"This I Believe" about the Teaching of Writing: Secondary Teachers' Digital Essays about Their Pedagogical Understandings

By Morgan, Denise N.; Chenowith, Natasha H. | Reading Horizons (Online), Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

"This I Believe" about the Teaching of Writing: Secondary Teachers' Digital Essays about Their Pedagogical Understandings


Morgan, Denise N., Chenowith, Natasha H., Reading Horizons (Online)


I sort of can't believe that I am writing this, but...if we had all turned in essays instead of videos, the richness of the learning, experiences, and personalities in the room on Tuesday would have suffered. I can't ignore that, and I won't forget it going forward.

Tim, 2014

Tim (all names are pseudonyms) made the above statement after viewing his classmates' digital essays at the end of the semester. Initially not excited about the assignment, he came to understand the opportunities afforded within these digital means. Tim said:

This was an interesting experience...I wasn't thrilled about being required to use an unfamiliar technology in such a major assignment. Once I got over that, I committed to learning the technology. It wasn't easy, but I started really basic...then progressively making more complex and layered videos with dialogue and music. This progression, as I taught myself the technology, can be seen in my digital explorations.

Tim's resistance to this assignment is not unlike that of other teachers who perceive technology to be useful but not essential to the teaching of writing (Hutchison & Reinking, 2011; Pytash, Testa, & Nigh, 2015). However, what it means to write has changed within the complexities of a 21st century world; writing instruction needs to be reimagined in this digital age (Hicks, Turner, & Stratton, 2013; National Writing Project with DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, & Hicks, 2010).

For students to take full advantage of new writing opportunities, their teachers need to be experienced and comfortable with both the technical and compositional aspects of digital and multimodal writing. Grabill and Hicks (2005) argued, "English teachers (and teacher educators) should no longer have a conversation about literacy without considering technology" (p. 306). Teachers' understandings of the integration and use of technology for the purposes of teaching writing are central to how they help students learn to access, evaluate, synthesize, and contribute new information in a multimodal society (National Council of Teachers of English, 2009). What is problematic is that, despite the changing landscape of what constitutes "writing," few teachers enter the classroom with meaningful digital composition experiences (Hicks, Turner, & Stratton, 2013).

Research illustrates the centrality of new literacies in English/language arts teaching and learning (Albers, 2011; Alvermann, 2008; Doering, Beach, & O'Brien, 2007; Hull, 2009; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011). Defining digital writing is difficult due to the evolving nature of new tools available, so it is often discussed in terms of the "... affordances offered by new digital tools that make new products and practices possible" (National Writing Project with DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, & Hicks, 2010). With evolving understandings of what constitutes writing, researchers are examining the preparation of teachers for teaching digital and multimodal composition (see Ferdig & Pytash, 2014). Preservice teachers' experiences with creating public service announcements (Albers, 2014), memoirs (Werderich & Manderino, 2013), metanarratives of writing assignments (Hundley & Holbrook, 2013), multimodal compositions (Rish, 2013), and digital portfolios (Hicks, Russo, Autrey, Gardner, Kabodian, & Edington, 2007) have been explored with researchers noting the tension teachers experience as their former conceptions of writing are examined in light of the new technologies available for writing.

Our study aims to explore those tensions by investigating the experiences of two teachers crafting digital essays. We posed two research questions: a) What pedagogical understandings do teachers identify as their beliefs about writing, and how do they represent those ideas in a digital composition? and b) What did teachers learn from the process of composing a digital essay? As a teacher educator and future teacher educator studying the teaching of writing, we were intrigued by the intersection of how teachers articulate their pedagogical beliefs about writing while they simultaneously explore the affordances and limitations technology offers in creating a digital essay. …

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