by Amy Vetter, Mark Meacham, and Tresha Layne
For the past three years, the University of North Carolina Greensboro has hosted a two-week Young Writers’ Camp for students in grades 3-12. After the first year, the committee decided to dedicate the two-week camp to 21st Century Literacies. In other words, we wanted to create a space for young writers to collaborate with other writers, read and produce multimedia texts, and share information with other young writers across the globe. The purpose of this blog is to write about how teacher educators, doctoral students, and public school educators’ worked together to set up a camp dedicated to writing in the 21st century. Two blogs will follow that describe how the camp actually worked and what we learned from the process.
The first year of our camp was split into two sections: one dedicated to creative writing and one dedicated to informational texts. As former and current K-12 teachers, we viewed the focus on these two areas of writing to be limiting for students. In addition, the divide between the two did not illustrate the realities of writers today. Starting the second year, campers attended both weeks, chose to write in their preferred genre, and used digital media to construct and publish their final piece. To prepare for this new vision, we developed a shared understanding of what we meant by 21st century literacies. Specifically, we drew from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) (2013) who state that participants of 21st century literacies, do the following:
● Develop proficiency and fluency with tools of technology
● Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought
● Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
● Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
● Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
● Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments
To create a camp that fostered the above characteristics, we first collaborated with colleagues at our university and surrounding public schools. To begin, we hired four instructors (certified literacy teachers) and placed them in rooms with 15 campers divided by grade level (3-5; 6-8; and 9-12) who met for two weeks from 9 am to 12 pm. We had two elementary groups. Along with the instructors, we worked with faculty members who taught a graduate-level Teaching of Writing Course that occurred during the two weeks of the camp. Instructors agreed to use the camp as a field placement for graduate students (all K-12 certified literacy teachers) to try out strategies they learned in their course. The faculty members who taught this course prepared the “writing coaches” to engage in a writing workshop approach, including planning mini-lessons based on the specific needs of campers. Students also read various texts to help prepare them for this endeavor, such as Crafting Digital Writing: Composing Texts Across Media and Genre by Troy Hicks. In addition, writing coaches and instructors came prepared to help campers manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information and create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts by sharing mentor texts and guiding students through research strategies for both creative and informational texts.
Along with these instructional approaches, writing coaches and instructors planned to educate campers about ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments, including copyright issues and plagiarizing. To help with this, we hired two technology coordinators who created email usernames and passwords that we gave to parents to ensure online safety, especially with the younger campers. We also bought flash drives for campers to save their material so that if they did not have to access to the web after camp, they could work on their piece at home.
Finally, our instructional approach included the development of proficiency and fluency with specific digital media tools that campers used, such as Voicethread, Weebly, and Comic Life. To help prepare those teachers for these new tools, the camp committee developed a list of resources campers could use, along with some information about how to use them with young writers (definition, examples, links to tutorials, and suggestions for exploration). Writing coaches and instructors in the elementary group decided to focus on a select amount of mediums, while middle and high school were open to choosing whatever digital media tool students preferred.
To foster intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others that posed and solved problems collaboratively and strengthened independent thought, we contacted local and national authors about speaking with our young writers about their work and their writing process. We invited novelists, poets, children’s book authors, bloggers, journalists, graphic artists, documentary producers, etc. Some authors lived in the area, while others Skyped in from other cities and states, such as New York. These authors were asked to share their writing, discuss their writing process, and answer questions from the audience. All of the authors were expected to interact with students and engage them in some kind of composing activity. Feel free to browse our author list.
We also worked with developers of The Melon Project, a non-profit organization that works to better the lives of children and their families living in Nakuru, Kenya. One of the objectives of the organization is to offer basic education to the orphans and destitute so as to join the mainstream of other school going children. For the first day of each camp, we asked an organizer of The Melon Project to describe the purpose and people behind the organization. We planned to have published pieces from our young writers to be sent to Kenya and used as a learning tool for these children, especially to aid in the learning of English and American culture. This enabled campers to design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes. Campers also read aloud their published pieces on the last day of camp with an audience of community members (i.e. family members and local educators) and/or at Scuppernong, our local bookstore. Check out our camp publications here.
Although we planned for the camp to work as described, we made modifications based on the needs of our campers, instructors, writing coaches, and access to digital media. In our second blog, we discuss how the camp actually worked, including more details about the ways in which campers engaged in the specified characteristics of 21st century literacies.
NCTE Executive Committee (2013). NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment. Retrieved from: http://www.ncte.org/governance/21stcenturyframework.
Hicks, T. (2013). Crafting Digital Writing: Composing Texts Across Media and Genre. New York, NY: Heinemann.