Dana Grisham and Thomas DeVere Wolsey’s new book, “Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Techniques for Grades 5-12”. is a wonderful resource for all of us who are striving to integrate technology and writing instruction in ways that make a meaningful difference for our students. I was honored to write the foreword for this outstanding volume and have provided it below for your information. I’ve been re-reading the book in preparation for the fall semester and was struck by its timeliness and relevance to the Common Core State Standards. This adds even more to its value!
The book is available at http://www.guilford.com/p/wolsey
From Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Techniques for Grades 5-12 by Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham. Copyright 2012 by The Guilford Press. All rights reserved.
My friend calls out, “The water’s amazing! Jump in!” I hesitate. “Hmmmnn, shall I? It looks cold. Are those clouds on the horizon? I like to swim, but snorkeling is relatively new to me.” I stand at the edge of the dock, watching my friend enjoy herself. I know she is an experienced snorkeler and this is one of her favorite spots. I grab hold of my gear and step off the edge. “Okay, here goes, I’m JUMPING! Wow, this feels great!” And away we go, my friend and I, swimming over the coral reef, ready for an adventure together.
Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham have written a book about technology and writing that invites us to “Jump in!” and join them in the adventure of integrating technology into the teaching and learning of the millennial generation. They invite us to jump (or step, if you are feeling a bit more cautious) into the exciting and sometimes turbulent waters of teaching writing in today’s schools. They guide us to focus on what’s important about writing, learning, and the role that technology and media can play in improving the quality of our students’ compositions, their use of writing to transform learning, and their engagement with academic literacy.
Leaders in the scholarship and practice of digital literacies, DeVere and Dana are expert guides who share the wealth of their knowledge and experience in this book, which is designed to help teachers take the next step forward in using technology to engage students in writing that is worth doing. The book artfully combines theory and practice, presenting numerous examples and vignettes to offer a vision of what is possible, along with the concrete suggestions and practical tips that are essential to success. I had barely started reading the manuscript and taking notes to prepare me for writing this foreword when I found myself opening a second document file to take note of teaching ideas, digital tools, and resources that I knew would be useful to me in my own work. The book had a larger effect on me, how- ever, stimulating my thinking about our underlying models of composition in a digital world and the urgent need to improve both theory and practice. It also reinvigorated me. The status quo is not working for too many of our students. It’s not working for many of us who are teachers. Using technology to help students create, communicate, connect, and learn is one way to change things. I believe that teachers, literacy coaches, teacher educators, and curriculum specialists will find this book to be a valuable resource, one that provides multiple entry points and pathways to follow in accordance with their individual goals, subject areas, and levels of technology expertise. In the following section, I highlight some of the key features of the book that I think make it a particularly valuable resource.
Student learning and writing pedagogy drive technology integration, not the other way around.
I love “cool tools.” In fact, my colleague Debbie Rowe and I lead a multimodal composition research group for doctoral students that begins each session with one of the members sharing a digital tool that has interesting implications for research and practice. DeVere and Dana offer a rich array of digital tools and resources throughout their book. However, it is abundantly clear from the Introduction through to the last page that their book is about writing, is about learning, and is about engagement. Technology and media are essential to making that happen. We need the nuts and bolts to build something, but we also need to have a vision for what we’re building, to understand why it’s important, and to know how we go about constructing it. Before we begin, we want some evidence that what we’re doing is supported by previous experience and success.
Dana and DeVere set their vision in the Introduction and then extend and apply it in each chapter. They draw on Bereiter and Scardamalia’s (1987) models of writing as either “knowledge telling” or “knowledge transformation.” While they acknowledge the role of “writing to tell,” their passion is in helping students use writing for knowledge transformation. I appreciate the way they structure each chapter to open with sections on “What is it?” and “Why is it important?” before moving on to how technology can help. Theory and research are embedded throughout (and where the research is limited, they suggest practices that are promising). The continuing message is that technology is both medium and message, and that it is their particular use by knowledgeable teachers and their students that will move us forward.
Writing is not just for English; writing is discipline specific.
Often there is a divide between folks who love to teach writing for literary purposes and those who love to teach their content and view writing as a vehicle to communicate learning. DeVere and Dana offer a more integrative perspective. They make a strong case for why writing is part of academic literacy. Writing is not just a matter of genre and text structure; rather it’s a way of thinking and using language and symbol systems to communicate within our community. A real strength of this book is the range and depth of examples from English, social studies, and science classrooms that illustrate how technology and media can transform the learning process and offer new opportunities for students’ creative expression, social interaction, and learning. Students compose to grapple with challenging content and accomplish purposes specific to the subject matter. While composing tools might be considered somewhat generic, Dana and DeVere illustrate how it is what you do with them in relation to particular academic content and skills that can make all the difference between a “just okay” and an “amazing” student- learning experience and outcome.
We’re all in this together, or teachers and students are making it happen.
In public speeches about educational reform and in professional devel- opment efforts, we often hear that teachers are leaders and that our notion of “what works” should expand to include practitioners’ expertise and expe- rience. The democratization of publishing on the Internet has offered many teachers the opportunity to communicate directly with an audience that is interested in learning from and with them as they go about the daily work of teaching in schools. Blogs, websites, and wikis are just a few of their online venues. However, teachers’ voices are less well represented in published text- books. One of my favorite features in this book is the inclusion of in-depth classroom examples in each chapter. Some examples are written by teachers, whereas others are written by DeVere and Dana at a level of detail that shows their intimate knowledge of the teacher, his or her classroom, and students. It is the combination of Dana and DeVere’s expertise with the expertise of some amazing classroom teachers that give this book depth and credibility.
Affect matters—for students and for us.
Have you ever taken a course or a workshop because of the way the instructor teaches, as much as the content of the course? The importance of affect and the social basis of learning is just as true for adults as it is for children—perhaps even more so, since we bring firmly entrenched beliefs and dispositions along with vast stores of knowledge and skills to each learning encounter. Clearly, DeVere and Dana are highly expert and experienced in the field of writing and technology and there is much to be learned from the information in this book. They are somewhat unusual, I think, in the way that they have shared some of who they are through their writing of this book. Their writing style and tone are conversational as they think out loud, conjecture, joke, and share strong feelings and convictions. They respect teachers and children. They understand and have experienced the realities of real teaching, real kids, and the unpredictability and promise of teaching with technology. They are resilient and hopeful about the future of students in our schools and the role of technology and writing in making change happen. By the end of the book, I was very glad to have had Dana and DeVere’s guidance and to know that they are continuing their adventures in writing and technology. Jump in and try an adventure of your own—I know I will.
Bridget Dalton, Ed.D.