Apologies in advance for what will be a long post here, as my “reflection in action” during the conference consisted more of trying to find free wifi and navigating the Riverwalk than it did of actually having time to sit down and think. I tried to break my thinking up by day, for what that’s worth, and hope that these thoughts are useful for all my readers, especially all my colleagues who were unable to attend.
That said, NWP/NCTE2008 was a wonderful week of connecting and collaborating with colleagues, and there is so much to think about it is hard to know where to begin. So, I will organize it by day.
One thing that I will note here and throughout the rest of this post is that I sensed a definite shift, a change in the tone about how people are talking about newer literacies and technologies. In a sense, it is as if we no longer had to begin every conversation, every presentation with a disclaimer: “let me tell you why I use technology in my teaching of writing.” Instead, the conversations simply began with the premise that we simply are using technology to teach writing.
And that is darn cool.
Now for a summary of the week.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Wednesday brought me in early to work on a book project with NWP, and we had some great discussions about the state of digital writing as well as the Letters to the President Project. Having been in the process of interviewing a number of educators this fall, getting this day to work with Danielle and then meet with Elyse
and Christina from NWP brought some clarity to my thinking (something that has been sorely lacking as I have been digging through loads and loads of data). I feel very confident in the work that we did and that the book will be useful for educators in a variety of contexts.
I was able to interview someone from Google about the use of Google Docs in education, and that conversation (among the many I have had with NWP colleagues) reminds me that things are definitely changing. Yes, there are still issues of access and the digital divide. Yet, I think that students and teachers are finding more and more opportunities for thinking about how to teach digital writing because the tools are (almost) all online and (almost) all free. Not to go overboard on the idea of the conference theme, but I could finally see the revolution in action over the course of this weekend. Teachers are beginning, across the board, to make the shift.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
On Thursday, the NWP Annual Meeting kicked off and, for me at least, the best part of the day was the new site meeting. I enjoyed the Writing in a Digital Age session, but then got caught up in other things all afternoon, in particular some great news… Last week, on my birthday, I was pleased to learn from NWP’s Executive Director that Central Michigan University had been awarded an NWP site! Thus, this was my first official meeting as a new site director. When asked how I was feeling, all weekend long I repeated the “excited, but terrified” mantra. Attending the NWP Annual Meeting as a site director was a new experience, and again I was amazed at the ways in which technology and writing were simply a part of the same conversation now. As I begin to think about how to frame the work of our new site, I am encouraged by
the fact that being digital will be a major part of who we are. A talk with Bud Hunt later in the weekend reaffirmed this belief that our site should intertwine our web presence with our core work, and I look forward to tackling that when I get home.
Also, another cool aspect of Thursday was that I was interviewed by Paul and a crew from the Pearson Foundation about how writing is changing in a digital age. They were getting interview with a large number of TCs throughout the annual meeting, and I can’t wait to see how the videos they will be producing turn out.
Here are some of my thoughts from my preparations for that interview:
Why is writing important now?
As it has always been, writing remains a key mode of communication. It is important today because writers in a variety of personal and professional roles are being asked to produce a greater variety of texts, for a greater variety of audiences.While many teachers — especially those involved with NWP initiatives — continue to build on the principles of good writing instruction, we need to continue our efforts and supporting the teaching and learning of writing in all of our classrooms, K-12, and across content areas. As writers adapt to new situations for composing texts, they need to be adept in a variety of writing skills and genres.We, as educators, are the ones who introduce them to these skills and genres when we keep our attention on teaching writing with intention.
Writing in a technological world means what?
In an increasingly networked world, writers need to adapt to different purposes, audiences, and contexts for writing that have been enabled by newer technologies. This also involves a shift in how we think about who writers are, how texts are produced, and where texts are distributed.
Regardless of how “digital” we think our students are — and, no doubt, most of them are more adept at particular digital skills like using Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging, they do not necessarily come to those tasks with the capacities that make them critical and creative digital writers. Not only do they need to understand the technical aspects of creating hyperlinks, posting to a blog, or collaborating with a wiki, but they need to have the intentional focus as a writer to understand the audience and purpose for which they are writing. Who reads your Facebook updates and why? Can you write to that audience in the same manner as a you can when you produce an academic paper, even if it is posted on a blog?
Moreover, they need to consider the ways in which we can compose with multiple modes and media. For instance, one can argue a position through a traditional essay, a 30 second public service announcement (either an audio or video), or in the form of a single-page advertisement with an image and few words, or no words at all. Understanding when, why, and how to use different forms of media to convey a particular message requires a working knowledge of the mode — that is, what does an audience expect in order to be persuaded — and how to effectively manipulate the media.
So, writing has always been a complex act, and newer technologies offer writers numerous opportunities to get their message across. Writing in a technological world means that we, as writers and teachers of writing, need to be aware of these choices and how we can best utilize them to have the intended effect on our various audiences.
One disappointment… no more Tech Matters. That institute, more than anything else I have done, has shaped my thinking on teaching digital writing. I will miss it dearly, but understand the choice that was made to go to a more site-focused technology retreat. So, while I am sad to know that Tech Matters is no more, I am encouraged by the work that is happening across the NWP network related to digital writing. There are some promising things on the horizon, one of which I hope becomes this book project.
Thursday night ended with our traditional RCWP dinner. Janet thanked all of us and praised our new site, but I want to say thank you, Janet, both for dinner and for all that you have done to enable teacher leaders to fill entire tables at an annual meeting, reflecting on a year of shared work.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Friday brought breakfast with a friend I hadn’t seen in some time as well as the invitation to be interviewed for NCTE’s Centennial film being produced by John Golden and his colleagues. Wow, what an incredible honor to be invited into that work. He asked me to reflect on how the teaching of writing has changed over the past few years with the advent of Web 2.0. What an honor and a wonderful opportunity. In preparation for that interview, I wrote the following:
The read/write web has finally delivered the promise of having a real audience and varied purposes that writing teachers have so long looked to bring to their classrooms. From the beginning of the process writing movement, when Emig first looked at the composing process and Sommers identified revision strategies of experienced and novice writers, teacher researchers such as Murray, Graves, Calkins, Atwell, Ray, Fletcher, Portalupi, and others have been trying to invite student writers to see audiences and purposes beyond the classroom and traditional school genres. While this began to occur in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000’s, there was still something “fake” about this writing. Yes, it was shared with peers in class. Yes, it was read at author’s chair or published in a school anthology. Yes, it went home and made it on the fridge. And, if it was lucky, that student writing made it to a local newspaper or other venue for publication. When the internet really hit big at the turn of the 21st century, writing teachers felt as if they could have a purpose and audience beyond the classroom and school. Some were able to publish their writing online, but things got in the way: FTP, limited or no access to the server, passwords, firewalls, as well as the onerous HTML editors. The promise of the web was to democratize information, and it did — if you could figure out how to create web pages and uploaded them. Even discussion forums — with all their ability to post and respond to writing — hit the scene, there was still something impersonal and difficult about “publishing” one’s writing.
Then, when read/write web tools such as blogs and wikis emerged, and “push button publishing” become possible for anyone, anywhere. Along with the increased bandwidth and access to internet-enabled computers in schools, the ability to post and share writing on a blog was revolutionary. Finally, the goal of “publishing” work for an authentic audience and purpose emerged as a goal for writers, both in and out of school. No longer did a writer need to know HTML (although it helped),
or have a specified program on his or her computer. We could write (and publish our writing) any time, any where.
This has resulted in a shift in thinking that Knobel and Lankshear discuss in their work on New Literacies. In a nutshell, the traditional vision that we have of a single writer, working alone on a piece of writing that has been culled together from a series of authoritative sources has been replaced with one of a collaborator who is able to build on the ideas of others, and participate in what boyd calls
“networked publics.” We can access our documents any time and any where that has a network connection, including on handheld devices and mobile phones.
What this means is that — in addition to being able to write in multiple modalities and media — students must be made aware of the ways in which their writing is distributed and perceived across the many networks in which they participate. What this means for teachers — and NCTE — is that we need to consider the many ways in which students see themselves as writers (and, according to the Pew report sometimes do not see themselves as writers) and invite them to be intentional about how they read and write in a digital age.
We have learned a great deal about revision and how audience and purpose can lead to intentional writing. NCTE should continue to support scholarship and professional development that builds on the principles and research findings that we have, noting the ways in which we as teachers can guide “digital natives” who may know how to send a “tweet,” but may not always be thinking about the ways such a message can be interpreted. In short, we need to continue the professional conversations that we have been having about writing and revision over the past three decades, taking what we know about these processes and moving them into the era of the read/write web.
NCTE continues to move in the right direction. In just the past year, they have adopted the statement on teaching multimodal literacies, and released two research and policy briefs (one specifically on 21st century literacies and the “Writing Now” brief that encompasses a broader view of the composing process). By offering the summer institute on 21st century literacies, webinars, and the “Tech to Go” sessions at the conference this year, NCTE keeps moving ahead with this work in practical manners. The website redesign and Inbox blog offer good examples of how NCTE is trying to stay in touch with members.
Doing that interview really helped me articulate my thinking, and I appreciate the opportunity to have done it.
Friday morning brought me to my first presentation with some NWP colleagues, “Revising the Writing Process: New Literacies in the English Classroom.” Paul Allison, Chris Sloan, Aram Kabodian, and Dawn Reed were able to present their work related to blogging, podcasting, digital storytelling, and social networking to a crowd of over 100 (don’t believe me — check out the pictures below!). I won’t go into detail on the session, as we have all our materials on our wiki, but suffice it to say that the work these four shared is both amazing and timely. Participants left with only a tiny handout — a bookmark with our URL on it — but loads and loads of ideas. I think that my friend and Project WRITE colleague Liz Webb recorded the session as a podcast, and I will try to get a link to it.
Friday dinner brought together friends and alums from MSU, packing a restaurant. A few of us ended up in the Italian place next door when the tables overflowed. Despite missing the conversation with the large group, it was great to spend time with so many people who have ties to the green and white, even if just for a short while.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Saturday brought a meeting with my editor on another book project, on that I will be very excited to return to as the semester comes to a close and hopefully involve some Project WRITE teachers (as well as their students). Then I was off to present at my Tech To Go kiosk for “RSS Feeds and Teaching English.” Again, more of the work of that session can be found on my wiki, so I want to reflect for a moment on the process of presenting that session (thanks to Bud Hunt for the photo).
My thoughts on the Tech To Go session are mixed, but all in a good way. On the one hand, I wanted to have it be a little more formal with a larger screen and some chairs, so people would feel free to linger. On the other hand, that was precisely the point. People were able to move around, or just stop by is something caught their eye. Having to
reexplain RSS got a little repetitive over the course of the hour and fifteen minutes, but I think that people walked away from the session — no matter how long they stayed — having just enough info to go back and try things out. I hope my wiki page helps them do PD in their own school. As for the Tech To Go Sessions, ideally, I would like to see
them working there with computers in front of them, so they could try it out at the moment. Yet, perhaps there is some value in getting these micro bursts of information about newer literacies and technologies. I
will be interested to see how the conference evaluations reflect people’s experiences with these Tech To Go sessions and to think about how we can shape them for next year.
After browsing books, I was fortunate enough to see Barry Lane heading towards his room with all his gear in tow. After offering a hand to help, and having a quick discussion about when we met in October at the MCTE conference, we were able to walk and talk on the way to his session room. He remembered our conversation in October, reminded me that I needed to send him the podcast (which I finally was able to do
today!), and offered me one of his CDs for helping. When we got to the room with time to spare, he asked if he could interview me for his YouTube channel. I encourage you to watch the video with Corbett Harrison instead!
Video Added 12/5/08
Then, was time for me to sit. Whew…. A session presented by Bill Bass, Melissa Lynn Pomerantz, and Debra Solomon Baker from St. Louis on “Extensions: Using Technology to Extend the English Classroom.” The three of them talked about how they used participatory tools in their classroom, including the use of audio recordings embedded in word docs to give students feedback, a variety of formats for discussion forums, and how to organize your personalized professional development with RSS feeds. It was good to hear Melissa and Debra in particular talk about how very simple uses of technology were having such a profound effect on their teaching.
Later in the afternoon, as PSU was crushing MSU, I was able to ignore the pain of the game by thinking about my third session, “Why Should We Write with a Wiki? Professional Development and the Read/Write Web.” Working with Mary Sawyer and Tim Dewar to frame a session on how pre-service and in-service teachers perceive literacies, I was able to share some of the work of Project WRITE and how teachers engaged in professional learning and collaboration with a wiki. In talking with the two of them, as well as other participants in the session, we were all able to enjoy a thoughtful and engaging close to Saturday. While
Anne Whitney’s Nittany Lions whipped on my Spartans, at least we were able to have a good conversation about how teachers learn digital literacies and we talked about how to continue supporting graduate students in the NWP network.
Saturday night brought a trip down to the San Antonio Market District, and fun night of conversation with RCWP colleagues.
Nacho libre anyone?
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Wow… A “down” day in that I had no presentations to do. Instead, I was able to meet with some colleagues throughout the day to discuss some projects as well as catch a few sessions. One of the more interesting
ones was a panel of British scholars — Julie Blake, Tom Rank, and Tim Shortis — who talked about their work with digitizing texts in the British Library, teaching 21st century literacies to teachers, and understanding the role of txting in our language. All were thought provoking and helped me consider the many ways in which as the nature of literacy continues to change, the ways that we frame the discussions about the change matter as much — if not more — than the changes themselves. The idea that sticks with me most is that we, as educators, can help provide context, in a variety of ways, to the vast bits of knowledge that are out there. The project that the British Library is undertaking to organize and contextualize the texts in their collection is simply mind-blowing.
Also, Kathy Yancey delivered another outstanding address that suggested we reframe the teaching of writing. I can’t even try to capture everything she said, but it was great stuff.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Final day. ACE Workshop. As it has been the past two years, lots of fun to talk with teachers about the use of read/write web tools in the classroom. As always, the sessions were fast-paced and I again talked
about Writing with Wikis. We had fun overwriting each other in Wikispaces, yet it seemed like most participants walked away with some ideas about why and how to use wikis in their classroom. Before we had
to go to lunch, Allen Webb shared his new website, Lit Archives, and talked about a number of ways to engage students in classic literature by harnessing digital versions of those texts and inviting them into virtual worlds.
After eating with my friend Carl Young, I had to catch a cab back to the airport. Finally able to get on wifi for free, I tried to write this blog post but (as you can imagine) ran out of time after checking email and talking with my Michigan colleagues who were about to hop on the plane with me.
So, NWP/NCTE 2008 comes to a close with me writing the bulk of this post (novella?) on the plane heading home towards Detroit. Of all the things that I didn’t do, I feel bad that I didn’t keep up with Twitter via SMS all weekend, as Andrea worked very hard to get that as our networking tool for the weekend. And I missed a lot. A lot. I look forward to reading everyone else’s reflections.
Yet, it was still a good conference. And the talk about technology and newer literacies filled most of the conference presentations and hallway conversations, implicitly or explicitly. I was able to help highlight the work of my colleagues and friends, some who were able to be at the conference and others who were not.
For as much as I did, as many new people as I met and those who I became reacquainted with, I have to say that I am tired. Not looking forward to shoveling snow, although I am looking forward to seeing my kids, my friends, and my family over the holiday weekend.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my students, friends, and colleagues reading this. Thanks for sticking through this post and sharing these reflections, as well as the entire conference, with me.
See you next year in Philly, hopefully with a crew of teachers from our new writing project site.
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