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Reflections from the First #IRAchat

by Julie D. Ramsay
 | Jul 24, 2013
In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this monthly column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.

Last week marked the maiden voyage of the #IRAchat. Teachers from all areas of education and from diverse geographic locations joined in to discuss digital writing and publishing in the classroom. It was a fun-filled, fast-paced hour of learning connecting and sharing.

As we concluded, I had several thoughts I took away from this experience that I would like to share with you.

Writing is writing whether a student is using a technology tool or paper and pencil.

The writing process does not change just because the tool does. Some students may enjoy writing in a journal with colored pencils, using a combination of words, poetry, and images, while others thrive on creating an interactive book on iBooks Author.

Maybe @seymouresimon tweeted it best: “#IRAchat Some things [are] so obvious, it’s embarrassing saying them. Perhaps we say them anyway: Printed vs. eBooks=who cares? Reading= Yippee.” I think the same applies to writing, no matter the medium. We want our students to become reflective, intentional writers who find a way to share their voices with their global audience across different writing genres. Whether they do that digitally or with more traditional methods does not matter. It’s the depth of the learning that does.

Students need to have choice when deciding how to publish…but we need to remember that technology is just a tool.

There are so many options, and new ones are being created every day. It’s easy to lose sight of what is important: our students’ learning. I think there is a real danger for us as educators to fixate on all the cool tools and then make the tool fit the learning needs of our students. It should be the other way around. We learn our students, and then we look for a tool that fits their needs as writers.

I often hear teachers speak about technology as a mode of motivation to “trick” kids into writing. If we approach writing and publishing in that manner, we are setting our kids up for failure. The problem with thinking that technology tools will motivate our students to write is faulty. I call it the “Christmas Morning Syndrome.” Everything is bright, shiny and new when it first arrives, but after time passes, that new “Christmas toy” is broken, lost, or sitting in some closet gathering dust, leaving the recipient no better off than when it arrived. By focusing on how a tool can meet a specific learning need, we are putting the focus on the student and his/her growth as a writer regardless of the tool that is selected.

As mentioned previously, the students in our classrooms are diverse. No two are alike. Today’s students can be masters and commanders of their learning 24/7 with the devices in the palm of their hands. By having students focus on the writing first, then guiding them in selecting a tool that will amplify their voice to their audience, we are giving them that control in their learning journey—regardless of how they publish.

Amazing things are happening in classrooms all around the world.

Sometimes, I think we get caught up in all the negative publicity surrounding education and we begin to believe the press. As teachers, so often we are behind our classroom doors, fighting the good fight with our students. With our guidance, students are growing tremendously, not only as writers, but also as individuals.

And we are not alone. I know there are success stories out there; all of you graciously shared them during the chat. It was inspirational. As teachers, it is important that we open up those classroom doors and share our success stories. Every educator is in a different place in his or her professional learning journey. We have more stories than the media could handle. Because we live in a digital world, it is now easier than ever to write and share our students’ stories through tools like Twitter, blogs, online communities, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest.

You never know how much your story, no matter how small you feel it may be, will impact someone else. Give them encouragement. Be a model of a life-long writing to your students by sharing your voice with the educational community. Be the voice that inspires others to try new things with their students. (See Living Out Loud.)

We all have writing goals for our students, but we need to remember that the students should drive where their course takes them.

When the last question was asked in the chat last night, I was overwhelmed with ideas for answers. There are so many goals that I want for my students to reach during the next school year, while there are other practices or projects (Global Read Aloud, blogging, ePortfolios) that I would like to tweak in a different way. As I (quickly) pondered this question, the first response was that I wanted for my students to publish books and fill our classroom library and our digital library with their published books. This idea came from a keynote speech from Jane McGonigal who shared that 82% of Americans think that someday they will write a book. My thoughts quickly shifted as I realized that although that may be a draw for many of my students, it will not appeal to some of them.

Our goals are great. We all need them. However, I was reminded as I watched the answers coming through the chat, that although we do need a plan, our plans need to be flexible to meet the needs of our students. We will have students who are (initially) resistant to reading and writing. But, once we get to know them, their interests, their strengths, and their challenges, we will be able to guide them towards writing and publishing options that appeal to them. Where writing a book may cause complete shutdown for one student, writing a script and publishing a movie may send his/her motivation and enthusiasm through the roof.

This realization, and all of your wonderful comments, reminded me that the place we really need to begin is with our students. Once we know our students, then we can find the strategies and tools that will help us to propel them into the wonderful world of writing, giving them a voice in this crazy world of ours.

These were some of the insights that I gained from #IRAchat. I would love to hear your “take-aways.” If you weren’t able to join in the live chat, be sure to check out the Storify recap, and then add your thoughts in a comment here.

Best wishes on guiding your students into amazing writing and publishing activities in this next school year.

Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator and the author of “CAN WE SKIP LUNCH AND KEEP WRITING?”: COLLABORATING IN CLASS & ONLINE, GRADES 3-8 (Stenhouse, 2011). She teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She also travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.

© 2013 Julie D. Ramsay. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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