Quick Tip Tuesday: Technology and Writing

December 28th, 2010

This week’s Quick Tip comes from Peter Lourie and David Somoza’s new book, Writing to Explore. First, Peter talks about how he uses technology during his adventures and how technology enhances his writing. Then David talks about how this applies in his classroom. The full text of Writing to Explore is still available on the Stenhouse website for browsing!

Using Technology in the Field
Peter Lourie
Portable audio recorders, digital cameras, high-definition camcorders—these are the tools of my trade. Oh, and
notebooks and pens. When I begin an adventure, whether to the Arctic or the Amazon, I bring plenty of tools to record the details of my journeys. Not being blessed with a photographic memory, this is the only way I can come back with the rich layers of material (stories, characters, history, atmospheres,settings) that I need to write my adventure books. What makes these tools so important in the digital age is that I can use the sounds and pictures—and now HD video clips—in ways that are complementary to my writing. Telling the kids about a particular experience in the jungle is nowhere near as dramatic as showing them howlers running through the trees and stopping to roar or whales surfacing and blowing water vapor from their blowholes in the Beaufort Sea. I like to use photos, tape recordings, and videos to excite kids about ancient cultures, distant lands, and foreign places. I also can use short clips on my Web site or blog. (In fact, I developed a whole Web site around such digital stories].

Iñupiaq Eskimos and scientists alike tell their own stories in their own words, all of which I hope will demystify the Arctic and bring the complex issues that exist above the Arctic Circle into people’s homes.) I sometimes sell photos and footage to national magazines. And I always end my writing workshops with stories about collecting material in the field.

But I don’t want to give the impression that this is tedious work. In fact, it’s a ton of fun. I love holding a camera or tape
recorder; I love to capture such rich stories for future use. Since good writing is detailed writing, I show kids how much detail I can collect with these instruments of my trade. When I get back I listen to the tapes and look at the photos and video, and from these records I write my first drafts.

The truth is, if I were a kid today, I might choose to become a videographer rather than a writer, because on video you can collect setting, character, and history all in one dynamic place.Video is so immediate and exciting. With Movie Maker or iMovie or the one I use, Final Cut Pro, a videographer can create rich and exciting adventure stories. For now, however, my collections of digital files are used to write more effectively. They help me remember: DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS.

Using Technology in the Writing Classroom
David Somoza
I never intended to use technology to such an extent in the teaching of writing, but it sort of evolved over time. And I keep stumbling on new ways to use various forms of technology in teaching kids to write. When most teachers think of integrating technology into teaching,the first subject that comes to mind is usually not writing. But when you think about writing as a way of connecting with the world, it makes a lot of sense to use technology to help kids create this link.

This is particularly true for a research project like the state adventure, where the Internet can become the vehicle that connects the kids with the world (see Chapters 6 and 7 for a full explanation of the project). Maybe it’s just for a brief while to gain a better understanding of another place, another person, or a potential adventure, but the Internet allows kids to have virtual adventures and bring back valuable information. In fact, without the aid of the Internet, the state adventure project could not be developed to the extent that we do, because it’s the addition of online research that allows us to better ground the adventure essay with factual and detailed information. It’s this detailed information, so easily accessed through online research, that allows us to revive the research paper and turn it into a journey
that is deeply personal.

In addition to the Internet, there are many easy-to-use software programs available that can synthesize images, audio, and video to create multimedia vignettes that can launch an adventure project. Once these vignettes are created, the presentation equipment is key to the effective delivery of this material to students. In other words, the kids will become engaged in the video and music to a greater or lesser degree depending on the equipment used to present it. With a larger, clearer image and with higher sound quality, students will become more engaged in the writing prompt—and therefore more engaged in their writing. The combination of equipment, programs, and Internet-based research makes for technology-rich, multisensory experiences for the writing student. Ultimately, it’s what takes
them out of the classroom and into the world.

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