Book Review: Crafting Digital Writing by Troy Hicks
Note from Kevin: I need to add a few disclaimers here before I start my review of Crafting Digital Writing by Troy Hicks. First of all, I know Troy and have presented with Troy and consider him a friend and colleague through the National Writing Project and beyond. Second, he sent me this book for free because one of my students and her work is featured in a chapter. I am also mentioned as her teacher. Third, I am a huge fan of Troy Hicks as a writer and thinker, and I appreciate his views on the world of digital writing. Personally, I would scoop up anything he has to say.
So, this is not an unbiased review.
Like his last book — Digital Writing Workshop — Troy Hicks puts a deep lens on what it means to be writing in the digital age, and what it means to be teaching students who write in a digital age. Where his last book drew parallels between our traditional sense of the Writing Workshop format and writing practices with digital tools, Crafting Digital Writing focuses on the art and craft of using technology and media to communicate, to tell stories across various media and to present information to an audience, local and global. The subtitle “Composing Texts Across Media and Genre” gives a nice teaser to what is inside this book.
I appreciated how Hicks opens up the book with a look at what we mean by writers’ craft, and then urges teachers and their students to start small and slow down in order to really notice and make visible the elements of digital writing that goes beyond just copying and pasting text and putting it onto the Web. That, he argues (and I agree), is not what we mean by digital writing. He also wisely charts out the various narrative, informational and argumentative texts that one might use, drawing connections to the Common Core in a meaningful way.
“Craft is key to good writing, whether that writing is word on a page or involves additional media.” — Troy Hicks (16)
The format of the chapters of this book involve sharing mentor texts from students, with Hicks using a heuristic model known as MAPS, in which the reader is invited to consider mode, media, audience, purpose and situation. Hicks returns to this theme again and again, giving us helpful reminders of what we need to thinking about in terms of craft and teaching and expectations around digital media texts. MAPS provides a lens from which to think about digital writing.
The chapters here range from topics such as creating web texts, to presentation design, to using audio for voice, to composing text as video, and even a chapter around social media. In each, Hicks is a thoughtful tour guide, being honest in the limitations of the technology and student use of that technology as well as holding out possibilities for pushing the way young people write in new directions. He’s honest in his view of student work, too, noticing the weak points as much as the strong. There’s a heavy dose of realism in this book as well as much inspiration for teachers.
All in all, Crafting Digital Writing is a worthy read. It provides more than examples; it provides a path forward for teachers who see their students writing in all sort of formats not necessarily valued by educational systems. Hicks situates those kinds of writing within the framework of learning and creativity, urging us to think about how we can engage our students in meaningful, thoughtful, and exemplary writing. He asks us to expand our notions of writing and then develop ways to teach it.
“We need to ask our digital writers to work with intention. This requires that we keep thinking, taking risks, learning from our mistakes, and working each day to model and mentor them in the craft of digital writing.” — Hicks (177)
As in most of his ventures, Hicks has set up online spaces for sharing resources and student work featured in the book and for sparking discussions in a Google Plus Community. (You can even preview the book at the publisher’s site)
Peace (in agreement),