Month: April 2015

Enormous Smallness The creative bravery of e. e. cummings

The creative process is a fascinating phenomenon to explore. By learning more about the unique creative processes of eminent writers, one can potentially glean some insights into one’s own approach to writing.

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings is a picture book that celebrates the life of one of the most unique writers of our time. Check out this wonderful article by Maria Popova about this amazing book and this inspiring writer.

The Giant Fiddle A Gigantic Visual Prompt

Giant Fiddle


Before you write using this visual prompt, think about some of these questions to get your ideas flowing and tell the story of this giant fiddle:

  1. Whose fiddle is this?
  2. How did it get to be so big? Was it this big to start with, or did something happen to make it larger?
  3. What would people do to get it back to size?
  4. What could people do to possibly play this?
  5. How would this giant fiddle sound?
  6. What would happen if someone actually managed to play it?
  7. How did it end up in front of this building?

Have fun fiddling with words!

Can Technology Help Students Become Better Writers? Food for thought in the brave new world of Ed. Tech.

Although the question posed by an article in EdTech Magazine was, “Can Technology Help Students Become Better Writers?” a much more compelling question is, “How are teachers using technology to help students become better writers?”

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the National Writing Project, technology is used to teach writing by the use of wikis, websites, blogs, interactive whiteboards and various tools to help students edit their own work and review the work of others.

Missing from this list are a number of key elements for effective writing instructional programs.  The use of technology in writing instruction should also address:

  • how to motivate students to become engaged in the writing process.
  • how to develop the all-important skill of writing fluency (i.e. the ease with which a writer is able to generate ideas and put them into words.)
  • how to develop original ideas and think critically.
  • how to give students feedback on their writing so that they can become self-regulating learners.
  • how to cater writing assignments to individual needs.

All of these elements have been key in the development of the writing app COW.  Our goal is to provide educators with a practical and effective tool that enhances writing programs with the use of technology.


Number Crunching a Writing Streak A "Write Every Day" Writing Challenge

An important part of improving writing is to write as often as possible. Many writers have a rule that they write every day. Here’s a writing challenge that encourages students to develop the daily writing habit.

This writing challenge will take a number of days to complete. In fact, eager writers will NEVER finish this challenge. Here’s why:

Students are challenged to write at least 100 words a day (or the teacher can set a higher total) for as many days in a row as they can.

Here’s the Challenge

  1. In your Bonus Word List Manager, go to the Shared tab and copy over the “Numbers” Bonus Word List. You may want to add some of your own Mathematics vocabulary words to the list. Be sure to assign the list to your class. 
  2. Writers begin their writing streak with their first story, using the Numbers Bonus Word list. They are to begin their first story with the word, “One . . .”
  3. On the second day of writing, students are to begin their story with the word, “Two . . .”
  4. On the third day of writing, students are to begin their story with (you guessed it), the word “Three . . .” and so on until they miss a day.

You can keep a chart of the wall of student writing streaks. Who can write for the greatest number of days in a row?

Writing is Writing Another take on the teacher as a writer

Soon after posting “The Teacher as Writer” on the blog on March 26th, I came across a fascinating take on teachers as writers by Chris Kennedy, Superintendent and CEO of the West Vancouver School District. Writing is Writing is really worth a read, giving additional compelling reasons for teachers to pursue their own development as a writer.

Autowreckage This Week's Visual Prompt



Before you begin to write, think about these questions to get your creativity flowing:

  1. What is the story leading up to this automobile getting here?
  2. Who owned this car? What was unusual about them?
  3. Why is it in a forest?
  4. What will happen to this car over the next one hundred years?
  5. If someone refurbished it and got it back on the road, what would it be like to drive? What would it look like? What special features would it have?

Be original and get writing!

Bring Your Own Device Can this really work?

One of the major hurdles facing many teachers wishing to integrate technology into curriculum is, quite simply, student access to technology.  In visits to many schools and conversations with a multitude of teachers, so often, teachers voiced their frustrations in dealing with limited student access to technology– not enough computers or tablets, slow networks, and the list goes on.

One solution that’s been batted about is the idea of “Bring Your Own Device.”  This entails students using their own laptops, tablets or smart phones at school to improve access to technology during school time.

Is this really a practical solution for giving students greater access to technology for meaningful educational pursuits?  Are there too many potential problems accompanying this approach to make it workable?

Sherry Langland, a junior high school teacher in Edmonton, Alberta, spearheaded a B.Y.O.D. at her school.  Her blog post, “Our ‘Bring Your Own Device’ is a Success!” describes the steps her school took to make B.Y.O.D. a practical, workable solution to the challenges of giving students more access to technology.

Jabberwocking A Nonsense Word Writing Challenge

Before doing this writing challenge, you might want to have students read Lewis Carrol’s classic poem, “The Jabberwocky.” The poem is loaded with made-up or nonsense words. Yet, within the context of the poem, the reader can speculate as to the meaning of each.

In this writing challenge, the writers are given a bonus word list of nonsense words. Here is the challenging part. As they use each nonsense bonus word in their writing, they should try to create enough context so that the reader gets the meaning of the word.

Here’s an example: “I guzzonoided off the top of the cliff and landed with a blangerhoot in the river below.” In this example, the reader can infer the possible meaning of the non-sense words from the context of the sentence.

To complete this writing challenge:

  1. Go to your Bonus Word List Manager.  Copy the “Nonsense Words” Bonus Word list over from the ‘Shared’ tab.  Be sure to assign it to your class.

  2. Any prompt will work for this writing challenge, so have the students either choose to get a prompt, or just start with a blank page.
    (NOTE:  As none of these words exist in our dictionary, variations (such as plurals or different tenses) of a word will not be recognized. The exact word as it appears must be used.)
  3. After the writing session, be sure to have a sharing time where students can read their stories. Compare the stories in how they use the same nonsense words. Challenge students to come up a definition of the nonsense words from the context of a given story.

Algoauthors and the Brave New World of Writing How Writing Alogrithms and Other Technological Advances Should Change the Way We Teach

Before reading any further, take this very brief quiz:

Did a Human or a Computer Write This?

If you’re anything like me, you were bamboozled on more than a few of these questions. The capacity for a computer algorithm to generate text is quite astonishing.

This immediately raises a few questions in my mind, including:

  1. What role will humans play in the future of writing?
  2. What implications does this have for writing instruction?

We’ve already seen a revolution in the world of writing with the advent of the word processor and its accompanying tools such as spelling and grammar checkers, autocorrect, and other text analysis tools. As we look back at these writing tools and ahead to what may be available in the future, what adaptations have we, as teachers and curriculum leaders, made in the teaching of writing?

  • Can we shift our emphasis away from the teaching of spelling, grammar, and other conventions when such tools are available?
  • How much time is spend with students maximizing their ability to use these tools to improve their writing?
  • With such tools to help with the conventions of writing, can more emphasis now be placed upon the essence of writing– generating and communicating ideas?

As technology advances, educators must be in a constant state of re-evaluation, questioning their instructional strategies, curriculum content, and fundamental classroom structures. In no curriculum area is this need for questioning more pertinent than in the teaching of writing. It’s this constantly shifting landscape that makes teaching relentlessly fascinating.

Oh, and by the way. This was written by a human.

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