Teachers Teaching Teachers, 5/30/07

Please join Teachers Teaching Teachers for a special show this Wednesday.

Our guest hosts will be Troy Hicks and Dawn Reed from the Red Cedar Writing Project!

As podcasting has become a part of our language arts classes, we have seen firsthand the ways in which it gives students an audience for their work. By its very nature, podcasting is an oral phenomenon and while it involves the writing process, examining the production of podcasts as a speech act also merits our attention. We, Dawn Reed and Troy Hicks, have been interested in how podcasting — because of its ability to record, edit, and revise oral language as well as to time-shift content — can be used as an extension of speech class in high school.

Our project this spring attempted to engaging students in responsible, ethical, and productive composing activities through blogging and podcasting. We set out to study how creating and publishing a podcast modeled on NPR’s This I Believe essays could change the composing process for students. In so doing, Dawn’s students created and published their own podcasts, and the two of us discovered a few things about our own technology skills, the school infrastructure, and students’ ability to rise to the occasion that we would like to share with you.

Also, we would like to discuss three ideas that we began our project with and think about how these were actualized:

  1. To understand how blogging and podcasting can be considered a part of Michigan’s new “online experience” for high school students and, rather than take a class fully online, teachers might incorporate elements of digital writing into their regular classroom work.
  2. To consider themes that emerge from a project like this and how a K-12/university research team can better understand those themes through collaboration.
  3. To reconsider how teaching “speech,” a curricular partner to composition, changes when the media for production includes podcasting. In that sense, we will discuss how purposes and genres change, as well as the affordances and constraints of podcasting, both from technical and pedagogical perspectives.

Join us in the conversation!

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Blast from the Past (Or, the More Things Change…)

Earlier today, an RCWP colleague – Marcia – invited me to lunch to celebrate my graduation. She also brought me a unique gift: a collection of four books ranging in copyright date from 1888 – 1918, all a part of her personal collection of antique educational artifacts.

There is a guide to the district schools of Michigan from 1908, a “Teachers Manuals No. 9: How to Train the Memory,” and “The Vitalized School,” written by the state superintendent of Ohio. The fourth book is the one that is most interesting to me, and is one volume in the International Education Series (which includes, among others, Froebel‘s Pedagogics of the Kindergarten) called Teaching the Language-Arts: Speech, Reading, Composition by B.A. Hinsdale.

While I can’t go into a complete review of the book here (as I have not read it yet), I have skimmed and found some interesting quotes to note:

On composition: “While we may cheerfully concede that the great writer, like the poet, is born and not made, we need not hesitate to say that the ordinary writer is made and not born. It is a matter of practice rather than of talent or genius.” p. 115

On examining literature: “It is so difficult for many minds to believe that any valuable educational work is being done, unless it can be measured out in examination papers!” p. 139

On teaching Language Arts: “… to teach English successfully requires a combination of cultivation, taste, judgment, and practical skill not found in the common teacher.” p. 199

There are many more gems in here that I look forward to reading about, especially the chapter on rhetoric. Yet, I though just a taste of the field from over 100 years ago shows us the foundations of where we are at now. I would have to read this more closely to get a full understanding of the argument that he makes about what ELA is and how it should be taught, but it seems pretty progressive at first glance (although I could be wrong once I read it more closely).
All the same, this is a great gift and begs the obvious question: Would Hinsdale have ever imagined that a book review of his work, or a digital copy of the book itself, would be available over 100 years later? And, more importantly, that the discussions he was engaged in then still engulf us now?

Thanks, Marcia. What a thought-provoking gift!

Teachers’ Online Personas (Discussion from My Dissertation Defense)

Today was my dissertation defense, and I am happy to say that I passed with no major revisions. Hooray! There are still some minor things that I need to touch up, but that is to be expected. So, my hope is that I will have this all wrapped up and turned in to the grad school in the next two weeks.

(Sigh of relief) :)

Now, on to the more interesting aspects of my defense. What I found very compelling was the discussion that ensued with the audience and my committee once I got done talking. I would say that the topic of the half-hour discussion centered very closely around issues of teachers’ online personas, expectations that schools/colleagues/administrators have of those teachers to develop online personas, and the power relationships embedded in those identities.

We talked about issues of read/write web technology, access to student work vs. privacy concerns, infrastructure and access in schools, the role of technology in one’s day-to-day teaching, and a number of other issues that make it difficult, if not impossible, for some teachers to develop or maintain an online persona.This was a far-ranging discussion, with implications for K-12 teachers hoping to help students develop digital writing and think about how to distribute it, both technically and ethically, as well as teacher educators thinking about how best to inform their own teaching practices.

We also talked about the ways in which newer technologies could/should allow teachers to become more political about the infrastructure and access issues that they face in their schools. For instance, is it a good idea for a teacher to blog about how bad the technology is in her school? Who is the intended audience for a blog like this and what would its purpose be?So, there are many ideas that came from this discussion, and I thank my writing group colleague, Jim, for capturing many of them in his notes. I think that all of these issues are ones that I can pursue in future work — some of which will be happening tomorrow, when I finish up interviews for the podcasting project.

And, more importantly, I am almost done! Thanks to all my friends, family, and colleagues who attended today, both in person and in spirit. I appreciate your support.

Reflections on "Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops”

While there are many things on which I could comment in this article, I want to focus solely on the image that readers see when they first view it. Take a look at this for a moment, and then think about the implications of this image on school laptop programs, regardless of the discussion following it in the article.

Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops – New York Times

So, there are at least two reactions that I could have to this. One reading could be to look at it the way in which it was intended. The second gives me more pause.
The first reactions is, of course, to just look at the headline, read the article, and say, “yup, laptops are a waste of time.” Any kid who is more worried about drinking and Godsmack must be doing something bad with his laptop, right? These kids are having too much fun with this laptop to be “learning” anything (at least, what most of us envision “learning” to be, as associated with school). Also, the young lady in the picture has the look of “Oh, what are they doing now?” Combined, the composition of this pictures suggests lewd and, if not illegal, at least immoral activity going on with these two boys and their laptop escapades.
Granted, the caption of the picture does mention the fact that these students are at lunch, which implies that that should be on free time that they can use in their own way. But does that really matter? Given the headline, it is clear that the rhetorical affect of this image supports the conclusion that laptops are a worthless investment.

The other reaction is to simply, “Yes, you are right. The laptops are a waste of time indeed.” Now, what makes me say that. Well, despite the interview with Mark Warschauer, author of “Laptops and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom” that shows up on page two of this article — and all the potential positive effects that laptops could have, the article ends on a disappointing note.

But in many other classrooms, there was nary a laptop in sight as teachers read from textbooks and scribbled on chalkboards. Some teachers said they had felt compelled to teach with laptops in the beginning, but stopped because they found they were spending so much time coping with technical glitches that they were unable to finish their lessons.

So, concluding that school hasn’t really changed much in the past 150 to 200 years, and that laptops are bound to have technical glitches that keep them from being used as tools in the classroom, we conclude that they are worthless. Beyond the issues of teacher professional development related to technology that I could talk about (and is mentioned in the article), what I want to suggest here is that part of the problem is that the reason so many computers are broke is because students aren’t expected to take care of them.

Could it be that the reason they are being broken is because the students aren’t taught how to download, install, and update virus and spyware protection? Could the reason that they are being broken is because students are leaving them in their lockers and book bags more than they need them in class? Could the reason that they are being broken stem from the fact that kids try (and succeed) to do everything to subvert filters and locks that they ruin the computers in the process, rather than be put in charge of properly maintaining them?

I feel that this article — as well as the issue of laptops in schools — is being explored from a one-dimensional model of schooling where the teachers/administrators are supposed to prevent all disruptive behavior before it starts and that kids, essentially, don’t have to take responsibility for their learning. These are issues bigger than just professional development and advocating for School 2.0, although those are definitely part of the discussion.
Instead, I think that we need to consider talking to students about how to take care of the technology that is supposed to sustain them in school. We don’t like gum under desks or scribbles in textbooks, and we teach students not to do that (and, if appropriate, discipline them when they break those rules). Is it possible that we are not teaching students the ethos of computer ownership, from taking care of hardware to being a good online citizen? Perhaps that is a side of the issue that we could look into more fully in future research.

Blogged with Flock

Walkin’ That Walk

MSU Graduation 2007

Originally uploaded by hickstro.

Well, the day has finally come…

If I haven’t been blogging lately (which I know I haven’t), it’s because I was getting my dissertation in good enough shape to feel that I could do this — walk across the stage in MSU’s graduation ceremony tonight – Hooray!

I am nearly done with the dissertation, with only minor revisions in my final two chapters to go before I submit a draft to my committee. I aim to defend it in late May and then, finally, I will be Dr. Hicks.

So, I am getting close(r). Only a few more steps and then this part of the journey will be complete.

Thanks to everyone for your support, encouragement, and suggestions on my writing. I’m almost there.

Thinking about Critical Media Literacy

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with Susi Elkins, a colleague at MSU that I originally met when I visited her class’s digital portfolio presentation a few summers ago. She plans to develop a critical media literacy professional development session for local teachers, and we talked at length about what might happen in such a session. It has been nearly a week since the discussion, but I will try to capture some of the main ideas here.

First, we talked about what teachers want to get out of a three-hour session. From my experience, they want to find something practical that connects to what they already know and do. Many teachers say, “If I can go to a PD session and come out with one good idea…” So, Susi and discussed what makes a good PD session: a timely and relevant topic, hands-on activities, enough theory and background to situate the work without overloading, and leaving with a strong idea of what to do the next day in the classroom.

We then discussed a number of critical media literacy tasks in which she might have teachers engage. Being a producer at WKAR, she has had numerous experiences that help her think about programming in a way that I, and I imagine most ELA teachers, haven’t thought of. The idea of “expertise” — and what makes someone qualified to talk about something — came up, too, and that is something that I deal with all the time. My answer to that question, especially when working with other teachers, is to acknowledge the collective expertise in the room and to then say that we will be working through things together. You do acknowledge your position as an expert on the content, and their position as teachers. 99 times out of 100, that has worked for me as a professional development leader.

Then, we talked about the good stuff: what is critical media literacy and what would she want her participants to take from the session. My understanding of her goal was two-fold: to engage in discussions about the definition and importance of critical media literacy and to work through a sample lesson on critical media literacy in which the teachers would develop a text from some stock footage that she would bring. I thought that both of these goals seemed appropriate and, given the three hours that she would have to deliver the session, quite ambitious! That said, we discussed many activities that she could do like juxtaposing different takes from different sources on the same story, analyzing the messages in advertisements, and discussing how certain facts, statistics, and polls are employed. All of these strategies would be applicable, we felt, to ELA teachers and hopefully to other content area teachers, too (since her audience might include all subject areas).

We then talked about the production aspect. I suggested that she use JumpCut to have teachers develop competing versions of a single commercial or advertisement based off of the same basic media elements. We also talked about the Educational Video Center (although the name escaped me at the time), and the curriculum that they share in the Teaching Youth Media book. We also discussed Hey Kidz! Buy This Book, a guide for tweens about media literacy. I particularly liked that text when I read it had a great list of propaganda techniques with particular examples so as to make it clear to kids what the different techniques were and how they worked. We talked, too, about possibly using AdBusters. I suggest that Susi might have each teacher use the same media elements and adopt a different technique in the video he or she was creating.

All told, this was a great discussion. I was able to share some ideas that I had about critical media literacy and professional development and Susi gave me some ideas for future collaborations and other resources. In particular, she pointed me to Anastasia Goodstein’s work (this site, YPulse, appears to be her professional blog) as well as “Don’t Buy It” from PBS Kids. I mentioned that it would be great if our digital storytelling camp students this summer could visit the WKAR studio, so that might happen, too. All in all, I enjoyed talking with Susi, and I look forward to future collaborations with her.

Reflection on the “New Literacies” Workshops


So, many things to think about based on Friday’s workshops, but first and foremost a hearty thanks to the 15 teachers who led these “new literacies” workshops:

There are multiple thoughts, and layers of thought, that I have about the day. First and foremost, this group did an outstanding job of dealing with the technology that was dealt to them in the computer labs on campus. Not that the labs were bad, but that there were some glitches here and there and one computer froze completely on the digital storytelling presenters, causing them to lose most of a collaborative project they were producing. There were minor glitches in scheduling and the like, but overall the day went smoothly and I thank everyone for their flexibility and patience.

Second, I am happy to report that over 50 teachers attended the seven sets of workshops. Now, this may not sound like a large number, but the fact that these teachers had to pre-register and also attend the Bright Ideas conference on Saturday meant that they were committing to a full weekend of PD. Given that Bright Ideas only had 250 total pre-registered people, that means that 20% of them chose to come to this set of workshops. To me, that is amazing. Last summer, we struggled to get even five people in each of our sessions on technology (part of that was timing, I am sure), but to have 50 show up in one day was incredible.

Which leads me to my next thought — this was the culmination of many years of work for our Writing Project. Having been a Lead Site from NWP’s Technology Initiative for the past three years, we were looking to really put into action a professional development model from all that we had learned (one of the primary goals of the grant). Last spring, when all of the lead sites met in San Francisco, the research group that NWP hired to evaluate the Tech Initiative had said that the data from our sites pointed to the fact that doing professional development related to technology was “both different and harder” than the already difficult task of delivering literacy PD. So, to see seven workshops, five of which were run by our own TCs, come to fruition last week made for a great culmination of our work. Of course, now we need to market these workshops more directly to schools, but that is on the horizon.

Another interesting part of the workshops came in my discussions with Rick and Mitch about the one that they led on graphic novels. I had originally planned for them to be in a computer lab, hoping that they might introduce participants to a program like Comic Life or any number of online comic creators. For a variety of good reasons — mainly that they had more to do in three hours than they could have reasonably accomplished in two days of PD — they decided not to use the computers. As Rick and I talked about the “technology” components of these workshops, I had to keep reminding myself that the focus, as always, is on literacy.

Thus, the “New Literacies” being part of the title and, as Knobel and Lankshear would argue, part of the mindset that one must take when engaging in these practices, even if they aren’t necessarily digital. Renee and Angie shared this quote from a recent Knobel and Lanskshear article that I think sums it up well. The authors argue that there is a new mindset that we have to adopt in the post-industrial world, one that recognizes the influence of technology at a deeper level than to just say, as the first mindset does, that things have only become more “technologized”:

For us, new literacies are informed by the second mindset and reflect the kinds of assumptions and values that define this second mindset. They do not have to involve the use of digitalelectronic apparatuses such as computers or the Internet, although they mostly do. They must however, be imbued with the second mindset.

Discussing New Literacies
Michele Knobel, Colin Lankshear. Language Arts. Urbana: Sep 2006. Vol. 84, Iss. 1; p. 78 (9 pages)

Thus, as I think about Rick’s concern that I wanted them to use the computers despite all the ideas that they wanted to cover related to reading and writing comics, understanding visual literacy, and engaging reluctant students, I have to wonder how much we need to be talking about this new mindset first, technology second. Even with our best efforts to do so, I think that I may have been pushing the technology aspects of these workshops more than, perhaps, I should have. However, I think that everyone who presented (as I helped them prepare and talked to them during the day) did keep their attention on literacy practices. So, this is not to say that we did anything wrong, but more to say that we need to remain ever-conscious of how we frame these issues as we present more and more PD.

So, those are the thoughts for now. I hope more will come after I read some of the evaluations for the workshops and from any comments, questions, or ideas that come from all of you. Thanks to everyone who has written me about, helped facilitate, or actually attended these workshops. It was a great day, and I look forward to doing something like it again soon.

Preparing for Our “New Literacies” Workshops

Tomorrow, after many months of planning and a few hectic days this week getting everything in order, we will have 15 teachers presenting to 50 of their peers in the RCWP-sponsored New Media & New Literacies = New Expectations & New Opportunities Workshops. Here is a list of the sessions:

  • Blogging and Podcasting
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Of Secondary Worlds: Using MOOs and Second Life in English Language Arts
  • Hooking Writers with New Literacies
  • Teaching English in a Digital Age
  • Reading and Writing Graphic Novels
  • Teaching Collaborative Writing Using Web-based Tools

This workshop had been a labor of love and represents, I feel, both a large portion of the work of our writing project over the past few years and, simultaneously, an enactment of all the things that I believe as a teacher educator when it comes to technology and literacy.

First, as a portion of the work of our writing project, this day represents 10 of our teachers moving into leadership and professional development roles in ways that we hadn’t even imagined just a few years ago. Thanks to a Lead Technology Initiative Grant from the National Writing Project, RCWP has been able to focus on effective models of professional development for our teacher consultants. Over the past three years, our two main goals have been to get teachers blogging, wikiing, and podcasting from the NWP annual meeting each November and then to present a series of tech workshops in the summer of 2006.

Tomorrow, along with 5 other teachers from around the state and one other writing project, these teachers who were all just on the cusp of learning about technology in the past few years will now be leading critical and creative sessions about reading and writing with technology. Having individually worked with many of these teachers and watched them grow over the past three years, I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see them taking the lead on this initiative. I hope that this work continues now in K-12 schools through professional development, and not just special campus events like this one.

Second, because I have worked with most of these teachers and learned about technology along with them, I very much appreciate the time, effort, and preparation that they have put into all of this. Just last week, one of them was telling me how unprepared she felt to lead this session, until she begin listing all the things she wanted participants to do and realized that 3 hours wouldn’t be close to enough. Another teacher told me how she has been going through her workshop agenda with her kids as a mini-unit on technology and realized how much she has learned. She noted that these “digital natives” are woefully unaware of anything besides MySpace and, perhaps, Facebook, and thus knows that she is doing the right types of things with technology in her classroom.

To sum up briefly, I am very much looking forward to seeing how tomorrow unfolds for all of my friends and colleagues. I am convinced that we are combining the best of the NWP model of “teachers teaching teachers” with high-quality technology instruction. I am glad to know that this model has attracted 50 other educators to our workshops tomorrow and even more excited to see where it goes next.

Reflections on the weekend to follow soon…

Notes on “Identity Interface: Rhetorical Analysis, Graphic Design, and Comics”

Notes from another CCCC session that I found engaging. In this session, the presenter spent a good deal of time thinking about design from the standpoint of a writing teacher, and I found her angle on it informative. In particular, I found her categories of balance, unity, gestalt, and hierarchy a more nuanced way of talking about the Robin Williams principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. I hadn’t really thought about using Homestar Runner for a writing assignment, but now I might.

Here are some notes:

Chandra Lewis-Qualls – “Identity Interface: Rhetorical Analysis, Graphic Design, and Comics”

  • Intro
    • How is identity created in online comics, analyzing with graphic design theories
    • Her subject position: I am a feminist rhetorician interested in visual design and communication, deeply immersed in gaming
  • Graphic Design
    • Mildred Friedman — “Graphic design is an art form that depends for its efficacy on the degree to which words and images communicate a coherent message.”
    • You get the effect of the intent based on what isn’t explicitly evident
  • Why Use Graphic Design?
    • By focusing on design strategies, we can discern alternate ways to shape idetity online
    • Graphic design has a longer history that visual rhetoric and insights from the field could prove valuable
    • It opens up conversations between academics and designers
  • 1964 “The First Things First Manifesto”
    • Graphic design has a long history of critique and wanted to point out the fact that design is not neutral and has value; they were pushing against the consumer and material aspects of graphic design and wanted to share their thoughts on it
  • New Media Analysis
    • Cheryl Ball has suggested that we need to analyze “the semiotic elements [of new media]”
    • New Media critics often look at five major design features and ignores the sub-texts of design
  • Graphic Design Components
    • Balance — controlling the negative space, creating visual interest
      • How are the elements arranged?
      • What effect does this have on the composition as a whole?
    • Unity — creating harmony with a color, shape, or typeface
      • What are the elements that create unity in this piece?
    • Gestalt — the combination of elements create an idea or message that isn’t explicit, but is an underlying argument in the design
      • What is the opinion underlying the design
    • Hierarchy — dominant element in the design of various levels of interest
      • How to create interest
  • Branding and Identity
    • Multiple experience with the product
    • Created through advertising, design, and media
    • A symbolic embodiment of the product
    • Creates associations and expectations
    • Includes explicit logo, fonts, color schemes, etc
  • Focus on web comics
    • Try to create an embodied experience for the characters
    • Homestar Runner.com
    • Irreverent surreal humor
    • Strongbad’s identity
    • Types answers to visitors and is very sarcastic
  • Using these concepts in class
    • How do you visually convey your identity online (ethos)
    • Freshmen create a MySpace page
    • Upper level students create a digital portfolio to represent their work