Notes from Harvey Daniels’ “Best Practice Across the Curriculum”

This morning, I am pleased to be a part of Littleton Public Schools’ Adolescent Literacy Institute, and I am able to participate in Harvey “Smokey” Daniels’ keynote, “Best Practice Across the Curriculum.” Here are some notes from his session:

  • Goals for today
    • Define “Best Practice”
    • Consider the missing link: student collaboration
    • Watch video of kids working together
    • Introduction to Inquiry Circles
  • Books: Best Practice, Content Area Writing, Subjects Matter
  • 91& of the time, 6th graders spend their time listening to teachers talk of doing commercially prepared seatwork (Pianta et al, 2007)
  • What’s missing?
    • Engagement
    • Curiosity
    • Content
    • Thinking
  • Best practice
    • In 1993 when we worked on the first edition of this book, we were thinking about how other professionals look at the “state of the art” in their field and consider what is “best practice.”
    • Sadly, it is now showing up in “best practice” workbooks
    • So, what is “best practice?”
    • Coverage vs. Inquiry
      • Cover the curriculum (a “curriculum of mentioning”) vs. slowing down and going deeper, screened content
      • Atheoretical vs. driven by learning theory (whatever you subscribe to, all theories agree that students must act upon information in order to make it their own)
      • Assigning reading and writing vs. modeling reading and writing
      • No strategy instruction vs. explicit strategy instruction
      • Backloading instruction vs. frontloading instruction (Jeff Wilhelm)
      • Little or no support during reading and writing vs. time, activities and tools that support students (before, during, and after)
      • Textbook-based vs. variety of texts
      • Teacher chosen topics and assignments vs. student choice and responsibility
      • Solitary vs. social
    • See Consortium on Chicago Schools Research
      • Students in interactive classrooms had nearly 1/3 more gain in achievement than non-interactive classrooms
    • Small group work
      • Groups of four seems to be the magic number for group work
      • Small groups are lifelike
      • In small groups, we are smarter
      • Small groups generate energy for challenging work
      • Small groups make the most of diversity
      • Small groups bring “best practice” teaching to life
      • Small groups help us differentiate instruction
      • Employers increasingly require small group skills
      • Linda Darling-Hammond’s book on Powerful Learning
      • Social skills predict earnings better than test scores
    • Common Core Standards
      • “Engage productively and respectfully with others”
    • How do we get predictable and positive outcomes from students?
      • Make personal connections
      • Get them to know each other
      • Mix up the groups periodically
      • Know who can, and can not, work together
      • Teaching them to ask follow-up questions
    • Modeling an open inquiry
      • Studying the future
  • Points to consider when thinking about collaboration with Google Docs
    • We spend our weekend grading student papers while they are out — how can we invite them to collaborate?
    • Students often get information from only one source — how do we help them find more?
    • Solitary vs. social — how do we effectively structure group tasks to involve everyone?
    • Asking follow-up questions — how do we teach students to really interact with one another and ask pertinent, empathetic follow-up questions?

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End of Semester Thoughts: Digital Storytelling, Wikis, and the Changing Conversation

Another semester has zoomed past and, before these thoughts escape me, and I begin a series of summer workshops and our CRWP summer institute, I am going to try to capture a few of the lessons learned in relation to digital writing and digital teaching. Good lessons seem to come in threes, so here goes:

1. Digital storytelling takes time, and a story to tell (larger lesson: any digital writing takes time, and a distinct audience, purpose, and sensibility to craft and design)

I enjoy digital storytelling, both as a digital writer and as a teacher. I appreciate the ways in which a combination of images, sounds, music, and video — coupled with one’s own voice — can create a multimedia work that is truly more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, I continue to be intrigued by new understandings related to fair use of digital media, and the implications that this has for creating digital stories. So, when I introduce digital storytelling to any group, especially my pre-service teachers, I get excited about the possibilities of what can come.

That said, I also get worried, because sometimes what comes when their stories finally premier are not really digital stories in the sense that they have crafted a narrative and supported it with multimedia. Instead, they are slideshows set to music. While one could argue that I am being snooty in this distinction, I don’t think that I am. Let me elaborate a bit.

If we want writers to compose stories, then we have to expect them to begin with the story. I am not sure where I went wrong with this over the past semester, but as I watched the numerous digital stories that my students produced for their final portfolio, I was amazed by the fact that so few included their own voice (literally, by recording it) even after they asked me if they needed to do that. Also, even after we looked at a few digital stories and talked about the ways the authors used transitions and effects, as well as supporting their tale with music rather than letting the music tell it, I still saw many, many slideshows with music.

So, I am not sure what else to say about this right now except to say that I need to reiterate the idea that digital stories need to, well, tell a story. In your voice. With your voice. More to think about with that in the summer institute.

2. Wikis are the most functional space for digital writing to live

After talking with my friend Steve before the semester about how and why to keep using wikis (after almost making an ill-fated decision to switch to Ning), I am more pleased than ever that I use a wiki for the hub of activity in both ENG 315 and in CRWP.

This semester, I asked my ENG 315 students to post almost all their work to the wiki, as well as to respond to the work of their peers. This really extended the conversations that we were having in class and made having a writer’s profile that much more important because they could link all their work back to it to form a makeshift portfolio. As many of them have continued with their work over the semester, the wiki grew and grew. Now, most have very robust writing profiles that also include their multigenre projects.

I like the idea of calling these writers profiles, as that implies something that will continue to grow and change over time whereas, somehow, “portfolio” seems to be more fixed. Given the ways in which the profiles worked this spring, I hope to use the same strategy in CRWP this summer, the WRITE NOW grant workshop in August, and in my ENG 618 research methods class in the fall.

3. Something is changing in the conversations about literacy and technology

I am really not sure when and how this happened, but Sara and I were talking about the fact that, in the past year or two, the ways in which people talk about technology and education seems to have changed. Even as recently as the workshops I was doing for PROJECT WRITE in 2007-8, it seemed as though participants kept asking “why?” when a new technology was introduced to them (and these were people that volunteered to be a part of the grant). That said, it really seems to me that in the past two years, the question has shifted from “why?” to “how?”

In other words, there really isn’t a lot of time spent on arguing for technology use in education anymore, at least not when I go to a school or conference. Maybe it is because many people have laptops and internet-ready mobile phones. Maybe it is because of a backlash to NCLB. Maybe it is because of the many curriculum documents and reports about 21st century literacies. Probably some combination of all of this, plus a shift in the skills and attitudes that children now bring to school.

All the same, I have begun to find it refreshing that I can start the conversation with a group of pre-service or in-service teachers now and not have to justify technology use so much as I need to talk about the literacy practices enabled by technology. I get my first chance of the summer to have that talk tomorrow with teachers in Littleton, CO, as they work to integrate laptops into their writing courses.

So, considering my approach to digital storytelling, the use of wikis, and the ways in which we talk about technology will continue to be on my mind this summer. I look forward to the continued learning as I participate in the many upcoming PD events I have scheduled for the summer and hope to share more of my thinking here.

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