Remembering back to grade school, I can imagine working in small groups during writing workshop. This period of the day would be spent answering textbook prompts, writing research articles, and composing short stories or poems by following a strict writing process without much flexibility or room for creativity. Although my teachers could have done a better job incorporating authentic forms of learning even then, educators now should have no excuse as to why they are not using technology in their writing curriculum. Digital writing workshops, as described by Hicks (2009), follow a framework in which describes the role of the students, the subject they're writing about, and the spaces in which they are writing. All parts of the digital writing framework are important to incorporate into the classroom to ensure the greatest amount of growth and success for the students.
Today, we have high expectations of students' abilities to use technology. I agree with Hicks (2009) in his label of today's students as "digital natives" (p. 129); adults assume students are the most knowledgeable about technology because they were essentially born with it. However, we as teachers not only need to be aware that some students don't have full access to technology, therefore not being proficient in using it, but also may need to be "[taught] to be conscientious collaborators" (p. 129), since they may know how to logistically use the tools available to them but not to the best of their academic ability. In my opinion, there are three major aspects of digital writing that teachers could implement into their daily routines to really make a difference.
First of all, and I think most importantly, teachers must become aware of the fact that today's students often times don't consider the writing they do online to be "real" writing. Students spend an extreme amount of time on the Internet, writing to friends and family on social network sites, chatting through instant messaging programs, or contacting people they know through email; all of which are writing experiences that students most likely don't view as "writing" because they are so accustomed to it. If we, as teachers, can make the subject of writing something that is natural and all around them by using the outlets students are already used to (or at least ones that are similar), we will be able to hopefully change their perspectives from writing being a school chore to an unconscious and possibly even fun process. Stemming off of this, teachers need to do a better job with acclimating themselves with the materials their students use on a day-to-day basis. There is a major problem with expecting students to know how to digitally write but then we don't know how to ourselves. Hicks (2009) also finds this crucial in order to be pedagogically sound and the most helpful to students. Teachers must use the tools, such as the blogs and wikis they assign their students to use, to become familiar with them, at least to be able to teach. Actually, there is really no reason why teachers shouldn't make it an authentic learning experience by joining students in the writing process and completing blog entries or collaborating with the students through a wiki, creating a complete community of learners. Doing all of these things will help the idea of writing as a school subject something of the past for students, and should in theory, make it something they thrive on.
The second major way teachers could make digital writing successful for their students is through experimenting with genres. All too often, teachers follow cookie cutter lesson plans that force students to write within very limiting constraints, not allowing for assignments to be personalized to students needs, interests, or styles; this alone could suppress student literacy growth. By working to incorporate many forms, styles, and genres of writing into the curriculum, teachers are not only exposing them to the different types of writing so students become familiar with them, but teachers are also helping students to grow as writers. Unfortunately, teachers unknowingly limit their students' potential by not offering them as many choices as possible. Students could easily become more successful simply by discovering their strengths, interests or even talents through new genres and writing opportunities.
The third important way teachers could make digital writing successful for their students is through a learning environment catered to both the students needs and wants. Many times, and in most of the teaching experiences I have had, students are used to writing or working on a computer in a space that is not tailored to what they are working on; that is, students work in a computer lab with desks facing a wall or work on laptops at their desks which are facing each others' backs. However, simply changing the setup of students' digital writing space could make a noticeable difference in their ability to concentrate, their spacial ease of collaborating with other students, or their basic comfortability to spend a long period of time sitting to write. This does not mean, though, that teachers should be the ones to choose how the classroom is laid out; the students are the ones having to work in the space after all. Teachers should give students the opportunity to take part in designing and setting up the layout of the classroom, of course using discretion when needed. In regards to the virtual writing spaces, teachers must spend quality time choosing online programs that are both user friendly as well as aesthetically pleasing; this way, students can easily access their digital writing spaces without hindering their learning experiences.