Podcast Interview: Every Day is Earth Day

As we close Earth Day activities, I am grateful to have had the chance to talk with CMLife reporter Teresa Homsi about the intersection of climate change misinformation and media literacy in this April 20 2022 podcast.

As we close Earth Day activities, I am grateful to have had the chance to talk with CMLife reporter Teresa Homsi about the intersection of climate change misinformation and media literacy in this April 20 2022 podcast.

In order to develop solutions to environmental issues, we need to be on the same page and supported by credible, fact-based information. But how do we know what a fact is, what is real and how do we navigate the mess of misinformation? Join guest host Teresa Homsi and professor Troy Hicks as they discuss media literacy – what it is and why it’s important. Hicks is a professor of English and Education at CMU who works with K-12 teachers on implementing media literacy curriculum into their classrooms.


Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Embracing the “Both/And” of Digital Writing

Embracing a “both/and” stance toward technology, we can push back against the kinds of dichotomies that characterize most language arts instruction. What might you do to move any of your ELA assignments toward a “both/and” stance, embracing the opportunities that you have right now to utilize the technologies available to you and your students?

As America moves into an endemic stage of our relationship with COVID-19, and professional learning is slowly shifting back to face-to-face settings, I was fortunate enough to travel to the CCIRA conference this weekend, and to share talks related to topics from my recent book, Mindful Teaching with Technology: Digital Diligence in the English Language Arts, Grades 6-12. In one of the sessions, I used a phrase that I learned early in graduate school from a leader in my field and advisor at the time, Ernest Morrell and have borrowed many times since: “both/and.”

Searching for the phrase, there are millions of hits about “both/and” thinking, not least of which is the memoir by Huma Abedin. That said, when Morrell introduced me to the idea it was in relation to the kinds of reading and writing (as well as listening and speaking, viewing and visually representing) that we ask students to do in our typical ELA classrooms. In this sense, he was pushing back against the kinds of dichotomies that characterize most language arts instruction such as to simply read the story and write an analysis of the characters and plot, or to write an argument in the form of the five-paragraph essay.

So, for nearly 20 years, I’ve carried the idea of the “both/and” into my work, too, in particular around digital writing and collaborating with K-12 colleagues to consider new possibilities for writing in their classrooms. I will often start by saying that, “yes, I want for my own children and all students to both be able to craft words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into essays, and…” then providing any number of examples of digital writing tools and tasks that they might consider. After one of my sessions at CCIRA, one of the participants came up and said how much she appreciated that phrase, “both/and,” and wondered if I could elaborate just a bit more.

In response, I shared an example of a lesson where students could take one idea and extend it in different ways. In the book, one of the chapters is an extended lesson that focuses on helping students craft an initial idea in a short paragraph or kernel essay, and the then moving their argument into three forms of digital writing using Adobe Spark, which has recently been rebranded as Creative Cloud Express. In the lesson, students are encouraged to come up with a hashtag that summarizes their main argument, and to to then reframe their message in 1) an image with a brief caption like a post on social media, to then 2) record their message in a short video, and, finally, to create 3) a web page with a “call to action” as an external link. The entire lesson could take just one class period, or could be stretched out over days, depending on the time that you have and what goals you hope to accomplish. This is what I mean as just one example of the “both/and” kind of thinking.

As I continue to reflect on NCTE’s “Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age,” especially their point that literacies include “a wide range of skills, competencies, and dispositions” and that “[t]hese literacies are interconnected, dynamic, and malleable,” I keep returning to the “both/and” idea. Knowing that our instruction needs to be more flexible than ever and that – even though, according to Common Sense Media, there are still gaps – due to the pandemic, more students in more schools have access to devices right now than ever before (and, perhaps, may ever happen again in the future), I wonder: if we don’t move ELA instruction toward a “both/and” mentality now, when will it happen? Again, while I am sure that divides still exist and that school policies and procedures may prevent some students from taking their devices home on a regular basis (if at all), the simple fact is that the vast majority of students will not be any more connected in the future than they are now.

So, what can ELA teachers do to encourage the “both/and” approach as we consider common tasks in our classrooms? What if we ask students to:

  • Both read the stories to look for elements plot, character development, and use of literary devices, and then craft their analysis and response in the form of a timeline showing how each emerges in the story, using a tool like Sutori or Timetoast to show the intersections of these elements?
  • Both write their initial argument essay an incorporate evidence from outside sources, and then step away from the text to do a “distant reading” of their own work using the word cloud and word frequency tools with a corpus analysis via Voyant Tools so they can use different functions to see their essay in a different manner, using that data to then prepare for revision?
  • Both prepare their speech while recording a practice session, and then post a recording of them practicing it to a video annotation site like Now Comment or Video Ant, noting their own questions and concerns about their performance, and seeking input from their peers and teacher before delivering it?

These are just a few examples, and I am sure that there are many other ways we can continue to take advantage of the tech access that we have right now to more fully engage our students (above and beyond simply assigning digital dittos and collecting work through our LMSs). I will be curious to hear how the landscape of digital literacy is changing as I am able to talk with more and more teachers in the months ahead and, as always, welcome further inquiry, dialogue, and collaboration around these topics here on my blog or via social media.

What might you do to move any of your ELA assignments toward a “both/and” stance, embracing the opportunities that you have right now to utilize the technologies available to you and your students?


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Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

“Digitally Writing New Histories” Unit Plans Released

The Digitally Writing New Histories project was designed with principles of best practice for professional learning in that it is timely, inquiry-based, connected to relevant curricular reforms. We thank the many teachers who created the the inquiry-driven units that are in alignment with the C3 Framework and make use of primary sources in critical and creative ways.

MCSS TPS Unit Plan Home Page Image
MCSS TPS Unit Plan Home Page Image

During the 2020-2021 school year, the Michigan Council for the Social Studies partnered with The Library of Congress on a Teaching with Primary Sources Midwest grant, and I was fortunate enough to be one of the project leaders. We thank the many teachers who created the the inquiry-driven units that are in alignment with the C3 Framework and make use of primary sources in critical and creative ways.

With a shift towards disciplinary, digital, and critical literacies, we find that historical documents and artifacts — as well as images, social media posts, and videos created with contemporary technologies — all serve as primary sources. The Digitally Writing New Histories project was designed with principles of best practice for professional learning in that it is timely, inquiry-based, connected to relevant curricular reforms. We invited 20 Michigan educators to engage in the kinds of practices that we would, in turn, expect them to enact in their own classrooms.

This professional learning experience took place entirely online during evening sessions, through Zoom video conferencing, throughout the entire 2020-21 academic year. In addition to the countless number of digitized artifacts available through the Library of Congress website, we invited teachers to examine artifacts through virtual visits to local museums and learn how to use digital writing tools. Moreover, we were able to virtually visit with many Michigan-based museums, including:

We again thank the teachers who worked on this project throughout the entire year, and for their efforts in producing these units.


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Fellowship with NCTE and TPS: New Perspectives on Primary Sources

The National Council of Teachers of English, in partnership with the Library of Congress, invites high school teachers to apply for a fellowship in the New Perspectives on Primary Sources (NPPS) Project. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, December 1, 2021.

NCTE TPS Banner AdAs one of the project facilitators, I am pleased to share that the National Council of Teachers of English, in partnership with the Library of Congress, invites high school teachers to apply for a fellowship in the New Perspectives on Primary Sources (NPPS) Project.

Fellowships offer approximately 60 hours of professional learning alongside the opportunity to contribute to an instructional unit and chapter for an NCTE edited book. As conditions for travel might allow, participants will be given complimentary registration for the 2022 NCTE Annual Convention in November.

Stipends of $2,000 will be offered.

Applicants must be current educators teaching in classrooms. English, literature, writing, speech communication, media studies, school librarians, and journalism teachers are all invited.

The deadline to apply is Wednesday, December 1, 2021.

Find the application here.

Digital Diligence Webinar Recording

This past week, I was honored to present “Digital Diligence” as the third in a series of webinars in this year’s Medialogue on Propaganda Project. Learn about “digital diligence”—an alert, intentional stance that helps both teachers and students use technology productively, ethically, and responsibly.

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This past week, I was honored to present “Digital Diligence” as the third in a series of webinars in this year’s Medialogue on Propaganda Project, sponsored by the Media Education Lab (University of Rhode Island, USA), the Media Education and Educational Technology Lab (University of Würzburg, Germany), U.S. Embassy Berlin, Public Affairs Section (PAS), and Media Literacy Now.

In this webinar, learn about “digital diligence”—an alert, intentional stance that helps both teachers and students use technology productively, ethically, and responsibly. Join us for a discussion on how to build adolescents’ skills for protecting online privacy, minimizing digital distraction, breaking through “filter bubbles,” fostering civil conversations, evaluating the information on the Internet, creating meaningful digital writing, and deeply engaging with multimedia texts.

Find out more about our Medialogue on Propaganda Project and join our learning community.


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Using Digital Texts to Deepen Understanding

Join Brandon Abdon (@BrandonAbdon), Alice Wu, Andy Schoenborn (@aschoenborn), and Troy Hicks (@hickstro) as we explore ways to give students a choice in topic and approach, all as they develop their digital writing skill. Watch the Live Stream Here on Wednesday, November 3, 2021 from 7:30 to 9:00 PM Eastern

Now more than ever, students need hope, guidance, and accessible avenues to attain digital equity. Discussing how to use “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” from The New York Times as a multimedia mentor text, join Brandon Abdon (@BrandonAbdon), Alice Wu, Andy Schoenborn (@aschoenborn), and Troy Hicks (@hickstro) as we explore ways to give students a choice in topic and approach, all as they develop their digital writing skills. We invite you to join us to see what students can achieve.


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Announcing Mindful Teaching with Technology: Digital Diligence

Set for release on October 29, 2021, my book Mindful Teaching with Technology: Digital Diligence in the English Language Arts, visitors to my website can receive a special offer of 25% off from Guilford Press. Learn more…

Digital Diligence Cover Image
Mindful Teaching with Technology Cover Image (Courtesy of Guilford Press)

Set for release on October 29, 2021, my Guilford publication, Mindful Teaching with Technology: Digital Diligence in the English Language Arts, Grades 6-12 (2021).

The book’s companion page is available here, and the links provided here were active as of June 1, 2021, and are presented in the order they appear in the book.

Visitors to my website can receive a special offer for my book from Guilford Press: to save 25% on the book, please use Promotion Code “AF2E” without the quotes.

If you are interested in learning more, please consider joining me for an upcoming webinar:

Thank you for creating effective digital learning experiences for your students and colleagues.

A Fall Full of Conversation: Three Recent Podcasts

Time to binge on some edu-listening! This fall, I have been fortunate enough to be invited to three different podcasts, sharing my passion for teaching writing with technology. Find the links here.

Photo of podcasting equipment by Will Francis on Unsplash
Photo of podcasting equipment by Will Francis on Unsplash

This fall, I have been fortunate enough to be invited to three different podcasts, including Teach Wonder (produced by Ashley O’Neil and Julie Cunningham from CMU’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education), Middle School Hallways (produced by my colleague and co-author Jeremy Hyler), and All About Literacy (produced by my colleagues Erica Hamilton from Grand Valley State University and Deb Van Duinen from Hope College).

I thank them for the opportunity to talk about education broadly, and my passion for teaching writing with technology. Find the specific episodes here:


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What Are Your Best Practices in Digital Literacy?

What are your best practices in digital literacy? If you — or a K-12 classroom ELA educator that you know — are doing exceptional work and might be interested in being interviewed during the month of October or November 2021, please fill out the form linked in this post.

Students at Sutton Middle School use online research to answer questions during a lesson in history class. Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages. As we transition from “emergency remote teaching” and into a new era of hybrid learning that embraces technology more fully, I am working on a chapter for an edited collection that will share classroom case studies of best practices in digital literacy.

Beyond lessons that are just digitally delivered because they must be, I am looking for exceptional examples of K-12 ELA teachers inviting their students to engage in digital literacy practices that NCTE describes as “interconnected, dynamic, and malleable.” I wonder: how are you encouraging students to engage in active inquiry, connected reading, media literacy, and digital writing in ways that support authentic literacy learning?

If you — or a K-12 classroom educator that you know — are doing exceptional work and might be interested in being interviewed during the month of October or November via WebEx (video call or phone call-in), please take a moment to complete this brief Google form between now and October 15, 2021. I will get back to you about a possible interview after mid-October.

Thanks for spreading the word and sharing your work.

Thanks,
Troy Hicks
Central Michigan University


Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Marshall Memo Summary: Helping Elementary Students As They Use Digital Writing Prompts

In this article in Language Arts, Holly Marich (a Nevada professional development coordinator) and Troy Hicks (Central Michigan University) suggest ways that elementary teachers can help students make the best use of word processing tools like spell check, autocorrect, predictive text, automatic grammar feedback, and voice dictation.

NOTE: With permission of thanks to Kim Marshall of “The Marshall Memo,” a summary of my recent article with Holly Marich is shared here.

Helping Elementary Students As They Use Digital Writing Prompts

In this article in Language Arts, Holly Marich (a Nevada professional development coordinator) and Troy Hicks (Central Michigan University) suggest ways that elementary teachers can help students make the best use of word processing tools like spell check, autocorrect, predictive text, automatic grammar feedback, and voice dictation. “Many educators bemoan digital technology as an unnecessary distraction or even a sophisticated form of cheating,” say Marich and Hicks. “But it’s important to recognize that the choices these tools force writers to face matter, both for writers and for writing instructors.”

Marich spent time in a second-grade class in which the teacher regularly gave students the opportunity to write two sentences in the class’s Twitter account on what they were learning, why they were learning it, how they would use the information, and questions they wanted to ask. The teacher checked students’ tweets before they were posted and conducted individual mini-lessons on usage and content as she circulated. Marich observed a number of “micro-moments” when students got digital feedback on their tweets. Four examples:

  • A student started to write This and the predictive feature inserted The. The boy deleted the whole word and took a few moments correctly typing This and completing his sentence. He needed help dealing more quickly with the predictive text suggestion.
  • A student decided to use the iPad’s speech recognition feature (he’d learned about it on his grandmother’s computer) and quickly found the correct spelling of the word giraffe. Some students may bring sophisticated knowledge to the classroom and teachers need to teach when it’s allowed and appropriate.
  • A student misspelled a word in her tweet, got the correct spelling from Marich, then chose to ignore at least one incorrect predictive-text prompt – peas for piece. This student needed more teacher guidance on spotting words incorrectly suggested by the predictive feature.
  • A student spelled lizard incorrectly – first listed, then liserd – and spent several minutes brainstorming about possible words, ultimately finding the correct one. In the process she thought creatively about her reptile project.

Marich and Hicks acknowledge that it’s impossible for a teacher to be looking over every student’s shoulder and providing everyone with just-in-time suggestions. But teachers can give some general words of wisdom for students as digital tools pop up during their writing, encouraging them to ask themselves:

  • What do I know about the sound or letter that’s being suggested?
  • Do I like this word choice?
  • Do I agree with this suggestion?
  • What do I as a writer plan to do with this information?

“These are genuine dialogues with students that help them think deeply about their work as digital writers and the relationships they have with their devices,” say Marich and Hicks. “Before simply clicking without a thought on automated suggestions or corrections, we need to help our students pause to question the algorithms that are influencing them. In this way, we teach them to be critical, creative, and persistent writers and problem solvers, one micro-moment at a time.”

“Writerly Decisions in Micro-Moments of Composition: Digital Tools and Instructional Opportunities for Elementary Writers” by Holly Marich and Troy Hicks in Language Arts, July 2021 (Vol. 98, #6, pp. 330-339); the authors can be reached at holmarich@gmail.com and hickstro@gmail.com.


Permission to share this summary was granted by Kim Marshall. Please seek further permissions by emailing him at<kim.marshall48@gmail.com>.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages. CC BY-NC 4.0

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