My name is Kim Kather, and I'm currently in my third semester of the Curriculum Development and Instructional Design Masters program at SUNY Albany. I earned a Bachelors in Flute Performance from Ithaca College in 2003 and a Masters in Teaching Adolescent English from SUNY Cortland in 2005. For the past 15 years, I have been teaching 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts at Pal-Mac Middle School in Palmyra, New York.
I love teaching middle schoolers and seeing them grow as readers, writers, thinkers, and communicators over the two years I have them. I am also passionate about learning as much as I can to develop and improve my craft. I have served in the roles of building and district ELA lead teacher for my district, and I was honored to accept the Middle School Teacher of the Year Award from my Board of Education in 2015.
In my free time, I am an avid reader. I especially enjoy science fiction, dystopian, and gothic literature. Some of my favorite authors are Margaret Atwood, Pierce Brown, Neal Shusterman, and Dave Eggers. I also love consuming stories in the form of binge-worthy TV series! My other favorite activities include running, hanging out with family, making bead art, and snuggling up my furry kids. As side hustles, I teach Zumba and paint houses.
My Topic and Purpose
The Next Generation Standards for English Language Arts emphasize three genres of writing students should engage with every year: narrative, information, and argument. They state students will write for multiple purposes (to entertain, to explain, to persuade) and learn about various print and digital tools to produce and share writing. In addition, they suggest students should continue to learn about how technology and digital tools for writing can increase learning and communication.
While print literacy is not becoming obsolete, it is certainly changing as a result of a rapidly evolving digital world. As middle and high school-level teachers of writing, it’s time to “upgrade” our instruction to incorporate new ways of writing in digital environments. In this course, you will learn how to transform your current narrative, information, and argument writing assignments into more relevant and dynamic projects for 21st century learners. We will explore:
- Elements of visual design in digital texts
- New media and hybrid forms of writing for the web
- How multimedia (image, audio, video) is changing how we read and write
- The dialogic and interactive nature of digital text creation
- Potential for amplifying youth voices through social media
- Web texts as mentors and publishing for authentic audiences
Scope of Learning Outcomes and Content
This course is designed around four main learning goals:
- Appreciate why digital writing matters
- Explore alternative formats for writing (moving beyond essays and powerpoints)
- Investigate diverse technology and digital tools for writing
- Examine new approaches to narrative, information, and argument writing
In Crafting Digital Writing, Troy Hicks writes, “The question is no longer whether we should use technology to teach writing; instead we must focus on the many ways we must use technology to teach writing” (p. 2). In our ever-changing digital world, and with the current emphasis on virtual learning in K-12 education, teachers of writing are faced with new decisions and responsibilities in regards to incorporating new media into existing traditional literacies.
In an informal survey of digital writing knowledge and practices, several teachers defined digital writing as any writing done on a device or using technology. Most shared that they utilize Google Docs and Slides for student production of writing, and some cited particular genres of writing students produce digitally such as newspaper articles, film reviews, short stories, and resumes. However, in terms of incorporating multimedia and design skills, very few teachers provided examples beyond layout and formatting in Google Slides.
Dan Waber, a multimedia artist and specialist in electronic literature, defines digital writing as “writing which, at minimum, would be diminished if it were presented in a non-digital format, and at best, which is effectively untranslatable out of the digital format.” It seems that not enough educators are teaching students how “to take advantage of the elements of media--words, images, sounds, videos, links--that contribute to the meaning in a digital text” (Hicks, p. 13). Design is closely connected with content, and we need to teach students how to use technology to enhance writing craft.
According to Turner & Hicks, “digital writing requires us to make intentional choices about what we want to say, as well as how we choose the media in which to say it” (p. 11). This kind of writing requires technical knowledge as well as deep understanding of audience, purpose, and context. Thus, teachers of writing must support students in “understanding the complexities of communicating in a twenty-first century world” (National Writing Project, p. 2). This begins with studying students’ digital and literacy practices outside of school and considering how we can incorporate similar elements of customization and interaction in the writing projects we assign.
Young people are engaged in a multipurpose, highly participatory “always on” relationship with digital media (Ito et al., 2008). Because focus has been shifted from individual expression to community involvement, “the new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking” (Jenkins et al., 2006). It is increasingly essential that we integrate the study of media-rich, interactive digital texts and writing into our curriculum, so our students become the kind of social content creators who will make a difference in the real world.
Analysis of the Learner and Context
The teachers I surveyed incorporate digital writing on a range of levels from word processing to maintaining a professional social media portfolio for future businesses. All agreed on the importance of teaching digital writing, but concerns were brought up about time, professional development, and authenticity. There were specific requests for high-quality digital mentor texts, resources for creating and publishing digital texts, and ideas for digital writing projects in the genres of narrative, information, and argument.
Although I collected few responses, my experience and research affirms that the results are likely representative of a wider population. With very little time and amidst increasing pressure to create meaningful online learning experiences for students, middle and high school teachers can benefit from focused professional development on what digital writing is and how to incorporate it into their curriculum.
This course is aimed at grades 6-12 English Language Arts teachers, literacy specialists, program coordinators, and administrators.
- Participants will define digital writing and explain how it differs from traditional writing.
- Participants will compare and contrast various digital writing genres in terms of their usefulness in the classroom and current curriculum.
- Partipants will analyze digital mentor texts for craft and standards alignment.
- Participants will design a writing unit/project for their students that incorporates digital writing/new media literacies.
Unit 1: What is digital writing and why does it matter?
- Define digital writing.
- Differentiate between digital and traditional texts.
- Explain the relevance, purpose, and importance of digital writing for 21st century learners.
Unit 2: How can I meet the standards through digital writing projects?
- Identify digital genres that align with CCLS standards for narrative, information, and argument writing.
- Recognize how digital writing craft aligns with CCLS standards for multimedia, research, presentation, and speaking skills.
- Determine correlations between digital writing and 21st century skills.
Unit 3: What types of digital writing can I have my students create?
- Explore multiple forms of digital writing including blogs, wikis, digital essays, and websites.
- Investigate the unique features and purposes of various digital media genres.
- Identify ways to incorporate new forms of digital writing into current curricular projects.
Unit 4: How can I teach author's craft through digital writing?
- Investigate the use of media craft techniques in digital writing.
- Evaluate mentor texts based on the CWPA Habits of Mind and MAPS.
- Develop final project through Habits of Mind and MAPS descriptors.
References and Resources
DeVoss, D. N., Eidman-Aadahl, E., & Hicks, T. (2010). Because digital writing matters: Improving student writing in online and multimedia environments. John Wiley & Sons.
Hicks, T. (2013). Crafting digital writing: Composing texts across media and genres. Heinemann.
Turner, K. H., & Hicks, T. (2017). Argument in the real world: Teaching adolescents to read and write digital texts. Heinemann.