National Writing Project

Students as Writers and Composers: Workshopping in the Digital Age

Publication: Language Arts
Date: January 2015

Summary: Third grade teacher Franki Sibberson and Chippewa River Writing Project director Troy Hicks discuss how they view digital technologies in the classroom, touching on topics such as encouraging intentionality, finding balance between traditional writing and newer modes, and the difficulties of assessing digital assignments.


I used to have a big binder for storing whatever I found throughout the year that could be a great mentor text. Now I feel like I'm using Pinterest and favoriting Tweets when I see a video or blog post or something that might lend itself to real study with kids who are eight years old. Troy, you mentioned looking at what kids are interested in, and my students are all about those rainbow band bracelets. I wanted them to look closely at some of those how-to videos on YouTube, so I did all my usual teacher moves on how to study a mentor text. We looked at some other favorites, too. I realized that they knew those videos so much better than I did because they already had a handle on the best people to watch on YouTube for making bracelets and who not to watch. They had studied certain videos as a reader. It was a really different role for me to take on, to just ask them the right questions to determine which craft moves the stronger videos had. They knew those videos so well; they had watched them so many times. I started from scratch like I used to do in my units of study, but they didn't need that. They knew the videos better because, like you said, there was something in them that caught their eye.

So I'm relying on my kids a little bit to identify mentor texts, like you mentioned, Troy. But I'm also realizing that in some cases, they may have watched this video 42 times to make this bracelet. So I'm realizing that they know it really well, and I'm trying to build on that, too. Even at eight years old, they know who they want to follow on YouTube and who does not produce such a good how-to video. They've made those decisions as readers, and it's just a matter of transferring that to 'What does that mean for you as a writer, then?'"

About the Authors

TROY HICKS is an associate professor of English at Central Michigan University, and is the director of the Chippewa River Writing Project.

FRANKI SIBBERSON is a third grade teacher, as well as an author and blogger on literacy education.

Hicks, Troy, and Franki Sibberson. "Students as Writers and Composers: Workshopping in the Digital Age." Language Arts 92:3 (2015) 223-230. Copyright ©2015 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

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