Response to “Writing Next” Report

Monday, we will be discussing the Writing Next Report, issued by the Alliance for Excellent Education. Here are my thoughts on the prompt, “How has reading the Writing Next Report encouraged you to rethink aspects of your teaching practice?”

Writing NextThe Writing Next Report, written by Steve Graham and Dolores Perin, issued earlier this year by the Alliance for Excellent Education as a report to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, outlines 11 teaching strategies that improve student achievement in writing. The report is a meta-analysis of dozens of quantitative studies that allow for the calculation of an “effect size,” or “the average difference between a type of instruction and a comparison condition” (p. 13). More on the measurement process and research method in a moment, but first a look at the results of the study.The authors of the report suggest eleven writing strategies that “are supported by rigorous research, but that even when used together, they do not constitute a full writing curriculum” (p.4). This point merits particular attention as one reads the list of strategies and thinks about what good writing teachers do as well as how and why they implement those strategies. That said, the list of strategies reads like a “greatest hits” of instructional techniques that a teacher can implement in his or her classroom (hence the warning not to call this list a curriculum). Here is the list, taken verbatim from the report, pages 4 and 5 (and I have listed the effect sizes at the end, the larger the better):

  1. Writing Strategies, which involves teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions (.82)
  2. Summarization, which involves explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarize texts (.82)
  3. Collaborative Writing, which uses instructional arrangements in which adolescents work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their compositions (.75)
  4. Specific Product Goals, which assigns students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete (.70)
  5. Word Processing, which uses computers and word processors as instructional supports for writing assignments (.55)
  6. Sentence Combining, which involves teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences (.50)
  7. Prewriting, which engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organize ideas for their composition (.32)
  8. Inquiry Activities, which engages students in analyzing immediate, concrete data to help them develop ideas and content for a particular writing task (.32)
  9. Process Writing Approach, which interweaves a number of writing instructional activities in a workshop environment that stresses extended writing opportunities,writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing (.32)
  10. Study of Models, which provides students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate models of good writing (.25)
  11. Writing for Content Learning, which uses writing as a tool for learning content material (.23)

These strategies, as a whole, represent most (if not all) of what I have come to understand comprises good writing instruction. To that end, I am pleased to know that my theoretical orientation towards the field aligns with the experimental evidence about “what works” in good writing instruction. In particular, I am glad to see that writing strategies and collaborative writing rank so high, although it makes me wonder why the process approach ended up toward the bottom of the list. This makes me wonder if they, unlike Katie Wood Ray, are making a distinction between the writing process and writing workshop, and I am guessing that they are not.

Even though Graham and Perin reiterate that this is not a curriculum, I have to wonder if some teachers, schools, districts, and states, could see it as such and “require” teachers to use each of the strategies in a writing program. Like the writing process/workshop distinction above, there are other parts of the report that do not represent the richness of discussions in our field (such as moving beyond word processing into other forms of digital writing or thinking broadly about writing to learn strategies), and I feel that the over reliance on only quantitative data may be limiting some of the implications and, in turn, potentially lead to implementation plans that are not complete.

All that said, the report is useful to me in my teaching in many ways. As a teacher educator, I think that this report can certainly offer evidence of the many practices that I use that stand up, for better or for worse, in a “scientifically-based” study. Thus, when I use these approaches in my teacher education courses and professional development workshops, I can point to the effect size data and suggest that these strategies have been integrated in a variety of contexts, yielding strong results. In other words, it can bring empirical merit to many of my theoretical practices, and the practices I share with other teachers.

As a writing teacher, this report encourages me to reconsider some ideas that I have neglected for some time. I do appreciate that Graham and Perin discussed the negative influence of explicit grammar instruction (p. 21) as it affirms my beliefs and synthesizes a number of good studies that have happened over the years, thus bringing (what we hope might be) a final curtain on the “should we teach grammar in isolation” argument. Also, the processes of summarization and sentence combining remind me — as someone who will be teaching a college writing class this fall — that not all students know how to do these tasks, or do them well. Modeling summary writing and sentence combining could offer some variety to my lessons as well as teach useful writing skills.

In sum, the Writing Next Report was useful to read as it confirmed many of my beliefs about teaching writing with statistical evidence while reminding me of the other aspects that I need to reintroduce into my practice. It also is encouraging to see these practices as the ones held up as “good” for writing instruction because, perhaps, those who works with assessment of writing might be able to think about how to measure these aspects of writing, not just the final product, which is so valued right now.

End of 21st Century Literacies Meeting Reflection

The questions that we have collectively explored the past two days leave me with many thoughts, which I will get to in a moment. First, I need to synthesize this weekend with the other working retreat that I recently attended — the CEE Leadership and Policy Summit in Chicago.

Having had two weeks to reflect on that meeting, I think that its essential purpose was two-fold:

  1. How do we, as a professional organization of English Educators, induct new members into our field and give them the material and emotional support that will help them succeed?
  2. In what ways is the nature of our work changing and how can we respond to as well as be at the forefront of those changes?

What I took from that meeting — and am still working on from it — is that we, as a field, need to begin articulating our positions on what have previously been controversial or taboo subjects and, whether we all completely agree on the position or not, have something to rally around and begin focusing our attention towards. Issues like the achievement gap, restructuring doctoral programs, addressing globalization, teaching literature, and others are all broad enough that we could gain some consensus and need to do so.

In many ways, I think that this weekend is similar to the work of the CEE Summit in that we are trying to capture the state of the field related to wrting with technology (nature of the work) and figure out how to share best practices in the teaching of digital writing with other teachers (induction). There is at least one significant difference between NWP and CEE that I need to address first, and then I will explain how I think we might mobilize in a similar way.

My understanding of the NWP is that we can not, by our very nature as a federally funded program, take a specific advocacy role on issues in the same way that NCTE/CEE can as a non-profit organization. That said, I think that there are many things that NWP can say, definitively, about the nature of digital writing in K-12 classrooms and teacher professional development (based on the work represented here this weekend) that NCTE (or, to my knowledge) any other network of teachers can make claims about.

In other words, we need to use the momentum from this weekend to clearly and concisely say something to all the sites in our network, the field of education, policy makers, and the general public about the nature of writing, how it is changing, the roles that literacy can play in empowering youth, and why the work that we have done in this tech initiative matters.

If NWP was willing and able to produce a book entitled “Because Writing Matters” or “Writing For a Change” — and those books are seen within the scope of our mission and not stretching our advocacy role — then I think that we need to begin thinking about a book such as “Because Digital Writing Matters” or “Learning Multiliteracies and Enacting Change.” We have the case studies, research, and capacity to do this. All that we need to figure out now is how to get started.

Opening Thoughts, Day 2

Opening Thoughts – Day 2

  • Dixie Goswami – Bread Loaf
    • Think about a follow up conference in 2009 that would invite the young people with whom we are working to attend as well. The literacy that our young people are learning is collaborative; every talk that I have heard shows that the students are the primary source about technology tools and making meaning with one another.
    • We need to figure out how we, as professionals, can invite our young people into this work so we can learn from them. Shirley Heath used to remind us that students are resources to be developed, not problems to be solved. The conversation is shifting, and we will move that shift and critique the technology tools that we use.
    • The next time we convene, we will have young people who will be able to be “advocates and activists.” We need to think about students as co-researchers by reinventing the mission of teacher research so we work closely with students to find out from them and with them the meaning of what they are doing with technology.
    • Years ago, we brought boxes and boxes of student work that took us the whole summer to go through. yesterday, in Renee’s sessions, she went through interviews, transcripts, videos, and other materials that made it instantly possible to see what was happening.
    • Also, we don’t have to find publishers that demand certain formats for scholarly work. The only limit for sharing your work and calling it scholarly research is your own time, creativity, and ability to get it on the internet.
    • There could not be a more exciting time than now. The presentations that we have watched in the past two days represent the tip of the iceberg. The school, community, colleagues, and other factors makes the ecology of technology is something that we need to look at more as well. There is a huge base of research that must be done to show how classroom practice happens, how it is formed, and what allows it to happen.
    • Five, ten years ago, we would have been talking about technology tools. We don’t define the digital divide in terms of who has access to tools. Now, we are looking at which kids have the kinds of opportunities to network in school and how we are intervening in those process. The infrastructure is important, but you are asking the hard questions that culminate in the hard questions. It is not a question of whether we teach, but how we do it well.
    • The big digital divide is not looked at as equipment, but opportunities for students to participate in a participatory culture. What does this mean? The challenges, risks, ethical perspectives that need to be brought to all of this mean that we can not afford to have increasing numbers of young people to be media makers only through popular culture outside of schools. Thinking about this is an incredibly complex task.
    • What do classrooms look like? How do we intervene in policy?
  • Karen McComas – Marshall University WP
    • Starting with Renee’s first graders yesterday reminded me of what is important about what I do. I teach far more than content and I try to create an environment in which change can happen.
    • Yesterday, Jackie’s list of truisms reminded me of another set of truisms that I found a few years ago from a 1998 keynote from Neil Postman. Five things:
      • All technological change is a trade-off. As I bring in something new, I leave something out.
      • The advantages and disadvantages of technology are never distributed evenly across the population. However, if we wait until everyone has it, we will stand still for an eternity.
      • In every technology, there are two or three powerful ideas. My task, as a teacher, is to identify an utilize them.
      • Technology change is additive. All things change, not just the technology
      • Media tend to become mythic. We need to research it.
    • Katie Wood Ray tells us that writing workshop is not easy, and not everyone can do it. I feel the same about technology and teaching with technology.
    • I left my SI people with a prompt on Friday, and I wanted it to affront them. “Given the demands of the modern age, and the demands on our children’s future, is it really OK to as whether or not they can use technology in their teaching?”
  • Liz Davis – DC Area WP
    • I completed the institute in 1995 and was worried about technology in the classroom. In 1999, I attended a conference on the digital divide that focused on race, gender, and power. I learned a few things at this conference as I prepared to present at it.
    • As I read Damico’s article, I thought more about new literacies and the way that we are moving from an ideological model to a multilitercies model. For my students, seeing the differences from home to school were not always seen as assets, but as deficits.
    • Our classrooms and the ways in which we see students have been a hindrance in my ability to teach at the highest level of expectations. I teach the poorest students in Washington DC. Asking them to bring their lives into the classrooms has been something new for me.
    • Yet, from bringing their lives out of the margins of my lessons has made a difference in the way I teach. When we talk about multimodal meaning making, we have to think about all the risks in doing that. Whose language has the most power? Whose literacy is valued the most, defined as standard?
    • This brings into your classroom and teaching many questions that are difficult and you may not be ready to deal with.
    • Damico’s article brings many questions about the technology and the ways the students learn. Yesterday, as I listened to Renee’s students, I recall the conversation that happened at my table. We automatically began thinking about why students were worried about the story’s plot, and we began looking at issues of race, class, and power. At some point, the students may have derailed the lesson, but maybe questioning what we teach is a good thing as they critically analyze what they are learning in school.
    • Learning is about liberation (Friere). If students are able to take what they learn in the classroom, in the long run they should take what they have from their home, community, and streets, and then move it to a level of application that is real and applicable to them, then do we need to teach other R’s? Resistance? Revolution? Rising Up?
    • I am quite excited about the direction the local and national writing project that are going. We need to take control of how we design the language of what they learn, then corporations will make it happen for us.
  • Janet Swenson – Red Cedar WP
    • An Old, Slightly Sea-Sick Messenger Looks at a New Media, New Literacies World
    • Clifford Geertz — Tacking near, tacking far
      • We need to look very closely at the phenomenon, yet then move back and look at the larger social, economic, political systems in which they are embedded.
      • When the problems are very complex, we should do this often, hence the “sea sickness” of tacking in and out so quickly
    • Now that we have a shared understanding of the case studies, we need to look at the common and uncommon aspects of the work.
      • New tools: MP3 recorders
      • New sites: social networks
      • New compositions: Google Docs
    • I think that now we need to tack even further away from the shore and think about the larger implications of schooling.
    • Derek Bock, Our Underachieving Colleges
      • As a result of participating in college, are we giving them an opportunity to acquire a meaningful vision of life, develop their character, improve their minds, address important questions about who we are and what we should become, become more critical and reflective individuals, lead full lives and complete human beings?
    • How do we contextualize what we are seeing in this broad landscape?
    • Some things that technology offers is a rebottling (digital scrapbooking) but Potin of MIT is worried about whether our students are only skimming the surface and not doing the deep diving that transforms lives and communities?
    • Share a video: Hero in the Hallway
  • Will Banks – Tar River WP
    • Freewrite from a few nights ago about how what we have been thinking has challenged us. Courtney has asked us to be careful with our language.
    • Paul used the term “blog” and Cessi used “electronic exchange” and there are social networks. Is what we are exploring hte confulence of things?
    • Literacies are becoming relational in that things are hypertextual, and not always evident. They are much more complex and chaotic than even HTML of just a few years ago.
    • This emerging set of literacies has to do with engaging chaos.
    • Can these textual events be taught? What do we learn from them? Can the texts give answers to the questions we have?
    • These literacy events and our occasioning these events seem to emerge rather than exist? How do you teach this?

Closing Thoughts on Day 1

Closing Thoughts on Day 1

Six friends of the NWP will offer closing comments on day one!

  • Jackie Royster – Truisms
    1. Literacy is not benign – it has social and policitcal power wiht predictable and unpredictable conseuences.
    2. Digital technologies make it easier to see Truism 1.
    3. We have teachers who want to do right by their students.
    4. Cases that were presented today show us the possibilities for dynamic action.
    5. Thoughtful and meaningful uses of technology are meaningful for teachers and students.
    6. As a field, we need to engage those outside of our field in meaningful, multimedia dialogue with the intention of affecting beliefs and share this knowledge about learning. So, truism #6 is that there are some things that we already know and we are coming to know and act on them better with each new wave of technology.
    • We need to be realistic about infrastructure and we need to work on critiquing the systems of power and control. We are inviting students to question things that those who control our society may not want us to question, thus there are risks involved.
      • There are multiple opportunities for research.
        • How do you bring the canons of our work into this medium?
        • What happens when we push this into schools with infrastructure problems?
        • What about the conditions that enable change?
        • What is whetting the appetite for students and teachers to do digital work?
        • How do we disrupt these habits while accomplishing our goals?
        • What does writing and digital literacy mean?
        • What about assessment of writing?
        • What do policy makers and other stake holders need to know in order to have progress?
        • How do we speak in specfics and not generalities?
        • How do we keep things simple and connect to our values of teaching?
        • What are the appropriate roles for students?
        • What are the relationships between technologies and teaching?
        • How do we interogate cultural practices as they migrate across media?
        • How can we keep pedagogies dynamic?
        • How do we garner resources withour institutionalization?
  • Danielle DeVoss – Composing with/in/through infrastructures
    • When the task of composing — or even the tasks of thinking, of inmagining, of creating — are not supported in the spaces in which we work, typically invisible support mechanisms break down, revealing themselves as needing to be address to meet the different demands of new writing practices.
      • So often we are not even aware of the infrastructure until we hit something that breaks. Hitting firewalls. Can’t install open source tools. Can’t get into computer labs.
    • The Goals:
      • To encourage students to be thoughtful, critical, and reflective useres of digital technologies.
      • To encourage students to explore, analyze, and critique different digital technologies so that they may choose the best tehcnology to facilitate their writing and the rhetorical situation to which they are responding.
      • To promote the undesrstanding of both writing and technology as complex, socially situated, and political tools through which humans act, make, and share information.
    • So, although our demands and needs may be different, and the technologies we engage in the classroom may be different, good teaching and good practice transcend tools.
  • Mark Schlager
    • The core business of the NWP – teaching writing and the professional development of teachers or writing
    • When I hear “improvement” and “innovation” I begin to think about organizational aspects. As organizations react to globalization,  they need to get streamlined and collaborative.
    • Should the NWP organize itself differently to look at how to support writing and technology as well as the professional development thereof?
    • As a minimum, you have to have the people responsible for identifying and implementing changes to the core business. But, this is not adequate anymore.
    • We need to assimilate dramatic improvements and shifting them into shifting targets.
    • We need to invest in a specific activity that supports those who are doing the PD.
    • How do you share good practices? How do you demonstrate that technology will do something better than something else?
  • Gail Hawisher
    • What does it mean to be literate today?
      • I think that our discussions confirm that literate activity can not be described without talking about new technologies. It can’t mean that we can’t be litreate without the technologies, but they have to be folded in to the definition.
      • In our example this morning, the technology was integral to the learning and writing that took place for both students and teachers.
    • As teachers use technology for teaching and students use it for learning, new challegnes are presented.
      • It is both teachers and students who are using technology for teaching and learning. Teachers are learners in progress.
      • How do we make learning and teaching count for all of us?
      • How do we align what we do in class with what we expect from students and how we assess them?
    • Value added to technology
      • New technology provides students with an audience. Moves away from “teacher as examiner”
      • What is the distinctive power that the use of technology brings to our teaching?
  • Courtney Cazden
    • The (re)definition of literacy
      • I have stressed the importance of speaking specifically about the uses of software rather than just “technology” in general. I don’t think that we should just pluaralize “literacy” – it is a cop out.
      • There are some general aspects of the whole digital world that are pervasive. What was true before about teaching writing is true in form in the digital world, but still different.
        • NWP and Bread Loaf teachers all have the same desire of wanting their students to be more fluent and effective writers for larger audiences. What has changed is that the audience is so much more unknown and unknowable when you put something out on the internet.
        • Another goal is critical literacy. Teachers, particularly ones who have had social justice philosophy, who have been analytical as well as evaluative, have been doing this for a long time. The internet now has nothing that is pre-selected by teachers, textbook editors, librarians, or anyone. Need to be able to analyze sources more and more.
        • When you are not just retrieving but contributing things to the internet, there are exaggerated forms of the things that we have been talking about for a long time. What we have talked about for the long time, the presentation of self and how you choose to talk about and respond to others, now involves a heightened awareness of the ethics for civil resposne.
  • Glynda Hull – something old, something new
    • Something old — we are meaning making beings, and that is a truism and something to keep in mind at a conference on technology. How can technology extend or expand the meaning making that we do?
    • Something new — Modernity at Large by Arjun Appadurai. The characteristic of a global world is that you have moving people and moving text that float around everywhere.
      • How do we understand the inequity in the digital divide?
      • How do we understand being critical when living in a global world?
      • How do we understand what counts as a good text/picture/video in different contexts and with different ideologies?
    • We have been asked to think about whether technology is making literacy different, and I am on the end of the continuum that suggest that it really is. We may want to think about different metaphors for understanding literacy, such as aesthtics and art.
      • The primary object of literacy education is not to give learners a finite set of capacititis, but to give them the ability to construct meaning from the artifacts of their lives.

Mid-Day Reflection: Refined Thinking on Conference Questions

As we move into the afternoon’s work, we have been asked to refine our thinking about the conference questions. So, here are some brainstormed ideas…

What stood out for me most in Joe and Ailish’s case study this morning was the fact that Joe, having a firm understanding of writing pedagogy, took a tool that he learned at Tech Matters last summer (Google Docs), figured out how to best use it in his classroom, invited another teacher to collaborate with him, and was up and running with a new practice in only a few weeks. Sure, there were bumps along the way and, yes, both of the teachers have a disposition towards using technology in their practice.

That said, I think that the mantra “simple is true” rings through loud and clear here. What is the distinctive power that this technology brought? Joe and Ailish were able to adapt their current thinking about a common technology — the word processor — and map it on to a new version of the tool, all the while inserting what they knew about good writing pedagogy into their practice. They overcame the challenges because, in the grand scheme of things, the tool was simple and easy to use, plus the benefits of adoption outweighed the cost. Finally, in terms of how literacy is changing, they recognized the power of collaboration as a way to engage their students in what had been a useful, although somewhat perfunctory practice (peer response).

In this case, the whole became more than the sum of its parts. The slight change in teaching practice (writing, responding, and revising through Google Docs) allowed for them to, as Pat said earlier, “lift the veil” on the writing process and make the moves of revision more transparent for all the students. Given that the technology worked more often than it didn’t, and that they were able to rely on it from any computer, at school or away, it allowed students to work 24/7 on tasks that normally had to be confined to being turned in at the end of the hour and forgotten.

“Language Learning and Peer Response Online in a High School ELL Classroom” by Joe Bellino and Ailish Zompa

Here are notes from Joe and Ailish’s presentation on “Language Learning and Peer Response Online in a High School ELL Classroom.” They both teach at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Language Learning and Peer Response Online in a High School ELL Classroom”
by Joe Bellino and Ailish Zompa

  • Overview of Project
    • What we wanted students to get from our Google Docs project
      • We wanted students to have the opportunity to easily read the writing of their classmates
      • We wanted students to practice using language that would help their classmates improve ideas and development
      • We wanted to encourage students to improve their own ideas and development
    • In 1988, Joe did a teacher research project looking at peer conferencing in his ESOL students. He found that students felt:
      • The papers were hard to read
      • Students didn’t trust feedback (“How can someone else learning English help me?”)
      • Students were sometimes reluctant to participate
      • But, it still helped their writing.
    • Then, computers came along and it simplified mechanical aspects of writing and allowed them to read more. We used Nicenet to get and give feedback, but the threaded discussion would put comments way down the page.
    • Look of peer conferencing with Google Docs:
      • More time on task
      • More reading
      • More feedback
  • Looking at the writing of one student
    • Jealousy writing prompt based on a Brief Constructed Response model
    • Students would read the prompt, write a response, and post it on their Google Doc account. After they finished their post, they had to visit five other students and comment on their writing.
    • Looking at one particular student’s work.
      • Tech Note: Joe and Ailish have students only create ONE Google Doc for the entire year and the student erases the first assignment when they prepare to write the second one.
    • Looking closely at the ten steps in the revision process where other students commented on his work and then he made revision:
      • What do you see in the student’s work?
      • Questions and comments
      • What questions do you have for this student?

My reflections on the presentation

As I listened to Joe and Ailish describe their work, I am amazed and the beautiful simplicity that Google Docs has allowed them in framing a writing workshop in their classroom. Gone are the days of multiple overheads, copying students’ work, finding many colored pens, disks that were lost or broken, compatibility issues with word processors/hardware, and waiting (and waiting and waiting) for feedback. Instead, as they noted above, the students are spending more time on task, really reading (and learning from) one another’s writing, and offering more feedback over time, even if it isn’t as substantive feedback as we would like to see to begin with. I feel that you are only as good a writer as the feedback that you give others, so looking at how Joe and Ailish have used Google Docs to streamline the feedback process makes me think that it is a useful pedagogical tool.

Using the conference questions to analyze the case study

  • What is the distinctive power that technology brings to learning to write and literacy? How does it enhance and change the way students learn to write? how does it enhance and chance the teachers teach writing and literacy?
    • Efficiency and organization of paperwork
    • Student motivation, for whatever reason, there is some excitement on the part of kids as they are using tech
    • It is the use of the technology, not the technology itself
    • Peer response works in this kind of situation
  • As teachers use technology in teaching, and students use it for learning in the classroom, new challenges and vulnerabilities have become evident. What are the concerns, pitfalls, risks, and vulnerabilities that accompany literacy, and teaching literacy in the digital age? What lessons have we learned about these challenges and problems?
    • What happens when things change (from Writely to Google Docs, when the server is down, etc)?
    • The sparse community of like-minded people — how are we going to spread this out and share it.
  • The definition of what it means to be literate keeps evolving. Through the ages it has referred to written communication and expression using pen and paper. The audience has been those who have had access to the hard copy product. In the digital age, these as well as other aspects of literacy have changed. Now, when you think about being a writer or being literate in the digital age, what is the same and what is different?
    • Multiliteracies – linguistic/rhetorical diversity from student
    • Is being able to collaborate a “literacy” that we must be fluent in as well?
    • Why would we try something else when we are comfortable? Some people try technology just to try it, where as we need to think about how he technology is more effective for getting students to learn what we want them to learn? There is an education part related to these new literacies that has to happen?

Notes from Opening Session of “Teaching Writing in the 21st Century”

Teaching Writing in the 21st Century – Opening Session Notes

History of the Organizations’ Work

Bread Loaf Teachers Network – Dixie Goswami

  • Founded in 1984 with the belief that working class children’s rich literacies were not part of their learning in schools.
  • The vignettes that will be shared tomorrow are about connections and advocacy in the teaching of writing.
  • Our children, and ourselves, must learn to engage in new technologies in order to work with others in the 21st century.
  • Bread Loaf has a common experience — we have studied together at one of the four campuses. Sometimes we meet every summer for four or five summers and then again year-round. The teachers in the network constantly reinvent it.
  • At one point in the late 80s, as many as half of the Bread Loaf teachers were NWP fellows.
  • Coming together today is very much a part of who we are about.

National Writing Project – Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

  • Our work begins with the Urban Site Network and when they began looking closely at how they could look at practice and modeled a network off of Bread Net.
  • They invested in 1400 baud modems and then connected the network together. This conversation led to a book.
  • We wanted to bring a culture of teaching, learning, and inquiry into the field of electronic communication. This led to other projects such as Write for Your Life.
  • This led to the Design Team work, as well as the Netheads. This group helped us think of the E-Anthology, the Tech Liaison Network, interactions through our website. They are many things that we tried and abandoned, too.
  • Then, there were discussions with software designers so we could think about how to build the cultural spaces for teachers and students.
  • The Technology Liaisons came from this work and now each site has a TL and, in many cases, a tech team.
  • Now we are at a point that we can look across the network and see how all sites are working. This connects to the work of Bread Loaf so we can pull this together to think about a conversation about literacy, teaching, learning, and professional development for writing.
  • This also culminated in the work of the supplemental funding for the Technology Initiative and supported sites as they created technology professional development. This brought in Inverness Research Associates, and this meeting is really a culmination of that initiative, too.

Inveness Research Associates – Laura Stokes

  • Use data to help NWP make a case for their own growth and funding as well as their impact on the field.
  • For the Technology Initiative, there have been 11 sites for 3 years for “research and development” in supporting “wise uses of technology for teaching writing.”
  • Inverness documented the work with the particular focus on the challenges to provide capacity in this area by interviewing, observing, and documenting the work.
  • Technology and teaching writing in all NWP work
    • 86% of sites use tech in SI work
    • 27% in continuity
    • 18% in PD
    • 24% in youth programs
  • What we infer from this as we stand back and look at it is that there is a pretty heavy investment in the leadership development, but it disperses as it moves out into the schools. Only about 1/5 of the time does it get to schools
  • These numbers have been growing over the past three years, too.
  • At the Tech Initiative sites, the small amount of money led to heavy investment in teacher leaders at the site.
  • Observations on the Tech Initiative and the field at large (how does this meeting fit into the field)
    • Providing high quality professional development programs in writing requires development of knowledge capacity in three dimensions
      • Writing
      • Teaching of writing
      • Professional development in the teaching of writing
    • Adding “wise use of technology” makes the capacity building in every dimensions both different and more complex
      • Writing with technology
        • Nature of discipline
        • Composing process and tools
        • Multiple modalities of literacy and expression
      • Teaching writing with technology
        • Availability of sound practical knowledge about best practice
        • Teacher facility with relevant technology
        • Teacher judgment about trade-offs
        • Technological infrastructure
      • Doing PD for teaching writing with technology
        • Teacher learning is different
        • Judgment on choosing tools
        • Variability of sites ability to do the work in local schools
    • The shared knowledge in this domain is sparse or at least elusive. People and networks involved in this are working in essentially uncharted territory.
      • Thus, the focus of capacity development has been to generate sharable, practical knowledge about effective classroom practices.
      • You are doing basic pedagogical research in teaching and learning with technology. You are doing the work to demonstrate practices that will, eventually, be deemed as “best practices.”
    • Teams of K-12 and university faculty have focused on:
      • Separating the technological wheat from the chaff
      • Reflecting on student experience and learning
      • Reflection on teacher learning and change
      • Grappling with the reality of technological infrastructure in schools, seeking balance of feasibility and innovation.
        • If we show teachers something innovative and they don’t have access, it won’t matter how excited they are, they won’t be able to make it work.
        • Trying to push on the infrastructure in terms of opening up the internet and finding simple and free tools.
    • Those doing this work believe it has been some of the most exciting and important work that they have ever done.
      • Students are already interacting in a digital world
      • Teachers have a responsibility to teach for this world and a growing eagerness to learn
      • The development work — the generation of usable material for teaching — is intellectually satisfying
      • There still seems to be a disconnect between writing with technology and solving the AYP problem in school
    • Given that this development work is multi-dimensional, complex, uncharted, exciting and important, it is important to stay grounded in an inquiry stance.
  • Moving toward knowledge generating talk from instances of practice
    • What is the distinctive power that technology brings to learning to write and literacy? How does it enhance and change the way students learn to write? how does it enhance and chance the teachers teach writing and literacy?
    • As teachers use technology in teaching, and students use it for learning in the classroom, new challenges and vulnerabilities have become evident. What are the concerns, pitfalls, risks, and vulnerabilities that accompany literacy, and teaching literacy in the digital age? What lessons have we learned about these challenges and problems?
    • The definition of what it means to be literate keeps evolving. Through the ages it has referred to written communication and expression using pen and paper. The audience has been those who have had access to the hard copy product. In the digital age, these as well as other aspects of literacy have changed. Now, when you think about being a writer or being literate in the digital age, what is the same and what is different?

Questions on 21st Century Writing

We’ve just been asked to reflect on a presentation about the history of the Bread Loaf Teachers Network, the NWP, and the Technology Initiative Work. It has been useful to be reminded of this history, and think about where we are at in this unique moment. In particular, there are three questions that they want us to consider today and tomorrow as we engage in the working meeting:

  • What is the distinctive power that technology brings to learning to write and literacy? How does it enhance and change the way students learn to write? how does it enhance and chance the teachers teach writing and literacy?
  • As teachers use technology in teaching, and students use it for learning in the classroom, new challenges and vulnerabilities have become evident. What are the concerns, pitfalls, risks, and vulnerabilities that accompany literacy, and teaching literacy in the digital age? What lessons have we learned about these challenges and problems?
  • The definition of what it means to be literate keeps evolving. Through the ages it has referred to written communication and expression using pen and paper. The audience has been those who have had access to the hard copy product. In the digital age, these as well as other aspects of literacy have changed. Now, when you think about being a writer or being literate in the digital age, what is the same and what is different?

For the moment, I will focus on the first one and think about the question that I have — if we know that technology brings a distinctive power to the process of learning to write, and there is compelling (although not a ton of) evidence that it does, why are schools not opening embracing new models for teaching and learning writing? We know that schools are institutions that have power structures in place that are hard to change, but haven’t we come to a point in history where we, as a society, must make a substantial investment in both the hardware/software and also the professional development of teachers?

Questions/ideas/comments from others:

  • Focus on the infrastructure problem
  • When I look back at my NWP work, I have some truisms such as “All writing is rewriting.” I wonder what truisms we can write into the curriculum about writing with technology.
  • What are we doing to change the assessment of writing in relation to testing?
  • There is an opportunity for the teacher and the tech developer to talk about how the tools work and what innovations can occur.
  • We need to talk in specific terms about “technology” and what we mean by that term in light of particular tools.

Teaching Writing in the 21st Century

Group PicTonight, I am blogging from Baltimore, where I am attending an NWP working meeting, “Teaching Writing in the 21st Century.” I feel very fortunate to be here with about 60 colleagues and friends of the National Writing Project and the Bread Loaf School of English. There are many, many wonderful people here — too many to name — and the next 48 hours we will spend together promises to be professionally rewarding in many ways.

One of the major goals for the work will be to think about how and why teachers are using technology in service of literacy learning and, in turn, thinking about implications for the National Writing Project’s future work. Given RCWP’s work in the Lead Technology Site work over the past few years, I am looking forward to sharing some of our ideas. In particular, I am looking forward to hearing about one of our co-directors, Renee Webster, as she does a presentation on integrating digital voice recorders into her elementary classrooms.

I say “hear about” her presentation instead of “see” because I have been assigned to be in a group focusing on online language learning and peer response for ELL students, a session by Joe Bellino (who took the photograph above) and Ailish Zompa that I have been looking forward to attending, too.

So, tonight it has been nice to be among friends and colleagues, and I am sure that there will be more posts tomorrow!

Book Review: Teachers’ Writing Groups

The second book that we are using in our summer institute is both practical and promotional. Teachers’ Writing Groups: Collaborative Inquiry and Reflection for Professional Growth (Kennesaw University Press, 2006) describes multiple configurations of writing group — important to our summer invitational — and is co-edited by Kathy Yancey, the keynote at MCTE’s fall conference. So, we are reading to find out more about how to conduct our own writing groups while also preparing for the fall conference. Here is my first attempt at a review.

Book CoverAs a member of many writing groups over the past five years, I began reading Teachers’ Writing Groups: Collaborative Inquiry and Reflection for Professional Growth with my own inquiries:How do teachers form and maintain writing groups that focus on professional writing, especially during their busy school years?In what ways can writing groups encourage professional publication while still nurturing the writer’s soul?Does it require a shared goal (such as writing a particular article or a collaborative project), or just a shared sense of purpose?

How do teachers decide when it is time to end a group?

As I read this text, I feel fortunate that many of my questions were addressed, if not answered, throughout it. Overall, the strength of this book comes from the stories that the teachers in the groups tell about the process itself, although I am still left with some questions in the end.So, that is where this review will begin — at the conclusion. In the final essay of the book, “Setting Teachers’ Writing Groups in Context,” Robbins, Seaman, Yow, and Yancey describe how the envisioned the writing groups in their project as

a collection of circles, with our three small writing groups clustered together as a community of practice seeking to forge connections with scholarship on social literacy practices, on professional development grounded in shared reflection, and on writing as an avenue to learning. (p. 184)

These groups, then met face-to-face and online, as did the larger group comprised of all the smaller ones, over the course of a year, all the while setting goals for drafting, response, and, eventually, publication. Their conclusions suggest that the process of writing and reflection that the groups fostered allowed the teacher writers involved to create substantial pieces, over time, that were indicative of the rich teaching practices that they hoped to describe. This took time for trust building, and was fostered by an overall sense of purpose for the large group. Along with multiple opportunities to give and get response, the group’s consistent focus on publication seemed to motivate many of the writers in this project.

By beginning with the end, I was able to go back into the three sections of the book that each writing group produced and read them with a better sense of purpose. In each of the three sections — “Creating Our Professional Identities,” “Looking Closely at Classroom Practices,” and “Designing Writing Programs” — the teachers involved took the overarching theme that developed in their group and translated it into individual essays fronted with a collaborative response about the group’s work process. To me, these introductory essays for each section were the most compelling pieces in the overall text, as each told the story of how the group worked (and, sometimes, didn’t work) together.

For instance, Kramb, Harrell, Seaman, and Yow in “The Gift of Time” describe the ways in which a set protocol helped them organize their work and stay focused as a group. They show how this process of setting norms took “time and patience,” but that, “[t]hose discussions were powerful, once we established the protocol that was right for our group” (p. 18). The notion that a group of writing teachers — all well-versed in their pedagogy and at least moderately confident in their writing abilities — still had to set up a protocol is reassuring. In the writing groups with whom I have worked, those that set and stick to protocols are the ones that last the longest and are successful. Rather than viewing this as a strict set of rules, group members are able to offer responses within these guidelines, feedback that is “both honest and kind at the same time,” according to the authors (p. 20).

The second group — Robbins, Stewart, and Kaplan — discuss the ways in which they used technology to comment on one another’s writing and also shared professional readings as a way to stay focused and dig deeper into common themes they were exploring. The third group — Walker, Walker, and Smith — offer the protocol of reflecting, at the end of each session, on what worked well for the group and what did not (p. 116). This is a strategy that I have not tried myself and think that I might suggest in this summer’s institute, especially early on in the process.

Taken in sum, the three introductory essays offer snapshots into the varied practices of writing groups and the ways in which they can work. Interestingly enough, the editors note their one “failed” writing group disbanded because the members felt too isolated, from one another and the larger group (pp. 187-8). This cautionary note reminds me to think carefully about how and why to invite teachers into writing groups and to consider the ways in which face-to-face and online collaboration can contribute to, and take away from, the group’s over sense of community and purpose. Also, through these failed writing groups, I can remember that it is OK from time to time for all writers to reconsider their goals and, even in successful groups, think about articulating what it is they want and hope to gain from giving and getting feedback. This process of reflection will enhance everyone’s group experience.

The remaining chapters of the book are the individual teachers’ essays, all of which focus on the teaching of writing and each of which warrant a description and response longer than what I can offer here. What I can say is that most of the essays offer an authentic teacher voice, built from both theory and practice, and rooted in story. I have not read all of these essays yet, so will not offer commentary on them here, but many look to be promising, especially Robbins and Stewart’s “‘Seeing’ Community: Visual Culture in College Composition.”

My concerns about the book are both in content and form. In terms of form, I do feel that the book is a bit disjointed in that each section’s preface, useful as they are, could be more detailed about suggestions for writing groups. In terms of content, I wonder about how “kind and honest” all the teachers both in the project and outside of it were in their responses to one another, with emphasis on the honest part. For instance, the responses in “Writing with Our Eyes Open: A Collaborative Response to Teachers’ Writing Groups” (pp. 173-180) seems to focus a little too much on the positive aspects of the book and could have offered some more critiques. And, of course, this is the problem with all writing groups; in our efforts to praise, I think that we too often try to be kind without being honest.

In conclusion, Teachers’ Writing Groups: Collaborative Inquiry and Reflection for Professional Growth reiterates for me the power of collaboration. I believe that the authors in this book, overall, were pretty honest with themselves and their colleagues, despite my concerns listed above.