Rewiring Research on Teachers Teaching Teachers

This past week, I was able to join in a conversation with my good friend and colleague, Dawn Reed, on an episode of Teachers Teaching Teachers so we could talk about our forthcoming book, Research Writing Rewired: Lessons That Ground Students’ Digital Learning. Enjoy!


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Changing the Field, One Teacher at a Time

This past week, two thoughtful teachers shared their insight on some of the work I have done with my colleague Kristen Turner. Knowing that what we have written is making a difference in the lives of teachers is, quite simply, amazing. So, I offer my thanks to these two edubloggers here.

Inforgraphic created by Cris Turple based on my co-authored article, “No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait”

First, thanks to Cris Turple who shared this infographic based on my English Journal article with Kristen: No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait. In her blog post, Turple concludes that

“Digital literacy is a crucial component in modern literacy instruction and is necessary for today’s students to be productive members of a digital world. Teachers should focus on the skills related to digital literacy, not specific tools which will soon be obsolete in the ever changing world of technology.”

No surprise here: I agree with Turple completely on the idea that we focus on skills, not tools. Check out the rest of her website for a variety of resources related to TPACK, SAMR, Google Apps for Ed, and more.

Second, Jianna Taylor from the Oakland Writing Project (MI) offered a thoughtful review of our book, Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World — as well as a number of additional ideas and resources that she uses in her own classroom. I very much appreciate the way that Taylor read the book and jumped right in with connected reading practices in her classroom, primarily through the use of Notable PDF. She discusses how this tool is “one of my favorite and most used Chrome extensions both personally and professionally” and the ways that she will use it again this fall. Knowing that teachers like Taylor are willing to jump in and make these changes, turning on a dime, encourages me; often we get caught up in the educational bureaucracy, but she found an idea, tried it, and will refine it to make it better. If, as I often say, “education is the business of hope,” then Taylor makes me very hopeful indeed.

So, as I think about the ways in which my work with Kristen continues to circulate, I often reflect on a goal that she and I share when we are writing. As we collaborate, we always have goals in mind. Yes, we write because we enjoy it and because it leads to tenure and promotion within the university. However, there are other more important reasons.

We write about digital literacy so we can better coach our own children as readers and writers.

We write to help teachers understand the ways that technology affects literacy practices, and what that means for their students.

In short, we write everything with the goal of “changing the field.”

This week, it feels like the field changed just a little bit more. Thanks, Cris and Jianna for letting us know just how that happened for each of you.


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Introducing Assessing Students’ Digital Writing

Assessing Students' Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely. Edited by Troy Hicks. Co-Published by NWP and TCP.

Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely. Edited by Troy Hicks. Co-Published by NWP and TCP.

By all measures, I am fortunate to work with so many incredible colleagues from the world of education, both K-12 and higher ed. Many times those collaborations happen in just a few hours, or a few says, and they then disappear.

However, sometimes they last for months or even years, and they transform into something much more powerful. Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely is one such example of that powerful kind of collaboration.

Here is the book’s description:

Troy Hicks—a leader in the teaching of digital writing—collaborates with seven National Writing Project teacher-consultants to provide a protocol for assessing students’ digital writing. This collection highlights six case studies centered on evidence the authors have uncovered through teacher inquiry and structured conversations about students’ digital writing. Beginning with a digital writing sample, each teacher offers an analysis of a student’s work and a reflection on how collaborative assessment affected his or her teaching. Because the authors include teachers from kindergarten to college, this book provides opportunities for vertical discussions of digital writing development, as well as grade-level conversations about high-quality digital writing. The collection also includes an introduction and conclusion, written by Hicks, that provides context for the inquiry group’s work and recommendations for assessment of digital writing.

Screenshots of Students' Digital Writing

Screenshots of Students’ Digital Writing from NWP’s Digital Is Website

Moreover, each of the book’s chapters include online resources available at NWP’s Digital Is website. One note here is a huge shoutout to my friend and NWP colleague Christina Cantrill who has made the companion site on Digital Is a possibility. There are six different pieces in the collection, including:

My sincere hope is that the student work shared in this collection and online will spark dialogue amongst teachers about when, why, and how they can and should integrate digital writing into their classrooms. If you have questions, please let me know.


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Summer Institute, Stillness, and (Digital) Storytelling

Digital Storytelling on We Video

Digital Storytelling on We Video

We are in the middle of week three of our Chippewa River Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute, and I am sitting in the late afternoon calm of writing time.

At this moment, eight of the seventeen of us are here composing various pieces, including our digital stories. The rest are scattered around our building, or around campus, doing the same. Teacher writers who have found some time, space, and stillness to do meaningful work, both personally and professionally.

For me, it is digital storytelling — the recursive process of writing words, finding images, recording our voices, and repeating each of these steps over and over again — that makes for the most compelling type of writing that we do each summer. I am continually fascinated by the ways in which teachers work on this multimodal composing process.

Some begin with a hint of an idea for a story; others have a strong lead with a clear picture of the story they want to tell. Some begin with their own pictures, digital or digitized, and are able to easily form them into a timeline. Others are stumped, searching the web for countless images that will fit with their vision. Narration is scripted, recorded, revised, and re-recorded.

Joe Lambert, the Director of the Center for Digital Storytelling, offers some specific advice on this process in their Digital Storytelling Cookbook:

Finding and clarifying what a story is really about isn’t easy. It’s a journey in which a storyteller’s insight or wisdom can evolve, even revealing an unexpected outcome. Helping storytellers find and own their deepest insights is the part of the journey we enjoy the most. (10)

 

Digital Storytelling

Image by Casey Fyfe from Unsplash

We don’t often talk about how to gain insight from our writing processes, at least not in school. This is the joy and opportunity that we find in the summer institute.

Time.

Space.

Support.

All of these intangible elements combine to allow us to take risks, be creative, and open ourselves up to discovery. This is the space in which digital stories are born, are nourished, are revised, and, eventually, published and shared with the world.

This afternoon, we took some time to talk about revision, too, and it was interesting to hear how many of us talked about revising our digital pieces, especially our digital stories. Changing one word, just one small element of a script can result in an alteration of the entire timeline. The exact moment when a picture should appear, timed with our own voices or a sound effect, can make or break a digital story.

Digital storytelling, unlike any other form of writing, is a recursive process of discovery, a process that I continue to enjoy as a teacher, teacher educator, and storyteller myself. I look forward to sharing my next story soon.


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Reflecting on Digital English in Taiwan

Screen Shot from Peace's Video Project

Screen Shot from Peace’s Video Project

With a little bit of time in Tokyo’s Narita Airport, I figured I should try to capture some of my thinking about teaching my Digital English Learning course at Shih Chien University (USC) in Taipei, Taiwan. As expected, the three weeks have disappeared already, and we focused conversations and class activities on issues such as online privacy, creating a professional digital footprint, participatory culture, media literacy, and, of course, digital writing.

Because I was teaching a course for the Applied Foreign Languages Department, most of my students were studying English. Yet, as with all students we teach across all contexts, my students in this course came with differing levels of proficiency. As the mantra goes, “we teach the students who are in front of us,” and after a few days and some formative assessments, I was able to adjust my expectations and pacing as I learned from them and they from me.

Having never fully learned another language myself — and having little official training in teaching English as a second or other language — I adapted many of the reading and writing strategies that I have used across the years, from teaching middle school to graduate school, and our shared efforts — me teaching, them learning; me learning, them teaching — seemed to work quite well. They produced more and more writing as the weeks went on, and that led to more participation in class. In hindsight, I am sure that I could have scaffolded more interaction in class, and helped them get to know one another better, so if I had that portion of my teaching to do over again, I would focus more intently on community building in the first few days.

Still, I was able to work with them in class as well as through individual writing conferences with many students (on the weekend, no less), and I modeled the researching, thinking, and writing process for them with Google Docs, Citelighter, WriteLab, resources from the Purdue OWL. This also led to modeling and trying a variety of multimedia tools that they could use to create and share their final presentations. Last night, they shared their projects, with most creating work with Prezi and Powtoon.

Most of the projects were quite good, and a few really stood out. One student, TJ, created both a Prezi discussing the positives and negatives of using social media and, embedded within it, he also produced a short live-action film using WeVideo. Using the example of a friend who got in a fight with his girlfriend via social media, TJ demonstrates the ways that he can compose multiple forms of media and blend them together to create an effective argument.

Another student, Emma, took the idea of “remix” that we discussed in the class, and created a mash-up of news stories about Snapchat to complement her brief oral presentation.

As mentioned, many students used PowToon, and Banet’s was one of the most powerful examples. Combining critical media literacy skills with his knowledge of social media and fashion, he effectively blended images of fashion, his own voices, and elements from PowToon to create a compelling description of what the industry is doing — and could do better — with social media.

Finally, Peace found that he could not accomplish all his goals with WeVideo, so he turned to iMovie. Combining his own drawings with screencasting and other found images, Peace creates a thoughtful argument about the ways in which students can, and should, take responsibility for their use of technology in learning.

There are more projects than what I can reasonably feature here in a blog post, yet these four represent a great deal of thinking, writing, and learning that has happened in our brief three weeks together. I’ve enjoyed the experience teaching at Shih Chien, and I hope that you enjoy these students’ projects as much as I have enjoyed watching my students create them.


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Teaching Digital English in Taiwan

Image of Shih Chien University's main entrance to campus (photo from Shih Chien University).

Image of Shih Chien University’s main entrance to campus (photo from Shih Chien University).

The beginning of a new month finds me in the the midst of the new teaching experience; for the first time ever, I am teaching a class overseas to students who are non-native English speakers. My course, dubbed Digital English Learning,  is a three-week, two-credit intensive course for undergraduates at Shih Chien University (USC) in Taipei, Taiwan.

In January, I was invited by the department chair of Applied Foreign Languages, Li-Te Li, to propose a course and make plans for a three-week adventure in Taipei. My journey so far has been both engaging and challenging, as I have only really travelled to France and England, with a very brief trip to Argentina when I was still in college. Additionally, I was allowed to bring my daughter on the trip, and this has made the trip all the more rewarding. While we miss everyone back home, the new places, foods, and events — including a student drama competition yesterday — have made our time here wonderful.

For the purposes of this blog post, my main interest is in thinking about how the course I have designed is working as both a course to introduce academic writing to non-native speakers as well as a course on digital literacy and media studies. I began the course last week with a survey to find out my students’ interests, questions, and concerns. Many noted their interest in the topic — digital English learning — and how they could learn to use their smartphones and the Internet more effectively. And, as I imagine I would be in a similar situation, many of them were concerned about their abilities to read and write in a second or other language. To that end, I have worked carefully to scaffold their writing through journals and, later this week, the rough draft of an essay.

Also, I am expecting them to create a media project of some sort or another. Building off the success that my students felt in my ENG 201H and ENG 514 courses this spring, I am trying to share many different media sites that my USC students can use for their own projects. So far, in the first week, we have only dipped into some initial ideas for composing multimedia work, though we will begin doing more of this work tonight as we look at ideas surrounding participatory culture.

Finally, I have been reading exit slips from last week’s class and working to figure out a variety of resources for students to use as they begin their essays both in terms of content (which seems to be focused on social media) and form (which I have loosely categorized as  problem/solution, compare/contrast, and cause/effect (ala the New York Times Room for Debate blog). This week, I am hoping that we can get into a computer lab so I can have them begin their drafts in earnest.

There will be more to report before the course is over, I am sure, and any ideas for teaching digital and media literacy to non-native speakers would be more than welcome!


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Resource Round Up

As anyone who has followed my blog probably knows, there are no ads. No banners. No AdSense. No clickbait.

I don’t accept advertising nor do I often pass along information from others. Sadly, as Dan Meyer explained many years ago, many people make many dollars from those clicks, and I think that educators and parents want a website they can trust. So, I don’t do sponsored posts or the like.

Every once in awhile, however, something comes along that I think is legit: the people running it are working to support teachers and students, they engage in genuine education reform or improvement, and/or the message resonates loudly enough that –even if they take ad money or are directly selling a product — I am willing to share their wares.

As it happens, this past week, three sites came my way that fit this “every once in awhile” phenomenon. I will share a bit about each here:

BestSchools.com

First, I was contacted by Herrie Coralde at BestSchools.com about the possibility of sharing information for students about, as you might guess, the best schools that offer online degree programs. Many sites, like the ones Dan mentioned in his blog post, create these guides or portals with the intent that someone will click from them to the online program and they get a kickback.

Not so with Best Schools. As they note on their About page, they exist for two reasons:

The first reason is simple: there are too many online programs out there. It’s impossible to keep track of the industry’s growth. And if you turn to Google for help, you’ll see a glut of for-profit schools. It’s hard to know what’s legit and what’s not.

The second reason is more complicated, and it’s the reason why we started BestSchools.com. The existing ranking systems aren’t anywhere close to perfect. They look at metrics like graduation rates and extrapolate them into a ranking. While graduation rates can be a telltale sign of a high quality school, metrics like that don’t tell the whole story.

Moreover, they offer many articles that tell this broader story about online education such as Kristen Hicks’ (no relation) “For-Profit Colleges: What Every Student Should Know.” After providing a list of pros and cons for these types of schools, she advises the reader:

In short, if for-profit colleges continue down the path they’re on now, they may not have much of a future. But if they evolve to better meet the needs of current students and appease the governmental powers currently challenging them, they may just weather all the current storms…

Do your research. Don’t just listen to what a representative from a college has to say, get online and see what else you can find about the school you’re interested in.

Overall, I appreciate the way that BestSchools does their research and presents their findings. For instance, and not just because they pick my employer, CMU, as #1 in the state, they provide an overview of the state’s programs and then dig in to the top 10.

BestSchools.com Screenshot

BestSchools.com Screenshot

Overall, BestSchools.com appears to be legit and I appreciate having a balanced, research-based team looking at the many options available for online learning. So, finding two in one week was quite interesting, as I will share next.

OnlineMasterPrograms.org

The second query I received came from Lauren Ford at Online Masters Program. Again, I did some looking around on their site, and found their About page compelling, too. Given my criteria for such sites, listed above, I noticed two things about their page work:

Are you affiliated with the programs featured?

OMP.org is an independently run site. We are not affiliated with any master’s degree programs or schools. None of our links to particular programs or schools are sponsored. These programs were chosen because we regard them as some of the most reputable graduate schools.

How do you make money?

All money made through our site is done so via 3rd party advertisers and affiliates. All ads found on this site, be they banners or forms, are labeled as such. The material we produce ourselves and the tools we offer are all ad-free and 100% free to access. We will never require visitors of our site to use or endorse advertised or affiliated content.

So, fair enough. They are clear about their advertising policy, and I appreciate it. More importantly, they provide a good deal of information for each program, as evidenced here by this entry for CMU’s masters in education.

OnlineMastersPrograms.org

OnlineMastersPrograms.org

The site includes public, private non-profit, and private for profit listings and the reviews are written, like BestSchools.com in a balanced, research-based way. Their data comes from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, U.S. Department of Education and the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Again, this makes for a very thorough and useful site as someone begins to review online programs. Of course, there are other ways for teachers to get online, too, and this third resource shows how.

Start Blogging Online

Finally, I got an email from Mike Wallagher who manages Start Blogging Online. His purpose is straight forward:

I began blogging in 2009 – and since then I’ve managed over 20 blogs, some with 200,000 visitors. I started getting tons of questions about blogging from people all over the world, so I thought it’d be a great idea to pack all that information onto one site where I could share it with everyone.

In doing so, he has created a robust website with a clear approach, a clean design, and usable tips. For instance, the screenshot below shows step two in his step-by-step guide. You can see the clear advice, the helpful links, and (just barely at the bottom) a helpful graphic. Most of the resource pages on his site are designed like this.

StartBloggingOnline.com Screenshot

StartBloggingOnline.com Screenshot

He is also very clear about how he earns money from his affiliate marketing program, but that is not the heart of his work. He adds “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I want to make money from you. It’s mostly to keep my site up and running so I could provide you with the latest blogging tutorials, guides and strategies in the blogging niche.”

Overall, Mike’s work is smart, concise, and useful. Probably his most relevant page for educators is “Blogging in the Classroom,” followed closely by his “What is a Blog?” resource. In particular, I could see using that document as a great way to talk about audiences, purposes, and genres for blogging, not just for using blogs (ala Bud Hunt).

So, there you have it. Three coincidentally timed contacts in the past week, all of which have led to useful resources that I may have not otherwise considered. Please let me know if you check these resources out and what you think by leaving a comment below or following up with me on Twitter.

Addition: August 3, 2015

I was recently contacted by Matt Banner from On Blast Blog about his resource “Blogging in The Classroom: How to Get Started.” His post provides the following sections:

  • Ways to bring blogging into your classroom and daily lesson plans
  • The litany of benefits blogging brings to education
  • Deciding the purpose and goals of your blog
  • Setting up your classroom’s blog
  • Easy ways to promote and grow your classroom blog

He provides many useful links and suggestions, so I encourage you to check his post out as well.


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Discussing “Connected Reading” on Education Talk Radio

In case you missed it… Last Thursday, Kristen Turner and I were able to chat with host Larry Jacobs on Education Talk Radio about our new book, Connected Reading. For more information on the book, visit our wiki page. Enjoy!

Check Out Education Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with EDUCATION TALK RADIO PRE K -20 on BlogTalkRadio

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Fandom Mashup with Mozilla’s Popcorn

Mozilla's Popcorn, part of the Webmaker suite of tools

Mozilla’s Popcorn, part of the Webmaker suite of tools

For anyone that has read this blog, seen my guest post on the Heinemann website, or heard me speak in the past few months, you know that I am becoming more and more intrigued with Mozilla’s Popcorn as a digital writing tool. Last week, my students in ENG 201 started playing around with Popcorn as one possible tool for creating their final, multimedia projects.

Before I share this example from one of my students, Cali Winslow, I wanted to note just a few quick notes about helping guide students to this point of the semester.

First, I have been fortunate enough to teach and honors section this semester. While most times I teach English 201 I am focused in on various forms of academic writing, and especially on the techniques of argument, this particular semester has been interesting because I am guiding students, as freshmen, to think about what they want to do for their senior honors capstone research project. As a part of this work, students will be submitting what I’m calling a “very rough draft” of what they would like to do as a senior honors project proposal.

Second, because we’ve been talking about digital writing throughout the semester, I am asking them to share their final presentation not just as a PowerPoint, but in some kind of multimedia form. Over the past few weeks we have begun looking at a number of different tools, and Popcorn is one of them. My hope is that the few students will use this tool for their final projects, especially since I have so many students interested in topics related to media.

All of this is a lead up to what I found to be a truly wonderful project. Mind you, this was meant as an opportunity for play and exploration, a formative assessment opportunity just to see what students could come up with in a limited amount of time. My guess is that Cali spent much more than just a “few extra minutes” outside of class to get this creative representation of her many “fandoms.” In fact, she noted in her reflection, there are many things to consider when embarking on such a project:

This project revealed some important benefits and drawbacks of using multimedia presentations. One clear benefit is that, if executed properly, it can provide a concise, engaging presentation related to the topic. A one-minute video can be much more compelling than a page of text presenting the same information. It also allows the author to be more creative in how they present their message, which can draw a wider audience. As with any media, however, there are some limitations. The biggest problem, in my presentation, was due to technological issues. As I mentioned, I had five tracks that were all timed precisely to fit with one another. Several times I tried to play them back and one would glitch and become out-of-sync with the others, which in some cases, even somewhat changed the message I was trying to get across (some of you may also have had this problem if you tried watching my video).

This is one of those projects where a student clearly went above and beyond, and I think you’ll find the final results to be compelling and creative. If this is what she was able to create just playing around with Popcorn for fun, I can’t wait to see what she — and all of my students — with their final projects.

Enjoy!


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Introducing Connected Reading

Connected Reading Cover (Courtesy of NCTE)

Connected Reading Cover (Courtesy of NCTE)

This month marks the publication of my fifth book, a co-authored work with Kristen Hawley Turner entitled Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World.

The research and writing process for this book took over two years, though it was well worth the effort. Combined, Kristen and I visited a dozen classrooms, interviewed nearly two dozen students, and surveyed 800 teens about their uses of digital reading devices. We discovered that reading was about much more than just the device; it remains, at the heart of it all, a conversation about words, stories, and ideas. Here is the official “blurb” from the back of the book:

As readers of all ages increasingly turn to the Internet and a variety of electronic devices for both informational and leisure reading, teachers need to reconsider not just who and what teens read but where and how they read as well. Having ready access to digital tools and texts doesn’t mean that middle and high school students are automatically thoughtful, adept readers. So how can we help adolescents become critical readers in a digital age?

Using NCTE’s policy research brief Reading Instruction for All Students as both guide and sounding board, experienced teacher-researchers Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks took their questions about adolescent reading practices to a dozen middle and high school classrooms. In this book, they report on their interviews and survey data from visits with hundreds of teens, which led to the development of their model of Connected Reading: “Digital tools, used mindfully, enable connections. Digital reading is connected reading.”

They argue that we must teach adolescents how to read digital texts effectively, not simply expect that teens can read them because they know how to use digital tools. Turner and Hicks offer practical tips by highlighting classroom practices that engage students in reading and thinking with both print and digital texts, thus encouraging reading instruction that reaches all students.

We summarize our model in this graphic, and hope that it sparks conversations about the nature of reading in a digital world.

Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World Graphic

Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World by Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks © 2015 by the National Council of Teachers of English. This figure may be printed, reproduced, and disseminated (with attribution) without permission from NCTE.

Check out the first chapter on NCTE’s website as well as our companion wiki. We look forward to continued conversations about connected reading among teachers, parents, and, of course, our students.