National Writing Project

Missouri Teachers Create “TechKnowFiles”—Best Practices in Using Technology to Teach Writing

Date: December 15, 2008

Summary: Teacher-consultants with the Prairie Lands Writing Project have created “TechKnowFiles,” online units of study related to new technologies and the teaching of writing. The project deepened site capacity and demonstrated how the site has integrated technology into its professional development offerings.


"My job is to constantly think about how to keep professional development current at our site," says Heidi Mick, professional development coordinator at the Prairie Lands Writing Project, Missouri, "and also to be creative about ways that we let schools know what we offer."

Every summer at the Prairie Lands Writing Project, Mick works with her director, Jane Frick, to offer continuity opportunities for teacher-consultants interested in leading inservice programs in the year ahead. Given the tight competition to provide professional development in the area, the site needs to be creative and show that it has something unique to offer.

Digital Technologies and Teaching Writing

To serve that end, in summer 2007, after three years of working with teacher-leaders to explore the intersections of technology and literacy through an NWP Technology Initiative Seed Site grant, Mick and Frick decided that they would use the site's annual continuity opportunity to work on a new idea—the creation of TechKnowFiles , online units of study created by teachers that showcase their work with new digital technologies to teach writing.

Teacher-leaders from different strands of technology and literacy work were brought together to inquire into the work they were doing, think about their plans for the year ahead, and document their work plans as TechKnowFiles for online distribution.

In order to make the TechKnowFiles fairly consistent, Mick and Frick offered the teachers a template similar to a Read Write Think protocol, with which they were already familiar, with the following sections:

  • Overview
  • Grade Level Band
  • Estimated Lesson Time
  • From Theory to Practice
  • Student Objectives
  • Instructional Plan

Face-to-face time was organized to support the teachers in sharing their thinking and in doing research together. They then worked independently, using Google Docs to post, develop, and share their work as it emerged. Within a few months, many of these files were ready for online publication.

The TechKnowFiles are a vehicle to show that the PLWP is in a position to think with schools about technology and literacy practices.

The first round of TechKnowFiles included the following units:

"The TechKnowFiles are a vehicle to show that the Prairie Lands Writing Project is in a position to think with schools about technology and literacy practices," said Mick. "Even more important, they show that Prairie Lands Writing Project teachers tie their work with new technologies to solid practices, theory, and research around the teaching and learning of writing."

Prairie Lands Writing Project hoped that these files would serve as enticements to schools and districts about the variety of technology and literacy work the site could support.

Teacher Development, Site Development

Giving the Prairie Lands Writing Project teacher community access to these resources also built site and teacher capacity.  For example, the files were added to the new PLWP Teacher Resource Wiki so they could be commented upon and added to as the practices are implemented by the larger teaching community.  And, as it turns out, these files have been useful as resources that colleagues could share during site workshops and local and regional conferences.

The Prairie Lands Writing Project plans to build a review and discussion of the TechKnowFiles into the summer institute to encourage discussion about these practices and literacies with new fellows and to grow new leadership in this field along the way.

Additionally, TechKnowFiles built the capacity of the teacher-consultants involved. Mick reports that teachers who were involved in this first phase of the TechKnowFiles project enjoyed making the files, since it fed their own practices while also helping to further develop the writing project site's work.

"My students' motivation for writing has increased because the TechKnowFiles helped me set an authentic audience and purpose," said Stacia Studer, an eighth grade reading and writing workshop facilitator with the Saint Joseph School District. "I have explored with the wiki, blog, and Microsoft Word revision tool in my classroom, and my students' passion for writing has dramatically increased—and their writing scores on the state test have also increased."

In fact, as technology continues to develop and the teacher-leaders exploring this work continue to share and grow their own practices, the site plans to develop more TechKnowFiles across grade levels and content areas.

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