Monday, September 2, 2013

Review of _Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st- Century Classroom_, by Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran, Editors.

Review of Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st- Century Classroom, by Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran, Editors.

Herrington, A., Hodgson, K., & Moran, C. (Eds.) (2009) Teaching the New Writing:  Technology, Change and Assessment in the 21st Century Classroom.  New York:  Teachers College Press.

By Susan Garza, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Although this text was published in 2009, in 2013 as I write this review for the Journal of Writing Assessment, the use of technology continues to grow in the field of writing, and assessment seems on its way to becoming the overriding focus at all levels of education. The use of machine-scoring for writing assessment and the debate surrounding this issue is just one example of the current issues in assessment. Herrington and Moran begin the book by pointing out that while technology has propelled us forward with teaching and learning possibilities, we are being driven backwards as the drive for machine scoring unfortunately seems to be working up steam. In the last chapter, all three editors reflect on the other chapters in the book stating that their goal for the collection was to see “teachers working creatively with an expanded sense of what writing is becoming as it has accommodated emerging technologies,” and to develop an “expand[ed] sense of what the word writing might include in this new century” (198). Each chapter does have a section on assessment, although most are short and several read as if they were tacked on without much development. However, many useful rubrics/checklists that the teachers have developed in their attempts to align their activities with the curriculum standards within which they operate are included. This book could be used for a brief introduction for teachers beginning to learn about assessing writing, but it provides mostly assignment specific evaluation examples.

The remaining chapters were written by teachers at all levels from various part of the country and are divided into three sections. Most of the information is explanatory -- here's how to do an activity -- with an inspirational tone -- here’s how my students were changed by the experience.
Elementary and Middle School – In this section we learn about an elementary writing workshop for struggling readers that emphasizes the social nature of writing by having the students create web pages about topics of their choice (vampires); a fourth grade collaborative writing project where students create podcasts in order to gain a better understanding of revision; and sixth graders who create math- and science-based digital picture books to help students actively create information that ordinarily they would just read about.

Secondary Grades – In these examples, all from high school classes, we are shown how students participate in blogging for a New Journalism/Technology course by writing and sharing about their chosen topics; how students interpret poetry in the form of a video as part of the Poetry Fusion project; how seniors display their research paper findings (encompassing information from across the curriculum) in such formats as i-movies and Web pages; and how blogging and podcasting are used in a speech class.

College Years – In this final grouping, we see science writing made stronger using graphics and story boarding; students using Web 2.0 tools to create multimodal documents; and literacy narratives presented through hybrid essays using text and images.

The book is an easy read for teachers looking for innovative activities. One thing the book does well is illustrate how rich the experiences of using technology to teach writing can be. The teachers mentioned over and over that their roles change to becoming more of a coach or mentor than someone who presents information just for testing purposes. All of the chapter authors point to some way that the writing experience is deepened and made more meaningful through the use of technology, including:
• better understanding of process—making choices/revising/planning/delivering
• increased interest and ownership of writing
• more writing overall
• real world applications
• more social and interactive experiences.

In the final chapter, the editors situate the assessment discussion in the book under two categories: “Classroom Based Assessment,” where the need is for new criteria that relate more to composing with technology, which results in criteria from print culture being adapted and teachers recognizing the role of creativity in the use of a tool of choice; and “State Curriculum Standards and Standardized Assessments,” where the teachers were able to apply curriculum frameworks, but had more difficulty relating to what standardized testing can and seeks to measure. Authors Reed and Hicks, referring to work by Lankshear & Knobel (2006), provide one example of the difficulties faced: “Much of what we see in the enactment of this curriculum (as a result of the tests) does not engender the kind of changed mindset that a new literacies perspective requires: one that is characterized by openness, collaboration, collective intelligence, distributed authority, and social relations” (p. 136). In their chapter, Frost, Myatt, and Smith also talked about having to deal with “departmental outcomes that still refer to the number of pages students should write.” They felt a sense of “discomfort” when thinking about how to assess differently for “projects that couldn’t be word-count quantified” (p. 182). Many of the authors discuss how the use of technology is seen as an add-on in most standards lists, but the new literacies that students engage in, or assessment frameworks for these new literacies, aren’t included.

This collection presents a good starting point for understanding the need for new and different assessment as we experience the different writing experiences afforded with ever advancing technology possibilities.