Blogs for Learning

Thanks to the team at MSU’s Blogs for Learning for featuring my blog under their “User Submitted Blogs” list. This looks like it can become a great resource based on what they have described here:

What is Blogs for Learning?

Welcome to Blogs for Learning, an online resource about instructional blogging. The site provides students and instructors with information and resources about the technical and pedagogical aspects of blogging in the classroom.

Blogs for Learning

Just this past week, I have had three different conversations with educators about how and why to integrate technology – especially read/write web tools – into projects that they are doing. A site like this can serve as a clearinghouse for information that teachers can use to justify blogs in their classrooms. They already have some great articles and tutorials about blogging, and I think that this will grow into a very helpful site.

One thing that is curious to me is the fact that you can’t get the RSS feed for the site off of the main page (I don’t get a chicklet in the address bar of Firefox or Flock). Rather, you have to click on their “Feeds” page and grab it from there. I would have figured it would be easier to get the feed than that.

At any rate, I hope to blog more about these conversations that I had this week – as well as submit a few of the great NWP blogs that I know about to the Blogs for Learning site – but we have to get to the cider mill and pumpkin patch before snow threatens to ruin our day. Ah, Michigan weather…

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Teachers Teaching Teachers Webcast

Just a quick note to say that I’ve been enjoying the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast for the past few weeks. Here is a piece of the write-up from last night’s episode. Check it out.

Our conversation this evening began innocently enough with Gail Desler, the technology liaison for the Area 3 Writing Project in and around Sacramento, California, describing her work over the past four years with blogging in the classroom. Last year 3 different Writing Projects and 5 schools joined together in a project called “Youth Voices: Coast to Valley.” Given that we have stolen their name, “Youth Voices” in an attempt to broaden our network of schools, we are delighted to include Gail and her teachers in the elgg at! Last night Gail said that some of the same teachers from last year’s work would be joining the new Youth Voices. A great question that Gail has been asking is, “How can we sustain and deepen online conversations on a blog?” And part of this has to do with finding the right balance between personal blogging and common blogging around a theme or text.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

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George Hillocks, University of Chicago: Procedural Knowledge and Writing Instruction

Another great talk on campus from a leading scholar in English Education and Composition…

Notes from George Hillocks’ talk, “Procedural Knowledge and Writing Instruction”

  • Statement about effectiveness of grammar instruction that Mary mentioned– often cited and often ignored
    • The more time that students spend on grammar leads to a negative correlation in writing scores
    • Teachers think it is important to teach grammar and kids get worse as writers as a result
  • Pedagogical content knowledge for teaching English and critical thinking
    • Last English Education was a report on the Summit, focusing on “The State of English Education and a Vision for its Future: A Call to Arms”
      • Goal 1: critical thought, dialogue, and a circumspect and vigilant American citizenry
      • The English teacher should be second to none in this goal
    • It is hard to argue with these goals, but there is no indication about how the authors would go about meeting these goals
    • Let’s assume that this is, indeed, one of the major goals of English Education — if so, we need to know what counts as critical thought and literacy
      • How do you know if someone is doing this?
      • How do you teach it?
      • How do you know if it has been taught?
    • We are entering into what I would call a task analysis.
      • What kind of knowledge, declarative and procedural, to write an argument?
        • At the very least, it involves a sense of what words are and how they work. At another level, it involves propositions and how they are supported with warrants. It separates fact from fiction, and this is the beginning of understanding argument.
      • Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity — looks at how argument plays a role in civic freedom
        • We need to be able to look at all kinds of arguments, not just the antagonistic ones. We need to understand a cultural of critique in which argument is a Socratic inquiry, not just shouting the loudest.
      • As we listen to the arguments about the US in Iraq, we need to listen more carefully and understand the Arc of Rhetoric
        • Rhetoric is the argument of probability
        • for Aristotle, it was important to bring many arguments to bear in deliberation so that one can consider if it is “holy” (just)
        • These are dependent on warrants being tied to the claims
          • We can’t call something a good movie, without defining what a good movie is
        • Forensics — arguments about the facts of a case
          • There were no forensic arguments in the lead up to the war in Iraq
          • But, where was the evidence? It turns out that even the administration admits that the claims are now untrue.
    • In Aristotelean terms, we can persuade, negotiate, or judge (epideictic)
      • Oedipus as an epic hero and having the right to brag – this is one of the rights of heroes
    • Summary of argumentative forms
      • Fact
      • Judgment
      • Policy
    • The Uses of Arguments – Toulmin
      • One of the criticisms of this text is that you have to keep attacking the warrants and the arguer needs to respond to the arguments
    • Warrants depend on the situation
      • Forensics – based on scientific facts and the situation
      • Epideictic – based on judgment
      • Deliberative – based on ethics
    • Example from a teacher in a Chicago high school, Sara Rose Laveen
      • Students were studying argument over the course of the whole year
      • They had been studying forensic and epidectic and were working on deliberative
        • They were discussing a gang ordinance in Chicago and took different roles (community members, police officers, gang members, those falsely arrested, etc.)
        • Teacher had students working in pairs of two or three and she provided a number of resources for the students, including articles and information from the ACLU
        • Since many had had encounters with loitering gang members and the police, they wrote about their experiences and shared them in their arguments
        • When students prepared and peer reviewed their arguments, they shared them with a panel of Hillocks, a lawyer, police officer, etc.
        • They had three hour presentations where they debated and rebutted one another to discuss the policy
        • Then, they wrote extended papers supporting or opposing the policy.
        • Students operated the entire session and thinking was at a very high level.
    • 1986 metanalysis looking at experimental studies on sentence combining, grammar, and other foci
      • Computing the effect size for the gain the the experimental group divided by the gain for the control group
      • Study of sentencing combining and other tasks of procedural knowledge were the ones that showed the most gains
      • The difference between inquiry and other effects sizes is significant because it focuses on content.
      • Free writing is in the zone of what students can do without help, while inquiry is in the zone of proximal development and pushes them beyond what they can already do. This is a better model than inserting info into something like the five paragraph theme.
    • Trying to get beyond the apprenticeship of observation and move into a more robust model
      • First, we have teacher led lessons
      • Then, we have naturalistic inquiry where development precedes learning (student-centered instruction). This is opposed to Vygotsky’s notion that student develop as they learn.
      • Meeting with students had a low effect size
      • The treatment that had some kind of balance with student-led small group work focusing on a challenging task where they had to interpret or analyze information to come up with something new.
      • Students in the environmental groups out performed student in the natural process group.
    • With students in my masters of teaching degree program, I assumed that they were committed to helping children learn.
      • Certainly, no teacher would deny that they care.
      • But, making consistent manifestation of caring can only come out if the teacher understands her students, content, and the interactions between them.
      • It entails not only the ability to analyze existing teaching materials, but to create and critique new ideas
      • I wanted my students to develop ideas and lessons for active learning in their classrooms with most students on task most of the time and engaged in inquiry and constructing knowledge for themselves.
  • So, what is pedagogical content knowledge for an English teacher?
    • Example activity to help students pay attention to evidence
      • Queenie mystery
        • One warrant is that people fall forward down stairs, and that can lead to one claim about her guilt.
        • Another warrant is about the glass being in his left hand, and he should have been grabbing the banister.
          • The warrant ties the evidence to a claim — generally when people fall downstairs, they raise their hands to protect themselves.
        • There is something on the stove cooking — so what?
        • We have at least two or three pieces of evidence that lead us to believe that there are warrants to support the claim
        • His clothes are looking quite neat, the items on the wall are still straight, jacket is fastened right over left, there is something cooking in the kitchen
      • This activity takes two 45 minute class periods, and then they write on a third day, and we move on to the next topic
      • They were using more evidence at the end on the post-test as compared to what they had done in the pre-test
  • Engaging students in classroom discussions
    • Giving them the skills to take up discussions and interact with one another

    Mourning the loss of Writey

    Both Kevin and Leigh mourn the loss of Writely, too.

    Kevin notes “poor Troy designed his blog banner by using the Writely interface as his design template.” Indeed! Who would have thought that merely a few months into using a tool like Writely the screen shot that I turned into a banner would be so significant.

    Kevin also notes the Google/You Tube deal which overshadowed the whole change from Writely to Google docs. Part of what makes this so depressing for me, when you look at the Google business strategy (and how it reflects our culture at large) is that You Tube — full of interesting things, for sure, but also full of copyright violations and other nasty stuff — gets bought for a billion and a half dollars. Writely, a collaborative tool that has major implications for how we compose and revise texts, barely gets a sniff anywhere, let alone in the news media. What this tells me is that the ability to rip content off a Tivo and post it to YouTube is more important than creating new material in a collaborative fashion.

    I generalize and perhaps overstate this a little bit (OK, quite a bit), but the simple fact for me remains that YouTube (for most users) is still a passive media, despite the very original content that some folks are posting there. Writely, on the other hand, invites collaboration from the get go, and it seems as though the implicit affordances and limitations of each tool are being ignored in the larger conversation about how and why we want to write new media for the web.

    Oh well, the Google Docs still work, and eventually will probably work even better, so I can’t complain too much. Maybe it will have a presentation tool coming soon?

    More importantly, there are other things to look forward to here, namely the K12 Online Conference next week.

    Writely, We Hardly Knew Ye…

    Writely LogoWell, it seems like only yesterday that I heard about this neat little service called Writely, a website that would allow you to edit your word processing documents online and, more importantly, collaborate with others while doing it.

    The rest is, of course, history as Google bought it up and, now, has gobbled (Googled?) it up, too, into Google Docs. The NYT calls this “Google Sprawl,” and I couldn’t agree more.

    Now, I am not against most of my online life begin run by Google. However, I liked the look and feel of Writely and the new Google Docs interface is, well, too sterile. I am sure that there will be more functionality built into the program (I haven’t played with it much yet, but haven’t noticed any significant changes). There is also something to be said for going to one source for all your online docs (are slideshows too far away from coming to Google?). All the same, there is something about Writely that just appealed to me as a user that I don’t get by looking at the Google interface. Sigh.

    At least You Tube gets to keep its brand identity for the time being.

    Re: Does Wikipedia hurt scholarship?

    So, the wiki debate continues. In the latest issue of AFT’s American Teacher, the pro and con discussion of the month is about Wikipedia. Here, in very stark terms, are what I consider to be very traditional views about the academic research process (Anderson) juxtaposed with a more reasonable interpretation of research, collaboration, and the changing nature of literacy (Locke). I want to look at how each of them define what it means to be a teacher of researchers (at the K-12 level) to make this point clear.

    Dixie Anderson, a librarian, suggests that,

    As educators, it is our responsibility to hold academic resources to the highest of expectations. We need to become role models in the research process. Credibility and responsibility are the two most important aspects of research. And teaching students the patience to delve into credible resources is the task and responsibility of the educator. We, as educators, cannot condone lazy techniques or unreliable research tools.

    I read her comments to mean, essentially, this: we are the gatekeepers for students and, thus, can only recommend sources that the gatekeepers who monitor us (media, publishers, authorities) let us delve into because we can trust them. She makes the claim that “credibility and responsibility” are critical to good research, yet denies her students the opportunity to assess credibility and take responsibility for what they find in Wikipedia.

    Then, in what I consider to be a very effective counterpoint, Teb Locke, a technology teacher and co-host of Teachers Teaching Teachers Webcast, refutes this idea. While he is not talking about Wikipedia per se, his argument makes sense in that context. He claims:

    Further, wikis facilitate a defining feature of traditional scholarship: publication. Changes to a wiki are immediately “published” for the entire world to see. Not only does this provide a real-world motivation for students, it also allows them to experience writing and editing as a dynamic endeavor.

    Unlike a more static writing process in which publication marks the end of revisions and the end of the process, wiki writing is instantly published while undergoing infinite revisions. The wiki therefore brings literacy and accountability to a whole new level. Students are not simply skimming for content, they are constantly evaluating from an editor’s point of view in order to improve what they are reading/publishing.

    AFT – Pubs-Reports – American Teacher – October 2006 – Speak Out

    Locke, in his example of having students write for a class wiki, describes the ways in which students become producers of knowledge, or texts, rather than just consumers. If we rely on the old model of research, where students bring empty note cards to be filled by drinking at the vessels of knowledge, then the argument that Andersen makes holds water. If, however, we recognize that students have, and will continue to have, multiple and conflicting sources from which to draw, then we realize that it doesn’t.

    This, of course, doesn’t even scratch the surface about the cultural, social, political, racial, gendered, colonial, and economic critiques that one could make of most traditional research paper sources (encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, and, wait for it… books) and the fact that even the most “credible resources,” as Andersen call them, all have a rhetorical purpose for creating the text they have. We seem to ignore rhetoric when it doesn’t serve us, however, I won’t go into that right now.

    Suffice it to say that we need to stop looking at Wikipedia as an excuse to hold on to our out-dated mindset about what and where students learn as well as who they learn from.

    Wikipedia helps us think about how and why, instead, a goal we should all be striving towards given the nature of knowledge, rhetoric, and the literacies our students use.

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    NetDay Speak Up Announcement

    This was forwarded to the Tech Liaisons list and appears to be a good way to share your thoughts about technology in your school…


    Now in its 4th year, NetDay Speak Up’s national online survey invites students, teachers, and parents from around the country to share their input in an online survey.

    This is an opportunity for students, teachers and parents to participate in the national dialog about science, math, technology, and 21st century workforce skills.

    Learn more about NetDay Speak Up and how schools and districts can register to participate at:

    Thoughts on MCTE 2006

    MCTE 2006

    Originally uploaded by hickstro.

    Last Friday, Alfie Kohn spoke at the MCTE 2006 Conference. There were many points that he made about standards, assessments, and accountability, most of which I agreed with, some of which I would want to take issue. However, there were a few research studies that he mentioned (and that I would like to get full citations on, so I might check his website) that had interesting things to say about teaching and learning when under pressure for standardized assessment.

    In the first example, two groups of teachers were given different instructions. The first was told that their students would be tested and that they would be held accountable for how well their students did on the test. The second were told that there students would be tested as well, but told to teach in order to maximize learning. Guess what group did better? No surprise, group two did better.

    In the second example, he discussed how shallow thinking students and deeper thinking students (as measured by a test of cognitive ability) did on standardized tests. Interestingly, the deeper thinkers did worse, often because they could see how different multiple choice selections could all be viable, depending on interpretation. He made this point in the sense that if you see MEAP scores going up in a district, you should be worried about the quality of thinking that is going on in that district.

    There were many other examples, but the final one that I will mention here is that those who design the tests try to make them so that some students, usually the deeper thinkers, will be tricked (no surprise there). What was surprising, though, was that the variation on any given test that any student takes can vary by significant degrees on any given day. Moreover, districts can have a natural drifting of scores from year-to-year (anywhere from 30 to 50%), and statisticians expect this to be natural. In other words, no one will ever reach 100% proficiency (the goal of NCLB).

    One point that he made about standards in general and Michigan’s standards in particular was bothersome. He said that the best standards are vague outlines of what teachers can do, yet then went on to criticize the Michigan Grade Level and High School Content Expectations. Maybe it is because I have worked on MEAP committees and I have tried to integrate these standards into the assessment in the best way I know how. Maybe it is because I know colleagues who fought to keep these expectations as vague as possible, resisting the notion of parsing them out by grade level in the high school. Or, maybe it is because I think that we do, at some level, have to have some direction about what and how to teach. Whatever the reason, I think that he was a bit harsh on the Michigan standards, but I think most of that criticism was aimed at Granholm and her insistence that we get accreditation from He didn’t have much to say about Dick “DeVoucher” either, so it is tough to say exactly what is going on with all that.

    At any rate, it was a provocative talk and I am glad that we have people like Kohn out on the edge pushing us on all these issues. Next year, Kathy Yancey comes to keynote the conference, so I am looking forward to that already.

    Next up… NCTE/NWP in Nashville in six short weeks.

    Rethinking Peer Review

    Given the discussion that the Critical Studies had earlier this week about Morville and folksonomies — and what counts when doing background reading for research — this article from Wired makes me rethink how the research gets done in the first place.

    Scientists frustrated by the iron grip that academic journals hold over their research can now pursue another path to fame by taking their research straight to the public online.

    Instead of having a group of hand-picked scholars review research in secret before publication, a growing number of internet-based journals are publishing studies with little or no scrutiny by the authors’ peers. It’s then up to rank-and-file researchers to debate the value of the work in cyberspace.

    The web journals are threatening to turn the traditional peer-review system on its head. Peer review for decades has been the established way to pick apart research before it’s made public.

    Wired News: Web Journals Take On Peer Review

    The entire notion of what and how academics write is being turned inside out. In the past, the process of peer review supposedly meant that everyone got a fair reading and constructive criticism for revision, all in an anonymous fashion.

    Of course, that is not exactly how reading and writing in the academy actually happens, but that is beside the point. Now, with blogs and wikis, it is easy to publish and collaborate on our writing and research in ways that makes peer review more transparent and immediate.

    In many ways, I think that this makes us more accountable, in a good way, to get ideas out there faster. I was talking with a fellow grad student earlier this week and we were sharing how it is tough to get articles related to technology “out” in a timely manner given peer review processes. Maybe these online journals are the way for writers like her and I to share our work.

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