One of the nice things about teaching teenagers is that they think that they know everything. Regardless of whether they actually do know everything is irrelevant. When you have overconfident students, it makes them try harder to be impressive both to you as the teacher, and to their peers. My sixth graders during practicum had only the beginnings of being able to explain themselves efficiently through their writing, but it was enough to foster an environment for learning through writing. At the time, my students were studying the environment, biomes, and protecting various species of animals.
The classroom in which I was during practicum was not set up by me; however, I believe that I would have set it up exactly the same. The students sat in small groups while they were writing, with opportunities to sit in different carpeted areas of the classroom with pillows. Having two teachers in the classroom, along with myself, helped foster this environment as one where learning was always the focus. I was able to individually work with students on their writing as they needed it. For some, I was a the checker of their grammar that the computer did not catch. For others, I helped with their writing and sentence structure. For most, I helped them brainstorm ideas for starting the writing.
My classroom was one of the luckier rooms in the school, in that each student was given a laptop to be used. Obviously, this provided me with ample opportunities to incorporate digital writing into the classroom. Previously, my students had used Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. They were masters using Powerpoint, teaching me things that I did not even know. One of the websites that I was able to use with my students actually helped to fuse together a normal writing workshop with a digital writing workshop. My students were writing poems from the point of view of a specific animal (student choice). The purpose of the poem was to provide advice to the reader based on the characteristics of the animal. For example, a fish may tell the reader to "flow" through life. Most of the beginning writing was done on paper, and utilized the internet for research about the characteristics of the chosen animal. After conferencing, revising, and editing, the students were able to type up their poem as they wished. Some chose to add in pictures of their animals, some bolded words for emphasis, some even altered the way the words looked on the page by making them go
for added emphasis. The interesting part about this was, I never instructed the students to do anything but type up their poem in a way that looked write to them. Each was able to add in their own creative piece. The fun part of this poem was not completed yet. After typing up their poems, the poems were printed, and my students practiced speaking them. There is a website called Blabberize, where you can upload a picture and sound, alter the mouth in the picture to "speak." I had the students record their voices reading their poems, take pictures of the clay animals they made in art class, and upload both to the website. Some students knew how to record voices on their computers, so they became the "experts." While each student had his or her own individual project to complete, it turned more into a collaborative group project at the same time. Some students were knowledgeable in this process, some were not. Together we worked through the problems and were able to present the complete projects at their Exhibition Night. Hicks says that students must "work together to create digital writing," and this is exactly what they did (Hicks, 2009, p. 129).
While I only participated in this classroom for about seven weeks, I can see the lasting effects of having computers in a classroom. Further, I can see the importance of using the computers frequently. My students were more apt to focus when they were able to type their work, versus handwriting it. I think that in the future, I would like to incorporate digital writing in more unique ways (i.e. blogs, wikis, videos, etc.). I think that Hicks makes some valid points about creating a writing workshop that changes with the times. We must continue to change our literacy, as more ways to be literate are established. Hicks says that teachers must "adopt a perspective that...integrates digital writing" (Hicks, 2009, p. 11). Digital literacy is not something we can avoid. It is something that we should welcome because it establishes a greater number of exciting ways to promote writing inside the classroom (and outside!).