#272 – Shift Writing Into the Classroom, Part II, with Dr. Catlin Tucker

Unpacking Education March 20, 2024 41 min

In this episode, Dr. Catlin Tucker joins us to discuss the book she recently wrote with Dr. Katie Novak, Shift Writing Into the Classroom with UDL and Blended Learning. Dr. Tucker shares insights into how to perform this shift and provides examples of how artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT fit into the equation. Throughout the conversation, she outlines actionable strategies for teachers of all subject areas, making the point that we should all be teachers of writing.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

With time, clarity, critique, and support, students are capable of much more than we imagine.

Dr. Catlin Tucker and Dr. Katie Novak, from their book, Shift Writing Into the Classroom with UDL and Blended Learning


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

An Important Shift

“Writing is such an important vehicle for learning, and yet so often, that writing just follows kids home,” says Dr. Tucker. “If writing is so complex, why wouldn’t we be trying to pull it into the classroom and support that process?”

This shift necessitates rethinking how we design instruction. Dr. Tucker shares, “Everything that Katie and I write about is really hard to do, if not impossible, in a whole-group, teacher-led, lockstep lesson. What blended learning models and strategies allow us to do is to be really thoughtful about how we present information [and] how we use our time in the classroom, and so [with] the different models—whether it’s station rotation, or whether we’re flipping instruction, or we’re using a playlist model—the goal is to allow students more control over the pace of their progress while also freeing the teacher to provide that targeted individual and small-group support.”

While these considerations are important for shifting writing into the classroom, they are also relevant to any student-centered learning experience. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:

  • About Our Guest: Dr. Catlin Tucker is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, international trainer, and professor in the Masters of Arts in Teaching program at Pepperdine University. She taught for 16 years in Sonoma County, where she was named Teacher of the Year in 2010.
  • Motivation for Writing the Book: Dr. Tucker shares her story about the morning that ChatGPT was released and how that event impacted people’s opinions about writing instruction. Dr. Tucker recounts, “While most of the reactions at the time were fear-based and hyperbolic, my response was very calm by comparison.” Still, she saw the need to take action, and that event set her and Dr. Katie Novak on their path for not only helping to teach writing in an AI-infused world but also to illustrate how to bring that process into the classroom.
  • Cheating: Dr. Tucker recalls how access to the internet brought concerns about students copying and pasting content from the web and claiming it as their own. She says, “The problem isn’t ChatGPT or technology. The problem is how we approach teaching.” She strongly believes that we need to stop sending writing home.
  • The Value of Writing: “When you write about something, it can improve your understanding of it, your retention of it,” Dr. Tucker says. “When we write, we find our mental pathway through complex ideas and information. We make connections and solidify understanding. There are all of these academic benefits to writing. Writing is also a really wonderful way to provide these avenues in classrooms where students learn to become better communicators, which have really wonderful implications for their relationships with other people, their ability to self-manage in classrooms.” She adds that writing can “help students really think through the steps they’re taking, or the parts of a process, or how something that they’re learning might relate to something they might encounter in their lives beyond the classroom.”
  • Supporting All Teachers: Dr. Tucker and Dr. Novak’s book is intended to support all teachers in the writing process, not just English teachers who have more specialized training. Dr. Tucker says, “The goal is to help the teacher, regardless of the subject area, leverage a collection . . . of strategies that are really designed for teachers to decide, ‘How do I want to embrace this part of the writing process?’” She adds, “We have templates, resources. . . .This is very much meant to be user-friendly, like ‘Let’s hit the ground running with these strategies and these techniques, and here are templates and things you can use to do it.’”
  • Shift How We Teach: Dr. Tucker says, “I don’t understand why the lion’s share of the class is spent talking at kids when the thing that technology does extremely well is information transfer. We can watch a video. We can listen to a podcast. We can interact with a simulation online. We can read a digital text. And when we engage with information in these ways, we have so much more control over it. We can expand text. We can look up words. We can slow down speeds or turn on closed captions. There are so many ways in which to remove barriers using technology to transfer information. . . . Why aren’t we leaning on technology to do what it does well so that you can work with small groups of learners, providing differentiated instruction?”
  • Alleviate Grading Workload: “When kids write at home, teachers are taking all that writing to their home,” says Dr. Tucker. She argues that we need to shift the assessment process into the classroom to both benefit students and to reduce teacher workload. “I don’t want teachers taking grading home,” she says. “I would like the grading to be a side-by-side assessment. You sit with me. I do a think-aloud. I grade what you’ve written with you here, so you understand exactly what you did well, where are the gaps, what needs to be developed.”
  • Scaffold Self- and Peer-Assessment Strategies: It is important to have students self- and peer-assess their writing. However, we can’t assume that they will automatically be good at this. We need to scaffold the process and provide models until we can gradually release these types of assessments to students.
  • A Thought Partner: One of Dr. Tucker’s goals is to “think about how we help students to start to understand how to lean on AI as a thought partner—as a feedback tool.” She adds that it would be “incredible” if we can help students learn to use AI to get feedback throughout the writing process. She says, “We have this opportunity, from my perspective, to really teach students how to use this powerful tool they have at their disposal with integrity, with responsibility, to help them improve as writers.”
  • Finding a Voice: AI can help students write, but it can’t replace their unique voices. Dr. Tucker says, “What Katie and I want to do is to help students, regardless of the subject areas they’re most drawn to, find their voice in that subject area through writing.”
  • Benefits of In-Class, Student-Led Learning: Dr. Tucker says, “The goal is to cultivate a more self-directed, independent learner, who is able to complete tasks on their own in the classroom while the teacher is over here working with these kids, or lending support, or giving feedback.”
  • Book Structure: Each chapter in the book has a consistent format. It starts with a story or anecdote followed by research. It then introduces a collection of specific strategies that teachers can use to implement the concept of that chapter. The chapter then wraps up with reflection questions and an application activity. The last strategy in each chapter is an AI-enhanced strategy. Dr. Tucker shares, “I think everybody should read this book because everybody is a teacher of writing on some level.”
  • Embrace the Technology: “I feel like if we leaned on media more strategically, if we leaned on tech more strategically, we could make our lives so much easier,” says Dr. Tucker.
  • AI in the Teacher’s Hands: She also shares, “The thing that’s exciting from my perspective about AI is the opportunity to design with a much higher level of intentionality using these different models in a fraction of the time.”
  • Gradual Release: Dr. Tucker reiterates the importance of setting students up for success by scaffolding new strategies and learning approaches. She reminds us that students “still need us a lot in the beginning, but the beauty is eventually we get to release it, and then they can take over. . . . Remember not to skip those pivotal steps.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What are the benefits of writing?
  • How might students use writing in your content area?
  • What are the challenges of integrating writing into a lesson or unit?
  • How might Universal Design for Learning (UDL), blended learning, or technology help alleviate some of those challenges?
  • What might a writing lesson look like in your classroom?
  • In what ways might students benefit from student-centered blended learning strategies?
  • How could you scaffold a new learning strategy for your students?
  • What is one new writing strategy that you’d like to try in your classroom?

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