Exploring digital writing with NYCWP at Lehman College


It was a pleasure to be able to return to Lehman College to meet again with the NYC Writing Project team and to share the findings of the CfBT trustees research Educational Blogs study I carried out with Myra Barrs. A week on from the teacher conference I felt familiar with this part of the Bronx and the Uni campus and really welcomed the opportunity to meet again with such a warm and interesting group of professionals. I was building on a relationship begun by Myra several decades ago. Myra worked closely with NYCWP in the 1980s and 90s, supporting NWP in using CLPE’s Primary Learning Record and attending several of NWP summer writing institutes together with colleagues from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, which Myra was then director of.

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I felt very honoured to be asked to present to the NYCWP team and their consultant teachers, who are such experts in the field of writing and professional development of teachers. It was wonderful to discuss our findings with them and to be questioned and challenged by such knowledgeable educationalists. I will try to capture some elements of our discussion, which took place over several hours. Questions from the group went straight to the heart of the issues which Myra and I had identified during the blogging study.

We began by discussing definitions of blogs and different types of digital writing. Questions included how do different types of digital writing effect children’s’ writing, for example how is writing on Google Drive different to writing on a blog? Is Google Drive the new exercise book?

The issue of revision and blogging came up quickly. Our international teacher survey suggested that teachers in other English speaking countries put more emphasis on the importance of revising writing before posting . I described how proof reading and the role of revision seems casual on English class blogs. Marcie Wolfe, director of Lehman College’s Institute for Literacy Studies, developed the idea of revision in blogging and how opportunities provided by interaction on blogs might effect revision over time – revisions of ideas and how this might influence future writing.

One consultant teacher reminded the group about the importance of blogging as a way to democratise exposure of content and how blogging is giving people a voice.

The decline of narrative as a valued genre was another theme in our discussions. I referred to the success of writing in role that we observed in the blogging classes and how children overwhelming preferred story writing, but that this was the type of writing children did least of.  Colleagues added their perspectives from HE and High School and of how not just story narrative has become devalued in education contexts, but all types of narrative.

After I described our study in four Lambeth classes, Marcie asked me about these teachers’ definitions of writing and about definitions of school writing . This was an important part of our findings. The teachers in our blogging study had broad and creative definitions of writing, but to a large extent, this was not what the children they taught picked up from them. I was able to share what the teachers and children had said about writing including some more unusual reflections from children. We moved on to discuss what it is that teachers are assessing and not assessing in writing in the US and England?

We discussed how many teachers in the US and England (rather than UK),  focus on mechanics of writing in their comments  to children and not sufficiently on ideas. One teacher consultant talked about how he saw this in the way teachers respond to assignments on presentation slides.

The group were bemused by the English obsession with adjectives, similes and word level considerations rather than the ideas behind the writing (see this issue again in tomorrow’s post). I find this kind of reflection on models of education practice across countries and cultures the most valuable aspect of international education visits and partnerships and the best way to challenge orthodoxies which we can forget are a matter of opinion or even ideology. It was incredibly stimulating and a high point of my visit to be able to discuss these issues of digital writing with such an expert group of academics and teacher practitioners.

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