers add their own individual pieces into a collection, such as an anthology.
    3. coauthored writing – blends the work of many writers into a unified voice 
  27. By going to one main web site (, and logging in with a user name and password, students can gain access to all their documents as well as all the documents others have shared with them….just quick and easy access for our students to share their writing with us and each other.
  28. Students and teachers can offer feedback in a variety of ways, including:
    1. Inserting comments
    2. striking through text
    3. changing font color
    4. highlighting text
  29. tracking of revision history is another benefit.
  30. We now have the possibility of recording audio and easily sharing it with students via email [Miguel’s note: or moodle, GoogleVoice, etc)
  31. In Kathleen Blake Yancey’s 2008 presidential address (NCTE), she encouraged us to not think of students merely as writers, but instead think of them as composers. Multimedia authoring requires students to combine text, images, audio, and video in ways that rely on our traditional understandings of what it means to create good writing.
Well, there’s a lot of other exciting stuff that make the book worth buying! I’ll try to highlight some more stuff in the future, but I’m tuckered out right now! Great job, Troy!

Update: There’s a Part 2 to this blog entry.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure