Day 12-Is the Key Mightier than the Pen?

Credit to Kaleb for a fantastic and fitting title for today’s blog.




Before the Door

Before coming to class today, we prepared for our discussion on digital literacy and using technology in a writing classroom by reading two works by Troy Hicks:

The purpose of the discussion for the day was how to incorporate technology into a writing classroom and why it is important.

Sass in Class

Class started today with some praise from Dr. Benko on our attendance and engaging conversations over the reading. This made Kaleb and Cassie’s absence that more noticeable…we missed you!

Dr. Benko noted that she usually gives more pop quizzes on readings than she has this semester in order to determine if students have done the reading. However, because of our always in-depth conversations so far she feels confident that the readings have been taking place. With this in mind, she decided our first activity of the day would be a non-quiz where we discussed the quiz questions with a partner. Dr. Benko transformed herself into a more attractive version of Drew Carey and stated “This will be like Whose Line is it Anyway, where the points don’t matter.”


Of course, despite the jokes, an engaging conversation ensued. We tracked our partner answers in a Google doc and then came together to have a whole class discussion.

To start off our discussion, Benji described the main point of the Hicks and Turner article as advocating that technology alone does not equal digital literacy, but instead technology must be taught and used in meaningful ways. This led Emily to point out the importance of attentiveness (it is a word!) with the technology that you and your students are using. She even discussed an exercise of having students handwrite a reflection on what they did with their computer during class and whether or not it had been meaningful. This point led Benji (yes, folks, he talked twice in class AGAIN! 😀) to note how Hicks urges teachers to develop their own digital literacy.

Recently, I attended a library workshop on some of the resources available for teaching 21st Century learners. The American Association of School Librarians compiles a yearly list of the best apps for teaching and learning, as well as a list of the best websites for teaching and learning, as well as the standards that these help you to achieve. These can be valuable resources when administrators look to us new teachers to be “in-the-know” on technology.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-10-53-27-amFrom here we moved on to discussing the language students use in their texting and social media, which Hicks and Turner called Digitalk. We pointed out that Digitalk can be seen as another dialect for students and to note how they are capable of code-switching between this language and standard English quite regularly. Instead of criticizing students and telling them that the digital language they are using is “wrong,” we can instead take this opportunity to point out lessons on audience, the writing medium being used, purpose, and appropriateness. If we make ourselves more open to allowing the students to use language they are comfortable with in the appropriate settings and context, they may become more open to using, and understanding when to use, “school” language for certain purposes and audiences.

As the discussion of openness to new ways of thinking, we came to the heart of the matter in using digital technologies in a classroom. As Hicks argues, we can no longer afford to NOT teach these skills, it is a necessity within our society. Makayla and Erin voiced their frustration at the idea of teachers who nonchalantly give up on teaching technologies due to a lack of resources. Dr. Benko warned that having excuses can be a very dangerous, and deficit-oriented, way of viewing students. Makayla passionately pointed out, “Ok, you don’t have a lot of options but you can’t just give up. I want answers. How are you going to teach these students what they need to know?” To which Beth had the all-encompassing answer, “Exactly! Let’s make lemonade.” Screen Shot 2016-09-30 at 10.55.21 AM.png

In an ideal world, our students would all have a one-to-one iPad ratio and school corporations would offer their staff professional development workshops in order to better implement these new technologies. But, unfortunately, this is just not always the case. However, this does not mean as teachers we simply throw in the towel and not introduce our students to the world of digital literacy and digital literacy practices.

You may ask, but how can we do this? By replicating a digital space within your classroom. Dr. Benko suggested creating a Twitter wall where students can post their “tweets” and respond to others. “Is it the same? No. Is it equal? No. But it is a move in the right direction.”ctjrfkjwwaauolg                                 Image Source: Westquarter Primary @WestquarterPrim 

At this point Dr. Benko was willing to admit that she breaks two of Troy Hicks’ practices that discourage engagement with digital literacy. The first is that she counts Tweets and the other is using a Blog without really Blogging (that’s what I’m doing here 😉). So we discussed her purposes and intentions behind these practices, the advantages and disadvantages these situations can present, and ultimately the understanding that we will not always teach in an ideal world, with ideal resources, and ideal students so some practices may have to be adjusted but we should always understand why we are making the adjustment, not just because it is the “easy” thing to do. In another article written by Troy Hicks, which I saw because Ken Lindblom posted it on Twitter (circles within circles, this is like Inception education), he discusses some of the difficulties with teaching writing on tablets and other smart devices and uses a variety of apps to show his students that they can still live writerly lives (Dr. Benko’s term) through their devices. As most of Hicks’ articles are, it is a an informative, applicable (I pulled a few apps myself), and approachable read, so you should definitely check it out!

After this, we turned to discussing the two chapters in Crafting Digital Writing and what Hicks means by “author’s craft.” A tricky point to remember about author’s craft is that writers rarely sit down and say “This is craft. This is how I do what I do.” But in taking a moment to recognize craft elements, and teach our students to recognize craft elements, we can begin to notice the features that make authors successful at creating their works. Among these elements we noted intentionality, choices, a particular goal, and particular features. We took a moment to understand Ralph Fletcher’s concept of a “hot spot,” where you slow down and concentrate on crucial moments within a story while skipping quickly over the not important information. And we also noted that in looking at digital genres we have to consider what features are present that we may not always be considering in a general writing mode.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-10-54-54-amTo finish out class, we spent some time in our midterm groups (Again, Cassie and Kaleb you were sorely missed!) looking over the charts in Crafting Digital Writing and brainstorming the craft features that are used in our respective genres to accomplish the author’s purpose. These particular features may be something that we want to consider as individual lessons within our plan for our midterm. Everyone please note the sneaky scaffolding teaching that Dr. Benko slipped in there (she’s a slippery teacher!)– we thought we were learning about one thing, but really we were building on what we already know and working toward a bigger goal.

Some Fun Moments…

As we get to know Dr. Benko better we love including her in our conversations and jokes- more than a source of authority for us, she is becoming a mentor and teaching colleague. With that being said, she can sometimes be sucked into our silly giggles and jokes as well, but luckily we have Erin to remind Dr. Benko “Back on track, please.”


And somehow, despite her love for Harry Potter, Dr. Benko has never lost hours of her life on She discovered in class yesterday that she can determine what her Patronus is, but she has yet to reveal.

A Shrewder Future

In going forward we have a few things up in the air right now.

  • We will be reading the chapter from Hicks on crafting audio texts in preparation of our TIB podcasts
  • On Tuesday we will most likely go to iCare to learn about GarageBand and making those podcasts.
  • Speaking of TIB, the third revision will be due before our next class on Tuesday 10/4, so make sure to be looking over that feedback.Screen Shot 2016-09-30 at 10.53.10 AM.png



  • We should be working toward our midterm writing task and begin preparing those outlines
    • With that in mind, everyone needs to schedule an individual conference time with Rachel (this is required) to go over your writing task and ideas.
      • Please have as much of an outline drafted as possible when you meet with Rachel. The more specific you are the more feedback you will receive.
      • Note: Dr. Benko is willing to conference as well, but only after you have conferenced with Rachel.
  • And as always keep on tweeting!

-Stay Golden! Love, Brittany Sylvia


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