Tech in the Writing Workshop

Sunday, April 17, 2016

     I remember September... That time, not so long ago, when the school year was new and we were just getting to know our students.  We were developing routines in reading, and getting to know them as writers.  Most of the grade levels started with a narrative unit in writing, and teachers often start the year with struggles as kids try to write small moments. I have a few theories behind those struggles, but my job as a coach is to problem solve moving forward, not find the reasons they can't write.   Such is the case with first grade this last September.  Our team was mostly new to Hiawatha, and many of our students came back with summer slide, in addition to the fact that many are below grade level in reading and not all speak in complete sentences when they talk, let alone when they write.  But, these six years olds do have IDEAS.  We just need to find the write scaffolds for them to write.

     I was having a conversation with one of our new teachers, +Kayla Kaczmarek, about how I used to teach my 2nd graders to write in a booklet.  I would show them how to talk their story across their hand before they picked up the pencil to write.  We talked about how their booklets could start with three pages only, and around a shared topic.  I had also shared with her that I used to use pictures of our playground to write a shared experience story using the image, but adding vocabulary labels to enhance the level of detail in their writing.

    The next day or so, when I had to cover her class for about an hour due to a meeting, she gave me a page of sub plans that rocked that writing scaffold world.

     She had taken her kids outside the day before, and had them take a picture with their own iPads of a part of the playground.  They had already made a web of the things they saw on the playground.  The plan for me that day was to use their iPads to VIDEOTAPE themselves talking the story across their hands, so that they could play it back and stop and start it while writing.  That way, as they wrote across their booklet pages, they wouldn't lose their story.

     So simple, yet so genius.  Just use the camera app on the iPad as a scaffold to enhance their ability to write a small moment story!  I have to admit, this was the first whole class lesson I had ever taught using all iPads, as I had been in a 1:1 Macbook rooms for 3 years.  I put my own nerves aside, and showed the first graders how I could record myself, with my hand in the video for easy viewing for playback, and told my story about going down a slide.  We didn't even try to write anything that day.  At the end of the lesson, they got to share their stories by taking a gallery walk around the room and playing their friends' videos.  It was over the next few days where they learned to play the stories back, using a booklet with 3 numbered pages, to touch and tell their story and then write it for others to read.

     This was a huge success, because it helped students not only remember their stories across pages, but it also got them to verbally practice telling it first.  They practiced speaking in complete sentences before trying to write, and this helped them as a storyteller.  It also then opened the door to future lessons on self editing and graduation to booklets that were not as scaffolded about a single topic.  

     I was thinking about this this week as our first graders published their nonfiction CHAPTER BOOKS using various apps on the iPad.  Somehow, over the course of the year, those struggling readers and writers became AUTHORS.

     I think part of it was seeing the tech they had access to as a way to scaffold their ideas, using the video feature of the iPad.

     I think part of it was using apps along the way to "publish" some of their writing, even if it wasn't typed.  They used their drafts to read their writing into apps like Tellagami and Chatterpix, bringing their words to life.

     I think part of it was, once they got to nonfiction, they used the iPad as a scaffold to the ideas they wanted to see in their writing.  Using apps like YouTube kids, Kiddle, MyOn and Blendspace allowed our first graders to learn content that was above their reading level.  They learned the vocabulary they needed to sound like experts in their non fiction writing.

     I think part of it was that our teachers never replaced drafting on paper.  Our first graders need to learn how to write on paper.  Their fine motor skills need to be developed.  But that does not mean tech can't be used in writing workshop.

    I think a huge part of it was that our teachers became writers themselves, actually discussing what they hoped our students would produce to create a single point rubric at the start of the units.  They did the work of their students.

    I think part of it was that students are treated like authors, and given an audience.

     Here we are, in March, and this was how they ended their non fiction writing unit.  They sent out a Google form to the kids, and allowed them to pick how they wanted to publish their chapter book about the seasons.  They then switched kids for a week between +Shianne Gillespie+Amelia Sheers+Melissa Alper+Kayla Kaczmarek and +Vianney Sanchez and used those books to great digital books and/or movies with the content.

Here they are creating iBooks with Book Creator.

Here they are making newscasts with Telestory.

Some coded their story using Scratch Jr.

Others appsmashed with Tellagami and iMovie.

     I love how the first grade used tech this year as a way to ENHANCE their writing workshop.  They have used their iPads to facilitate idea collection, drafting and publishing in various ways throughout the year.  They never jumped right to the tech to produce something that didn't meet the writing standard they had hoped for.  They always had their writing goals first, and then used tech to scaffold to get there.

    Our first graders are WRITERS.



  1. I am blown away with how you are using technology as a tool for writing. Your kids are successful writers because of it. Kudos!

  2. Wow!! Thanks for sharing. I teach 3rd in a 1 to 1 iPad school and need your inspiration!!

  3. First, I love your blog! Thanks for sharing it! I'm always learning new ideas to enhance my teaching. :) We started using our iPads for recording our "telling" last year. It was one of the best things we ever added to our writing program (and it saved so so so much teacher time spent helping our writers to remember their ideas). We shared it at iEngage and everyone had the same reaction; "Why didn't I think of that?" Truth. LOL!! I have used Touchcast, but not Telestory. I've never seen that before. I think the kids will love it! Thanks for sharing it!

  4. Great way to get their ideas from their minds to the paper! 2nd grade at Irving did a nature walk and took pictures of spring in bloom. Then they recorded their thoughts and feelings to watch later and create Earth day poems. This post is great because it engrains it into the writing process. I'm sure they got better and better at it!