George Hillocks, University of Chicago: Procedural Knowledge and Writing Instruction

Another great talk on campus from a leading scholar in English Education and Composition…

Notes from George Hillocks’ talk, “Procedural Knowledge and Writing Instruction”

  • Statement about effectiveness of grammar instruction that Mary mentioned– often cited and often ignored
    • The more time that students spend on grammar leads to a negative correlation in writing scores
    • Teachers think it is important to teach grammar and kids get worse as writers as a result
  • Pedagogical content knowledge for teaching English and critical thinking
    • Last English Education was a report on the Summit, focusing on “The State of English Education and a Vision for its Future: A Call to Arms”
      • Goal 1: critical thought, dialogue, and a circumspect and vigilant American citizenry
      • The English teacher should be second to none in this goal
    • It is hard to argue with these goals, but there is no indication about how the authors would go about meeting these goals
    • Let’s assume that this is, indeed, one of the major goals of English Education — if so, we need to know what counts as critical thought and literacy
      • How do you know if someone is doing this?
      • How do you teach it?
      • How do you know if it has been taught?
    • We are entering into what I would call a task analysis.
      • What kind of knowledge, declarative and procedural, to write an argument?
        • At the very least, it involves a sense of what words are and how they work. At another level, it involves propositions and how they are supported with warrants. It separates fact from fiction, and this is the beginning of understanding argument.
      • Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity — looks at how argument plays a role in civic freedom
        • We need to be able to look at all kinds of arguments, not just the antagonistic ones. We need to understand a cultural of critique in which argument is a Socratic inquiry, not just shouting the loudest.
      • As we listen to the arguments about the US in Iraq, we need to listen more carefully and understand the Arc of Rhetoric
        • Rhetoric is the argument of probability
        • for Aristotle, it was important to bring many arguments to bear in deliberation so that one can consider if it is “holy” (just)
        • These are dependent on warrants being tied to the claims
          • We can’t call something a good movie, without defining what a good movie is
        • Forensics — arguments about the facts of a case
          • There were no forensic arguments in the lead up to the war in Iraq
          • But, where was the evidence? It turns out that even the administration admits that the claims are now untrue.
    • In Aristotelean terms, we can persuade, negotiate, or judge (epideictic)
      • Oedipus as an epic hero and having the right to brag – this is one of the rights of heroes
    • Summary of argumentative forms
      • Fact
      • Judgment
      • Policy
    • The Uses of Arguments – Toulmin
      • One of the criticisms of this text is that you have to keep attacking the warrants and the arguer needs to respond to the arguments
    • Warrants depend on the situation
      • Forensics – based on scientific facts and the situation
      • Epideictic – based on judgment
      • Deliberative – based on ethics
    • Example from a teacher in a Chicago high school, Sara Rose Laveen
      • Students were studying argument over the course of the whole year
      • They had been studying forensic and epidectic and were working on deliberative
        • They were discussing a gang ordinance in Chicago and took different roles (community members, police officers, gang members, those falsely arrested, etc.)
        • Teacher had students working in pairs of two or three and she provided a number of resources for the students, including articles and information from the ACLU
        • Since many had had encounters with loitering gang members and the police, they wrote about their experiences and shared them in their arguments
        • When students prepared and peer reviewed their arguments, they shared them with a panel of Hillocks, a lawyer, police officer, etc.
        • They had three hour presentations where they debated and rebutted one another to discuss the policy
        • Then, they wrote extended papers supporting or opposing the policy.
        • Students operated the entire session and thinking was at a very high level.
    • 1986 metanalysis looking at experimental studies on sentence combining, grammar, and other foci
      • Computing the effect size for the gain the the experimental group divided by the gain for the control group
      • Study of sentencing combining and other tasks of procedural knowledge were the ones that showed the most gains
      • The difference between inquiry and other effects sizes is significant because it focuses on content.
      • Free writing is in the zone of what students can do without help, while inquiry is in the zone of proximal development and pushes them beyond what they can already do. This is a better model than inserting info into something like the five paragraph theme.
    • Trying to get beyond the apprenticeship of observation and move into a more robust model
      • First, we have teacher led lessons
      • Then, we have naturalistic inquiry where development precedes learning (student-centered instruction). This is opposed to Vygotsky’s notion that student develop as they learn.
      • Meeting with students had a low effect size
      • The treatment that had some kind of balance with student-led small group work focusing on a challenging task where they had to interpret or analyze information to come up with something new.
      • Students in the environmental groups out performed student in the natural process group.
    • With students in my masters of teaching degree program, I assumed that they were committed to helping children learn.
      • Certainly, no teacher would deny that they care.
      • But, making consistent manifestation of caring can only come out if the teacher understands her students, content, and the interactions between them.
      • It entails not only the ability to analyze existing teaching materials, but to create and critique new ideas
      • I wanted my students to develop ideas and lessons for active learning in their classrooms with most students on task most of the time and engaged in inquiry and constructing knowledge for themselves.
  • So, what is pedagogical content knowledge for an English teacher?
    • Example activity to help students pay attention to evidence
      • Queenie mystery
        • One warrant is that people fall forward down stairs, and that can lead to one claim about her guilt.
        • Another warrant is about the glass being in his left hand, and he should have been grabbing the banister.
          • The warrant ties the evidence to a claim — generally when people fall downstairs, they raise their hands to protect themselves.
        • There is something on the stove cooking — so what?
        • We have at least two or three pieces of evidence that lead us to believe that there are warrants to support the claim
        • His clothes are looking quite neat, the items on the wall are still straight, jacket is fastened right over left, there is something cooking in the kitchen
      • This activity takes two 45 minute class periods, and then they write on a third day, and we move on to the next topic
      • They were using more evidence at the end on the post-test as compared to what they had done in the pre-test
  • Engaging students in classroom discussions
    • Giving them the skills to take up discussions and interact with one another

    Mourning the loss of Writey

    Both Kevin and Leigh mourn the loss of Writely, too.

    Kevin notes “poor Troy designed his blog banner by using the Writely interface as his design template.” Indeed! Who would have thought that merely a few months into using a tool like Writely the screen shot that I turned into a banner would be so significant.

    Kevin also notes the Google/You Tube deal which overshadowed the whole change from Writely to Google docs. Part of what makes this so depressing for me, when you look at the Google business strategy (and how it reflects our culture at large) is that You Tube — full of interesting things, for sure, but also full of copyright violations and other nasty stuff — gets bought for a billion and a half dollars. Writely, a collaborative tool that has major implications for how we compose and revise texts, barely gets a sniff anywhere, let alone in the news media. What this tells me is that the ability to rip content off a Tivo and post it to YouTube is more important than creating new material in a collaborative fashion.

    I generalize and perhaps overstate this a little bit (OK, quite a bit), but the simple fact for me remains that YouTube (for most users) is still a passive media, despite the very original content that some folks are posting there. Writely, on the other hand, invites collaboration from the get go, and it seems as though the implicit affordances and limitations of each tool are being ignored in the larger conversation about how and why we want to write new media for the web.

    Oh well, the Google Docs still work, and eventually will probably work even better, so I can’t complain too much. Maybe it will have a presentation tool coming soon?

    More importantly, there are other things to look forward to here, namely the K12 Online Conference next week.

    Writely, We Hardly Knew Ye…

    Writely LogoWell, it seems like only yesterday that I heard about this neat little service called Writely, a website that would allow you to edit your word processing documents online and, more importantly, collaborate with others while doing it.

    The rest is, of course, history as Google bought it up and, now, has gobbled (Googled?) it up, too, into Google Docs. The NYT calls this “Google Sprawl,” and I couldn’t agree more.

    Now, I am not against most of my online life begin run by Google. However, I liked the look and feel of Writely and the new Google Docs interface is, well, too sterile. I am sure that there will be more functionality built into the program (I haven’t played with it much yet, but haven’t noticed any significant changes). There is also something to be said for going to one source for all your online docs (are slideshows too far away from coming to Google?). All the same, there is something about Writely that just appealed to me as a user that I don’t get by looking at the Google interface. Sigh.

    At least You Tube gets to keep its brand identity for the time being.