Redefining the Writing Process with iPads | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Take a moment to think about how you learned to write. What steps did you go through? What was your process?

Most of us learned the same core set of skills on paper: organize, draft, edit, revise, turn in. Our teachers then marked up what we had handwritten or typed, and returned our writing. From there, maybe it ended up tacked to a bulletin board, stuck on the refrigerator door, stuffed into a notebook, or tossed in the nearest trash can. Let's call this Writing 1.0.

When computers entered into the equation, we digitized the process. Instead of organizing and outlining on paper, we incorporated graphic organizer tools such as Inspiration or MindMeister. Students and teachers began to draft digitally with word processing programs, and it became possible to offer feedback by inserting comments or typing directly into the document. Not only did these augmentations add efficiency to the process, but they also allowed for completed works to be published to the web. With Writing 2.0, the process became public.

In the progression from Writing 1.0 to 2.0, we digitally enhanced an existing process. If we examined it through the lens of Dr. Ruben Puentedura's SAMR model, we might have stepped from "substitution" to "augmentation," allowing the technology to provide "functional improvement." With iPads, the goal should not be to apply the paper or digital processes in the same way, but to consider how we can leverage the capabilities of the device in order to "modify" and "redefine" what's possible.

Credit: Beth Holland

With what we'll call Writing 3.0, students and teachers can:

  • Organize and draft through handwriting, drawing, text and voice
  • Collaborate and incorporate multimodal feedback
  • Create a final product that demonstrates mastery and communicates understanding beyond the literal confines of paper

Organizing & Drafting

With iPads, writing has becoming mobile, not just in the sense that we can write anywhere -- in some ways, we could do that with paper -- but that we can use the tools and features of the devices to scaffold our process both in terms of the output and the input.

Imagine a student who benefits from the tactile nature of handwriting. That student could brainstorm on paper, take a picture with an iPad, bring it into a word processing app such as Pages, and continue the process through typing. Consider the student who might outline by hand with Penultimate, import the picture into Evernote, and then incorporate Siri to dictate further ideas

Credit: Beth Holland

Even brainstorming can become more flexible as students draw, type and speak into graphic organizers or incorporate apps such as Popplet and Idea Sketch to capture their thinking. With iPads, we have options. Students and teachers can incorporate any or all of these capabilities to create a custom writing process that best fits their learning styles.

Collaboration and Feedback

"Providing written feedback at the culmination of a writing project is like doing an autopsy -- it's deconstructing a dead document!" -- Samantha Morra (@sammorra)

When paired with collaborative writing tools such as Drive and Evernote, the writing and feedback process comes alive. Students and teachers can watch and comment on the process, in real-time, through shared documents or notes. While this process could occur on any device, when combined with the tactile nature of iPads, as well as the ability to quickly record and publish video, a new realm of feedback emerges. Imagine a scenario where students receive not only an annotated version of their draft, but also a video of either their teacher or peer reading it.

Credit: ScreenChomp

Using a screencasting app such as ScreenChomp or Explain Everything, teachers could provide feedback in their own voice. Students could then view, pause and review that feedback while revising their work. With those same screencasting apps, students could create videos for each other as part of a peer editing process -- simultaneously providing teachers with an insight into the thinking of the reviewers.

Writing Products

If the learning objective is to craft a well-written thesis statement and organize supporting details into coherent paragraphs, then an essay is absolutely the right choice for a writing product. In fact, being able to communicate clearly through writing continues to be a critical skill. However, writing does not only imply paragraph-based assignments.

"Yet, in order for educational technology to transcend its past patterns, paperless work will need to expand beyond the confines of an 8½ x 11 mindset, not just the 8½ x 11 page.” -- Shawn McCusker, Defining Paperless 2.0

Though the concept of creating a book may not be new, what about creating a book that includes text, photos, audio and video, plus incorporates pages created by students in two countries?!

Last spring, using Book Creator, students from the Burley School in Chicago, Illinois, collaborated with Arskóli in Saudarkrokur, Iceland to co-author a book about communities. In addition to learning and experiencing each others' cultures, engaging in inquiry, and fostering global connections, the students worked on their writing and storytelling skills.

Credit: Carolyn Skibba (@skibtech) & Ingvi Hrannar Omarsson (@IngviOmarsson)

With iPads, once we begin thinking beyond the confines of a page, anything is possible. Consider the video below created several years ago by two of my students. First they wrote plot summaries. Then they wrote character sketches. From there, they crafted paragraphs about theme, tying the visual and auditory elements of their videos back to the books. Finally, they created storyboards and bibliographies before producing and publishing their final product.

While these eighth graders still engaged in the time-honored process of organizing, drafting, editing, revising and turning in a product, their final audience has spanned well beyond a single teacher or the refrigerator door. Imagine the potential for students, armed with iPads, to connect not only with the final product of their writing, but also with their process.

Comments (10)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Nichole Carter's picture
Nichole Carter
Eighth grade ELA teacher from Portland, OR.

Thank you so much for this article, I believe in all the things posted at the beginning as I am in a 1:1 iPad school our English department has been amazed at the improvement in revision we have seen while giving live feedback through the writing process. The real reason I had to comment was because I was currently hoping to brainstorm and come up with an idea for the unit we will be starting after Thanksgiving break- lit circles with science fiction- we are focusing on 8.RL.1 & 8.RL.2 theme and textual support. The thing is I didn't want it to be traditional "write a paragraph and turn it in." I was looking for a project, I loved your ideas at the end of the article and am planning on incorporating something similar with my students. Thank you so much for sharing, my mind is working overtime right now!

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Instructor and Communications Coordinator at EdTechTeacher

Hi Nichole.
Glad to have been able to help! Here are a few ideas to add to your brainstorming process:

  1. iPads & Literature Circles from MrG Online -
  2. Creating Graphic Novels from Calgary Science School -

If you are doing Science Fiction, maybe some students might like an alterative approach.
Good luck! I'd be interested in knowing what you decide to do in the end.

slash's picture

Thank you for the fantastic article, great tips that i'm sure I'll be using with my students. I've been looking for some some ideas for writing projects, thank you.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Nicole-

One idea I've always loved is for kids to go beyond the page and even interview each other as they take on the role of a character, and talk to them what they are doing now, outside of the story. ipads could be used to record video or audio podcasts of the interviews, as well as the prep; often designing both the questions and having the other person or group really inhabit the characters (think chat show like Oprah) still allows the students to demonstrate mastery of the characters and material in the books, yet take it to the next level, discussing character choices, motivation, and what happens next in the narrative. Could be fun to try.... Let us know what you decide!

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Instructor and Communications Coordinator at EdTechTeacher

That's a great idea! Dan Callahan (@dancallahan) did some fantastic book talks with his students as well. They filmed themselves talking about the books as they walked through the library, giving it a great context.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

This is an excellent analysis, so thank you! I really think that it is vital that we, as teachers, begin to consider what writing - and reading - will look like in this new century, as old pen and paper models are left behind. The SAMR model is a great way to start.

Nichole Carter's picture
Nichole Carter
Eighth grade ELA teacher from Portland, OR.

So I went ahead with the movie trailer idea we were working 8.RL.2 (theme) they read leveled novels in groups, so group discussions where happening as they go as well as working through a packet to help them develop their ideas for their book trailer. I loved the group discussions as I used Google scripts (autocrat) and QR codes to develop a pretty great system of note taking and discussion. They then spent about a week on the book trailers. I think they turned out pretty well especially since we went with the iPads instead of the Macbooks. The kids were more comfortable with their iPads and we were having saving issues with the laptops. Any way a brief explanation and the playlist can be found here:

Again thank you so much for the inspiration on this project and a few other members on my department were inspired by the idea as well.

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Instructor and Communications Coordinator at EdTechTeacher

These are fabulous! Thank you so much for sharing.

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