Curriculum Opinion

‘Reinventing Writing': An Interview With Vicki Davis

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 29, 2014 4 min read
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Vicki Davis, known in education technology circles around the world as “Cool Cat Teacher,” is one of the Web’s most popular writers about ed tech.

She recently agreed to answer a few questions about her new book, Reinventing Writing:

LF: You titled your book , “Reinventing Writing.” Obviously, technology can have a big impact on the classroom, but what makes you believe that its effect is as dramatic as the word “reinventing” implies?

Vicki Davis:

The printing press transformed the world because books could be mass produced. Now we have technology that has transformed how we write and yet if you look in many schools you’ll still see students handwriting essays and notecards. You’ll see them printing out massive reams of paper and punching the notes to put them in notebooks. We haven’t transformed writing in most schools.

In our school we were tasked to write across the curriculum and went through training. But after I went through the training I found that everything was “old school” and didn’t fit with my technology classroom. As I started writing intentionally with my students -- blogging, social bookmarking, mindmapping, collaborative writing, wikis and more -- I found that students were more engaged and excited about writing than they were in some of their other classes. After a three year journey into reinventing writing in my own classroom (along with lots of research on today’s best practice) I realized that I had a book that would help other teachers too. Writing has been reinvented and teachers need a guidebook on how to engage their students.

LF: Your book is chock full of tips on how a teacher can use technology in writing instruction. Can you highlight three of them that you think are particularly important?

Vicki Davis:

First, collaborative writing is becoming part of many classrooms but many teachers are forgetting prewriting. Students should be mindmapping together and collaboratively prewriting in all kinds of ways as they prepare to draft their document. This also applies to any type of writing -- prewrite then write.

Second, the way students research their term papers and research needs to be easier. Note cards have been reinvented but online we call this “social bookmarking.” I think Diigo is an incredibly useful tool for student researchers and teachers to share before writing even begins. It is particularly important to help students synthesize and put a summary of their findings on their digital note card. If they synthesize at this point, I believe they are far less likely to plagiarize.

Finally, wikis are a completely new tool that allow us to do things we could not do on paper. I think every school must incorporate wikis into their writing programs if they hope to claim the 21st century title on their program of education.

In the book I cover 9 ways writing has been reinvented. I took all the ways we were writing and put them on post it notes and then started grouping them. All nine are important for 21st century schools. Paper still has a place but not everyplace.

LF: One of the challenges in writing a book about technology is that the tech changes so much and so quickly. Do you think your book will have a longer “shelf-life” than most?

Vicki Davis:

In this book I’ve focused on the why-to and overviews of the use of the tool. I also share how to join with communities of learners to get specific help. In the book I share solutions to the most common big picture problems of using the tool but I don’t get into the point and click how-to that you can find online. Anything that can change rapidly, I link to the online wiki or online resources so they can still get answers without dating the book.

LF: What advice do you have for many teachers who have very limited access to technology?

Vicki Davis:

Use what you have. Do what you can. In Reinventing Writing’s last chapter I share my strategy of innovation: innovate like a turtle. The turtle plods ahead a little bit every day and that is what we must do. The question is not where we’ll end up - it is what we’ll do next. However if we don’t take the next step forward, we’ll become irrelevant. We cannot let obstinance become obsolescence. If we are obstinate about anything it must be that our times are changing and we must move forward and innovate in some way. Our students are facing changing times and they’ll have to adapt. When we as teachers refuse to adapt, we lose our credibility as lead learner.

LF: Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to share?

Vicki Davis:

Although we reinvent writing, it doesn’t mean that teachers who teach writing without technology are irrelevant. We have new tools that can empower us to reach every child. We can foster a love of writing like never before. I also think that many overworked teachers are missing out on the opportunity of how exciting it can be as students provide feedback to each other. If students are just doing work for your wastebasket, you’re missing out on audience. These new tools aren’t as new as they used to be and there is a massive amount of best practice being built around each of them. Reinventing Writing is my guidebook for educators and schools everywhere who are ready to find what’s next so they can take writing to the next level (and yes, it aligns with standards.)

LF: Thanks, Vicki!

I’ll be posting the next “question-of-the-week” tomorrow....

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.