Susan Freiss, initially inspired by her student teacher and teaching partner at Stoner Prairie Elementary in Verona focused her 2012 GMWP Summer Institute experience on digital writing and has passionately taken the leap into the world of technology, bringing her students right along with her. Yet, like many new endeavors a teacher takes on, it goes both ways. “The kids’ inventiveness and creativity take me right along with them,” Susan openly accepts as she discusses the various digital platforms and online tools she has utilized to effectively communicate with other professionals and also to teach authentic writing in the classroom.
While co-workers and her students 'talked up' digital writing, Susan was also being introduced to the concept as a National Selection Committee Member for the Jane Addams Book Award. A majority of her work with the Jane Addams Peace Association was to share ideas about potential honor books with the other committee members through Wordpress, a free blog-style platform for personal publishing. Being more interested in how this technology would be incorporated into the classroom and wanting to build awareness of the Jane Addams Book Awards, Susan decided to get her students involved by having them read the books that had the potential for winning. The kids were then to write to the Selection Committee about why certain books should receive the award. The student responses were not written like a text or a Facebook post but rather a well-planned and well-structured critique. “The kids knew what was expected before a piece could be posted because they were involved in creating the criteria for what makes an effective online writing response. But the cool thing is that the feedback from the students actually impacted the Committee’s decisions and the students knew it,” Susan explained.
Beyond Wordpress, she uses Edmodo for all kinds of projects for both reading and writing, most recently being used for The Global Read Aloud. She also uses Kidblog with reading groups and sees it as an excellent tool for classmates to communicate with each other as well as a way for her to teach conventions, addressing specifics issues with specific students. “I get a chance to comment on student drafts online. They can check them from home and have interaction with me. It doesn’t get published until it’s clear and grammatically correct.”
This shift in thinking about writing has taken 3 years of exploring, questioning, and reflecting. Susan estimates that this year about 30% of student writing is being done digitally. Although Susan has a mindset to use the technology in her school, she admits that it’s a mindset remains in transition. “My teaching partner and I still say at times, ‘we’re not doing enough writing!’ because [traditionally] we think that writing should be on paper or in a writer’s notebook. But that’s changing. Writing digitally makes students aware that way they write means something. Others are reading what they write. It is real writing.”