Notes from TC: Cornelius Minor and technology in Writing Workshop

The last workshop I attended at TC today went by in a blur of information and wonder. That blur of wondrous information was Cornelius Minor, teacher extraordinaire and staff developer at TC’s Writing and Reading Project.  He moves just as fast as he talks, and he has so much to share that I had a hard time keeping up. At the bottom of the T-chart, partly obscured by Cornelius racing off to another great point, is his dictum: Technology is a tool, not a learning outcome.  It’s kind of a warning for us, too, because that is exactly what we sometimes (with the best of intentions in mind) wind up doing. Technology instead, Cornelius said, should be used to:
  • raise awareness
  • ask good questions
  • nurture critical thinkers 
Here is a bit of my take away from this amazing workshop:
We want our students to approach technology not as consumers but as producers – not as game and app crazed kids bouncing from one platform to another, but as tech-savvy learners, willing and able to use technology to create imovies, or prezi’s or whatever to illustrate what they’ve learned, share new information, and pique others’ curiosity.  
He urged us to tie technology in to our writing workshops, and to use digital methods in the writing process:

He listed the following tech tools every teacher should have:
  • a tech mentor (more about that below)
  • a smart phone 
  • a Drop Box account for cloud based storage. (I began using this after I accidentally dropped my set of flash drives  on the driveway and then ran over them with my mini van – 7 years’ worth of stuff went poof!)
  • a Googledocs account – for the same reason.  Also, this allows us to share and co-create with our colleagues.
  •  a Twitter account – #1 PD avenue these days – and which I am hopeless at
  • a SWAT team: sstudents who assist with technology –  four students who are tasked with collecting on line articles on topics of high interest, sorting them into digital folders, and thus creating what Cornelius dubbed “a low tech way to build our libraries.”
An idea I found particularly interesting was one in which Cornelius asked us to think of the notebook as a metaphor. Using the hilarious example of one of his ex-students who notebook could be found all over New York City but never in the classroom, Cornelius spoke of coming to the decision that this student’s notebook should actually live in an application on his smart phone – the one item he could be guaranteed to have on his possession at all times.  This led me to think of James, my student last year, who took his notes on Evernote and preferred to share his assignments via Googledocs.  Or John, who needed to dictate his notes into an app that translated it into notes, which is also how he handled certain assignments, because he is severely dis graphic, and writing is just plain hard. We need to open our minds and embrace the technology that is already here, allowing our kids to succeed in ways they couldn’t have in the past. Very powerful lesson. To paraphrase Cornelius: “don’t kill innovation because YOU are afraid of  the digital universe.
We also learned about the power of recorded conferences: between students, and between teacher and student.  Kids should have the option to talk through their ideas about the books they are reading, to listen to their recordings of this conversation, and then to write in their notebooks.  This rehearsal allows our kids to gain a clarity about their thinking, which in turn enriches what they are then able to write about.  Cornelius also shared a video conference of a student reading aloud – he had been trying to make this student aware of some teaching points, but “kids don’t always see themselves as we see them.” A video of this student reading aloud, played back immediately, allowed both teacher and student to take the next step in their conference. Now, the student was able to see the teaching point Cornelius was trying to make,  adjust his reading, and try it out for another recording to gauge how well that teaching point had stuck. This is the type of quick and constructive feedback Lucy had urged us to undertake in her keynote address – done in a most imaginative way.
Finally, we were given a list of must haves:
  • Google chrome as a browser
  • Ginger – a chrome extension which Cornelius billed as a grammar friend
  • Clearly – another extension that allows us to declutter the computer screen (no more pop ups!)
  • Google dictionary – which reads the word and will therefore be a big boon to some of my IEP kids
  • Announcify: which reads anything inside your browser 
and two Apple apps:
  • Toontastic: which transforms any writing into comic book form
  • Overdrive Media: which connects your device to your local library’s digital media files
For someone who is just beginning to become comfortable with the digital universe, all of the above was a bit (well, okay, a lot) overwhelming.  But, I know that my students are already there – they already know much more than I do, and they have absolutely no fear about trying things out. I can either remain static, and force them to continue to share their learning in ways I feel comfortable with, or I can take the plunge.  Cornelius’ workshop, his energy and enthusiasm, made me feel ready to do just that.
You can follow Cornelius on Twitter @MisterMinor, read his awesome blog at Kass and Corn, or listen to this interview in which he speaks about infusing technology into Writing Workshop.

10 thoughts on “Notes from TC: Cornelius Minor and technology in Writing Workshop

  1. Love this post! I have been working with Troy Hicks and thinking about my writing workshop, which is going to be a digital writing workshop this year. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement: Technology is a tool, not a learning outcome. I've also spent the last 2 days in PD with our technology teachers and am excited about the possibilities for the upcoming school year. Good luck this year! I'll be keeping tabs on what's going on in your room. (And someday I hope to go to TC). šŸ™‚

  2. Finally made time to read this, Tara. Thanks again for taking time to share. It's another terrific post-so exciting. I love every bit of the list-hope to help teachers get on board with some of these ideas!

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