The Importance of Getting Teachers to Let Go of Traditional Ways of Writing

So, I am reading Troy Hicks’ Crafting Digital Writing and as I am going through this book, I totally get what he is saying. He points out that we must be using technology to teach writing. Kids are using technology every minute (it seems) of their lives and most of that time they are sharing their thoughts digitally, whether it be Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

The only problem I see with this is that most teachers I know, especially English teachers, refuse to dip their feet in the technology mud. I am calling it mud because there is so much out there to learn. I have my feet in it, but it is all getting squished between my toes. I am having trouble figuring what I should focus on. Which apps do I have my kids use? What kind of digital writing should I start with? Where do I get examples of good work? Do I stick to using blogs, or do I insist that we move into wikis or other web based tools? Do I totally embrace Google Docs? Ahhhhhhh!!!!S&#*T!

Troy Hicks’s book has great examples and he provides websites to support anyone wanting to take the mud bath. But still, where do I start? I started using Kidblog last school year. For the most part, I think it went well. I posed questions, kids answered questions, and I expected a conversation to develop between these transactions. It rarely got that far. I think it was successful in the fact that I got kids who wouldn’t typically say anything willingly in a whole class discussion to write their thoughts. But then, when the time for commenting came around, I still fought for meaningful and thoughtful discussion. I got more “great job, I like what you wrote”, than anything else.

I plan on using Hicks’ guidance in my mud bath, but I am struggling with where to start. I might just have to message him on Twitter!

Now, here comes the part about the other teachers. I have observed over the last several years the most used process for teaching research at my school. I teach at the high school and we have gone 1:1 with iPads. We also have access to computer labs and the kids have access to computers and printers in our library.

With access to this technology, I have noticed that the English teachers are still using 20th century technology. Yes, the students are using the computers for looking up information, yes, they type their reports double-spaced and print them out. But that is it. (Just a note, I don’t have direct observations of any other presentation, I am only making a logical guess.) For about two weeks, I watched a senior English teacher roll a cart down the hall to the computer lab. The cart was loaded, very neatly and well organized, with manila envelopes, index cards, and other stuff that I couldn’t see. The index cards bothered me. There is nothing more tedious than writing a “bib card.” I can only assume that after the kids hopefully used EasyBib, they had to write with correct form the citation on a note card. Then, I guess the notes they took on their topic were tediously written on other note cards. I could be wrong, I didn’t observe that part, but it is the inference I got from seeing that cart rolling down the hall.

So, what is the problem? Well, those kids will get to college and be able to write a research paper, but they won’t use paper note cards, they will use digital note cards. With a quick Google search for “digital note cards”, I found a YouTube video ( on how to use Evernote and Google Docs for collecting research information, a wiki titled DIRT Digital Research Tools Wiki (, and even a blog post from Troy Hicks titled Do You Use 3×5 Cards? Rethinking the Research Process (×5-cards-rethinking-the-research-process).

It is easy for me to search for information; I know how to use keywords that find me the information I want, no problem. But unless you teach the kids in your classes how to use digital note cards, they may end up spending extra time having to learn how to do that on their own! What a waste of time.

This is the important part: kids must be taught how to use digital tools to write their research reports, and it must happen now! Kids should be using digital tools for all of their writing!

To compete in today’s global world, teachers must let go of traditional methods of writing. Research needs to move into the digital age as well. Gone should be the days of using paper note cards and other archaic means of collecting data and information. The final product of that research doesn’t have to end up being a formal paper typed double spaced. Yes, a written part can be included, but what else can the kids do to show what they have learned? What would they need to do if they were presenting their findings to a panel of board members, advertising executives, product designers, or wherever else one of our students might find themselves one day, needing to share their expertise in some engaging way.

The question then becomes: How do we lead teachers into teaching students to become digital writers if the teachers aren’t using digital writing? How do we explain the immediate importance of changing the way we teach writing to reflect the 21st century skills needed to compete in today’s world? How do we go from “I have always done it this way”?

My question is, “Where do I start?”

One thought on “The Importance of Getting Teachers to Let Go of Traditional Ways of Writing

  1. Thanks, Danna, for taking the leap and trying to figure out how to get your students doing real research without 3×5 cards.

    To start, I would strongly encourage you to check out Citelighter: This free tool integrates with Google Docs and will help your students organize their sources in an efficient manner, even more so than EasyBib.

    They can then quickly create their bibliographies in MLA or APA format. Check it out and let me know what you think!


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