Vicki Davis is known far and wide as the “Cool Cat Teacher” and has one of the most widely read education technology blogs The Cool Cat Teacher. She recently published a new book “Reinventing Writing: The 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Teaching, and Learning Forever.” She was gracious enough to answer ten questions about the book. As always, with all author interviews, the answers are unedited.
Q: Can you give us a 10,000 foot view of your new book “Reinventing Writing: The 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Teaching, and Learning Forever?”
We have incredible new tools to teach writers that will empower peer review, make assessment easier, and unleash collaboration and yet so many schools are still satisfied with just typing the same old paper essay. I wanted to write an approachable book that any teacher could understand about how to teach writing in school. To get started, I took the 60+ tools I’ve used in my own classroom and wrote them on post it notes to determine just what categories of writing we should talk about. I simple ways to select the right tool, set it up quickly, and how to prevent common mistakes and demonstrate how it has never been easier, more convenient or more important than right now. Every teacher or school who teaches writing or uses writing across the curriculum principles will want this book as a reference.
Q: I hear a lot of teachers tell me that technology tools are taking something out of learning. Some say that it removes that personal touch. Do you find that to be true? What do you say to those that think technology is going to somehow lessen their roles as teachers?
If you use it collaboratively it can connect learners and engage communities. This is a hard one because change is hard. I would say that it depends on how they are connecting students. If students are now just connected to a machine then yes, we’ve moved one step closer away from human touch. However, I see technology as always being about people. When my students write with kids in Iowa or masters students in Alaska - they are connecting in a new, powerful way.
Teachers need to know how to: 1) engage peer review and feedback every day and 2) interact with their students online and 3) connect their classrooms with other learners from around the world. These three things can supercharge learning and writing.
As for lessening our roles as teachers, we are connectors, coaches, and lead learners. Research shows that teachers remain and continue to be the single most important factor for student achievement. While the effectiveness of the school and a student’s background do factor in greatly, not as much as the teacher in the classroom.
By learning and improving our practice continually, we can become more effective teachers every day. In the south we say “when you’re green, you’re growing, when you’re ripe, you rot.” As a teacher, we’re never ripe - we must always grow and learn the best practices to help our students – that is what makes us more effective.
Q: How is writing changing?
We can now collaborate and give peer feedback. Tools like Kaizana let us leave voice feedback (an important best practice for struggling writers.)
I heard someone who observed a teacher who had a 1:1 iPad classroom. Her students wrote, stacked their iPads on her desk. She looked at them and checked them off and handed them back. If you look at the SAMR model – the lowest level is just “Substitution.” This means that technology has just been substituted for something that was already done – in this case paper. iPads are expensive replacements for paper and this classroom totally missed the point of what writing using technology can do!
The last stage of SAMR is Redefinition and that is where I want to help teachers understand how new tools are redefining how we can teach. We still incorporate some of the older things that we used to do, but now we redefine. For example, ProWriting Aid is such a powerful tool for grammar and style, what teacher wouldn’t want to use the free version of that with Google Docs? (It works free for under 1,000 words.)
Q: What should we be saying to students about the future of writing? What should we be saying to teachers?
Writing is still essential to being well educated. While some call video “the book of the future” - great videos have scripts and descriptions and blog posts written about them. And yet, when we write in schools, students must see themselves as professionals. I teach my students that they are professional students. How they write in their social lives is up to them, but when they are professionals they must write in ways that include others. While English is being used by many around the world, our dependence upon translator apps means that when we write in nonstandard ways and ignore punctuation and capitalization that we are excluding some people from understanding our work. Most students who haven’t been taught immediately resort to terrible grammar, spelling, and punctuation when they go online. We must help them understand that their job is as a professional student so we can help them shift gears and thrive in the academic and business world. We should also help them see and enjoy the beauty, wonder, and art of good writing (and reading).
I believe most teachers love their students and want to help students succeed. To do this, we have to shift our minds and modalities out of the 20th century in which we were raised. Remember your grandparents who used to say, “I used to walk two miles to school and why don’t you? It was good enough for me and it is good enough for you.” The way we were taught was born out of another century. While there are some things we can use, we’ve got a wealth of research and innovation at our fingertips now. We know so much more about the human brain and learning. Add to that the proliferation of conditions like ADD and special needs and we have a completely new age of teaching. We can thrive and not just survive in this world today as teachers but we must learn how.
I want teachers to be empowered and encouraged and Reinventing Writing is a book about hope. In the final chapter I share my strategy of innovation for overwhelmed teachers – Innovate like a turtle. Enough said. ;-)
Q: One concern that many educators have is that paper and pens are ubiquitous, while iPads and other technology is not available to everyone. What are your thoughts on that?
You use what you have. Paper and pens are still part of writing - of course. But as other devices proliferate we must use them to help students collaborate. My school is a BYOD school but not all students have full sized devices, so much of our writing is taught in our computer lab. .
Schools who do not have every single student in their middle and high school writing electronically should reexamine and restructure what they’re doing. I recommend that the school and district take the free survey from Project 24 (http://all4ed.org/issues/project-24/) and benchmark what they are doing against best practices for 21st century schools. .
We use what we have but we also push forward to what we must do. Most teachers do have their own computing device, this book will help them improve their own writing and co-planning until they can help their students with writing. It starts with you learning and with the massive movement towards technology in every school, the time to learn is now..
Q: Something I always hear from teachers is that there are no actual, real life, in-the-classroom examples of what us Ed Tech people are advocating. How do you address that in your book?.
I am a classroom teacher - every single tool in the book I have used with my students. Everything I write is born out of personal experience and recommendations from other teachers. Quite a few chapters also had collaborative editors – teachers who added their thoughts and shared. Those chapters were actually written in Google Docs! Those who follow my Cool Cat Teacher blog will know that I’m pretty practical and this book is an example. .
I do have two pieces from researchers where appropriate – one on wikis by Dr. Justin Reich of Harvard University and another on cooperation vs. collaboration from Dr. Mary Friend Shepherd. Sue Waters also shares best practices for teaching blogging from her experiences with tens of thousands of teachers on Edublogs. .
Q: Why just nine tools? Aren’t there a million?
Back to the post it notes from the beginning. There are many many tools but when I took the 60+ tools I was using in my classroom to teach writing and began grouping them, I saw patterns emerge. I also wanted to help teachers understand just what had been reinvented in their classroom.
For example, Reinventing Your Filing Cabinet talks about Cloud Storage like Dropbox, Google Drive, and One Drive and how to store files. Reinventing Prewriting talks about brainstorming tools and graphic organizers. Reinventing Paper talks about ePaper and eBooks and Reinventing Notetaking gets into Evernote and One Note and how to take notes electronically. You get the idea. There are basic things in the classroom which have transformed and there may be several tools that can be used in that category of tool. So, it would be 9 categories of tools I guess you could say.
Q: I am a teacher and I say to you: “These are just more things I have to learn. I don’t have time.” What do you answer back?
I say read Chapter 13 - my personal strategy of innovation. As I work to improve I keep a list of my big three - what are the next three things I’m going to learn. In the past three years one of my things was writing. We implemented a program in my school called “Writing Across the Curriculum” - which I thing is important. But in my technology-centric classroom I found it was so hard. As I pushed forward and got every student to write eagerly and often, I wanted it to be easier for other teachers.
So, if writing is your thing to improve - just read the book and then come up with your big three. I always recommend that overwhelmed teachers read the last chapter first as it calms them down. Too many of us get into overload paralysis instead of just plodding ahead like a turtle one flipper at a time.
Q: What did you hope to accomplish by writing this book?
I want to make writing with technology easy, approachable, and more effective. Writing teachers are on a hamster wheel being asked to run faster and faster and it is killing many of them. I have friends who grade essays every night and you could hang clothes hangers on the bags under their eyes by the end of the school year. IT DOESN"T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!!
There are simple ways to improve writing and to harness the power of peers. I have a whole chapter on building a community of writers because I think that so many do not unleash the power and engagement of a writing community.
I’m so grateful for the teachers who helped me journal, write, and even publish my own work in high school. I want to help more teachers reach more students than ever. Students who write and publish online are students with a voice - I want that for every student.
Teachers are amazing professionals but they often just want to know a practical how-to and advice. This book is my effort to give them that - from a real classroom teacher. I wrote it at 4:45 each morning over the past two years and quite a bit last summer.
Q: I always like to ask this question to all the authors: Who is listening?
Great question. To me the question is more about conversation. When I write I put my Twitter handle on the cover. When someone reads a book or blog post of mine, I want to engage in conversation with my fellow teachers.
So, we’ve had some great conversation - some are using #reinventingwriting and others are just messaging me about the book. Right now, many teachers feel the relief of just picking 3 things and starting on those. Many are starting at different places. I’m seeing elementary teachers focus on prewriting tools and infographics and using Voicethread to help students speak with topic sentences so they’ll be able to write with them. Lots of elementary classrooms are starting to publish their own ebooks and teachers are running class twitter accounts as I discuss in the Reinventing Journals: Blogging & Microblogging Chapter.
Middle school teachers seem to be heavily into collaborative writing and peer review and using tools like Kaizena and Google Docs for feedback. High school teachers are using all of these things but also getting into ebooks, epaper, and all of the great citations tools as well as the research tools in the book. The “term paper” process is evolving and students are getting far more feedback along the way from peers instead of the teacher having to be the one reviewer.
All classrooms are publishing and sharing and Quadblogging is becoming wildly popular. There is a ton of conversation on the difference between journaling and blogging (and rightly so.)
I’m getting ready to create a group on Voxer for the teachers who are having these conversations. I think excellent books in today’s educational circles become conduits for conversation. So, I want to facilitate connections between teachers so they can share best practices. Reinventing Writing gives them a common starting point.
So, who is talking about reinventing writing the concept? Every single school moving into the 21st century. Reinventing Writing is rapidly become part of that conversation and that is exciting to see.
Thanks again for taking time to answer these questions Vicki.
Thanks for including me!
The book is:
Reinventing Writing: The 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Teaching, and Learning Forever
From the Publisher:
In this much-anticipated book from acclaimed blogger Vicki Davis (Cool Cat Teacher), you’ll learn the key shifts in writing instruction necessary to move students forward in today’s world. Vicki describes how the elements of traditional writing are being reinvented with cloud-based tools. Instead of paper, note taking, filing cabinets, word processors, and group reports, we now have tools like ePaper, eBooks, social bookmarking, cloud syncing, infographics, and more. Vicki shows you how to select the right tool, set it up quickly, and prevent common mistakes. She also helps you teach digital citizenship and offers exciting ways to build writing communities where students love to learn.
Essential questions at the start of each chapter to get you thinking about the big ideas
A chapter on each of the nine essential cloud-based tools–ePaper and eBooks; digital notebooks; social bookmarking; cloud syncing; cloud writing apps; blogging and microblogging; wikis and website builders; online graphic organizers and mind maps; and cartoons and infographics
A wide variety of practical ways to use each tool in the classroom
Alignments to the Common Core State Standards in writing
Level Up Learning–a special section at the end of each chapter to help you review, reflect on, and apply what you’ve learned
Writing tips to help you make the best use of the tools and avoid common pitfalls
A glossary of key terms discussed in the book
Useful appendices, including reproducible material for your classroom
No matter what grade level you teach or how much tech experience you have, you will benefit from Vicki’s compelling and practical ideas. As she emphasizes throughout this essential book, teaching with cloud-based tools has never been easier, more convenient, or more important than right now.
About Vicki Davis:
Vicki Adams Davis (1969- ) Through her blog, “Cool Cat Teacher,” Vicki helps educators teach with better results, lead with a positive impact, and live with a greater purpose.
Vicki teaches full time in Camilla, Georgia at Westwood Schools where she teaches technology and business courses for grades 8-12 and serves as IT Director for the school. With more than 70,000 Twitter followers Vicki was named one of “Twitter’s Top 10 Rockstar teachers” by Mashable and included in Thomas Friedman’s book, the World is Flat.
Vicki’s classroom and blog have won many awards including the ISTE Online Learning Award and more. She is author of Reinventing Writing and coauthor of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds. Her Cool Cat Teacher Blog, is consistently named one of the top 50 blogs in education worldwide. She hosts the online show “Every Classroom Matters” which consistently trends as a top 10 show in the K12 section of iTunes. Vicki has keynoted more than 20 education technology conferences in the US and around the world.
Vicki has written for Edutopia, the Washington Post, SmartBlogs and more.
She’s from the south Georgia, growing up on a farm just outside Camilla. Vicki is passionate about inspiring excellent teaching and about helping people use technology effectively to live their dreams. You can read more about Vicki at coolcatteacher.com on Twitter @coolcatteacher.