Sunday, July 22, 2012

Technology Engagement, Authenticity, and Relevance Blog Post - EDTECH 541

Ask any writer, and they will tell you that the one thing all writers need are readers. This concept - providing writers with an audience - is crucial for writers' development as they look to refine their work. Borrowing on this concept, teachers of writing know that students demonstrate significant gains when they understand their audience and are writing for an authentic purpose. The employment of technology and the use of social media allows teachers to provide students with real audiences and authentic purposes like never before.

It is this exposure, this presentation of writing to outsiders that leads to a writer's growth, argues Grant Wiggins in an article for English Journal. "The best writing, like all learning, only happens through a constant and disciplined escape of self to explore the consequences. This draft horror story was meant to be scary; is it? This description was meant to be vivid enough for you to picture the person; can you? (Wiggins, 2009).

Through the use of Twitter, blogs, magazines like Teen Ink, and self-publishing sites like Issuu, students have a bevy of venues where they can publish their writing for free. This act of publication pairs students with a receptive, responsive audience, which can truly let them know how well their intentions and purposes for writing succeeded.

Given that publication venues are now electronic, and that writing and literacy comes in disparate forms, perhaps we should rethink our definition of writing. The editors of Teaching the new writing: Technology, change, and assessment, argue for replacing the word writing with “composing.” They also advocate for an expanded definition of composition that includes the creation of “texts that might include words, images, sounds, and hyperlinks that connect any and all of the above to other words, images, sounds, and hyperlinks” (Herrington, Hodgson, & Moran, 2009).
With an expanded palate of possibilities, educators and administrators need to account for this "new" writing, which is becoming more and more commonplace in the workplace. But this conceptual shift need not be done simply because it will help students in the future; it can also help them in the present as they work to demonstrate their proficiency with various local, state, and federal learning standards. "The Web-based electronic portfolio can be a valuable alternative assessment tool for teachers and students in the 21st century" (Jacobs, 2010). 

By using social media to provide students with opportunities to publish and get feedback on their writing, English language arts teachers can successfully utilize the latest technologies to create more engaging, relevant, and authentic lessons and activities.


Herrington, A., Hodgson, K., & Moran, C (Eds.). (2009). Teaching the new writing: Technology, change, and assessment. Berkeley, CA: Teachers College Press.

Jacobs, H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wiggins, G. (2009). Real-world writing: Making purpose and audience matter. English Journal, 98(5), 29-37

1 comment:

  1. Hi Peter,
    I thought the argument you made for including technology in Language Arts was compelling. I was particularly interested in the point you make that the authentic audience and feedback provided by social media for student writers will lead to more growth. I can see this being the case, but it made me wonder about students who are more self-conscious. I can see that investment in quality writing--especially in serious writers-- would improve nearly across the board, but it also seems that this expanded audience would feel very unsafe to students--probably many high-school aged kids--who are hesitant about their writing. Do we ease them into the electronic venues, or should they be desensitized by the time they're in high school? Do we have them collaborate in groups to reduce the personal risk?
    It seems very appropriate that we think carefully about the conceptual shift to new forms of writing and expression that include elements of multimedia and links to other works. It's so collaborative and such a new form of creativity! How do we then decide what an original work can incorporate? I'm not very versed in this area; maybe it's not as new as it seems to me. Regardless, your blog had me thinking. Good work.


    Hi Jen,

    Thanks very much for the feedback. You raise a number of great questions. I definitely think it’s important to be sensitive to students who may not view themselves as successful or competent writers. The key is providing students with a lot of positive comments about what is working well in their writing, and to instruct students to provide praise on what they like and what they find effective in their classmates’ writing. There’s this concept of the “praise sandwich,” which states that any criticisms or constructive comments about writing should be placed (or sandwiched) between two positive comments or observations.

    I teach both honors/AP and struggling/SPED students. I blog with both groups, and have found that even writers who struggle have almost no reservations about going to a digital format – so long as there’s plenty of praise and it’s presented in a positive manner.

    It’s definitely beneficial to have students work in both pairs and small groups on writing assignments, and that is something I incorporate into my teaching each year.

    As far as what constitutes an original work, there’s volumes and volumes of case law stipulating how and when something is considered an original work. In the case of my classes, students create original works that may link to other works that inspired or somehow served the creative process necessary to create those works.

    Fair use and copyright law also help determine how much and to what extent we can use others’ works in our own creations. It’s fascinating stuff!