October 18 — 2:31 pm, 2011

Exploring together what it means to write today

This guest blog post is from Christina Cantrill, staff at the National Writing Project and a member of the Philadelphia Writing Project. PhilWP is celebrating its 25th anniversary Saturday.

“Writing today,” say the authors of Because Digital Writing Matters, “is pervasively and generally digital; composed with digital tools; created out of word, image, sound, and motion; circulated in digital environments; and consumed across a wide range of digital platforms.” 

What then, does this mean for the teaching and learning of writing?

Educators in Philadelphia, and across the globe, are participating in conversations about digital literacies and practice, exploring what it means to write, teach, create, and learn in an increasingly digital and interconnected world. The National Writing Project has developed an online space called “Digital Is” to support the sharing of this work along with questions and inquiries that emerge along the way.

With content added and discussed daily, Digital Is is a rich repository and continues to grow as an emerging collection and conversation.

It is an open website that supports the sharing of work among educators in order to encourage discussions among an expanded community as well as to provide important evidence of the innovative approaches and dedicated work that educators bring to their professional practice inside and outside of school. 

We invite you to visit, follow paths of interest, as well as participate and create your own.

Renee Webster, a teacher consultant at the Red Cedar Writing Project in Michigan posted a resource called Hearing Student Voices related to her ongoing inquiry about how best to support students in hearing their own “smart thinking” as well as that of their classmates and friends.


After years of doing this in a variety of ways, she introduced digital recorders to further support students in their work. The recorders turned out to have a profound effect on the literacy practices of the students.

This success was related to the ease of use for both recording and repeated listening, as well as the expanded audiences with whom they could now share. Flip cameras soon followed, which allowed students to further record and share, and the camera work eventually inspired one group of 1st graders to conceive and create a documentary about 1st grade for the incoming class from kindergarten.

They knew that their voices mattered.

Robert Rivera-Amezola, a 3rd- and 4th-grade teacher at Willard Elementary in Philadelphia, and a teacher consultant with the Philadelphia Writing Project, was inspired by Webster’s resource and made his own short film about his work. Rivera-Amezola’s piece highlights the significance of supporting student learning through project-based and service-oriented work. Like Webster’s students, Rivera-Amezola’s used and created digital media that amplified their messages while requiring collaborative composition.


Rivera-Amezola talks about how his students “discovered more about themselves and built a strong community of learners” and how this proved to be invaluable, especially for the English language learners who comprised the majority of his classroom.

Anne Herrington and Charlie Moran, two colleagues from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, pick up this theme of supporting ELLs and pull together several resources, including Robert’s, in their collection.

They write that the resources in this collection “stand in stark contrast” to an often test-driven skill-and-drill approach. Instead, the resources “assume that curricula and teaching approaches for English language learners, as with all learners, should honor students’ own languages, cultures, and interests; engage them in meaningful projects where they write and speak for real audiences; and provide them with a range of tools, including digital tools, for inquiry and composing.”

Joslyn Young, who recently completed a Stoneleigh Junior Fellowship at Research for Action, also picks up on this notion of authentic audience and student voice in her research, learning from youth involved in the Philadelphia Student Union and Chester Voices for Change. She shares her research and findings in Digital Is and encourages further discussion and conversation about these as a community:

There are many paths like this at Digital Is. As the tools, spaces, and audiences for writing today shift and change, we invite you to join in the exploration and find and create your own paths along the way.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Additional resources recently posted by Philadelphia educators:

Christina Cantrill is a senior program associate in national programs and site development with the National Writing Project. She is based here in Philadelphia and is a member of the local Philadelphia Writing Project.

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