Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Re-Visioning the Writing Classroom

"Show me, don't tell me," a line I have no doubt lifted from the famous Lucy Calkins. In all of the writing we do in our class I am constantly asking my fifth graders to do just that, show don't tell. "If in your story you are writing about a time when you are scared then how can you show me that with your words? If the alien you are writing about is "ugly" then describe that crazy beast in a way that will create a visual and mental image in your readers mind."

We have made incredible gains over the last couple of weeks in our writing and the students work is jumping off the page. Their word choice is strategic and well planned, they're finding their voice, and becoming much more confident with the conventions of writing. Perhaps it's because spring has sprung or is it something more?

So let me dig in and reflect for but a moment.

I believe the difference is the computer lab. After our planning time and the first drafts were written on paper in class I then had the students type those rough drafts using Microsoft Word at the computer lab. Their first drafts were then sent to me through the Digital Drop Box within Blackboard where I had a chance to embed comments within their work and resend it back to the student within the Digital Drop Box.

I very quickly realized that there were immediate advantages with conferencing this way and there were immediate disadvantages as well. Ultimately, I want my writing class to be a fluid time where conversations about word choice and voice are common among all but much of that writing talk disappeared and I found the Digital Drop Box became a bottle neck during class time.

So the immediate solution was to have the students print out their work so I can sit with them and write comments and suggestions all over their papers. Then they could go back to the computers and take their time with my comments and play around with their work until they found how they liked it. It really worked for me. It was fast, very business like, and gave me a chance to see immediate progress in the writer not just the writing.

Through this process however, I was able to identify an immediate gap within my class; they really don't know how to use Microsoft Word very well. So, not only did I have mini-lessons on how to incorporate dialogue or how to use similes in their writing, but many of my mid-point lessons were about the basic skills of using Microsoft Word.

Our writing class has been at the computer lab over the last week or two and the students have discovered that Microsoft Word is a tool that can take some of the sting out of revising; they are no longer dreading having to rewrite each draft over and over by hand. Rather there has been a huge weight lifted off the shoulders of these young writers and they are free to express themselves and don't mind the hard work or the Re-Visioning of their stories.

It has been as much a learning experience for me as it has been for the students, and as Brian Crosby would say, "it's messy." The look and feel of my writing class has changed. If at any time you walk into my classroom/computer lab you will see kids conferencing with one another, other students helping out with basic tech skills, other students might be fixing a printer issue, or other students discussing some other crafty cool gadget that they discovered Microsoft Word could do. These kids are talking about changing their opening paragraphs or starting with the last paragraph and moving text around and playing with words in a way that I have never really experienced before.

It is an amazingly productive time and I am so proud of how hard these kids are working.

I will post a link to their blogs so those interested can read their final copies.


  1. Thank you so much for writing the blog about your classromm writing process. Adora achieved great success using Microsoft word. Once the students are good with the tools, they will be able to express themselves freely. If you need some inspiration for your students, please contact Adora.

  2. Great reflection. I agree, technology makes huge difference and showing is better than writing about it.

  3. Thank you for your comments Flying Fingers and Minhaaj I would agree that technology does empower students once the basics are learned and mastered. That does take time.

    Flying Fingers ~ at what age did Adora begin to learn the "home row" positioning for typing? Was there a particular typing tutor program you could recommend for younger students?

    Thanks again.

  4. The writing classroom is a very creative process it sounds like. I wish I knew more about it. I look forward to reading more from you.