The Grid and The Great Gatsby

Notes from the Classroom

toplogo2xMy last post was about the new app Flipgrid and my plan to use it to get my students talking about revision. My goal was pretty simple: Get students to make meaningful revisions that they could explain and support as good writing.


In order for students to perform well on this revision assignment, they needed to succeed in two separate phases. First, they had to make revisions–based on very directed feedback from me–that improved a section of their paper. Then, they had to fill 90 seconds of video with their explanation of why their revisions constituted effective writing.

Here’s what my rubric looked like for the video itself. In order to receive full credit:

The video

  • clearly explains specific and meaningful changes to the text
  • outlines why the changes were made, using the language of the rubric strand
  • includes visible and thorough annotation of the revised section to help guide viewers
  • Clearly demonstrates that the author understands how to improve writing for future pieces
  • feels polished and uses the full 90 seconds available

When I finalized that rubric, I had to tell myself that if worse came to worst, I could always toss the scores and tell the kids it was a learning experience. I had faith in them, but this assignment basically demanded that each of my writers speak for a minute and a half…like a professional writer.

Which is why I’m pretty comfortable saying that Flipgrid is a game changer. I’m going to let the students’ efforts speak for themselves, but first some context: they revised a narrative that reimagined a scene from The Great Gatsby from a different character’s perspective. My feedback on it narrowed them in on certain areas of their writing that they might choose to improve on (narrator’s voice, organization, etc.), and then they chose one of those for the video. (If you’d like to skip ahead and watch the videos, scroll down to the bottom of this post.)

Flippin’ Fantastic

Turns out my concerns about their meeting the rubric demands were misguided. Most of them killed it with this assignment.

Take note of a few heartening examples:

  • A student who exited ESL about a year ago added sensory detail describing a character praying on the “cold, painful floor.” His explanation of the revision: “This emphasized that he was really sad and was begging for God’s help.”
  • One of my more talented writers, whose original narrative was imbalanced with long flashbacks, color coded her revision to emphasize how her new organizational structure improved things: “There’s an obvious balance [now] between what’s going on in the scene and what Daisy is thinking about,” she explained while pointing to the modified paragraph order.
    A frame from a student video: note the color coding and annotation of how she developed narrative voice.

    A frame from a student video: note the color coding and annotation of how she developed narrative voice.

  • A writer who had struggled to establish the voice of her narrator added several lines of narrative reflection to establish her main character’s selfish motivations in the scene, and explained how this transformed the narrative perspective.
  • A writer who enjoys playing with diction added the phrase “riled me up” to her narrator’s reflections and explained, simply, “I thought that was cool.”

It was cool. All of it was cool. Even the kids whose revisions themselves weren’t quite masterful were able to articulate not only what they had improved in their writing but also why it was better.

Re-vid-sion Is Key

If you like what you’re seeing but you’re also wondering whether the video element really matters to its success, think about this: Talking about writing is a stressful endeavor for most young writers–even the good ones. Using Flipgrid to turn that process into a student-driven, premeditated, predictable, finite process alleviates all sorts of stresses that otherwise tend to silence less experienced writers.

Video is a familiar medium that allows them to combine a visual outline of their efforts with a verbal elaboration of their reasoning. As a result, many of my students suddenly loosened up a bit and actually had some fun talking about their writing (seriously–one student even took a picture of himself with a wad of dollar bills in his mouth as the opening to his video, which I’m going to just presume is a reference to all the wealth in The Great Gatsby and try not to think about ever again).

There’s one more treasure buried in this sea of video footage. My students’ grid of videos are my new models for future writing. Don’t know how to structure dialogue? Go watch Ken’s video. Did I knock your organization last time around? Check out what Lauren did with her opening paragraphs on that last assignment.

It’s the most productive 90 seconds my kids have ever spent on their phones.

The Videos

Here’s a small selection of student videos:




Michael Ziegler

Michael Ziegler (@ZigThinks) is a Content Area Leader and teacher at Novi High School.  This is his 15th year in the classroom. He teaches 11th Grade English and IB Theory of Knowledge. He also coaches JV Girls Soccer and has spent time as a Creative Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam team coach, AdvancEd Chair, and Boys JV Soccer Coach. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, majoring in English, and earned his Masters in Administration from Michigan State University.  

Improving Peer Feedback in Blogs

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_535675201In the beginning of our blogging year, I always tell students to wait to comment on each other’s writing. There are always those who ignore me and add all sorts of silly comments with emojis. What they don’t realize is that I have to approve all comments first. I control this intentionally because I want to teach them how to comment.

This may sound super controlling, but there is a reason for this. I teach my students to comment on what the author did well as a writer — focusing on the lessons we have worked on in class. I tell them to leave the constructive criticism to me — that’s my job. They need to read for what was done well and highlight that. The results have been more than I had hoped for.

The Benefits of Positive Feedback

My students’ comments are truly insightful:

  • “I really liked how you put show not tell in your intro because it really helps me understand how she is feeling.”
  • “I love how you made a connection to your real life with your family and Judah 🙂 I also like your choice of words and detail because you can really picture your story.”
  • “There were some pleasing turns in this story that I really enjoyed!”

Students love getting comments from their peers, and when the feedback is positive, I see them more excited to write and to revise their writing. I can still leave private comments about things that need fixing (spelling is my #1) or I can have a one-on-one conference if there are larger issues.

My students let me know if I am behind on approving comments because they love to see their names in print in an “editor” mode. It also allows for good conversation if I choose not to publish a comment. Usually it is because they either were critical or forgot to comment about the writing. Keeping their focus on what the author did well as a writer helps them leave meaningful feedback and also shifts their mindset for their own writing.

The biggest benefit from intentional commenting is that it has made my writers more aware of their own use of craft and more aware of good writing as they read. Students are coming up to me to show me good passages in books. Some are starting to notice when stories are not well written. This is something I could not teach and if I tried, I probably could not achieve.

I am excited to see how commenting will continue with this group this year. I may experiment with allowing them to add craft suggestions and see what evolves. I’ll keep you posted!

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Video Raised the Revision Bar

Notes from the Classroom

toplogo2xThis post’s title is better if you sing it to the tune of “Video Killed the Radio Star,” but I suppose that’s true of almost anything ever typed. Anyway, if you’ve followed my rantings for any period of time, you’re probably familiar with my efforts last year to modernize the writing feedback process via audio feedback to students. Despite some hiccups from the technology itself, the experiment has been a reasonable success.

At least, when it’s used as intended.

The site I use ( for providing feedback has another feature–it allows me to track which students have actually listened to said feedback in order to, you know, become better writers and whatnot. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that not all of them are tuning into my dulcet tones–and it would probably surprise you even less to learn that the students most in need of supportive, growth-mindset feedback are the demographic least likely to listen.

Sing It Again, Zig

This leaves me in a bit of a bind. The students really need to absorb the feedback on their paper, and I’ve invested a lot of time into restructuring the feedback itself into something friendly and positive (it’s like the Fireside Chat of paper grading). I can beg them to play the audio, or try withholding their grade itself until they do, or even demand that they summarize my thoughts in their own words, but none of that really feels like learning so much as a grumpy middle management technique.  

But two things have occurred to me, prompted by the discovery of an app called Flipgrid. First, struggling students are unlikely to do much with feedback if they aren’t invested. Second, the best way to get them invested is to let THEM use technology to express themselves, not just the other way around.  

The logical conclusion of those two premises seems obvious: Students should be shooting 90-second video clips, wherein they explain their own revisions based on my feedback, and then share them in a public space and use them as models for their own future writing!  

Sometimes it’s the most obvious things that we overlook.

“Flip Mode is the Greatest” (I Hope)

Busta Rhymes said that, but I’m pretty sure he was referring to his record label. I’m hoping it’s true in this case too, though, because Flipgrid is the centerpiece for the next phase of revision work in my class. My students just got back their audio feedback from me. In the next few days, they’ll have time to digest it and revisit their own writing, along with their rubrics (which also have feedback from me).  

Then the real fun begins! All of my students will be choosing one paragraph (or 200-ish word section) of their narrative and making revisions to it based on the audio feedback I provided them. They will have time to workshop the revisions in class, conferencing and all.  

After that, I’ll be modeling for them a Flipgrid video. The app allows them–from their phones or computers–to create exactly 90 seconds of video and submit it to a “grid” that I have already created for this assignment. The videos get pre-approved by yours truly, and then they become a part of a communal online space (“The Grid,” which Flipgrid should totally copyright so they can sell the movie options to Hollywood later).  


A screenshot from my revisions grid–note the model video I made at the bottom. Click to enlarge.

I’m hopeful that this high-tech approach to revisions will have a two-pronged impact on students. Foremost, I’m hopeful that making revisions a performance-based activity will encourage greater effort from reluctant writers. It’s a challenging task to create exactly a minute and a half of video narration that sounds polished and conveys everything you need it to. I tried it last night to create a model: by my fourth try I was getting frustrated, and by my final cut I had to leave several pretty great one-liners on the “cutting room floor,” so to speak, just to hit the time window. I’m hoping that there’s something about staring into a camera lens that will make kids a little more invested.

I’m also hopeful that when students suddenly have a shared space, where they can openly watch one another’s writing processes visualized and narrated by their own peers, that they will discover in that space both models for improving their own writing and reassurance that they aren’t alone in the frustrations and limitations they sometimes feel as writers.

Time will tell! Tune in for part two of this blog in a few weeks–I’ll let you know how it went and alert you to any tweaks that you might want to make if you’re feeling similarly ambitious. Who knows–maybe we’ll discover that all it takes is a bit of amateur video footage to make good writing “go viral” in our own classrooms.

Michael Ziegler

Michael Ziegler (@ZigThinks) is a Content Area Leader and teacher at Novi High School.  This is his 15th year in the classroom. He teaches 11th Grade English and IB Theory of Knowledge. He also coaches JV Girls Soccer and has spent time as a Creative Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam team coach, AdvancEd Chair, and Boys JV Soccer Coach. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, majoring in English, and earned his Masters in Administration from Michigan State University.  

Early Choice = Engagement & Excitement

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_375784555So it’s November, and it may seem odd to see the title “early choice” in a blog post. It’s not early in the year, and yet for an elementary teacher whose students are blogging, it is.

It takes time to get students used to the blogging format, establish procedures, teach digital citizenship, and truly begin to use the blog purposefully. I’ve been blogging with my 5th graders for a few years now, and there are certain things I always like to do in the first few months of school. But we all know that life throws us curve balls and sometimes you have to improvise.

One lesson I always do on Halloween is based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg. After reading the book to the students, they each choose one story from the book to complete. The story starters all lend themselves to heavy fantasy, which is a genre students don’t get much class time to enjoy in terms of writing.

The day after Halloween, I was unexpectedly out of the classroom (but still in the building) and decided to have the students spend their Language Arts time blogging their stories. (In the past, we had only published these on paper.) The excitement was palpable. Several students asked if I was serious. (“Yes.”) More asked if they could work on it from home. (“Yes!”) A few even asked if they could write more than one installment. (“Yes! Yes!”)

As I read through my student’s stories, I saw them using italics, bold print, and different font sizes, colors, and types of font, all for emphasis. These are things that would not be as easy or evident in regular paper or pencil writing:

I was in a dome made of green leaves and flowers. Then I stepped out and looked up. There were tree houses made of sticks, weeds, and bark. I saw little heads poke out of trees and windows. But there was something odd about the place. There was shimmering dust everywhere. And there seemed to be no end. The land seemed to grow bigger, like there was no end to it.

Giving Students a Reason to Be Excited

The ability to easily add emphasis inspired my students to be more creative and I think, in some cases, to write more. I have students who ended their posts with cliffhangers and promises to the reader that more would be coming. Writing in a digital format ensures them an audience and makes them feel their writing is purposeful, which inspires them to write more, even when it is not an assignment.

Moments like this remind me why I love teaching. It’s easy to become bogged down and overwhelmed by all of the demands on our time these days. But seeing how technology can inspire my students and transform the writing process inspires me to constantly push myself to let go a little more, trust my students, and let them fly.

I have a new post-it note at the bottom of my computer screen now: “Build in more choice.” In a child’s school world of “have to,” choice is freedom. Choice is fun. And from this teacher’s perspective, choice just might be the key to getting my students to new heights.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

NaNo What Now?

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

6th grade gifted writer, Sydney, working on the next great American novel

NaNoWriMo is coming!

National Novel Writing Month happens every November and is something you should bring into your classroom to encourage community, creativity, perseverance, and independence in the writing lives of your students.

NaNoWriMo asks you to write a novel in one month. It seems insane and impossible, but over 300,000 people do it yearly. If you have never participated, you should try it out this year. And if you have a classroom of students, you should use NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program to help your students engage in this experience.

I made participating in NaNoWriMo an option in my 8th grade classroom. The camps of students who usually participated included: serious gifted writers, everyday kids looking to be challenged, and special education students.

The Young Writer’s Program has lots of tools and resources to help you give your student writers all the support they need. This includes novel-writing workbooks, lesson plans, charts, buttons, and swag. Not to mention an awesome online community of student writers and mentor authors who give great pep talks.

Quantity Leads to Quality

The whole idea behind NaNoWriMo is just to get your story written. Don’t worry if it makes sense, or if you spelled a word wrong, or if your characters are flat. (Editing comes in later months, for those of you grammar sticklers who were wondering.) Just get your story out there and quit making excuses!

Now, some would argue that writing every day is crazy business! And, having participated in NaNoWriMo, I know that it really is rather hard to write every day, on top of all the other things going on in your teaching and personal life. But, because you have committed to doing this, and because you have a community of other crazy writers on your side, something makes you keep going.

 Students in the media center at Oakview Middle School, updating their novel progress on the school wide chart.

Students in the media center at Oakview Middle School, updating their novel progress on the school-wide chart.

Community of Writers

When you commit to joining NaNoWriMo with your students, you are really creating a community of writers. I had a wide range of student writers participate. The special education students had IEP goals in writing and spelling, but they saw themselves as writers and would come with notebooks full of the stories they had started. These were stories that paralleled video game plots or stories they knew from movies, which they claimed as their own and added new twists and turns to. The gifted writers came to try out new genres and forms of storytelling, and to work on stories they had started on Wattpad.

Some years I started an after-school club for NaNoWriMo. This was nice because I could offer it to different grades and was able to get the other ELA teachers in my school involved. Many of them would come to one of the after-school meetings to see their students write and share in the fun. I even convinced our singing-science teacher to create a NaNoWriMo commercial one year.

The NaNoWriMo website also has an online community that students enjoyed participating in. You can friend people if you know their username, you can send encouraging messages to users, or you can post in the private forums to ask for advice or get feedback on sections of your novel.

Sense of Accomplishment

Most of my students who participated met or exceeded their word-count goals. Yet one of the first things we talked about as a group was setting realistic, attainable goals. We used charts and stickers to mark our progress, and our community was really supportive of each other.

We enjoyed the challenge of meeting our daily word-count goals. But another benefit of NaNoWriMo is that students who meet their word-count goal can submit their novel and get a published copy of their writing. This is a highly motivating factor for most students.

I have attempted to write a novel in NaNoWriMo every year since 2010 and I have never won (it all usually unravels for me around Thanksgiving). But I’m still planning on doing it again this year. If you want to do it, but don’t think you can manage during the school year, you should consider Camp NaNoWriMo–where you can pick any month (think summer!) and work on a month-long writing project. And if you like to compose with digital writing and mixed media, check out DiGiWriMo.

Regardless of whether you try it out, you should definitely bring it up to your students as something they might want to try. You might be surprised to find how many aspiring, excited writers you have in your class.

file-sep-29-8-45-18-pmCaroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for twelve years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent literacy consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She has a BA in English from Michigan State University and a Masters in the Art of Teaching Reading from Oakland University. She lives in Berkley, Michigan with her husband and their three year old daughter.


Dr. Troy Hicks & Jeremy Hyler – Literacy Webinar

From Texting to Teaching: Teaching Grammar Beyond the Screen

Tuesday, February 7, 2017  7-8pm EST


Create.Compose.ConnectGrammar instruction continues to be more important than ever when we look at the digital landscape our students belong to today. Experts Constance Weaver and Jeff Anderson offer us wonderful ways to infuse grammar into our everyday writing lessons. However, as educators, we need to address how students write in digital spaces. We need to teach them to differentiate between the writing they do in their digital spaces and their non-digital spaces. In this interactive session, teachers and educators will learn effective strategies using Google Slides along with social media, that can help students to differentiate between formal and informal writing while learning new grammar skills.

Recommended Reading:

Dr. Troy Hicks, an associate professor at Central Michigan University, teaches pre-service writing methods classes and facilitates professional development on the teaching of writing, writing across the curriculum, and writing with technology. In his research, he collaborates with K-16 teachers and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms.  He also serves as the Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project at CMU. His publications include The Digital Writing Workshop (Heinemann, 2009) and Because Digital Writing Matters (Jossey-Bass, 2010). Twitter ID:@hickstro

JeremyHylerJeremy Hyler is a 7th/8th grade English teacher at Fulton Middle School in Middleton, Michigan. In addition, he is a co-director for the Chippewa River Writing Project. He co-authored Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools. He is also a contributing author to Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely. He is currently working on his second book about teaching grammar in the digital age. Jeremy has presented both statewide and nationally on the importance of integrating technology effectively and with purpose into the language arts classroom. He is always interested in helping teachers find new, productive and meaningful ways to implement technology into their classrooms. Jeremy can be found on Twitter @jeremybballer and his website is

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What's the Word


Welcome to the ELA newsletter, “What’s the Word”!  We will publish several times a year to share information about ELA, Special Education, and content-area literacy topics and events.  If you have any questions or topics you would like addressed, please get in touch!


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Online Writing: Beauty and the Beast

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_348905468Each year I have my students engage in a variety of online writing experiences: blogging, Google documents, websites, and presentations. At this point in the year, I find that there are two sides to online writing, and finding a way to balance them is my greatest challenge.

The Beauty

I love having my students write online. Online writing is easier to edit, I can leave comments, and I don’t have to lug tons of notebooks back and forth. I can sit with my computer in my lap at night and toggle through a wealth of student writing. It is by no means faster (sometimes I feel like it takes a bit longer digging through my links) but I do love not having to worry about whether assignments were turned in, or if I left papers at school, or somehow something got lost.

Digital archive

Online writing allows me to have a digital archive of my students’ writing, which is invaluable at parent-teacher conferences in the spring. It is amazing to see the growth—or sadly sometimes the lack thereof—in student pieces. Because I give lots of craft assignments early on, I can easily show parents my assignment posts and their student’s writing in response. This allows for easier conversations about why a child is beginning, developing, or secure in his or her writing skills.

This encourages revision. With this kind of online portfolio, some students have asked to go back and revise and edit—a teacher’s dream! They actually want to do this? Sometimes I take screenshots of the “before” piece, so that I can have them to compare to the revised and edited work. This helps me when I confer with both student and parent.

Authentic audience

Establishing partnerships has been a beautiful thing as well. This year we are blogging partners with two 11454297503_e27946e4ff_h5th grade classes in Maine and we are participating in the Two Writing Teachers Classroom Slice of Life Challenge. My students are excited to log on each week to see what their long-distance partners have written, and to leave and receive feedback. In the classroom challenge, they are looking at writing from classrooms around the globe, which makes their own writing more purposeful. They grapple with their subject matter because now that they have an audience, they want it to be interesting.

Without fail, I have at least two or three students from each class who ask me what to write about. Convincing some of my students that they have moments that are writing-worthy is a constant challenge, but in spite of all this, I am finding every student engaged to a greater degree than they would be if they were only writing in their notebooks. That is beautiful.

The Beast

Of course, this all sounds great. What could possibly be a problem? Well…

Greater responsibilities for feedback

If I had the time each and every night to read and leave private comments on students’ blogs, life would be grand. But I don’t. So, I let the posts pile up, and pretty soon I am harassed by my students enough that I sit and power through countless blogs in one night.

I’m still not able to allow my students to comment freely on one another’s blogs, which means that I have comments to approve as well. All of this can become a monster to manage, and I confess that this year I have not done as well as I would like. Now that we have blogging partners, the SOLSC, and the interface on our blog has changed … it is very time consuming and at times, downright annoying.

Problems with technology

Every year, I have my students create individual Google Sites for our informational reading and writing units. For the units, we take notes, do our writing in packets, and then transfer our writing to the pages of our sites—my attempt to help them avoid plagiarism. Again, this allows for easy conferring on my part. It also unleashes a whole new animal.

Ten-year-olds often believe that they know more about technology than the adults around them. While this is frequently true, their tech confidence becomes a nightmare when working with certain programs. No matter how many directions I give, there is always that group of students that thinks they know better. (Or the group that totally misses the directions.) This leads to a lot of time spent undoing, re-doing, and re-teaching. Grr. My students discovered the hard way last year that copy-paste doesn’t work all of the time in Google Sites, even though someone had told them that. This resulted in many hours spent finding, downloading, saving and uploading pictures, not to mention having to create the citations all over again.

Happily Ever After?

At the end of each project, I find that I’ve learned something new that will help me (and my students) in the future. I also find new challenges with technology and the individuals who are in my classes. This is truly a never-ending journey, but one that I am still happy to be on.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

The Tumblr Experiment, Part 3: Blogging as Formative Assessment

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

This is part 3 in a series. Parts 1 and 2 explored the in-class use of Tumblr, a blogging platform, as an exercise in writing for an authentic audience. You can read part 1 and part 2 online.

tumblr-logoAs the Tumblr experiment progresses, I’m faced with a difficult question about evaluation and feedbackWhat is a good measure of a writer’s success?

The answer, I believe, lies in whether a writer has achieved his or her purpose. This approach forces my students to really think about what they’re trying to accomplish. Yes, I get the obvious student response: “Trying to get an A.” But as we move deeper into the experiment, I’m finding that students are beginning to see other possible purposes. Tumblr is a space in which they can deliberately pursue an idea in writing. It’s also a place to take risks, both in what we think and how we want to write. Still, how do I encourage risks in writing without promoting ones that appeal to me?

This isn’t easy territory for evaluation.

I want this to be formative, but I don’t want my students to write for me or for points. At the same time, I do want them to know that I’m watching, steering us toward writing a solid essay. That said, the essay is really just one aspect of this larger project, whose goal is to produce authentic writing and voices, while developing rhetorical dexterity. 

Screen shot 2015-02-03 at 8.01.59 PM

A Good Exchange

Using their blogs as a lens on the class, we discuss what kind of writing students are noticing–reblogs and responses–and bring that back to the classroom, where we can talk about why certain posts are creating more action than others. We’ve begun to notice that success often comes down to the writer’s awareness of audience. One student, for example, blogged about a piece of music and was rewarded with a lot of attention and discussion. When we talked about it in class, the writer said that he knew that his friends liked music, and he was betting that if he could draw them in, he’d draw others with the same interest as well.

You can picture me clapping my hands, because isn’t this exactly how real writers–really anyone who produces any kind of product–think? 

The students were all good writers. But as we talked through their writing choices, it became clear that some of these writers valued their own choices over those that appealed to their Tumblr audiences. Some prefered not to “cater” to the audience. This led to a discussion of different rhetorical moves that might attract a different audience–or alienate an audience.

For me, the real value lies in the conversation about purposes–whether, as writers, they’re achieving their purposes. That’s the rhetorical triangle in action, with real consequences.

Screen shot 2015-02-03 at 7.35.51 PM

As a formative task, this works to let me see how we’re doing without being intrusive. Is what I think I’m teaching actually sticking to my students? Did it show up in the writing? If it is, great, but if not, I can see it before the essays come in, make adjustments, and revisit topics. We’ve talked technique and SOAPs and audience, of course, but always as an abstraction, very rarely as a practical “thing” we do as writers, choices we make on purpose. It’s this pivot from abstraction to “real” that’s important with the Tumblr experiment.

By moving students students out of the static model of traditional instruction, and into an environment that has entirely new and changing demands, I’m looking for a way to change them from people who write for me into people who write more authentically. The feedback that they’re getting from their audience–each other and me–is more valuable because it’s authentic, connected to their own goals as writers, and is rewarded by people whose opinions they value–each other, not just me.


RICKRick Kreinbring teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.

Dr. Troy Hicks – Literacy Webinar

Revising Digital Writing

Thursday, January 14, 2016  7-9pm EST (optional discussion 8-9pm)
recording    slides    hyperlink paragraph example     web text paragraph

craftingdigitalwritingAs the inputs continue to multiply, how can we help students find, evaluate, and synthesize information from a variety of sources? More importantly, how can we help them craft — and revise — digital writing in effective ways? When revision happens with multimedia, we must think broadly about how text, images, audio, and video can be used to best reach an audience. Based on Hicks’ book Crafting Digital Writing, we will explore a variety of web-based tools and mobile applications to help students combine amplify their voices when revising digital texts.

Recommended Reading: Crafting Digital Writing: Composing Texts Across Media and Genres

Hicks_PortraitDr. Troy Hicks (@hickstro) is an associate professor of English at Central Michigan University and focuses his work on the teaching of writing, literacy and technology, and teacher education and professional development. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K–12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms. Hicks directs CMU’s Chippewa River Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project, and he frequently conducts professional development workshops related to writing and technology. Hicks is author of the Heinemann titles Crafting Digital Writing (2013) and The Digital Writing Workshop(2009), as well as a co-author of Because Digital Writing Matters (Jossey-Bass, 2010) and Create, Compose, Connect! (Routledge/Eye on Education, 2014). He blogs at Digital Writing, Digital Teaching. In March 2011, Hicks was honored with CMU’s Provost’s Award for junior faculty who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in research and creative activity. Most importantly, he is the father of six digital natives and is always learning something new about writing and technology from them.