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Digital Writing Marathon: Legging It Out

Written by Lindsay Sorenson
November 11, 2012

Image originally uploaded on 2012-11-10 19:13

Participants in their places.  Facilitators prepped and ready for action.  All systems go!

The Gun

So the race begins.  Two legs to the marathon. Five weeks of writing experiences await in each leg.  Each week begins with a chat about the featured environments from the week, with the first chat highlighting the home environment.  In the first meeting, members are introduced to the chat feature and how communicating with classmates works within the space.

Calculating Splits

In the two-and-one-half-hour chat, each participant is featured as they reflect on the week’s experience.  They offer two sentences of reflection while other participants respond with comments and questions for the featured member of the group.  In this format, every voice is heard and given value.  It is through the protocol that much of the integrity of the format is maintained.

 DWP Discussion/Discovery Protocol 

1.) Write two sentences by clicking on the Whiteboard link in the menu on the left side. (5 min.).

  • Sentence 1: describe your experience with the form of technology that you used this past week. Don’t make any judgments about the technology; just describe what happened.
  • Sentence 2: Either 1) select a sentence from the writing that you did this past week or 2) describe a moment that stood out for you or that seemed significant or revealing.

2.) We take turns discussing the two-sentence writing that we just did, with one person “featured” at a time. (See Whiteboard below, on the right side.) What do you notice about the featured person’s writing?

3.) Others can now ask clarifying questions. (“I’m wondering about. . .”) The featured person can respond at any point, providing additional info, as needed. (5 min.)

4.) Others offer a one- to two-sentence comment on the featured person’s experience, with the featured person “listening.” At the end, the featured person offers one to two sentences of final reflection on his/her tech experience. (5 min.) 

5.) Repeat steps 2 through 4 for each person until all have shared.

6.) As a group, address any or all of these questions: What tentative conclusions have you reached so far, with respect to this form of technology? How might this technology tool enhance writing in the classroom? How might you help teachers at your site to use this tool? (15 min.) 

7.) LAST TASK: Write a reflective entry, in which you sum up what you learned during the Tapped-In discussion and speculate on how you might use the featured technology environment in your classroom. Post it at Tapped In no later than 48 hours after the chat, in the Discussion area.

The conversation continues within threaded discussions.  Following each chat, participants post their musings about what was discussed in the weekly chat.  Many times new discoveries are made that were not thought of when exploring the environments on their own.  Deeper conversation emerges within the threaded discussions.  One participant within the 2010-11 Marathon states in her reflection following the first chat:

“So many thoughts were going through my head that I couldn’t even think straight. The process of taking simple sentences and having that turn into questions and discussions and answers and more exciting talk of all areas was amazing. Being asked questions about our sentences really made me think about why I felt the way I felt. I have so many ideas … We teachers have so many things that we want to share that at times it was hard to stay on track. The bombardment of great ideas was an exciting process.”

As the participants explore the various environments each week, required readings are also reflected upon in a threaded discussion format.  An “anchor text” helps develop ideas and expose teachers to more than the six environments the Marathon is limited to.  Using Technology to Improve Adolescent Writing (Stephens & Ballast, 2011) was used for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 marathons.

Conversations Along the Journey

While the marathon takes place and participants test the out the various digital spaces, conversations outside of the chat take place.  Discussions from understanding perspectives to offering support to providing wisdom enhance learning and provide a support system.

“While I am still fairly young, I guess I am somewhat of a senior citizen at heart – especially when it comes to certain pieces of education. I suppose I get that from my dad, who is in his sixties and has been an educator all his life. It is hard for me to let go of the “process” of writing. My initial reaction to the proposed idea of the four stages was, “WHAT?!” No prewriting? No editing and revisions before the final draft? Is that okay? Since, I am not yet an “old dog,” I am willing to learn “new tricks;” I do see how this proposed style of writing is a part of a “Digital Native’s” world, though, so I’m willing to give it a shot. Am I currently preparing my students to survive in their technological world? I don’t know. I used to like to think so, but this first chapter made me feel as if I’m leaving out valuable lessons such as, “Texting/Tweeting/Blogging Shorthand – what LOL, TTYL, TMI, etc. REALLY mean!” Wow. Usually, the “senior citizen educator” in me stiffens each time I scan a paper which has “u” for “you” and various other cyber shorthand. But, if Bloom’s Taxonomy is beginning to value this kind of creativity over student’s retention and imitation of “processes,” I better get a little more on the ball with all this!” –Teri

“I had to chuckle a bit at your reference to “senior citizen educator.” I don’t know that we have to let go of certain expectations when it comes to language and grammar. This is where teaching our students about audience and purpose is so crucial. (So, Joey, how effective would using “u” and “TTYL” be in an email request to the principal, an author, or a community business person?) I think it’s perfectly fine and necessary not to “get over ‘u’ as a fair substitute for a formal ‘you'”.” –Anne

“I love your statement about using this as an opportunity to teach students about purpose and audience, Anne. Students would be turned off if we would be totally intolerant of their shortcuts. Are they appropriate in the classroom? No. Is it practical for us to expect them to use proper spelling and grammar in their texts to their friends? Again, no. We just have a whole new addition to the field of purpose and audience than we have had in the past.” –Lark

Marking the Miles

E-mail becomes a vital piece in communicating expectations and assignments to participants.  Transcripts from the previous week’s chat and the tutorial for the upcoming environment are e-mailed within 12 hours of the chats.  Within the e-mail, an outline of reminders are given to participants.  Participation is tracked on a common document (i.e. a spreadsheet in GoogleDocs).  When necessary, gentle reminders are sent to make sure participants are on track to complete the assignment in time for the chats—usually within 24 hours of the upcoming chat.

In the last week of each leg, participants create a lesson plan that focuses on at least one of the digital environments they experimented with.  Those lessons are posted, again, in a threaded discussion, then featured one-by-one within the final chat of the leg.

The protocol differs a bit as participants look at the lesson plan through the lens of teachers and students and work through possible glitches with the lesson.  New ideas emerge and the featured participant walks away feeling more equipped for the lesson implementation in the coming semester.  One participant reflected, “The discussion over our lesson plans was great!!! Everyone gave me great suggestions and I have a feeling this is going to be an awesome semester project. I really like how all of us were able to use one of the technologies in something we already do….not reinventing the wheel. That has been the nice part of the course ~ we are able to look at what we already do and decide how to change it so it’s more effective. I’m very excited to implement my lesson this fall!”

Following the implementation of their lesson, participants post a reflection of how the lesson went within their classrooms.   To begin the second leg, the chat discussions reviewed and reflected upon their lessons, featuring each participant. The second leg is formatted the same as the first leg, including three new environments to experiment with each week. 

Celebrating the Work

One participant, Sami Peil, introduced her students to VoiceThread (as featured at the beginning of this page) by introducing herself through a VoiceThread “Goofy Teacher.”

Karen Downing used the presentation tool, Prezi, to introduce her students to unit vocabulary.

Karen’s Vocabulary Prezi

Mary Begley used Glogster, a multi-modal poster-maker in her Introduction to Theatre Class.

Mary’s Theatre Glog

Finish Line

To complete the Digital Writing Marathon, participants gather once more to discuss the journey that they completed.  During the 2010-11 Marathon, public participants were required to reflect upon their experiences using Prezi and discussing each of the presentations within the chat.  Each participant then wrote a formal reflection in one of the digital spaces introduced to them during the marathon and e-mailed it to the facilitators.

The race ends with one final discussion in our chat site in May.  Particpants celebrate their work and depart with encouragment for continuing the trek toward digital literacy,