Reflections on NWP and NCTE 2009

As the holidays begin, another conference season comes to a close.

For the past week, Sara and I have been in Philadelphia at the National Writing Project‘s “Digital Is…” pre-conference, the NWP Annual Meeting, and the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention. As it is each year, we enjoy spending time with colleagues and find opportunities to learn about their work. Moreover, we pause to think about our own work including what we have accomplished in the past year and what we are looking forward to in the next.

To that end, I began writing this reflection in the lobby of the Sheraton in Philly, continued it at the airport and on the plane, and now post it as I spend Thanksgiving with my parents. Here is my day-by-day account of NWP/NCTE 2009.

Tuesday, 11/17/09

Arriving in Philly on Tuesday afternoon, we had some time to enjoy a quick walk and prepare for the “Digital Is…” reception. Sponsored through NWP’s work with the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, the entire “Digital Is…” conference was designed as an opportunity to convene teachers, teacher educators, and other stakeholders in conversations about what we know about teaching and learning with digital media. The opening reception was fun, followed by dinner with colleagues from Science Leadership Academy. A great way to begin our week, for sure.

Wednesday, 11/18/09

Digital Is…“convened in the Sheraton, with two slideshows from Danielle DeVoss. The first ran as a background show during breakfast, the second was her keynote. There is no way to capture the energy that she shared during this session, except to say that she really framed the day with her eight key themes about “digital is…” that I outlined in a previous post. So, even though the experience is not nearly the same, here are the slideshows:

For the afternoon, I was again fortunate to present with Dawn about our work with podcasting, as featured in Teaching the New Writing. By doing a protocol analysis discussion of the work, we were really able to dig deeply and think about what was there. One of the more stunning realizations that we had in the conversation was about the ways in which the composing process changes when writers begin with the goal of creating a spoken and, in some sense, permanent text. I think that the line from the notes that captures it best is that the process of recording the podcast “reinforces writing as a capacity that changes across genres and audiences and mediums.” It will be interesting to see where Dawn goes next with this work.

The second round of discussion was interesting, too, as we mixed up groups and have conversations across the elements of student work. Rather than try to capture all the complexities of that conversation in writing, I will share two items. The first is a list of “final words” that I asked participants in our session to state in relation to their thoughts about composing in digital environments at the end of this hour-long conversation. The second is a concept map that I tried to draw while we were talking. Neither alone captures all that happened in our session, but perhaps will give you some insights into what happened.

Concept Map from Digital Is

Concept Map from Digital Is

  • Hybridity
  • Genre
  • Messy
  • Openness
  • Elegance
  • Excitement
  • Immediacy
  • Future
  • Mistakes
  • Surrender
  • Reciprocity
  • Space
  • Dirty
  • Play
  • Organic

I had the opportunity to then help close the day, asking participants to create “invitations” that could be used to ask other stakeholders to join in the conversation about digital writing with youth. One of the most consistent themes from throughout the day was the fact that most of the digital writing opportunities that students have are taking place outside of school. This is a travesty. If we can create these types of engaging opportunities outside of school, then surely we can consider how to do better at creating these types of learning spaces inside of schools. This is something to chew on in the weeks and months to come as I figure out where to go next with my own work and the direction of our writing project.

That night, we were treated to a panel discussion of “What Kids Learn When They Create with Digital Media” with Renee Hobbs, Founder, Media Education Lab, Temple University; Nichole Pinkard, Founder, Digital Youth Network and DePaul University professor; and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Director, National Programs and Site Development, National Writing Project.

Thursday, 11/19/09

The NWP Annual Meeting kicked off with morning and afternoon workshops. In the morning, I attended one on developing site leadership and, in the afternoon, on integrating new literacies into the site’s work that featured Paige Cole, Joe Conroy, Shasta Looper, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks. Along with Sara’s overview of how she integrated her own growth as a tech leader into her site’s work and securing mini-grants and creating professional development experiences, I was particularly interested in watching Paige and Joe talk about the work that they initially developed at Tech Matters 2007 and to see how they have grown work at their sites. Literally, I had goose bumps watching Paige’s video reflection. Taken with ideas from the morning about how to support and encourage site leaders, the two sessions reminded me of the power of the NWP network, and how small doses of encouragement from a mentor can turn into incredible work.

Friday, 11/20/09

More NWP today, with Billy Collins bringing down the house at the general session. Truly, truly wonderful. Also wonderful was the introduction of the Chippewa River Writing Project as one of the new sites in the NWP network! Later in the afternoon, I was able to attend a session on community partnerships, including a presentation from Joel Arquillos from the amazing 826 organization (which, if you haven’t heard about, watch Dave Eggers’ TED Talk and then visit the 826 website). Also, I got to hear about the Eastern Michigan Writing Project‘s Family Literacy workshops from their program director, Kim Pavlock. So many powerful ideas here from both Joel and Kim, but the biggest one being that we need to make learning to write purposeful for students and the process of doing so clear to their parents. What incredible programs to model from. To close the day, I got to hear from two of my mentors — Patti Stock and Peter Kittle — about the power of taking an inquiry stance towards teaching demonstrations in the summer institute. I am very much looking forward to returning to CRWP and talking over all this information with my leadership team, most of whom were there with me and will have ideas of their own to share, too.

Saturday, 11/21/09

An early morning brought both Sara and me to the NCTE booth, leading Tech-to-Go sessions for those beginning their day at NCTE. I talked about wikis, while Sara presented on Google Forms and then, later in the day, on iPod Touch applications. This led us to my presentation with Bud Hunt, “Reports from Cyberspace,” This was truly an amazing session, as we tried to incorporate a backchannel discussion through Twitter, delicious, and Chatterous. Also, in trying to use newer tools for presentations, I created a Prezi and Bud made a Voice Thread. The conversations that occured in the session, both face-to-face and online, were amazing, and we are thinking about repeating the session again next year. One recurring question was about access, and both Bud and I contended that it is reasonable to expect kids to do digital writing now, because there is access available in many more places and most of the tools are web-based. We also touched on issues of filtering, curriculum, assessment, and how to begin digital writing workshops.

Later that night, Sara and I were able to join the Heinemann reception and found out that my book sold out in the convention hall! Thanks to everyone who picked up a copy there, as well as to everyone else who then ordered one online. I am  looking forward to where my next writing opportunity may take me…

Sunday, 11/22/09

We awoke Sunday morning for a wonderful session on erasing copyright confusion, and I was then able to interview Renee Hobbs for an aricle on fair use for CCCC-IP. We also were able to meet with the CEE Web Site Editors, and came up with a plan for developing some basic content for the site. Our afternoon found us on adventures in Philly with my friend Carl Young, and we enjoyed a visit to the National Constitution Center. In thinking about how and why we ask students to compose digital writing, our visit to this center was particularly appropriate, as we were greeted with remixed versions of “People” magazine covers, featuring such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln and Betsy Ross, as well as a highly-interactive multimedia experince in the museum.

Monday, 11/23/09

While we had planned to go to SLA, and appreciated the invite to be there, we ended up spending most of our day at at the Franklin Institute. Perhaps we will have to do EduCon instead. So, even though we missed SLA, we greatly enjoyed the Body Worlds exhibition, and felt that was a good use of our final hours in Philly.

Also, we realized that we missed the NCTE Centennial Preview, but John Golden provided the link for me, so you can enjoy it online!

As with all NWP/NCTE trips, this one game me so many good ideas and connections with colleagues. Next on my agenda are to begin planning next summer’s CRWP SI and, ideally, an advanced institute related to digital writing and copyright. Also, I am working on writing the article for the Cs Intellectual Property Caucus, CCCC-IP. Still thinking about so much, and hoping to get back to Philly with my entire family for more of the historical aspects of the town that we missed.

And, so goes another NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE Convention. Thanks for sticking with me through this whole pose.

Now, time to plan for the convention in Orlando, celebrating 100 years of NCTE.


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Reflecting on the Purposes of Digital Writing and Professional Development

Over the past few weeks, I have had a few opportunities to reexamine my thinking about the purposes of digital writing and professional development. As Sara begins her doctoral program at MSU and has started to share her own thinking through her “Connecting, Collaborating, Continuing to Learn” blog, it has given me pause to think about why and how we enact professional development in the ways that we do, especially if we are hoping to have teachers pursue (improve? discover?) the ways in which Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) can affect their teaching. Sara’s interests align with my own:

Connecting, Collaborating, Continuing to Learn » Thinking Out Loud

Teacher networks and professional learning communities have been shown to be very effective models for encouraging teacher professional development. These networks are successful due to the relationships teachers build, exposure to inquiry based research and the continuity of the professional development projects. Now there is a new phenomenon: the use of technology to enhance the notion of developing a personal learning network. Technology, in particular social networks, empower teachers to connect with other professionals who have the same interests and issues in a continual learning environment. The digital environment allows for customization of professional development in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner.

So, more recently, I’ve been thinking about how we can do this. What do we do to create networked learning opportunities for digital writing, especially when the process of digital writing is both part of the activity itself and an outcome that we hope to achieve? What can we reasonably expect teachers to know and be able to do as a result of particular professional learning opportunities, both online and face to face? I have been thinking about this as a result of at least four different PD invitations I have been pursuing in the past month, and here are some of my ideas.

One invitation I received was from NCTE, and I was able to present a webinar, Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop, about two weeks ago. Like the one I did last year, I tried to make this webinar informative and interactive, providing some “hands on” digital learning with some discussion of theory and some sharing of student examples, courtesy of Aram Kabodian. So, we tried to use the chat room, the white board, audio responses, and the ability to stream video during that session. Overall, I found the webinar to be a successful experience, but there were a few questions raised about the value of digital writing and its relation to the rest of the curriculum (including standardized testing) that we need to cover. One particular criticism was that digital storytelling could be considered a bit “plug and play.”

My response at the time may not have been as articulate, but I basically feel that we (and our students) get from the process of digital writing what we put in to it. Simplistic, I know. But, the idea is that if we have students just grab some photos, throw them in a timeline, and simply narrate over top, then yes, it is plug and play. But, if we really engage them in a recursive process, ask them to examine the choices that they are making about which words, images, and transitions they are choosing, then we can really focus on teaching them how to digitally write. Sadly, I don’t think that I was able to get that across in the webinar, and that may have been an issue of format and time constraints, so I wonder how I could do that better in future PD events such as this — how do you invite teachers into both the pedagogy and the process of digital writing through an online experience such as a webinar?

My second recent experience was a presentation to pre-service teachers about the digital writing workshop. In this session, I was able to do in a face-to-face setting what I had hoped to accomplish online with the webinar. The face-to-face setting, as one would expect, was richer in the sense that I was able to converse with the pre-service teachers directly and gauge their reactions to what we were discussing. I also had two hours, allowing them time to talk in small groups so they could have more time to process their own thinking. As I reflect on the experience of doing the webinar — and the value that it has in distributing a professional development experience widely — and the local experience of being in one classroom, I am torn. I wish that there were enough ways (and bandwidth) to have people engage in some of the smaller group discussions through a webinar. And, I wish that it were practical enough in the classrooms in which I was teaching to use some of the technologies we had in the webinar (such as a chat backchannel and interactive whiteboard). Not sure where I am going with this particular series of thoughts right now except to say that I do feel that teaching digital writing seems to be best when there are some elements of both online synchronous and face-to-face elements involved. 

A third experience that is coming soon will be my hosting of three episodes of Teachers Teaching Teachers, all featuring my colleagues who shared lessons and ideas in the book. My goals for this PD, in conjunction with the Ning that I have set up, is to provide the teachers who are doing this work in their classrooms the opportunity to share what is working and engage in a conversation with other colleagues about questions and concerns that they have related to teaching digital writing. To me, this on-going conversation — both the actual conversation that happens during the webcast and the follow up that can happen on the Ning — seems to be a hybrid model where people may not meet face to face, but they do get to share their ideas, then go back to listen again, and continue the conversation. As we think about ways to develop TPACK, it is this recursive process that I find most inviting for novices and experts alike.

A final set of experiences will come through a variety of upcoming professional development sessions that I will do as a part of CRWP and other conference presentations, including UPRA next week. In these face to face sessions (some with computer access and some without), I think that emphasizing the ways in which digital writing changes our rhetorical contexts as writers will be very important, and it is that focus that I think helps keep the focus on the writer, then the writing, and finally on the technology. My hope is that engaging in these sessions, where I will be able to give some background and show some examples, then inviting teachers into conversations about how and why they could teach digital writing, will then inspire them to get online, join the community in the Ning, listen to the webcasts, and find resources from other interested colleagues.

All of this is just to say that I think professional development for teachers — like all other industries — is undergoing some changes. We can’t just say that it should all happen online (synchronously or asynchronously), or only count face to face sessions (through PD or grad classes) as a means to an end. Like their students, teachers need choices about how, when, and why to engage in learning. My thoughts are still evolving on this and, like Sara, I look forward to hearing other ideas about how you are helping your colleagues engage in digital writing and professional learning.


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