Play to Learn to Teach

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  Please visit her site to read how other educators are incorporating technology into their classrooms.

If there's anything I've learned on the digital journey, it is the importance of letting myself explore and play with different tools.  It gives me the opportunity to be creative, work out the kinks and think about how I might use these tools with my students.  In addition, I am seeing more and more that the way I think about my writing has evolved.  There is so much more to consider  as I craft my digital compositions.

In Crafting Digital Writing, Troy Hicks states, "...that the type of craft elements we insist our student create in their alphabetic texts can be complemented, - or better yet, extended - by the types of craft elements we can use given the availability of digital writing tools.  With digital writing, we need to think with words, of course, yet we also need to begin thinking like artists, web designers, recording engineers, photographers and filmmakers." (2012)

More and more I find myself thinking like a designer or photographer, or whatever it is that I'm creating as I explore different tools and create a variety of digital compositions. I can then use my learning to help my students do the same kind of thinking. My friend Cathy calls this #playtolearn.

Lately, I've been playing with Canva. I discovered it this summer and tried it out to share the makes I did with the #CLMOOC group. For this first one, I used a template provided on the site. I inserted images into the place holders and added my text. It was easy to use and I was satisfied with my first attempt, but I knew it could be better.

I returned to Canva over break and discovered their tutorials for beginners.  Being who I am, I decided to give them a try.  They even have more advanced tutorials in the Design School.

I learned about using frames and text holders to create my OLW image.  I played with fonts (choosing a font that gave a sense of quietness).  I learned that typefaces (designer word for fonts) with rounded edges are friendlier, while those with geometric edges are solid and strong.  In addition I learned serifs lend an air of sophistication.  (Go ahead and click on the link for serifs...I had to look it up and now I understand serif and sans serif).  

I used my new knowledge in yesterday's blog image, although I need to do more work with color and weight of fonts here.  Those are my next tutorials.

Last night I decided to go big and try one of the lessons from the Design School:  How to Design  a Creative Quote for Social Media.    (Much to my surprise,  Cathy sent me a text telling me how much fun she was having on Canva while I was working.  Check out today's post.  )  I chose one of the quotes from my Pinterest board and decided to play with it a bit.  This is what I came up with.  (Aren't the shadows cool?)

While designing this piece, I thought about the font, shape, and color.  I chose this particular font because it gave me the simplified look I wanted.  In addition, I capitalized the words that were important to me.  I wanted the quote to look like it was spilling down the page (to go with that free flowing feeling the quote gives me), so I used the boxes to frame the words and rotated them to help the reader's eye travel down the page. The orange boxes with the darker red frame and shadow effect make the words pop.

Some things to think about...
  • These simple looking images took a lot of time.  Not only was I thinking about my message, but I was learning the technical skills of adding shadows, spacing the text, etc.
  • There was a lot of thought into how I wanted to present my pieces.  Which images will best convey my message?  Do I want to use an image or do I use a graphic instead?
  • I needed to go through this process in order to help my students go through the process.

I think some would ask if it's important to teach our students these skills when they are crafting digital compositions?  I believe it is.  Our students are composing and consuming texts very differently in today's world.  I believe it's my responsibility as a teacher of writers to help my students be able to produce thoughtful quality products.  Even our youngest writers can understand and use  basic elements like choosing a font that conveys a serious tone versus a lighter tone or choosing colors that help words pop out instead of making them impossible to read.  

It is also my goal that students be able to articulate their thinking as they create.  Just as I've asked students to reflect on traditional pieces they've written where they discuss mentors and craft moves they tried, I want them to do the same with digital pieces.  I believe that if I want my students to do these things, then I need to model my own digital writing process, which brings us back to #playtolearn.  

What are you exploring in your own digital journey?


  1. I love the Canva tutorials, though I seem to have to do them over for it to stick! I totally agree about students needing to ponder these things. My take is that communication is vitally important, both in school and out, and these general and specific questions - from who is my audience to what font helps convey my message - help them/us communicate more effectively! And I love your quote presentation!

  2. I love this post, so full of thought. We need to be teaching these design elements especially for our students to feel creative as well as productive in today's world.
    I asked my students to reflect on design with their last book talk before the break. I was pleasantly surprised with how thoughtful they were about design.
    Thanks for posting and linking up today.

  3. You read my mind! I've been wondering how all these personalized graphics had been created thanks for posting.

  4. Julie,
    This post is packed with things to think about. Not only do I love Canva, I appreciate the purposeful way you think about its use in conveying a message. You are right, every decision made as we design should help strengthen our message. It seems we have to think about message, voice, tone, mood, space, and audience. I found it was also important to consider where I wanted to share the new piece. Different social media sites lend themselves to different presentation formats.

    Like you, I know I have a lot to learn about this. I've been surprised at the amount of challenge in determining visual images for meaning. It's much harder for me than I would have thought.

    #playtolearn not only helps me improve the products I create, but also helps me to understand the process as I think about working beside young learners.

    Thanks for introducing me to Canva. It's a smart design tool.


  5. I LOVE Canva--have never heard of it! Have you done anything with it with kids? So need this. Love your post--thanks!

  6. I've been experimenting with this, too - for my OLW. But, your post takes me to the next level of thinking, Julie - thank you!

  7. Packed with PUNCH! So much to think about and so many possibilities…adding this to my Must DO list!
    Thanks for sharing

  8. Julie, as I was telling Cathy, I am having more success with PicMonkey than Canva but you inspired me to try the tutorials at the Design School. I can't wait to try my skills. Now that you are combining text and photos, you can think about using your new talents to write for the Winter Whisperings Gallery that the invitation can be found at

  9. I remember reading your reflections during the summer of CLMOOC, cheering you on in my head. now I'm publicly cheering!
    you are a true digital player!!!!
    bravo and thanks for sharing your process!

  10. Thank you very much for keep this information. website

  11. I can't help but agree that this post is really cool.
    Personally, I believe there is a need to teach this design element, especially in order for our students to feel creative and productive in today's world.
    Even if you do not have time for design, and you need to write an essay, I would order a work, , and continue to do it


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