Notes from Kelly Gallagher’s Talk at the Dublin Literacy Conference

Kelly Gallagher kicks off the Dublin Literacy Conference with his keynote on “Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It.” Here are some notes from his presentation.

  • Kicks off with Barry Lane’s “Basalreaderville” parody. Interestingly, Barry asked me to have my students create accompanying slideshows that he could use in his performances. Here is a link to Katie Eckardt’s portfolio/slideshow she made for him.
  • Read-i-cide — “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools”
  • Mike Schmoker’s new book, Focus: Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning.
  • Gallagher is talking about sacrificing teaching in name of standards… I am not sure that this rhetorical approach of attacking standards is necessary anymore. The standards are not the curriculum, and we if we are engaging in a more holistic, integrated approach to teaching reading and writing, aren’t we meeting these standards and moving beyond them? In what ways can we move beyond this conversation about whether or not standards are useful or good? How can we think about teaching standards and not always seeing them as standardization?
  • Gallagher is talking about the fact that we are losing a focus on writing. Very true. See also the new “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” from WPA, NCTE, and NWP.
  • Jeff McQuillan – The Literacy Crisis — more books equals more reading equals better reading
  • Concept of “word poverty” — Gallagher is showing political cartoons and and talking how context and background matters to reading comprehension. He argues that our mission is to build background knowledge for our students. I wonder, is this, in some ways, an argument for teaching cultural literacy or, at least a more liberated vision of cultural literacy, ala E.D. Hirsch?
  • Gallagher idea — read and respond to article of the week. Digital twist — have students post this to a blog or wiki, and copy quotes, make hyperlinks to the article, embed images, make connections to what others have written in their posts.
  • “Many kids are literally starving the lobes of the prefrontal cortex of their brains.” Jane Healy, Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Can’t Think and What We Can Do About It
  • Gallagher cites Kenneth Burke — imaginative rehearsals
  • Gallagher — need to find the “sweet spot” of instruction, not too heavy and not too light
  • Gallagher – “What you bring to the page is often more important than what’s on the page.”
  • Ideas from Gallagher
    • Sometimes the framing of the text should be motivational in nature. Reading an article about olestra and giving having them taste test potato chips.
    • More often, the framing should be to help gain surface-level comprehension. Carol Jago talks about the idea about giving students a guided tour during the first part of reading a text, and then dropping off and helping the kids go on the budget tour by themselves.
  • I had to leave before the end so I could go get things set up for my own session! I appreciate Gallagher’s humor and insights and look forward to hearing him talk again at the NWP Spring Meeting in a few weeks.


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Wikispaces announces free wikis for higher ed

http://www.wikispaces.com

For those of you who know my teaching and writing, you know that I am a fan of wikis, in particular of Wikispaces.

From my ENG 315 course to the Chippewa River Writing Project, from my own wiki full of digital writing resources to the wiki for my book, I use their wikis all the times for presentations, workshops, and teaching.

Along with having created a user-friendly and robust product with their wikis, the team at Wikispaces has always been responsive to the needs of teachers, including their free K-12 wikis that now number over 400K. This is not meant to be a straight up product endorsement. Instead, I honestly believe that the team at Wikispaces is working to support K-12 educators in all the ways that they can not just by offering free space, but by offering the time (through email support) and resources to make their wikis pedagogically useful, too.

So, when Sarah from Wikispaces asked me to share a new plan that they will announce next week — free Wikispaces for higher education — I was honored to post the announcement here.  Details of the plan, described by her, include:

  • Our wikis for education are completely private, have no advertising on them, are fully featured, and never expire. And teachers are welcome to sign up for as many of them as they like.
  • The features included in our education wikis usually cost $50 per year — but are completely free when used for K-12 or higher education.
  • We have given away over 980,000 free wikis for education so far, and are committed to giving away at least 2,000,000 in total.
Want more details? Check out this press release (Wikispaces Higher Ed Blog Announcement 2011-02) and watch next week on the Wikispaces blog. Thank you, Wikispaces, for your continued support of K-12 and higher education.

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Quick Thoughts on the State of Tech Ed

Earlier today, I was sent a request for an email interview from a CMU undergraduate. I only had a quick turnaround time to reply (so she could get enough info to write her paper about technology in education), but her deadline encouraged me to be brief in my responses. With her permission, I share her questions and my answers here. As I prepare for many professional development events coming up in the next few weeks, this was a good time to capture some of my thoughts in such a succinct manner.

What are some specific topics you have researched in technology?
My research focuses on the ways that teachers integrate technology into writing instruction. In particular, I am interested in how K-12 teachers blend a writing workshop approach to instruction with specific technologies such as blogs, wikis, collaborative word processing, digital stories, and other multimedia to engage students in meaningful writing and learning.
What are the “hot topics” right now?
Given President Obama’s interest in STEM and the new national educational technology plan, I think that the main focus on technology use in education is for science and math instruction. Also, with the push towards more student engagement, paperless classrooms, increased wireless broadband access, and tablet computing, I think that we have an interesting opportunity to change the ways that teaching and learning takes place inside and outside of school.
Describe the current debates of using technology in the classroom
I think that the main debate centers less on why we should use technology, as that is more or less a given, and more on why to use it. On the one hand, we have advocates for online/virtual learning that acts as a supplement or replacement for instruction. On the other, we have advocates who suggest that students should be using the technology to communicate and create, not just for remediation. As we continue to push for technology in schools, I hope that we invite students to be collaborators,  communicators, and creators, and not just to reinforce old models of instruction with newer, shinier tools.
Have you read any informational journals or books on technology?
I do read journals and books, and those are helpful resources, but get most of my news comes from educational bloggers/tweeters and eSchool News.
How do you conduct research?
For the most part, I do research with teachers as we co-design curriculum and instruction that is technologically-rich and pedagogically-sound. This involves time talking and planning with teachers, working with them and their students, doing follow-up interviews and surveys, and then integrating my thoughts and ideas into the existing literature and knowledge about technology in education and writing.
Where do you get funding to support your research?
Mostly from grant dollars which allow me to have release time. For instance, we currently have a grant from the National Writing Project for our local CMU site, the Chippewa River Writing Project. Also, I am working on a Title II Professional Development grant, WRITE NOW.
If I were to look for sources to write grants, where would I go?
For your own classroom, you would look most likely to local sources like community or school foundations. For the district or regional level, you would look to other agencies such as the Michigan Department of Education or National Writing Project.
What are the most enjoyable parts of being a researcher?
For me, the most enjoyable part of being a researcher is working with teachers to help them develop their own passions and ideas into classroom practice. The second most enjoyable part is being able to write and talk about those ideas in my own CMU classes and in professional development sessions that I lead around the country.
Do you ever work with a partner? How?
I am almost always working with partners. From the teachers that I meet with and plan projects to other CMU staff and faculty who help me develop and implement grants, I am working with partners all the time. Especially with writing, I am constantly working with colleagues to do grant applications, human subjects research applications, chapters, articles, books, and presentations.
What are the frustrations of being a researcher?
My main frustration is that I have to divert my attention away from research, writing, and collaboration to write reports and attend meetings that have little to do with my research. Yet, I understand that this is how the university works, and I really do enjoy being a researcher so I am willing to put up with the frustrations.
What do you think will come with the future of technology in education?
That’s a huge question. While I am not 100% sure of what will come, what I would hope will come is something like this: all teachers and students will have ubiquitous and uninterrupted one-to-one access to a tablet or other computing device, high speed wireless internet, and numerous online, open educational resources. This would allow for anytime, anywhere learning that truly pushes us to be instructional coaches and leaders for our students, since the answer to simple questions will only be a Google search away, and we can spend our time answering the bigger, more complicated questions through project-based learning.
Are there are connections to other disciplines? Or opportunities for interdisciplinary research?
Yes, there are many, many opportunities for this when you think about writing and technology. I think that you could connect to any discipline given the interest that you can generate from working with colleagues in that discipline. In particular, I am interested in how English teachers and librarian/media specialists could work together to address concerns about information literacy, copyright, and plagiarism.


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Back to Teaching, Post-EduCon 2.3

Although I would have posted this last night upon returning from EduCon, Sara and I found ourselves rerouted by Delta and not arriving home until about 2AM. So, a little time to sleep this morning (in fact, very little) and a little time to think about this all day today has now brought me back to my computer tonight, and I am reading a flurry of tweets and posts, post-EduCon. In particular, Liz B. Davis shared her “EduCon Struggle” with a thoughtful follow-up from Chris Lehmann, among others, and Bud just asked for our “educontext” in a tweet just a while ago.

So, where am I at in my “educontext?” Well, with encouraging words from both Sara and Liz to share my thoughts, here is where I was at 24 hours ago, when composing a draft on a plane, with a few more comments below.

My second visit to EduCon (and third visit to Philly) in three years gave my time to reconnect with many progressive minds in the education and edtech world, including many NWP colleagues whose support made my presentation on Because Digital Writing Matters a success (see our shared Google Doc for details from the session). Although EduCon bills itself as “not” a technology conference, I find the distinction between “tech” and “not tech” conferences to continue blurring, and the number of smart phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices at EduCon would suggest that we, as educators, are increasingly reliant upon a number of technologies to stay connected. At least, within certain contexts.

What I mean by that — and this takes nothing away from what EduCon is, both as an actual event and an educational phenomenon — is that I think we might be lost in our own echo chamber.

When Sara noted at one point that, in her TweetDeck columns, her Twitter feed of “All Friends” and also of “#educon” looked almost exactly the same, I began to think about what it was that we were experiencing… and when the panels of distinguished guests and educators, let alone the hallway conversations and scheduled conversations, continued the chorus of innovation, change, and educational evolution, I started to (I will be honest here) lose focus. I tried to attend, literally by being in my seat and choosing not to tweet, as well as figuratively, by wrapping my head around the big ideas. But, I lost focus, and it was frustrating.

I am not saying this in any sarcastic manner, as I appreciate all the work that SLA staff and students have put in to making EduCon what it is. And this is not to say that my experience at EduCon, as a participant and as a presenter, were not valuable, because they most certainly were. I just preface the second half of this reflection with the idea that we — as the innovators, the thought-leaders, the doers — need to be very conscious of how and why we attended EduCon and what we are taking back with us to our day-to-work.

And, that is where I want to focus the second part of this reflection… on my day-to-day work with pre-service and in-service teachers and what I am taking from EduCon 2011 back with me as I return to Michigan (via a rerouted trip to Minneapolis). Do we need more “steam” in STEM? Yes. Do we need time and space for kids to innovate? Absolutely. Do we want to empower all learners to share their voice in democratic classrooms? Of course we do. Again, I am not being sarcastic here, as I truly appreciate all the insights, dedication, and inspiration that everyone involved in this weekend shared with us.

But, I feel like something is missing in the conversation, and I am hoping to write myself into finding (at least) part of it.

First, I was reminded about how one’s own continuous partial attention can, in fact, lead to not paying attention to anything at all, and I was reminded of the power of face-to-face conversation. No matter how many conversations I enter into online — even the exchanges I had during EduCon this weekend — I continued to be most impressed with my conversations with colleagues when we are sitting next to one another. Some were serendipitous “tweet ups” (oh, I just started following you last week!). Others were intentional (let’s meet between sessions), yet most were the casual, comfortable conversations that I had with colleagues I’ve know for some time, or who I was introduced to during the weekend. It is good to connect and reconnect, yet sometimes make an effort to move beyond.

Second, as much as I value those conversations, I also value the opportunities to introduce colleagues to one another, and to say hello to those around me who I have yet to meet. EduCon lends itself to friendly conversation, yet it is still a challenge to make sure that we take the time and make the effort to have those conversations. While I am not as critical as some voices I heard who went so far as to call EduCon “cliquey,” or worse, I know that it is still tough to break out of our comfort zones. Oddly enough, at one of the most innovative high schools in the country, many of us sat last night in the cafeteria with groups of our friends. During the sessions, I would intentionally try sit at tables with other EduCon participants that I had yet to meet, and I tried to strike up conversations when I could. To the extent that I was able, I tried to widen my circle and I am continually reminded that I am the one who needs to move beyond, even though I would hope that others make an effort, too. That a little intentional focus on my part can lead to conversations that I hadn’t imagined. Again, I hope to take back the idea that we need to move beyond our own echo chambers, and make opportunities for ourselves to do so.

So, where does this leave me? Well, one component that I am bringing back with me is the idea that I closed my session with — no matter how many digital tools we invite students to use, it is the quality of the community that matters. And, let’s face it, we are the community. What is it that we, as a self-identified group of progressive educators, hope to (and plan to) do to move beyond our own comfortable conversations and invite other voices, even dissenting voices, into the mix? Do we want innovation? For sure. Who are those that are (from our perspective) stifling innovation… do you think that they want innovation, too, even if they are going about it in a different way? I imagine that they do. Sure, it may be a race to nowhere, not the top, but those who are designing these reforms have intentions, and it does us no good to preach to the choir of progressives if we are not truly understanding the logic of those who think otherwise and, if at all possible, attempt to come to some common ground. What voices were missing from those panels and what value (and values), positive or negative, might they have brought to the conversations?

Maybe I am still riled up about all the political rhetoric lately about the new tone in Washington that, very quickly, degenerated right back to where we were at election time (if not worse). Maybe I am tired after a long weekend at a conference that encouraged me to think, share, and connect, yet still left me with more questions about how to do so than answers. Maybe it is because I need to translate this all to pre-service and in-service teachers who, rightfully, want to know what they can do to engage reluctant students and help them master content all the while defending their profession to parents, administrators, and politicians. Or, maybe, just maybe, I am a bit unsatisfied with the way that the conversations played out, that I want something more… that I want us to really, really move toward something new, something different, but no one really knows how.

Sara and I just finished our coffee break on the flight and she mentioned the idea that software, when moving from version X.Y to X.Z will usually do some major overhauls, adding some features that make it richer and more robust. For all the wonderful panels, collegial conversations, and student voices we heard this weekend, perhaps those who organize it need to think more about what EduCon 2.4 could be. What other voices, however contradictory they may appear to be, do we want to join in the conversation? What value would that add to the conversations within our own echo chamber?

Thank you, EduCon — SLA staff and students, participants both onsite and online — for a wonderful weekend, for pushing my thinking, and for helping us all become better teachers and learners. I look forward to continuing the conversations.

Now, back to the present. I need to encourage the teachers with whom I work to get out of their own echo chambers, to listen to and understand the voices of others, and to make sure that they are bringing their own voices — classroom-tested, inquiry-based, well-reasoned voices — into the conversation. Understand the key ideas about innovation, democratic classrooms, STEAM, and the like. Yet, don’t stop there… be sure to listen, to engage, and to be a part of the conversation in wider circles. Despite my frustrations, that is still my take-away from the weekend.

All that said, I was hesitant to post any of this at all, feeling much like Liz in that I might hurt the feelings of colleagues at SLA and in the EduCon community. But, Chris’s response to her post was generous, and in the spirit of the conversations that EduCon fosters, I hope that my post will provide an opportunity for response, too.

Again, thank you EduCon for pushing my thinking in ways that I would otherwise not be able to move myself. I appreciate the ways in which you make the conversations happen.


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