From the “Will Richardson always makes me think file,” I found this quote from one of his latest Weblogg-ed posts, New Reading, New Writing, to really set the wheels in motion.

Is social reading and social writing in our kids’s futures? I don’t think there is much doubt about that. More and more I’m finding Diigo annotations and notes cropping up on the articles and essays that I read, and by and large I’ve found the commentors to be serious, thoughtful and articulate.

Much like Mr. Richardson points out, I’ve been finding Diigo annotations more and more myself since I started using the Diigo toolbar for Firefox. When I read that quote initially, it had me thinking about how Diigo might look in a classroom environment. I guess I was thinking more of a 1-on-1 environment. However, upon further reflection, I don’t think that would be the best way to integrate Diigo.

Why, you ask? To me, Diigo is a tool that you use during those quiet, reflective times. Alone to your work, Diigo is there to help you push that bright yellow highlighter across digital text, rather than the thin pages of a paperback. You don’t really use Diigo with a crowd. You use it during “me” time, when you’re in a reflective mood and capable to be attentive and think critically about what you are reading. For most students, I don’t think that type of “me” time happens very often during the 6-8 hours that they are cramped in a classroom desk with 30 other kids around them. So when and how would a student use Diigo?

Diigo in the School Setting

I suppose you could use Diigo in the 30 student classroom setting. For example, if you had 5-10 classroom computers or laptops, you could partner or group your students to read a portion of the digital text and annotate using Diigo. After the small group work, a reporting out session could bring everything together, or the teacher could assign students to review the other section individually. This would be basically a variation on a cooperative learning activity that classroom teacher do all the time with a “traditional” textbook.

Really though, I think the Diigo potential is much bigger than that. It seems that most students would be able to practice the type of skills @willrich45 is discussing while they work independently. More than likely this type of activity will produce the best results if the student has a quiet, relaxing environment to work in. So for the most part, I guess I see kids using Diigo where they have internet access and some “me” time to read and reflect. Most likely, this is going to occur either at home, at the library, or on when they are on the go (i.e. riding in the car with mom and dad). To me, this is what Mr. Richardson is talking about when he says:

But there are skills here that if developed with some intention (read: taught and modeled) can improve literacy in interacting with texts and people in these digital spaces. As always, however, we have to begin to see [sic] shifts as natural progressions in the evolution of reading and writing and not simply tools that bring a temporary WOW! factor to the process.

He’s right. The technology of Diigo is about so much more that the “WOW.” I think that Diigo has the potential to bring around more than the evolution of reading and writing, it’s could possibly usher in an evolution in school. Diigo, and other social writing tools like it, seem to have the capability to help extend the walls of the classroom. The shift that I think Diigo will help to enable is one that will allow students to move beyond the strict grade-level grouping we impose on them and interact, annotate, and discuss with other students of varying age and ability. If we can start breaking down those age old approaches and the accepted perception of “school” then we are really talking about something better for kids. Teachers could collaborate, plan group students and instruct across grade-levels to provide the type of differentiated instruction each child needs.

It seems there is still a lot of discussion among educators who are debating whether reading and writing are changing and if literacy is something different now. They scrutinize, analyze, and then re-analyze the definition of the words “literacy,” “reading” and “writing” again and again. Don’t misunderstand me, I think those conversations are important and I have learned a lot by observing and participating in them as they play out on Twitter, blogs and other social writing spaces. However, I think that it is time to move past that.

I know reading, writing and just thinking in general is different now. Much different, in fact, then when I was an school back in the 80’s and 90’s. I’ve evolved right along with the process and so have many of the educators who are actually engaged in these discussions. I just can’t help but think that we are wasting valuable time by continuing to rehash the “is literacy something different?” discussion. It seems that the people who recognize there are differences really need to step into more of a leadership role and begin to work together to find ways we can change our schools to support the evolution of reading and writing. That’s the important discussion right now. Not if there has been change, but how schools will change to support the change in reading, writing and literacy; and it might mean something radically different than most people are ready to accept.

Photo Credit: Classroom by Thomas Favre-Bulle, on Flickr