Sunday, August 3, 2014

Teachers Write - Weekly Reflection #5

Welcome back! I hope you had another learning week with Teachers Write! I loved all the non-fiction posts on Kate's blog this week. I know that there is an emphasis on non-fiction writing in my school district and that many people participating in Teachers Write are working on non-fiction. All writing counts and no matter what you are writing, the writing process still applies. I also believe that fiction and non-fiction writing can influence each other. If you would rather write one or the other, that's fine, but stretching into both fiction and non-fiction is a great way to expand as a writer. 
This week, my reflection question focuses on what tools writers use. I use a blend of high-tech and low-tech tools for writing. I mainly write on my laptop using Scrivener but I use Google Docs when I'm sharing with someone who has agreed to read for me and Evernote when I want notes I can access from my computer, phone or iPad. My favorite part about Scrivener is that I can go into composition mode and it takes away all the distractions of my screen. You can see what I mean in the picture blelow.
I did buy Moleskine Volant notebooks this summer when I was in Boston at The Trident bookstore. I love them and like them for when I want to write down my thoughts with pen and paper. I used notecards to outline both of the books I'm working on and then I transfer my storyboard into the cork board in Scrivener and work from there. Here is a picture of my storyboard - all my notecards are a bit ragged by now because I've taken it with me to show to students. 
Once I get done with a draft, I print it out so I have a hard copy to really look over and to be able to make comments on it. For this round of revisions, I wrote little notes to myself on sticky notes to remind myself of the main themes and ideas I want to keep in my brain as I revise. I also use little sticky tags and colored markers.
Last year during Teachers Write, I talked with Amy Pine, author of If Only, about keeping notebooks and how she keeps track of ideas. There are so many different tools we can use but when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter what you do as long as you are writing! Right?

When it comes to tools students might use in writing, I do think there are some tools out there that make it easy and fun to publish their writing. I've invited my friend Brad Wilson to talk about his app Write About This and writing tools for students. Brad is a former 4th grade teacher and he is currently an Ed Tech consultant and speaker. He has the privilege of supporting educators in Jackson County, MI and also enjoys working to empower teacher and student voices through the #MichED movement. Brad has created iPad apps to inspire kids to write and capture stories and is an Eventful Learning evangelist. I'm so excited that Brad is here to share his passion for student writers. A big round of virtual applause for Brad!

Encouraging students to get their ideas out in writing was always one of the trickiest parts of teaching for me. I provided my 4th graders with opportunities to do choice writing time just about every day, and it was always incredible to see when they found a spark that ignited them to fervishly fill up a page or do 3 extra revisions until they got it just right. The more I experimented with visual prompts, the more I realized how strong the connection was between interesting or curious imagery and young writers’ ability to get their ideas to flow onto paper.

As we integrated our four classroom iPads into the day, I longed for an app that would help students not only browse and respond to writing ideas with photos, but also to create them. When Write About This was born in early 2013, I no longer had that classroom full of 9 and 10 year-olds to work with every day, but I’ve been incredibly lucky to get to see the impact our apps have made with kids in classrooms and living rooms around the world. It’s not because what we made is incredibly technical or shiny. Really we do something very basic. They’ve got a photograph (with or without a prompt) and a piece of paper. The ideas they bring as they write a story or a song or a poem or a letter is where the magic happens. No other author on the planet can create the exact piece of writing they are creating in that moment. We just provide a simple place for it to be captured and shared (even including their voice).

Last summer I was presenting at a conference and I started chatting with the teacher who was presenting in the room after my session. She was excitedly telling me about how her middle school students were loving the ability to do their Snapshot writing using Write About This and it gave me chills as she described the engagement level and how they were using their own pictures they took on the iPads. The best part about it was she didn’t know it was an app I had created...we were just two teachers talking about how to get kids excited to write.

And that’s why I love creating new tools for classrooms. I get to listen to and work with teachers who are just as passionate as I am about the things that help our students take ownership over their learning...and more specifically their journey as writers. If I can help make it easier for kids to express and publish their ideas by designing a tool that stays out of their way in that process and opens up new opportunities, then I feel it is worthwhile.

So while iPads will come and go and new innovations continue to shape our classrooms, I believe there are some basic truths that can guide our work in selecting, creating and evolving writing tools for students:

  • Writing starts with a spark of inspiration (sometimes internal..sometimes external)
  • Kids find things that they are interested in or curious about easier/more enjoyable to write about
  • Every student should feel valued as an author
  • Teachers will always need to capture and celebrate student writing

These beliefs and the thousands of interactions we’ve had with students and teachers using the apps have helped shape our foundation as we create Write About, a new social publishing web platform. Before one piece of code was written for it, we determined our work would would be centered on the belief that
  • Writing should be fun
  • Sharing should be easy

It is so important that technology for the classroom is shaped by those who are IN the classroom. Write About co-founder John Spencer is a middle school teacher in Arizona and we do not have any “Silicon Valley” funding that is shaping our development. We’re out to make something that we would want to use in our own classrooms and that will help other teachers. So what are the challenges you face to make writing fun in your classroom this year? How can a publishing tool make it extremely easy for students to share their writing? How might visual ideas spark more writing across the curriculum? How can the feedback process in an online environment support the relationships you have with your students in person?

No matter which tools we use this year, let’s make sure they are focused on inspiring kids to become lifelong writers!

When I heard that there will be a web platform similar to the Write About This app, I was so excited! It also makes me happy to know that the tools Brad and John are creating start with students and teachers and their needs. If you want to learn more, you can check out the daily Writing Ideas posted to @mywriteabout and You can also check out this doc where Brad and his colleague Stacey Schuh share tons more writing resources. And I've added Brad's questions below if you want to give him feedback on what would be helpful as you think about tools that might help you bring an authentic and engaging writing experience to students this school year.

My Teachers Write Weekly Recap:
My goal for this week was to work on revisions and I was super proud of myself for diving in early in the week. On Monday and Tuesday I worked on reworking the first chapter so there is a little clarity of the back story and the dynamic between my main character and her best friend. I got that far before being back at work full-time caught up with me. I went to a challenging yoga class, hit the pool with the fam, took Little Bean to the beach and visited with friends so I didn't past revising that first chapter. I think I need to be more specific with my goals instead of just saying revise. So my plan for this upcoming week is 25 minutes each and every single day of revisions so I can really get somewhere. Thanks for checking in! Only two more weeks of Teachers Write! Let's make them great!  

A reminder of my rules for Teachers Write Sunday Check-Ins:
1. We respect each other and the type of writing we do.
2. We only offer constructive criticism.
3. We are positive and encourage each other at all times.
4. We recognize and maintain this as a safe environment.

Today, in the comments section:
What tools do you use?
What challenges do you face to make writing fun in your classroom? 
How can a publishing tool make it easy for students to share writing? 
How might visual ideas spark more writing across the curriculum? 
How can feedback in an online environment support 
the relationships you have with your students in person?
How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the non-fun part?)
What was the peak of your week? (The best part, the most-fun part?)
What are you looking forward to and planning for the week ahead?


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