Digital Writing Workshop


I am lucky enough to teach a senior elective titled Digital Writing Workshop. The intent of this class is to give students the opportunity to extend the writing process past traditional composing by using technology to tell stories in multiple modes.

The Nature of the Digital World

For the most part our units are based around essential questions. We began this school year by doing an extended inquiry into the changing nature of our digital world and used a variety of texts to investigate these dynamics. We read about the evolution of literacy in an extended excerpt of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and asked ourselves how we saw the definition of literacy changing in our own culture. We studied the documentaries PressPausePlay and Connected while reflecting on the varying ways that digital technology is changing consumption and production.Read more…

Poetry for Non Believers

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“Honest, Jan.  I’m serious.  I mean, why would I want to write a poem?  I grew up on hockey and none of my friends ever read or wrote anything.  All through high school and elementary.  I’m serious.  Never.  Well, maybe we read the odd hockey stat in the paper, but that was it.  So this object poem I wrote was a complete shock to me.”  Such was the oral reflection Mark offered after writing his very first poem at the age of twenty-one.

About a month ago, I waltzed into the literacy/drama education class I teach with a favourite bin of odd and varied materials.  My intention? To hook everyone on doing poetry:  reading it aloud, crafting one or two poems, exploring some creative forms (poetry for two voices, poetry for four voices, poetry with tableaux, poetry in response to photos) and my very favourite genre—poetry that emerges in response to a chosen object or artifact. The poetry workshop day is something I always look forward to sharing with student teachers, as I’m always amazed at what happens to students who have grown up groaning about poetry. … Read more…

Community in the Classroom

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Membership has its privileges. American Express recognizes the power of community and has used this pitch to sell their credit card to 102 million people over the last three decades. People want to be a member, not just a credit card holder.

The same is true with teaching. Teachers have the choice to either conduct a class or create a learning community. I choose the latter because I believe that the more my students experience community, the more willing they are to give of themselves to the group and to my instruction. … Read more…

The Flipped Grammar Experience

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Last year my principal presented a very unique opportunity for me to flip instruction in my classroom. His motivation was to try and reach more students on all levels. As our conversation progressed, we discussed specifically students who struggle getting homework turned in and students who need to be challenged. Furthermore, we talked about how flipped lessons provide student an opportunity to go back and watch a lesson over as many times as needed if the student was not understanding it the first time as it often happens after a teacher is going through a lesson while in front of the classroom. Unfortunately, there is no rewind button for teachers. However, if a student is watching a flipped lesson, they can rewind as often as needed. 


Flipping is not a secret and is an innovative way to deliver instruction to students. A flipped classroom is where a traditional teaching methods are switched where instruction is delivered through online videos and other resources such as websites. In addition, the “homework” portion is then done in the classroom. Students watch lectures outside of classroom, working at their own pace and application of the learned processes take place in the classroom with the help of the teacher. Having some background knowledge of what a flipped classroom is and does, I was more than willing to implement this instructional strategy into my classroom. In the Spring of 2013, my principal sent myself and one other teacher to a professional development where we were able to have some hands on experience with how to flip our respective classrooms. In addition, he handed us Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. 

Upon furthering my own knowledge of flipping, I took the time to develop a plan to flip just one part of my instruction when it came to my language arts classroom. I didn’t want to overwhelm my students and I didn’t want to overwhelm myself when it came to this innovative way for my instruction. So, I decided to flip only the grammar part of my instruction. There are educators who do flip their entire language arts classrooms, but with me being a novice I was not ready to take that plunge. I have chosen to flip grammar because most students find grammar boring and to be quite honest, so do I as their teacher. Flipping grammar allows me to put together an instructional video where I use Camtasia, Snagit, or Touchcast. Camtasia and Snagit are both products from Techsmith and are fairly inexpensive. Touchcast is free, which fits everyone’s budget. Below is a sample of a Touchcast flipped lesson I did using Touchcast.

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Reading Slaughterhouse Five to Battle Senioritis

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What works for me in the English classroom is the novel Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.  Something truly transcendent happens to second-semester high school seniors when they read Slaughterhouse-Five.  They begin to see the potential that they possess to act with purpose and conviction in the world.  Many second-semester seniors who have excelled for four years and been accepted to college, those who have in every sense but the physical already matriculated, live in the grips of an odd malaise.  They see high school as infantile, the remaining weeks of their high school career as a series of inevitable and useless events (aside from prom, of course) that will have absolutely no bearing on their prospects for future success or happiness.

As a teacher of second-semester seniors, I share a plight nearly as hapless as theirs.  My lot in life is to find ways to keep them engaged.  Last year, I attempted this by instituting blogging in my classroom.  I knew that I might be on to something when my wife, observing the blog over my shoulder one night, exclaimed, “They’re really writing essays, but they have no idea that they’re doing work!”  As students began to respond to the novel, to me, and most importantly to one another, I discovered the true power of this novel that has held teenagers in its sway for decades. … Read more…

Reading-Writing Reciprocity in the Intermediate Classroom

Teacher: Justin Stygles School:  Guy E. Rowe School (Norway, Maine) Grade:  6th For our maturing writers, classrooms are not truly conducive to real-life writing or curriculum demands so many examples of writing aimed at demonstrating application and understanding of particular writing concepts, developing a student’s craft or voice becomes a challenge. When writing narratives, students … Read more…

Showing-versus-Telling & The Walking Dead

Name: Rebekah O’Dell (@RebekahOdell1) Class: English 9 Standard School: Trinity Episcopal School, Virginia Intro The first twenty minutes of the pilot episode of The Walking Dead is virtually silent. I hadn’t remembered that when, out of desperation and end-of-October exhaustion, I agreed to show the episode to my ninth graders on Halloween. They begged. I was weak. … Read more…