Module 2 Reflection – for EDTC6433

I teach a Creative Writing elective. I chose to read Ellen Madden’s article on digital storytelling in search of a tech-savvy (ok, brag-worthy) instructional gimmick that might impress a room full of kids who would rather take their digital tech class again. But what I found was much more practical – and much more exciting – than a gimmick. Madden follows two teachers as they plan and implement a digital storytelling unit on The Outsiders. In this extremely practical overview of how we can use digital storytelling to target English Language Arts CCSS proficiency, Madden describes teacher approach, instructional methods, and the task of teaching the tech alongside the standards and the novel.

Let me explain why this is such a big deal. To start, here’s an example of something I’m trying to squeeze out of apathetic and underserved (but completely delightful) 6th graders in Language Arts:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.5 – Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.

I want my students to be able to analyze one moment in an unfolding plot, and then tell me how it relates to the bigger picture. To comprehend a novel’s themes, students must drill down into key passages to analyze and make connections. So I might ask my students to analyze one chapter of the novel we’re reading right now, and tell me what that chapter contributes to the novel’s themes. How does the author use Chapter 9 to make some statement about friendship, or culture, or identity?

When I ask questions like this, I’m placing my students across the table from a text or author, in a posture of interrogation. This is great fun for a grown up with an English degree; I know what questions to ask. But many 6th graders aren’t great interrogators – they don’t always have specific questions about plot elements or character change. They aren’t interested in Socratic discovery. They are interested in making stuff.

In 2010, Grunwald Associates LLC reported that, “Teachers value digital media as instructional resources that empower them to engage student interest, promote creativity, and differentiate instruction.” It follows that, when I invite my students to create a digital representation of a text, I’m inviting them to sit next to – not across from – the author. Using a digital storytelling platform (my district uses Microsoft Sway) students look at the text and the author’s strategies as a co-creator.  This kind of creative imitation requires just as much analysis as interrogation, but it’s a great deal more accessible to kids. In other words, it’s fun.

Madden describes how the process of digital storytelling can be broken down into meaningful pieces which more explicitly reveal different elements of the story. The process begins with personal preference and individual goals – students choose the scene they find most compelling, and set out to convey that scene’s unique tone.  Students also manage their own learning throughout the process as they work to meet mini-deadlines, continually evaluating their progress.  Teachers can leverage these deadlines to blend instruction with assessment by explicitly tying all this creative activity to the technical concepts of characterization, setting, and juxtaposition.  Most importantly, students learn literary concepts by rolling up their sleeves and interacting with the text in a personal way.  As students create alongside the author, they confront a sincere need to communicate their ideas well. They are compelled to look more closely at what the author is doing – how the bullets flying in the background highlight the life-giving quality of friendship (or whatever). Re-creating the tone of a scene requires students to choose and consistently fold in repeated contributions to that tone – the way an author does.  They learn what tone is by “doing” tone – this is the very definition of authentic learning!


Maddin, Ellen (2013) Teaching Literary Analysis with Digital Storytelling: An Instructional Approach [PDF]. Retrieved from

Grunwald Associates, LLC (2010). Deepening Connections: Teachers Increasingly Rely on Media and Technology. Retrieved from


Module 1 Reflection – for EDTC6433

My triggering event question for this standard: How can I use technology to promote authenticity among my grade 6-8 Creative Writing students?

The question I claimed to be researching was specific enough, but as I read articles looking for an answer, I spiraled out of control.  There’s a lot of jargon out there.  How can I be sure that implementing these technologies in the classroom will benefit students?  Education tech definitely sounds cool; kids will probably like this stuff, but will they learn more?  Or, to more specifically return to my question, will technology help my creative writing students begin to write more significant, more important pieces?  Will technology motivate better writing?

Three sources have shaped my thoughts on this question:

SAMR Duckworth Illustration

Image credit: Sylvia Duckworth, via @DavidGuerin

First: Angela Duckworth’s illustration of what’s called the “SAMR Model” clarifies that there are different levels of technology integration.  My quest for the right educational technology needs to be informed by this spectrum of integration.  Is the app or program in question a mere substitute for pen and paper?  Substitutes about, and these may not deliver the increased engagement and achievement they promise.  Duckworth’s model helped me pinpoint the level of integration I’m aiming for.  If I’m going to ask my students to work with something other than Microsoft Word, I want reasonable assurance that the technology will not merely enhance, but transform their writing experience.

So began a second movement in Module 1: the quest for statistical evidence of transformation!  As I mentioned, there’s a lot of jargon out there.  But I can’t assume that every article using the word “catalyze” promotes a learning technology that will transform a learning experience. Fortunately, a groupmate posted Marzano’s article on the use and effectiveness of interactive whiteboards.  While interactive whiteboards most likely won’t be the key to more authentic writing for my middle schoolers, the article highlights some valuable principles of technology integration that helped me sort out my thoughts on our Module 1 articles.  Marzano reports that “…using interactive whiteboards was associated with a 16 percentile point gain in student achievement.” He unpacks the specific attributes of interactive whiteboards which boost learning, one of which is learner response devices (such as clickers).  These devices might be used as a substitute for the raising of hands or other formative assessment measures (thumbs up or down, fist-to-five), but thoughtful teacher application can make clickers a more transformative tool.

The resource most relevant to my question was shared by another classmate.  Writing Re-launched focused on using technology to transform writing instruction.  This article affirmed and powerfully justified some of the claims made in my earlier reading about the ways in which tech can increase motivation and engagement. The article (as well as several of my classmates) recommends requiring students to create and publish writing to a blog in order to raise the stakes on content and conventions.  This is a hard pill for me to swallow. My own bPortfolio makes me shut down; it brings out the very ugliest aspect of the writing process.  The pain.  (See timestamp on this post.)  So I hesitate to ask this of my students.

But as Greenhow et al have pointed out, I need to think about how kids express themselves these days. They aren’t finding their voice between the covers of their journal; they’re engaging in high-stakes identity formation on the world wide web.  Equally importantly, their jobs (or their graduate school programs, I’ll bet) will likely ask them to engage in dialogue over internet platforms as well.  Web writing is the most authentic (significant, relevant, real world) writing available.

So I’ll consider the blog thing.  Thanks for reading.

Reference: Greenhow, C., Robelia, B., Hughes, J. (2009). Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age. Web 2.0 and Classroom Research: What Path Should We Take Now? Educational Researcher. 38(4). 246-259.

Heitin, Liana. Writing re-launched: Teaching with digital tools. (2011, April 4). In Education week: Teacher PD sourcebook. Retrieved from