Notes from Opening Session of “Teaching Writing in the 21st Century”

Teaching Writing in the 21st Century – Opening Session Notes

History of the Organizations’ Work

Bread Loaf Teachers Network – Dixie Goswami

  • Founded in 1984 with the belief that working class children’s rich literacies were not part of their learning in schools.
  • The vignettes that will be shared tomorrow are about connections and advocacy in the teaching of writing.
  • Our children, and ourselves, must learn to engage in new technologies in order to work with others in the 21st century.
  • Bread Loaf has a common experience — we have studied together at one of the four campuses. Sometimes we meet every summer for four or five summers and then again year-round. The teachers in the network constantly reinvent it.
  • At one point in the late 80s, as many as half of the Bread Loaf teachers were NWP fellows.
  • Coming together today is very much a part of who we are about.

National Writing Project – Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

  • Our work begins with the Urban Site Network and when they began looking closely at how they could look at practice and modeled a network off of Bread Net.
  • They invested in 1400 baud modems and then connected the network together. This conversation led to a book.
  • We wanted to bring a culture of teaching, learning, and inquiry into the field of electronic communication. This led to other projects such as Write for Your Life.
  • This led to the Design Team work, as well as the Netheads. This group helped us think of the E-Anthology, the Tech Liaison Network, interactions through our website. They are many things that we tried and abandoned, too.
  • Then, there were discussions with software designers so we could think about how to build the cultural spaces for teachers and students.
  • The Technology Liaisons came from this work and now each site has a TL and, in many cases, a tech team.
  • Now we are at a point that we can look across the network and see how all sites are working. This connects to the work of Bread Loaf so we can pull this together to think about a conversation about literacy, teaching, learning, and professional development for writing.
  • This also culminated in the work of the supplemental funding for the Technology Initiative and supported sites as they created technology professional development. This brought in Inverness Research Associates, and this meeting is really a culmination of that initiative, too.

Inveness Research Associates – Laura Stokes

  • Use data to help NWP make a case for their own growth and funding as well as their impact on the field.
  • For the Technology Initiative, there have been 11 sites for 3 years for “research and development” in supporting “wise uses of technology for teaching writing.”
  • Inverness documented the work with the particular focus on the challenges to provide capacity in this area by interviewing, observing, and documenting the work.
  • Technology and teaching writing in all NWP work
    • 86% of sites use tech in SI work
    • 27% in continuity
    • 18% in PD
    • 24% in youth programs
  • What we infer from this as we stand back and look at it is that there is a pretty heavy investment in the leadership development, but it disperses as it moves out into the schools. Only about 1/5 of the time does it get to schools
  • These numbers have been growing over the past three years, too.
  • At the Tech Initiative sites, the small amount of money led to heavy investment in teacher leaders at the site.
  • Observations on the Tech Initiative and the field at large (how does this meeting fit into the field)
    • Providing high quality professional development programs in writing requires development of knowledge capacity in three dimensions
      • Writing
      • Teaching of writing
      • Professional development in the teaching of writing
    • Adding “wise use of technology” makes the capacity building in every dimensions both different and more complex
      • Writing with technology
        • Nature of discipline
        • Composing process and tools
        • Multiple modalities of literacy and expression
      • Teaching writing with technology
        • Availability of sound practical knowledge about best practice
        • Teacher facility with relevant technology
        • Teacher judgment about trade-offs
        • Technological infrastructure
      • Doing PD for teaching writing with technology
        • Teacher learning is different
        • Judgment on choosing tools
        • Variability of sites ability to do the work in local schools
    • The shared knowledge in this domain is sparse or at least elusive. People and networks involved in this are working in essentially uncharted territory.
      • Thus, the focus of capacity development has been to generate sharable, practical knowledge about effective classroom practices.
      • You are doing basic pedagogical research in teaching and learning with technology. You are doing the work to demonstrate practices that will, eventually, be deemed as “best practices.”
    • Teams of K-12 and university faculty have focused on:
      • Separating the technological wheat from the chaff
      • Reflecting on student experience and learning
      • Reflection on teacher learning and change
      • Grappling with the reality of technological infrastructure in schools, seeking balance of feasibility and innovation.
        • If we show teachers something innovative and they don’t have access, it won’t matter how excited they are, they won’t be able to make it work.
        • Trying to push on the infrastructure in terms of opening up the internet and finding simple and free tools.
    • Those doing this work believe it has been some of the most exciting and important work that they have ever done.
      • Students are already interacting in a digital world
      • Teachers have a responsibility to teach for this world and a growing eagerness to learn
      • The development work — the generation of usable material for teaching — is intellectually satisfying
      • There still seems to be a disconnect between writing with technology and solving the AYP problem in school
    • Given that this development work is multi-dimensional, complex, uncharted, exciting and important, it is important to stay grounded in an inquiry stance.
  • Moving toward knowledge generating talk from instances of practice
    • What is the distinctive power that technology brings to learning to write and literacy? How does it enhance and change the way students learn to write? how does it enhance and chance the teachers teach writing and literacy?
    • As teachers use technology in teaching, and students use it for learning in the classroom, new challenges and vulnerabilities have become evident. What are the concerns, pitfalls, risks, and vulnerabilities that accompany literacy, and teaching literacy in the digital age? What lessons have we learned about these challenges and problems?
    • The definition of what it means to be literate keeps evolving. Through the ages it has referred to written communication and expression using pen and paper. The audience has been those who have had access to the hard copy product. In the digital age, these as well as other aspects of literacy have changed. Now, when you think about being a writer or being literate in the digital age, what is the same and what is different?

Author: Troy Hicks

Dr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University. He directs both the Chippewa River Writing Project and the Master of Arts in Educational Technology degree program. A former middle school teacher, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro

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