NetDay Speak Up Announcement

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


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

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

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

Thoughts on MCTE 2006

MCTE 2006

Originally uploaded by hickstro.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rethinking Peer Review

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

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

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

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

Wired News: Web Journals Take On Peer Review

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

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

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

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Re: Popular Media Representations of Scientific Methods

Steve asks, “can you think of any examples of representations of “scientific method” in popular media?

I am not often on the look out for this, let alone watching TV, so I am sure that there are some examples that are embedded in shows other than CSI that have implications for you.

However, the one show that does come to mind is Zoom, and the daily experiment that they do. I don’t know if this is similar to something like Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye the Science Guy in terms of framing the scientific concept, but it might be a place to start in terms of current popular culture.

One other thing that you might think about are movies, although I don’t know if ones like Weird Science would count.

Learning Chinese as a Critical, Multiple Literacy

The Chinese Immersion Program that my daughter is enrolled in has been featured in the local media over the past few days, mostly due to the fact that US DOE officials were in town. Here is a clip from the newspaper.

The Lansing School District will expand its new Chinese immersion preschool into a full elementary experience with an $800,000 federal startup grant announced Wednesday.

Likewise, Michigan State University and Dearborn Public Schools have received a multiyear, multimillion-dollar grant from the federal government to develop a K-16 Arabic instruction curriculum.

Both Chinese and Arabic are among the most critical foreign languages needed in today’s schools, according to the federal government.

Lansing State Journal: Globally speaking

Now, I am all for this program (obviously, since my child is in it), but I am becoming increasingly concerned with the ways in which this program is framed, both by the school and the media. The way that the DOE uses “critical” to describe these languages needs to be unpacked a bit. Basically, the way I hear it, I think that critical means something like this:

  • Learn Chinese so we can continue the capitalist march into China and that we can communicate with them for our own purposes, mainly to make money. Check out this NPR story from today on this topic.
  • Learn Arabic so we can beat the terrorists. (I won’t say anymore about this, because others have said it more eloquently and passionately than I could.)

In this discourse of critical language learning, no discussion emerges in the ways that a multiliteracies perspective would suggest we think of “critical literacy.” In this mode of thinking, we might say that learning Chinese is important so we have a better understanding of the culture and language so that we can express ourselves more clearly.
It might also suggest that the visual, gestural, and otherwise artistic “texts” that the Chinese culture produces are different from our own, let alone their way of thinking and being in the world, and understanding that perspective can give us insights on how the rest of the world views us. And how we view ourselves.
Rather than learning Chinese to be able to make money (and, I know, that is part of it, no matter how idealistic I want to be), why can’t we focus on the cross-cultural understandings that can come of this?

Having worked with many international students at the Writing Center, I have come to appreciate the ways in which students from different cultures communicate — the words and phrases they chose, who and what has agency in their language, the structure of their narratives and arguments. This is why I want my daughter to learn another language; she should be better able to communicate in English and in Chinese because of the cultural and rhetorical understandings that she can make from knowing both of these languages and cultures.

I am happy that she now wants to see the Great Wall instead of going to Disney Land. Her world is growing every day. As a bonus, she will be able to “compete in the global economy,” but that is just be a bonus on top of the cross-cultural understanding she would posses.

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Thoughts on Morville’s “The Sociosemantic Web”

Today for Critical Studies, we read a chapter from Peter Morville‘s Ambient Findability, “The Sociosemantic Web.” This chapter suggests that taxonomies are out, folksonomies are in, yet (given the choice) Morville says, “I’ll take the ancient tree of knowledge over the transient leaves of popularity any day” (p. 139). That was the one line of the text that confused most of us, given his overwhelming support of how links, tags, and other forms of metadata can contribute to our understanding of the web, but that was one of our only concerns.

A few things that the chapter raised, however, related to the ways in which we, as researchers and educators, find, use, and distribute knowledge, as well as what counts as literacy now. First, we talked about the ways in which we “traditionally” did research in school with 3×5 cards, encyclopedias, and card catalogs which then lead to a final, polished paper of regurgitated information. Today, students are (or, at least, they could be) working from Wikipedia, keeping Google Notebooks, checking out social bookmarks and blogs of others working on similar research, and creating collaborative reports with a wiki. In what ways does this challenge the traditional power structures evident in schooling, in general, and literacy education, in particular? Was there ever a “pure and good” way to do research, despite the clear and concise steps that we would like to believe comprises good research?

Second, the idea that the world was built on taxonomies and is now working in folksonomies (although we are not so sure there was ever a dichotomy) makes what we want students to do as literate citizens very different than what it used to be. It is no longer about memorizing one idea sequentially after another, but instead looking for connections — sometimes suggested by experts, sometimes by peers — and trying to synthesize ideas into something new and useful, not just to repeat it for a test. We talked about the list of genres represented in hypertext (p. 146) and the ways in which composing those texts on paper as compared to using hypertext drastically changes the task. In some ways, linking is the new way to create citations (although, looking at a list of someone’s references to see what to read next has been a skill that we’ve used before the Internet).At any rate, it was an interesting read and since Morville might be coming to campus later this year for a talk, I figured it would be good to write a little bit about his work now.