Digital Writing Month: Inside a Novel-in-a-Day

I’m sure others will have a better insider’s look at Digital Writing Month‘s monumental collaborative project from yesterday entitled “Novel in a Day.” The goal was to use a Google Doc to create a novel of 50,000 words in 24 hours by as many people as possible, writing vignettes. In the end, it was just over 41,000 words, apparently. And about 55 writers were writing on the document yesterday throughout the day (the theme was using the mascot of the month — Digi the Duck — in vignettes.) A collaborative planning session in another Google Doc the night before narrowed down the focus of the novel, which I thought was a neat way to bring many voices into the mix.

I added two pieces — Vignette 9, which was about the duck trying to write a poem but he can’t reach the keyboard, and Vignette 28, told through a text message in which Digi asks Mickey Mouse for some advice. I had an idea for a third piece, but my oldest son was hogging the computer with some friends (ironically, they are writing a collaborative movie script) and by the time they were done, I was nearly asleep. Ack.

Here are some observations from my own experiences being inside and outside the Novel-in-a-Day idea:

  • The novel is long. I know that is a “duh” moment but I was so caught up in the writing that I barely had time to read what others were up to. In that situation, the vignette concept was brilliant. But it often felt like I was more of an isolated writer than a collaborative writer. I also had a lot of other things going on during the day, so I wasn’t fully immersed in the experience. I’m pretty sure a few folks were working to tie threads of the stories together. I made an attempt in mine, but I am not sure I was all that successful.
  • At some points, there were more than a dozen folks just lingering around in the document. I think some people wrote elsewhere and then pasted their text in. I wrote directly in the Google Doc. I had this feeling of being watched. I didn’t mind it so much but it was an odd experience. Another time, I was trying to start a new vignette, but the person writing the piece before mine kept on typing, and as I was trying to write, I was messing up their text. I could “see” them pause, try again. I’d wait, try, and mess them up. After two times, I gave up, thinking Google Docs must be on a bender. I hope that other writer forgives me.
  • The collaborative element was a key component but I was hoping for more ways to push barriers with text, as part of the inquiry with Digital Writing Month. One writer did something interesting: using the idea of anchors, he created a series of “make your own adventure” choices for the reader. I may have missed it, but most of what is in the novel is traditional text. Odd storytelling, and very creative, but still very traditional: words on paper/screen. The third vignette that I did not write was going to be a story converted into html code, with a message embedded within the code. I really am sorry I missed that chance. I was hoping for a video vignette, or maybe some audio. There were some images sprinkled here and there. Of course, it was just 24 hours. I need to be realistic with my expectations.
  • Does this translate to the classroom? Yes, and I have done collaborative stories like this with my sixth graders on wikis, using colors to show a change in writers. What this kind of activity does is allows you to talk about voice, and collaborative technology, and the focus of a story (which often gets lost).
  • Was it worth it? Heck, yes. I love how technology can bring collaborators together to try new things. Although I was not one of the planners or organizers, who should feel pretty good this morning about the novel experience, I feel connected to the success of the writing experience. It’s not about the word count; it’s about the experience.

Peace (in the novel),


The Research Habits of Digital Kids

The Pew Research Center, along with the College Board and the National Writing Project, recently released the results of a survey of middle and high school teachers on the topic of technology’s influence on research skills of students. (You can read more about the study here at the NWP website or download the whole report from Pew).

The results are not surprising, I think, but they are worth sharing and discussing. A few things become clear from this report and my own daily observations of my students, and I think many of teachers see this in their own classroom: While the Internet and other forms of technology have opened up amazing doors for information and connections for young researchers, it has also created the problem of filtering that flood of information into manageable and useable ideas. The role of the educator in regards to online research is never more necessarily than now, in this information age, particularly around the teaching of reliable sources, navigation strategies, citation of sources and more. We need to be doing more explicit teaching of these practices.

Here are some bits and pieces from the survey overview that stuck out  for me:

Virtually all (99%) AP and NWP teachers in this study agree with the notion that “the internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available,” and 65% agree that “the internet makes today’s students more self-sufficient researchers.”

Large majorities also agree with the notion that the amount of information available online today is overwhelming to most students (83%) and that today’s digital technologies discourage students from using a wide range of sources when conducting research (71%).

The teachers surveyed rated students particularly low on their ability to recognize bias in online content (71% rate them fair or poor), and patience and determination in looking for information that is hard to find (78% give ratings of fair or poor).

42% of the teachers surveyed report their students use cell phones to look up information in class. At the same time, virtually all teachers surveyed report working in a school that employs internet filters (97%), formal policies about cell phone use (97%) and acceptable use policies or AUPs (97%). The degree to which these different policies impact their teaching varies, with internet filters cited most often as having a “major impact” on survey participants’ teaching (32%), followed by cell phone policies (21%) and AUPs (16%). Teachers in urban areas and those teaching the lowest income students are feeling the impact of these policies more than others. In particular, teachers of students living in poverty are at least twice as likely as those teaching the most affluent students to report these policies having a “major” impact on their teaching.

This infographic from the report gives a good idea of the responses.


These kinds of reports reinforce the need for us as teachers to really bring these skills into our classrooms. Mostly, librarians have been leading the way, and that is great. But all of us need to be finding ways to do more of this, and if you are a Common Core state – with its emphasis on research skills and using sources and synthesis of ideas — you really need to make inroads here. I’ve been doing more and more of this with my own sixth graders, setting the stage for larger research projects in the coming years.

Peace (in the research reflection),

CommonSense Media Report: A View from the Classroom

CommonSense Media has released a new report culled from a survey of teachers on the topics of technology and media. The report is called Children, Teens and Entertainment: A View from the Classroom. At the site, you can download the full report or look at various elements of responses from teachers. I do wonder about the population of teachers who took part in the survey. I say that because there is some criticism about CommonSense Media and its mission around helping parents and teachers navigate the media-saturated world, and how the group sometimes comes across as a bit of fear-mongering. As for me, the teacher, I have found its resources for teaching about digital citizenship and digital footprints a wonderful resource. As for me, the parent, the site has not been necessarily all that insightful.

But I found this study interesting and while I might quibble with some elements of it, I do find it be a fairly honest assessment of teacher perceptions of the impact that technology is having on our students and children. Notice I said “perceptions” because part of me thinks, too, that if we judge the literacies of young people today (influenced by the media world, for sure) against the very traditional classroom learning environments, then there are going be things lacking.

I’d argue that we, as teachers, need to be finding ways to tap into those literacies of students, and not necessarily shift all of our teaching practices and expectations of students, but certainly, look for the intersections and ways to engage students. If these results are right, and writing and other areas of academics are getting worse due to technology and media, then we need to do more than recognize it and complain about it. We need to adapt to the changing environment, in meaningful ways for rich, interactive learning classrooms.

And, I would agree with Common Sense Media on this: we need to arm our young people with the critical thinking tools they need to see through the entertainment empire and shift from being consumers of media and technology, and becoming the creators of their own content, taking back agency in the digital world. There has never been a more critical moment for teachers to do this.

Stepping off my high horse, now, check out some of the findings from the report:

This was interesting, too, as they broke down the kinds of technology and media that seem to be negatively impacting learning. I wonder if this is a result of disconnect, and teachers not understanding the range of literacies that can go into playing a complex video game. (I’m not talking Angry Birds here)


And as a teacher and lover of writing, this section was intriguing and disheartening, all at the same time:

This perception of writing is no doubt influenced by the use of informal write/speak by students during formal writing assignments. U know what I mean, right? It may also be a result of shorter bursts of writing in their lives outside of school, and so, sustained writing activities are difficult. I see this in my classroom, and have found the need to do more and more graphic organizing, more thinking through a topic, and more strategies on how to stretch writing out in meaningful ways.

What do you think? Check out the report. Does it mesh with your perceptions?

Peace (in the data),



Digital Writing Month: I, Hyperlink (a poem)

I had this urge to write a poem about hyperlinks for Digital Writing Month. You know, hyperlinks are the most powerful feature of the Web, in my opinion, for the ways they can connect texts and ideas together, and we often take the hyperlink for granted. But it is a powerful idea that allowed content on the Web to become … well, the Web, and not just some assorted random content.

I, Hyperlink

I embed; you interact.

I’m the link inside the seam
with the power to attract
this idea to that idea and then off again to the next –
I’m underlined and powerful
sitting here inside this text.
You might think me odd
as I transport you from your spot –
an elevator shaft of movement
in associative thought.

But take a breath and look around
and see where you have landed
and tell me, reader of this link,
if you are not now standing
deep inside the chamber
of some other writer’s mind
which is where you needed to find yourself
after a bit of time, so …

I embed; You interact.
We weave ourselves
inside this map.
We create this journey, you and I.
You, the reader, open to adventure
as I, the link, draw the lines.

You can also listen to the podcast version of the poem:

Peace (in the poem),


Kicking off Digital Writing Month

As I have mentioned, I am going to be following Digital Writing Month, and I am creating a series of webcomics to go along with it. I don’t expect to meet the 50,000 words. But I hope to do some exploration and tinkering and playing around with mediums.

Here is a comic that I created yesterday:
DigiWriMo 2012

But then, I thought about the idea of using a webcomic platform to create a comic in a comic, in a comic. It was sparked by the thought that code might be text in this kind of challenge.

Digital Writing Month MetaComic Kickoff

Yeah. That’s how my month might be heading …

Peace (in the frames)