The traffic light BYOD management system used by John Hardison of Studio 113.

Creating the ultimate writing atmosphere that inspires students to produce their very best level has always coincided with a constant search, a continual revamping, and an open platform for students’ suggestions. As a collective writing community, Studio 113 students and I seek the most powerful writers’ tools; they may range from Stephen King’s On Writing to the soothing writers’ website OmmWriter to a simple online dictionary. During this incessant quest, we remain open to any ideas that will help us produce a setting conducive to crafting excellent, heartfelt prose, rhetoric, and poetry. In essence, we seek to create originals, and fostering the right time to write requires a number of resources. 

Here’s a glimpse into our classroom writers’ sanctuary:

The Traffic Light: Classroom Management for BYOD

Students in our class are always fully aware of the availability of writing resources. In fact, all it usually takes is a turn of the head to view a specific color of the traffic light. Using a simple, homemade traffic light to manage the use of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has been very powerful and efficient.

Whereas an illuminated green allows students to appropriately use all mobile devices and desktop computers to access any writing resources, the yellow light asks all students to quickly and momentarily disengage from their tech devices by closing their laptops, turning their tablets and smartphones facedown, and directing their attention to the teacher or student who patiently waits with a raised right hand. At this time, a directive, suggestion, or creative idea is disseminated to help all writers move forward with their assignments. This seamless transition normally takes no longer than a minute or two from start to finish, and after communicating, the yellow light is switched to green. Students are then free to dive back into their writing, hopefully a bit more enlightened following a succinct statement.

The red light is too simple. Although not often used, a red light eliminates the use of any student-owned mobile devices. In fact, students know to put away their smartphones, tablets, and laptops when the red light is lit. Students usually see the red light when working certain quizzes and tests or when participating in learning structures that benefit from intuitive, old school modes of class interactions.

Background Music: The Mood of the Writing Atmosphere

To set a relaxed mood in our classroom when writing, the students and I create a playlist of appropriate instrumental tunes. Students select from songs such as Alan Silvestri’s Forrest Gump and Cast Away instrumentals, and from collections of the greatest instrumental songs of all time, and from a vast array of nature tracks. To be perfectly honest, the constant favorite is a soothing track of light rain and soft piano music. Students normally relax into a state of contemplative and intuitive writing once this track has permeated the classroom. Oftentimes, students are also allowed to listen to their own music as long they use headphones and the volume does not disturb the other writers. Flexibility and understanding all students have unique ways of writing have been the keys to inspiring students to produce their very best.    

Soft Lighting: The Students’ Favorite

The decision to use soft lighting while writing is always unanimous. Just ask the students, and they will tell you how annoying the overhead, way-too-bright bulbs are. Although the above video may portray a dimly lit room, please remember the video was shot with an ancient, 7 megapixel, non-HD Sony Cybershot. Trust me. The lighting is perfect, and the students’ constant input is evidence of this fact. Setting the appropriate lighting and musical atmosphere is always first on the students’ wish list, even before their concern for using mobile devices. 

Writing Gadgets: Students Choose Personal Preferences

By offering the options of writing with their smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, or pen and paper, all students find their own comfortable writing zones. Some students choose to couple their smartphones and tablets with the use of powerful apps like Evernote, My Writing Spot, and Blogger, while others choose more simple apps like Notes, iBrainstormer, or Scratch to organize their thoughts and plan their essays. Of course, students also use their mobile devices and our school wi-fi to access any useful writing resource on the web.

Students basically use the laptops and desktop computers in the same manner. Since students with internet-ready gadgets are able to use most of the same writing applications, there really is not much of a difference between writing with smartphones and tablets versus laptops and desktop computers. The only exception that comes to mind is the students’ mode of typing. Some like the more concrete feel of an actual keyboard as opposed to the totally flat feel of the virtual keypad.

As always in Studio 113, students have a choice to use pen and paper with hardback dictionaries and thesauruses as their resources. Let’s face it. Some students still sense the power of holding a pen in their hands and watching their compositional visions come to life on paper in the form of very personal handwriting. I never want to deny students this powerful option. The bottom line is this: I want students to absolutely fall in love with their writing by any appropriate means of composition available. The end result is most important, not how they arrived.

Nonverbal Communication: Editing without Speaking

Students are encouraged to share their writing with others as a source of inspiration and as a means of acquiring constructive criticism and feedback. However, during designated writing periods of about thirty minutes, students are asked to communicate nonverbally. They should not speak a word during a silent writing session. Using websites like Todaysmeet.com, Twitter, Wiggio, or a shared Google document, students can help their peers without disturbing the writing atmosphere. By asking for all communication to be nonverbal, those who choose not to speak are not annoyed by those who do “speak.”

Students are even allowed to text a portion of their essays to their in-class peers as a request for feedback. Think about it. How many times have you written something and immediately shared your new creation with a trusted friend? Pretty powerful, huh? It is no different in our class when we write. Whether they are sliding sheets of paper across the table, texting thesis statements across the room, or holding a discussion about their essays on an all-too-easy site like Todaysmeet.com, students are encouraged to increase their audience and thicken their skin by sharing their original thoughts and writing. 

Breakout Sessions: Students Walk and Talk

These silent writing sessions are often separated by breakout sessions of five to ten minutes where students are invited to walk around the class and verbally share their writing with others. Just like there is power in a silent atmosphere to bring forth authentic and personal writing, there is also great strength in moving about the classroom while seeking writing advice and offering editing insight. It presents the students with much needed balance.

As I finish this essay, I can already hear some of my colleagues’ agreeable comments and criticism, especially as it relates to the freedom I grant my students with their smartphones. I totally understand and welcome all comments. Simply pick up a tablet, smartphone, laptop, pen or any resource available and drop me a line. I would love to collaborate with you.

Besides, it may be the right time to write, and I’m quite sure your writing will be awesome.

 

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John Hardison
John Hardison is an interactive facilitator of learning and blended learning specialist at East Hall High School (Studio 113 & EPiCC) in Gainesville, Georgia. By creating a flexible class where literature creatively comes to life on a stage with students as the stars, Mr. Hardison focuses heavily on creativity, interactive structures, and student choices. In the past 18 years at East Hall High School, he has taught AP Language, American Literature, World Literature, and Applied Communications. Through original learning structures and a shared classroom concept, students are inspired to connect literature with their own talents and interests. Mr. Hardison shares his classroom concept and interactive structures by presenting at professional conferences and upon request by various schools. Look for John at ISTE and follow him on Twitter at @JohnHardison1.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great post and tips! I am a high school teacher writing teacher and I sometimes find myself racking my brain trying to think of ways to engage my students in ways that I haven’t before, and boost their creativity. These are wonderful tips that I may try and implement. I just read a great book you might like called “Teach Like A PIRATE” by Dave Burgess. You can check him out and get the book right from the website http://daveburgess.com/. Thanks for the post!

  2. […] That’s right. Simply turning off those annoyingly bright, overhead lights and replacing them with soft corner lamps will entice students to relax just a bit and listen to their inner voices. If that’s not enough, try hitting play on a hypnotic, looping sound like this. Trust me. Setting the mood for writing time makes all the difference. See it in action here. […]

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