external image moz-screenshot.pngexternal image moz-screenshot-1.pngexternal image moz-screenshot-2.pngI am doing my project on Technology in small writing groups or technology in the writing workshop and just wanted to write and ask you a few questions if you have time...
A. Hi Britney. Thank you for even thinking of me regarding your project and I would be happy to assist you anyway possible.

Q. Hope this does not take up too much time and I really appreciate your help! Also, if there are anymore comments you would like to add on this topic that I did not include in my questions please feel free to share them.
A. It is my pleasure. I like to support my students and in return I may also learn something new along the way. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have. I was once in your shoes as a student and an aspiring educator.

Q. Would you please give me some background about your experiences using technology, in particular I wanted to know more about how it can be used to support writing with students. Have you heard of or used an Alpha Smart before as an example?
A. What a wonderful question and awareness of technology! Yes, I used Alpha Smarts when I taught at West Intermediate and was in a special education classroom focusing on all core subjects. I also had the opportunity to use Alpha Smarts in my general education fourth grade classroom. I am not using them this year because my classroom didn't have any and unlike Pullen, the media center does not have a classroom set to "lend" to rooms. I am comfortable with them and know they are used in other rooms at McGuire.

Q. That's great! Do you mind describing for me exactly what an Alpha Smart is please?
A. No problem at all. An Alpha Smart is a device, like a mini computer or even a notebook or laptop to me that has a keyboard used to help students with typing and word processing skills. You may be a bit young to recall this but it reminds me of an old fashioned typewriter and when I had to take typing classes in high school years ago. Don't ask me what my age is by the way!
Q.. LOL!!! I won't, promise.

Q. Why are Alpha Smarts popular in many schools and districts? I have only heard of them myself within the last year and a half.
A. I can honestly tell you that Alpha Smarts are very popular in schools for a couple reasons. Many times you can actually get them through your Intermediate School District to rent or borrow because they are relatively inexpensive. They may be used if a student has an IEP or a 504 plan for special education to help develop typing and writing skills with students that may have a cognitive or physical impairment among other special education categories. There are programs that can be installed on them to help students learn specific objectives. I wish I had one now to show you. They really do look like laptops and have a full sized QWERTY keyboard.

Q. They sound amazing. How often do you use technology in your classroom for writing?
A. I use technology as frequently as possible, whether for writing or other focuses. As students write in response to reading topics, comprehension questions, or genre exploration they may use references from the web and word processing for their responses. Many times the availability of 3 computers for 26 students means they may be used more for the research element than the writing/editing portion.
Students do use technology with the editing and publishing. We have hand held spell check units (when they work) and the computers for spelling/grammar checks. We take an extra computer lab time about every other week for the purpose of using the computers for creating finished published pieces. Most recently they created poetry books.

Q. You mentioned about the limited number of computers to help students with writing. Is that frustrating?
A. I can tell you that it is frustrating. I know that many schools and districts are struggling with limited resources, finances and declining enrollment. I certainly wish there was more that we could do to get more student computers because it would really benefit my students and give them more opportunities on a daily basis compared to a weekly basis to enhance their typing and writing skills.

Q. Are there certain websites that you would recommend with parents for writing you wouldn't mind sharing at this time?
A. That is a good question. I have not shared any specific websites with parents for writing at this time. Our school website has some student writing samples on it that parents may checkout. I would caution if you or someone else goes online to investigate websites for writing or any other subject areas that they do careful research and make sure that the sites adequately address the proper ways to teach and model things for students to learn correctly. Things should be aligned to the curriculum standards and state expectations.

Q. I never thought to ask this until you brought up your last points, but are there state standards for teaching students writing by using various forms of technology?
A. Certainly! The Michigan Curriculum Framework does have clear guidelines for using technology to assess students when it comes to writing using technology. Students need to be able to access information and be able to write and express themselves and there are multiple forms of technology to accomplish that goal. Students should be able to create, develop and publish written documents and papers and letters using a computer, word processor or even be able to effectively use an interactive smartboard. They should be able to understand and use technology to analyze things that are written and expressed as well.

Q. What are some of the fun things you do to promote the joy of writing with students in your classroom?
A. I strive to have a writing celebration once a month. It's often in the format of an "Author's Chair". If a student doesn't have a polished piece ready to read aloud, the expectation is that they still read something they've written. Sometimes this means it's a part of a writing piece, other times it's the piece but they may say "I'm still working on this” - it's not really edited yet, but I'm excited with "this or that" and wanted to read what I have so far."

Q. Do you encourage the display of student writing samples when they are done using the technology to create it?
A. I enjoy encouraging students and their writing samples by displaying them on bulletin boards or around the classroom. It helps them take pride and ownership over what they have written. I also encourage parents and families to visit our classroom and look at writing samples and work that has been done.

Q. Do you use technology with small groups for something like writer's workshop? Is that effective?
A. Using technology with small groups in writer's workshop, much like any other tool, can enhance or distract from the focus of the task. For some students, the use of the computer or Alpha Smart increases their confidence, others seem to work faster (they realize their time is limited on the computer so they write with greater speed, not necessarily greater skill), while others spend all their time checking other sites that pop up. I'm always excited about new ways to encourage students to write or become more independent. I'm "game" for any method that develops greater student success.

Q. You mentioned something else again that I did not think about when it comes to using technology and writing with students, content filtering! How important is that in the process?
A. It is very important! As a teacher, you must make sure you provide parameters and expectations that students need to follow while using technology. You must monitor students carefully when it comes to computer use. While the majority of students mean no harm and will stay on task, you will have some on occasion that will look try to see what they can get away with, especially as you get in the upper grades. You need content filtering!

Q. How do you get students motivated to want to write?
A. As a teacher you need to make it a part of the expectations in your classroom that all students can be great writers. You need to be the biggest champion that no matter what a student thinks or believes they can be successful writers and lay a foundation for them that they will cultivate for the rest of their lives.

Q. Did you take any courses when you were in college that addressed technology and writing with students?
A. This of course will once again try to date how old I am but when I was going through college, the technology that is available and readily accessible now was not around then. I mentioned about typewriters and word processors emerging on the scene but it was not from the standpoint of being able to work with students, it was about teachers having the skills to use them for lesson plan development and curriculum development.

Q. Are there some writing programs that are commonly used in schools and with students?
A. You may be fully aware of these from your initial experiences in schools, but the two you will hear the most about in the majority of schools now are Lucy Calkins and 6 Traits Writing.

Q. Do they have technology components available to them that students may use? Interactive cd's?
A. I am not sure if they do or not honestly. I know that we have teacher's editions and lessons and activities come out of it but it I do not believe there are accompanying disks for students that have been brought to my attention that can be used on a computer or with an interactive smartboard.

Q. How does a teacher select the appropriate technology tools for writing?
A. In order to select the appropriate technology tools and the writing needs of your students, you need to really be in touch with the students they have and their individual abilities on the writing standards. I have a cross section of students that started the year with difficulties understanding the writing process and elements and some that were indeed advanced. You need to be in tune with the benchmarks, standards and curriculum for your particular grade level so you know how to pace units, lessons and activities. There are so many elements to writing that technology can help to enhance.

Q. What are some of those elements of writing?
A. A great question! Well, students need to have a purpose for writing, to understand what they will take away from the writing experience. In other words, they need to have a connection with the writing topic. As I mentioned before they need to be able to go through the writing process from the initial draft on the computer or print, make edits and corrections and even allow classmates and myself to check over their work before it gets published.
Q. Do you even share student writing samples online?
A. That is another great question. The answer is yes. We have a router and shared drive
in our building and a fiber connection for faster speed links. We have the ability to send and receive information about our school with other schools and grade levels. Through this process is an opportunity to share best practices and student work. So there are opportunities for things to be shared on the internet in safe and controlled settings.

Q. Is this what is meant by digital writing for students?
A. Yes! Digital writing is basically writing that is produced on a computer and shared and sent to others on the internet. Overall it is just an amazing way to share student work. We are also looking at getting wireless capabilities in the school which will make laptops and completing writing samples and posting even easier. Another great thing that students can do in a controlled settings with peers online that they appreciate is web postings though blogs and also children friendly chats and blogs. We really go over the expectations.

Q. Do you even allow the students to write using the overhead projector or put together power point presentations?
A. Absolutely! These are other forms of technology that can indeed be used to enhance and work on writing skills for students. We also use graphic organizers from time to time. I also just remembered that the school has a set of PDA's that rooms may use as well and students practice writing and typing on them as well.

Q. Someone was telling me about Moodle but I admit that I do not know that much about it yet, is this something that you are familiar with?
A. I have heard of Moodle! Are you sure I should not be interviewing you instead. It is a software that you can get to help students learn and is excellent at providing differentiated instruction. I believe it allows teachers to establish groups based on certain writing concepts that students need to focus on and eventually get mastery on. I had forgotten about that and have not used it in my classroom and would love to have some development on it.

Q. I love all aspects of poetry! Do you know if there are any resources that help students write poetry using technology?
A. I am not sure how effective this site is and admit I have not investigated it but I believe there is a site called Poetry4Kids.com that may be helpful. I don't know specifically if it addresses the process of students writing poetry or seeing samples but I hope it would promote the process of writing poetry. I have to admit that the last couple years I have noticed that students are getting more of an appreciation for poetry and I think that is great!

Q: Thank you so much you for taking time out of your busy schedule at this time of the school year to answer my questions.
A. Your topic is great and I hope that there are other people you can gather some ideas from it. :-) I'm always looking for new ideas, too. Hope these responses help.! Marrianne