More Thoughts on the Digital Reading/Writing Workshop

Earlier this month, Kristin Ziemke and I co-authored a blog post in response to Nancie Atwell’s blog post about the role of technology in her classroom. In short, the response to our response has been, well, overwhelming and positive. As so many of us in the world of English language arts prepare to head to DC this week for the NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE annual convention, I wanted to capture just a few of the smart, thoughtful, and creative ideas that our colleagues have shared over the past few weeks. A few other edubloggers have jumped in with their insights:

  • Julie Johnson reminds us how “When using technology in thoughtful and authentic ways, our students are given one more avenue for both consuming and producing text.  In a true digital workshop, students have choice in how they read, respond, and write.  Sometimes they choose traditional tools, at other times they chose digital tools.”
  • Franki Sibberson demonstrates that, in a “workshop of the possible,” digital reading and writing are parallel to print literacies because “The key is that the teaching focuses on the writing, not the tool.”
  • Cathy Mere describes the possibilities of what technology can offer her students including the fact that digital tools are “ONE option of many possibilities,” “A way to connect with other learners,” and “A place for students to have a voice TODAY.”
  • Finally, Jessica Lifshitz rethinks how her students work as readers: “Because now we are not just reading alone in our classroom, now we are reading in a great big world of readers. And it feels so much bigger, and better, than just us.”

I want to thank Matt Renwick and Sara Holbrook for their thoughts as well.

Teacher-Writer Network

Teacher-Writer Network

It is simply amazing to me how powerful teachers’ voices can be when we reach out and share our thinking. I look forward to doing much more of this over the coming week at NWP and NCTE 2014, as well as on our new Teacher-Writer Network page on FB.

Thanks again to all of you for sharing your insights on teaching digital reading and writing. Let’s keep the conversation going.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

From Sentence Combining to “Revision Decisions”

Revision Decisions Cover

Image courtesy of Stenhouse

This week, I am happy to be one stop on the blog tour for Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean’s new book, Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond (Be sure to visit stops one, two, and three for some great insights from Stacey, Sarah, and Donalyn, too).

In interest of full disclosure, I was provided an advanced copy of the book by Stenhouse, though I have long been an admirer of Jeff’s work to effectively integrate grammar instruction into the writing workshop and Deborah’s work on genre study and best practices in writing. More importantly, even though I got one for free, you can win a copy, too… read on!

So, it was my pleasure to read their book and converse with them about some related topics.

First, a quick overview of the book from the perspective of an English teacher who was always reluctant to “teach grammar.” I tried to integrate grammar instruction into my mini-lessons and conferences with students, but very rarely could I get beyond the idea of simply introducing my middle schoolers to using commas in a series or, if I was really lucky, to add an appositive phrase. Jeff and Deborah have provided teachers with a road map for how to make grammar instruction, through an alternative form of sentence combining, much more effective than simply winging it during those teachable moments and hoping that something would stick. Indeed, Revision Decisions provides us with the theoretical and practical glue to make grammar lessons meaningful and memorable.

Jeff and Deborah remind us that “Writing is a series of attempts that is often messy — drafting, revising. Many things are tried; some will be fixed, some discarded, and others memorialized in print, making it the best it can be — for now” (17). They encourage us to teach students how to play with language, to make words and phrases move on the page, to help our ideas take shape, reform, and then take shape again. Teaching in this manner is not necessarily easy, because we need to be willing to take risks with our students, playing with language while inviting them, too, to engage in the process. It is important that we provide ample wait time as students explore, remembering that “[t]he most important part of these activities is letting the students discover as much as they can” (44). Jeff and Deborah show us exactly how to do this by offering their DRAFT heuristic (18):

  • Delete unnecessary and repeated words
  • Rearrange sentence parts/chunks
  • Add connectors
  • Form new verb endings
  • Talk it out

Then, in the second half of the book, our co-authors walk us through a number of “lesson sets” which explain these revision decisions in more detail. All in all — and not just because I am a big fan of their previous work — I can say that Revision Decisions will guide my teaching practice as I continue to think about how sentence combining (and, as Jeff and Deborah show, “uncombining”) can be a great teaching strategy.

Second, and equally as interesting, I was able to interview both Jeff and Deborah via email. They provided me with some compelling answers to burning questions that I have about the teaching of grammar. I share my original questions and their responses here:

Question 1: First, as we consider the many ways in which students knowledge of grammar could be assessed, part of our reality is that the new common core tests, as well as other high-stakes tests such as the ACT, are asking students to identify grammatical structures and problems and then reply to a multiple-choice question. How do you balance teaching “revision decisions” with authentic pieces of student work against these constraining types of test questions? In what way are we able to have students transfer their knowledge of grammar from their “revision decisions” into the reality of test prep?

Jeff’s Response:

Jeff Anderson

Jeff Anderson

The cool thing about the concrete acts modeled and experimented with in Revision Decisions is that they are based in a sound research-based instructional methods and help prepare kids for test. Sure, it will work best for critical thinking, revision, and sentence combining questions that students are sure to encounter. It’s not so much about editing; however, since we only use grammatically correct sentences to play with and combine, they are getting exposure to correct texts as they reformulate and revise.

Thinkers. That is what we want our students to be in our classroom, in the world, and even on tests. Thinkers. Thinkers evaluate what best communicates and idea, analyzing, testing it. This is all built into the lesson cycle or progression in Revision Decisions. Based in the Writing Next research on sentence combining, study of models, and collaboration, students will think. Thought requires flexibility, risks, and options. We demonstrate options, we allow students to tinker with and combine sentences, all in the name of making beautiful, rhythmic sense. The concrete doable actions of the DRAFT mnemonic let young revisers in on the concrete things they can do (options) to create effective prose: Deleting, Rearranging, Adding connectors, Forming new verb endings, and the essential piece of Talking it out. Luckily higher standard tests won’t ask students to identify a part of speech or structure, but the applied knowledge they’ll get from sentence combining and revising will set them on a path for success.

Deborah’s Response

Deborah Dean

Deborah Dean

One of the ways I would say the work we present in the book helps prepare students for testing is that Revision Decision work is consistently putting options about writing in front of students and asking them to consider the effects of the different choices, much as the test does. As students and teachers work with making writing choices (revision decisions!), they consider effects, to be sure, but they also consider issues of clarity and, in some cases, correctness—issues the tests focus on. All of these are elements of the decisions writers make. In our classroom talk about choices and effects, a certain amount of talk about correctness is sure to come up: it is, after all, something readers might expect in some writing situations and it is possible for writers to violate expectations for grammar when they are playing around with parts of sentences. Therefore, correctness (or lack of it) also creates an effect that writers need to consider in revision. There is room in this practice for helping students get ready for tests; it is just woven into the talk and decision-making about sentences. Long answer put short: although we don’t focus on correctness directly, it will certainly come up in discussions of choices and their differing communicative effects.

Question 2: Second, just as the Writing Next report indicates that isolated and grammar instruction has a neutral to negative effect on students writing, it also notes that word processing has a positive effect. How could a teacher transfer some of the ideas that you both have shared in your book to a technology–infused lesson? What might you suggest for teachers as they help students use word processing for smarter revisions?

Jeff’s Response

Ack. This one is hard for me. I have lost many a good idea by revising on a word processor program. I do think it’s handy for small stuff, but I have lost things too. I almost always print my writing out at some point, open a new file, copy and paste the section in need of revising. When and if it works, I paste it into my doc. So I guess, sharing my process isn’t a bad way to do that. Wait, I am sharing my own process discovery. That’s writing process, by jove. Also considered a huge plus in the Writing Next research report.

Deborah’s Response

It certainly seems to me that the practice we present in the book works with students who are word processing as well as, if not better than, for those who are writing out their sentences. In fact, one of the challenges of this work is that when students are handwriting, they sometimes don’t like to make multiple versions, “writing the same words over and over.” Some of my students acted as though the physical act of writing was almost painful in these instances. For those students, being able to copy and paste to move sections of sentences around would be a great benefit, allowing them to create more ways to frame the ideas of a sentence with relative ease.

An additional benefit that is available for handwriting but that may be a little less noticeable is the way that copying and pasting helps students to see how ideas group themselves into grammatical structures for movement. It is easier, I think, for them to see a prepositional phrase or verb phrase as a unit if they are moving chunks with a word processor.

Question 3: Finally, though I’m sure it is difficult to pick only one, what grammatical structure do you think most students could learn to use in order to add power and voice to their writing? What is it about that particular grammatical structure that you find so useful? Do you have an example of how an author has used that grammatical structure in a book, essay, or poem?

Jeff’s Response

For me (but Debbie has a love affair with this structure itself. I am surprised we didn’t dedicate the book to right-branching sentences), it is the idea of the right-branching sentences. So primary to both of us that it is Lesson Set 1 in Revision Decisions. Whether a writer adds an appositive to the right of the main sentence or clause or a participial phrase to the right. This is manageable and replicable for both fiction and nonfiction writing. In the book, we reference a sentence by Albert Marrin from Rats!:

A rat can collapse its skeleton, allowing it to wriggle through a hole as narrow as three-quarters of an inch.

The main clause is really expanded by the right-branching modification. This is true in appositives or participial phrases or any other appropriate structure.

Deborah’s Response:

I don’t know for sure how to write the sound I just made.

PPFFFFSH!

It’s a little like asking which is my favorite child. Impossible to answer.

But, okay. I don’t know what Jeff would say, but I would go to participial phrases, I guess. (As soon as I say that I think of dozens of others—should I say appositives????) Why do I find them useful? They allow me to add details; in fact, if I’m thinking about using them, I usually add details I might otherwise leave out, adding those details in concise ways, without duplicating words or making placeholders necessary.

I always remember a passage of Where the Red Fern Grows that we use on pages 103 and 104 in the book. It’s a passage that shows how powerful participles can be (and so does the example on page 105 from Sheinkin’s Bomb). Participles and participial phrases are useful in so many places and in so many texts. We have lots of examples in the book of them—I guess both Jeff and I really are drawn to them.

I thank both Jeff and Deborah for their responses! And, now for the fun part. GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond, courtesy of Stenhouse Publishers.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Revision Decisions, please leave a comment on this post by Monday, November 17th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, who will be contacted via email.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you if you win. Stenhouse will be shipping the book to you, so I will share your mailing address with them.

Thanks to Jeff and Deborah for their timely, useful, and fun approach to teaching revision!


Image of Revision Decisions cover courtesy of Stenhouse. Images of Jeff and Deborah include links to the original source. All other original text written by yours truly, Jeff and Deborah is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International LicenseCreative Commons License

Creating and Composing in a Digital Writing Workshop

Note: This post, co-authored by Troy Hicks and Kristin Ziemke, has been prepared in response to Nancie Atwell’s blog post about the role of technology in her classroom.


In her recent blog post Nancie Atwell opens up about the role of technology in her classroom.  As a leader in our field of teaching writing, Nancie, suggested that:

I do think classrooms in grades four or five and up should have computers, so kids can experience and experiment with word processing, but I have concerns about them in the younger grades. In fact, I think the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake.

We’re grateful to Nancie for starting this conversation as districts across the country purchase more and more mobile devices without thinking about the pedagogical practices that must go hand-in-hand, if not lead, how we think about using these new tools.  This dialogue is necessary and overdue. Nancie is one of the literacy leaders who has guided our thinking about student writing, the reading and writing workshop approach, and how best to frame our own thinking about the teaching of writing, both of us appreciate and admire Nancie’s work. We respect her opinions about what works in reading and writing classrooms.

Girl Writing on iPad

One of Kristin’s students composing both print and digital writing.

We agree with Nancie that many schools are using technology poorly; instead of embracing redefinition as Dr. Puentedura has advocated for, teachers are often misguided and use digital devices for sight word practice, prompted responses and (sadly) weekly assessment and test prep.  We recognize that there are poor models of classroom technology out there.  We also respect and acknowledge how Nancie employs technology at her school.

However, in this case, we humbly suggest that her opinion on students writing with technology is limited, and we feel compelled to offer a different vision of how students can become digital readers and writers.

First, in the upper grades, we feel that her insistence on computers for word processing is too limiting. Let’s unpack this assumption just a bit. First, though it can feel like our students have their noses stuck in screens for far too long throughout the day, technology is not the enemy here. In fact, word processing is just the beginning of what technology offers to writers. According to leading researchers in the field of K-12 writing instruction, Jill Barshay reports that:

In 83 percent of 30 studies on the use of word processing software, students’ writing quality improved when they wrote their papers on a computer instead of writing by hand. The impact was largest for middle school students, but younger students benefited, too. The theory is that students feel more free to edit their sentences because it’s so easy to delete, add and move text on a computer. The more editing, the better the final essay.

Steve Graham and Delores Perin shared these results in the 2007 Writing Next report, and — sadly — in many K-12 classrooms we still don’t see technology being used for revision and editing in this proven manner. Yet, word processing is just the beginning of what students can, and should, do with computers.

Students with Laptop

Kristin’s students compose using a laptop.

Second, as we dig a bit deeper into Nancie’s claim about using computers only for word processing, we know that there is more to consider. Indeed, we know from our own research, teaching, and professional writing that computers — as well as tablets and smart phones — provide students with countless opportunities for reading and writing. And, when we say “reading” and “writing,” we are talking about both traditional alphabetical texts (books, articles, essays, poems) as well as digital texts including blogs, ebooks, and hypertexts. Our professional organizations — such as NCTE, IRA, and NWP — have been calling for a broadened view of digital literacy for well over a decade. We would hope that Nancie would consider doing so, too.

Now, to unpack the second part of her concern: that “the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake.” While Troy does not have the benefit of being in the classroom everyday with younger students, Kristin does. And, from this experience, she would argue that the primary grades are exactly where kids SHOULD be using technology as it transforms their ability to create, share their ideas and connect with an authentic audience beyond the classroom. In fact, it is essential.

Let us explain a bit more.

In the early childhood years, many students are challenged by the physicality it takes to produce a piece of writing. Ideas are often generated and lost before a young writer can transmit them to the paper. In today’s digital writing workshop, students can scaffold their own development by recording a video snapshot of the story they want to tell. Once the ideas are captured on video, the child can transfer the story to paper while going back to rewatch the video as many times as needed in order to remember and include all the parts of the story.   Video recording tools allow us to meet the writer where he is and nudge him to become a more proficient writer and idea generator.

Using digital publishing tools like the Book Creator App or Little Bird Tales, we find new ways to celebrate active literacy in the classroom as students can draw, write, speak, listen, view and read all within a piece they create. The ease of which a child can add audio to their own book signals to the learner that each child has a story to tell and is the owner of that story. Embedded audio provides a window into the thinking and gives us a picture of what a child knows and is able to do, not merely what their fine motor abilities allow them to produce on paper.

Screenshot of Kristin's class interacting with author Seymour Simon

Screenshot of Kristin’s class interacting on Twitter with author Seymour Simon

Most importantly, technology expands our youngest learners audience as students publish their writing online. Enhanced eBooks, student blogs and classroom Twitter accounts invite primary age students to move beyond the writing wall in the classroom and into a writing world. Feedback from their families, blogging buddies and experts in the field inspires them to write even more. Students view themselves as important contributors to the global writing community and move beyond learning about writing to living life as a writer.

And of course, we provide balance and choice in all we do. We explicitly teach kids that tablets and laptops are tools that writer’s use, just like paper and pencils. We want kids to be intentional about how they choose the tool and think about how the tool enables them to revise, alter the layout and share the writing.

Moreover, these observations extend beyond the early grades. We can point to numerous examples where teachers in upper elementary, middle school, and high school are using digital reading and writing to support their students’ literacy development. As a point of reference for upper el and middle school, we would suggest that Nancie look at some really innovative educators who teach writing with technology such as Kevin Hodgson, Jeremy Hyler and Katharine Hale.

Finally, we suggest that the concerns Atwell suggests are less about her students’ abilities — as well as the capabilities of the devices — and more about her stance as a teacher. Certainly, we want students to feel positive about their reading and writing experiences: reaching fluency with the written word, providing opportunities to talk about books with one another, holding a well-worn novel or favorite pen in our hands. These are tactile, valuable experiences. As she notes, there are social reasons embedded in writing and reading that make these practices both pedagogically useful as they humanize our classrooms.

In this blog post, one of Kristin's students shares her "wonders" as a part of an inquiry project.

In this blog post, one of Kristin’s students shares her “wonders” as a part of an inquiry project.

However, if as teachers we discount the opportunities that crafting digital writing and engaging in digital reading can offer students, then we are doing our students more than a disservice. We are failing to prepare them for academic, workplace, and real life opportunities to engage in literacy practices. This is not about our personal preferences for or against technology. It is about the ways that we teach students to become literate.

We are grateful to Nancie as a thought leader and for her decades of work, as well as for her blog post in which she invites us all to reflect on the role of technology in our classrooms. However, we disagree with her stance that word processing is the only way to use technology in the writing workshop and encourage Nancie and others to rethink how we engage students as writers. We strongly believe the trend of iPads (or any tech) in elementary (or middle or high school classrooms) is, indeed, not a mistake, but a necessity.

Student Response on Twitter

Student Response on Twitter


Photos provided by Kristin Ziemke.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Digital Media in Content Area Learning

Earlier this week, Liz Piazza asked:

At the time, I didn’t think I could answer in 140 characters, and I’m glad that I didn’t try.

There are quite a few things to consider when answering this question, and perhaps it was simply the word “all” that threw me for a loop. Well, yes, in all content areas. I think. Wait, maybe not all. Most? Some?

You can see how I pondered the question, turning it over in my mind.

In doing so, however, I also began to think about the goals for content area literacy or, as it is being described more and more — especially by Tim and Cindy Shanahan – disciplinary literacy. And, in fact, their definition is at the crux of how I would answer the question. They believe that “Most students need explicit teaching of sophisticated genres, specialized language conventions, disciplinary norms of precision and accuracy, and higher-level interpretive processes” (43) and “the nature of the disciplines is something that must be communicated to adolescents, along with the ways in which experts approach the reading of text. Students’ text comprehension, we believe, benefits when students learn to approach different texts with different lenses.” (51).

Image CC Licensed by Flickr User Dan Zen

So, my short answer to Liz’s question would have been, “Yes, various forms of new media such as social networking and gaming can be successfully used in various content areas, perhaps even all of them,” as evidenced by tools such as EASE History, the Science Game Center, the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, or any of the dozens of options available on this K-12 Tech Tools wiki. Students have created videos about science experiments and historical reenactments, and acted as characters from literature or actual historical figures on Twitter and Facebook.

So, yes, they can.

The deeper answer, and the one that I have been struggling with over the week, however, is a little more complicated.

If we think about the Shanahans’ ideas that content area literacy is quite a bit more specific than simply applying a general set of strategies for writing-across-the-curriculum — as good as those strategies may be — then there has to be something deeper, something more rhetorical, to the idea of composing a disciplinary text with multimedia. Returning to Liz’s question, and pivoting it just a bit, I wonder: Can various forms of new digital media be effective as a tool for composing in all disciplines? 

Here, the answer gets a bit murkier, mostly because I am not a disciplinary expert outside of the field of writing. On the one hand, I can imagine that expressing disciplinary knowledge in math, science, history, or the arts — demonstrating a way of thinking through expert interpretation, analysis, and communication — could happen in any form of media. Heck, a whole movement in education, the flipped classroom, has come about because teachers have taken up the idea that they can create and deliver lessons via online video at least as effectively, if not more so, than they can do in the classroom. So, multimedia exploration of disciplinary knowledge is, conceivably at least, possible.

On the other hand, I wonder what is lost when transitioning from writing (words into sentences into paragraphs types of writing) into multimedia composition? Are there components of disciplinary thinking that don’t translate well from words to images to video to links to… whatever other form of media we can imagine?

At the same time, what do disciplinary experts gain in the process of being able to use images, voice, video, links, and other forms of media? How can they use multimedia to more fully express their ideas? What is it that we want to know about learning math — or science or music or art or anything — that multimedia can offer above and beyond print?

Liz’s question has pushed my thinking this week, and for that I thank her. I’m hoping that this response pushes her thinking, too, as well as yours. What does it mean to compose, as a disciplinary expert, with digital writing tools?

Lastly, and on a related note, for more of my thoughts on disciplinary literacy from an English Language Arts perspective, this chapter could be useful:

Hicks, T., & Steffel, S. (2012). Learning with Text in English/Language Arts. In T. L. Jetton & C. Shanahan (Eds.), Adolescent Literacy in the Academic Disciplines General Principles and Practical Strategies. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Networked Conversations and Transformational Technology

CC licensed image from Flickr user Frau Hölle

This past week has been a busy one for me, with professional experiences ranging from face-to-face workshops and two webinars, to our first school-based field experiences with pre-service teachers; additionally I met with my writing project leadership team, facilitated two writing groups and ended last night by helping to moderate a panel discussion amongst principals for helping them secure a job. Whew…

In and amongst all of these activities, I have been reminded of the power of teacher networks. In fact, my entire professional life centers on the idea of teacher networks. Identifying networks. Building collaborations. Nurturing novice and veteran teachers alike. Putting them in conversation with one another. Asking smart questions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Creating new networks, and beginning the process again. It’s part of who I am, part of what I do.

In that sense, part of what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers this semester to do – through the use of Twitter — is to build a teacher network. I am not simply asking them to “use Twitter.” Instead, I am coaching them in the process of using Twitter as a tool for building their PLN. This happens both online and off. As evidence of this, I spent about 20 minutes of class time last week introducing some of the nuances of Tweetdeck as a tool for monitoring and participating in hashtag conversations.

At the core, what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers is about using technology in a way that moves well beyond simplistic integration. As Ruben Puentedura describes it in his SAMR model, I want pre-service teachers to move from technology as a tool for enhancement of teaching practice into an opportunity to transform their practice.

Yet, I find my pre-service teachers, even the most engaged Twitter users amongst them, to be hesitant about using social networking in this manner.

Of course, change is hard, and I am working to ease them into it. I want to provide them with the opportunity, yet not foist Twitter upon them. At the same time, we cannot move fast enough. There are so many conversations, so many ideas that they need to jump into, so many networks that they can learn from.

Indeed, my colleagues in teacher education could take a play from the Twitter/PLN playbook, as I do not often see teacher educators participating in regular conversations. There are exceptions, of course, but when I was in a recent college of ed meeting about reforming our teacher ed program, no one presenting mentioned how we could tap into these existing networks as a way to recruit mentor teachers, build school partnerships, and learn about current trends in the field. Many of my colleagues need to rethink how they, too, participate in networks as a broader component of their own (and their pre-service teachers’) professional learning.

At this point, I am still pushing forward with Twitter outside of my methods class, though I think I might use it in class next week to hold a backchannel conversation, too. I’ve resisted the urge to place any kind of grade on Twitter participation, though I have told students that they will be evaluated on their participation in class, both at the mid-term and at the end of class. So, I will keep working to get them involved, and to get other teacher educators involved, too.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Contributing to the Conversation: Pre-Service Teachers Get Started on Twitter

“A Conversation” by Flickr user Khalid Albaih.

Over the past week, my ENG 315 students have been joining Twitter and using the #eng315cmu hashtag to start discussing ideas related to teaching writing and creating their own PLNs. I provided them with a few resources to get moving along.

First, to create your own professional learning network and reading list, begin by reading How To Build Your Professional Learning Network Online and Offline and How Do I Get a PLN?

Then, sign up for Twitter. Install a Twitter app on your phone or in your web browser and read What The Tweet? Your Illustrated Guide To New Twitter Jargon. Also, take a look at Edutopia’s  Five-Minute Film Festival: Twitter in Education.

For this week, I am trying to help them “contribute to the conversation.” That is, I want them to begin thinking about how their tweets — while sometimes personal, eccentric, or irrelevant — can generally be about their professional lives, including their questions and discoveries about teaching writing. For instance, I encouraged them to create “substantive tweets” (paradoxical in some sense, I know), that might do the following related to our own class discussions:

  • Summarize a key idea from an article or blog post
  • Respond to a colleague from class in a supportive manner, yet also pushing the conversation forward
  • Provide a link to a resource related to the original idea

Or, alternatively, if entering a broader conversation, they might:

  • Ask a specific question to another teacher on Twitter about his/her teaching practice
  • Ask a teacher that they follow already what some good chats are to join as well as other teachers to follow
  • Share their own observations about working with student writers (not using the child’s name, however!)

Soon, I plan to adapt some ideas about setting professional goals from Jon Hasenbank, a math professor at Grand Valley State University. He asked his students to identify some professional goals and then choose a Twitter chat that would help them reach those goals and, of course, reflect on the experience (such as this one from Holli McAlpine).

So, I am happy with the progress we are making so far. If you are interested in following our group and contributing an idea, I know that that my pre-service teachers would appreciate it. You can find a list of them here, and we are using the #eng315cmu hashtag.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Inviting Pre-service Teachers into the Social Media Conversation

Image from TechFaster

Image from TechFaster

This fall — in fact, tomorrow — marks my return to the classroom after a year-long sabbatical filled with many research projects, lots of writing, and quite a bit of travel. Like most teachers, I both crave and fear the “regularity” of the school; the days become somewhat more regimented, but the overall craziness of our lives seems to intensify.

There are many additional projects to discuss in the year ahead, yet pressing on my mind at this moment is how to invite my pre-service teachers into the broader conversation(s) that happen amongst educators via blogs, Twitter, and other online communities.

Over the past seven years of working with pre-service teachers, I have dabbled with a variety of digital reading and writing tools, consistently returning to the use of wikis and Google Docs as mainstays in my ENG 315 course. Early on, I integrated blogs and RSS, later trying other elements like podcasting, digital storytelling, and social media/classroom management hybrids.

Yet, I haven’t had them fully jump in to the world of Twitter or edchats. Perhaps this is because, first, when I taught my last course in the spring of 2013, the real explosion in edchats had yet to really hit. Perhaps it was because I felt we were crunched for time in an already-crowded curriculum. Perhaps I was having trouble making a clear connection between digital writing and social media.

Well, edchats are here, the curriculum will always be crowded, and I wrote a chapter in a book about the composition processes of social media. So, I suppose that this semester is as good as any to invite my students to jump in.

So, the question now becomes: how and where to begin? This then begs further questions:

  • How do I scaffold and layer their experiences with social media over the course of the semester?
  • What authentic and useful tasks can I ask of them as a part of normal course work (for instance, to discuss readings or find relevant new articles)?
  • How can I encourage more authentic participation in edchat communities that moves beyond what the are “supposed” to do for class?

I know that I can take some of my own social media advice in terms of what I have previously suggested to other teachers, but I think that pre-service teachers are a slightly different audience.

As I mull this over in the next few hours — I teach tomorrow afternoon and I am wondering where to begin — I would be curious to know what my colleagues, especially teachers of high school students and undergrads, have done to thoughtfully, critically, and creatively introduced social media into your classrooms?

Any advice before I stand up to start teaching tomorrow?


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Managing Learning and Assessment in a Connected Learning Environment

Earlier this evening, I participated in a wonderful closing discussion as part of the sixth and final webinar in KQED’s TeachDoNow series. The archived video as well as a summary of my tweets with links from the conversation are below. Broadly, our conversation centered on this big question: How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Digital Literacy Leadership Dare

Looking to the future of digital literacy (Flickr image from by Schlüsselbein2007)

This morning, on the final day of our digital literacy leadership workshop, we watched Chris Lehmann’s Ignite talk about “School 2.0,” and I borrowed some of his ideas to create our writing prompt: What do you dare to do as a digital literacy leader?

One of the themes that has emerged for me over the week, and especially at our dinner conversation last night, is that I have been doing lots with digital literacy just about everywhere in the education world — through the National Writing Project, in K-12 schools, in partnership with colleagues at other universities — but not much right here, on the campus of CMU. Perhaps a bit too aloof, I have often pushed off my lack of involvement here by saying that “I can’t be a prophet in my own land” or that the bureaucracy of the institution is too much.

Today, I am daring myself to do better, to be better. I am daring myself to be a digital literacy leader here, in my own backyard, on our campus. What might this look like.

  • Well, to begin, I will schedule time to talk with our director of composition and the director of the writing center, perhaps both together, to talk about digital literacy and multimodal composing.
  • Second, as we revise the English education curriculum, I will be more of an advocate for digital literacy in our courses and program as a whole.
  • Third, as I get involved with our department curriculum committee, I will also be thinking about possibilities for professional development as it relates to instruction and integration of technology.

I’m using Letter Me Later to send myself a note for later in the year, asking whether or not I have been proactive on these goals.

I hope you, too, digital literacy leadership dare!


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Response to 2016 MDE Assessment Survey

The Michigan Department of Education has issued a “2016 Assessment Survey” that I encourage every teacher and parent in our state to reply to ASAP.

There is a public hearing on the future of assessment in Michigan that will be held in Lansing on July 30th, but I can’t attend in person… so, I am sharing my thoughts here: Response to MDE 2016 Assessment Survey (PDF).

Please take time to do the same. The future of education in our state could change if we take this opportunity to break out of the stranglehold of standardized testing and, instead, move toward authentic assessment.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.