The “Tweet Aloud” as a Tool for Comprehending Digital Texts

Thanks to Tracy Mercier (@vr2ltch) for capturing my unfolding thought process as I responded to The Majestic Plastic Bag — and invited others to do the same — during an #engchat conversation about digital mentor texts on April 23rd.

I think I may have coined a new phrase, at least in the pedagogical sense, mashing together the classic reading comprehension strategy of a a “think aloud” with the idea of viewing a video during a Twitter-based conversation such as #engchat.

The result: a “tweet aloud,” which had me and about a half-dozen other teachers sharing our thoughts on the video while all watching it on our own screens, semi-simultaneously. In some ways, it was a backchannel conversation during a social media interaction, which was kind of doubly-meta. All the same, it was interesting for me as a facilitator and, I hope, for participants, too. It gives me something to think about as I continue to understand online pedagogy.

So, I thank Tracy for capturing that all through her Storify reflections, as well as for Meenoo in trusting me enough to try something like that with #engchat.

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Service Learning and Teaching Writing (AERA, Part 2)

One of the considerations that I am keeping in mind as we re-imagine the midtier field placement for ENG 315 is to wonder if and how we could conceive of it, at least in part, as an opportunity for service learning. While it is critically important that our students spend time in elementary and middle school classrooms — and that they observe writing workshop instruction in those classrooms — it is also quite important that they have time and space to talk and work with writers. One of the best ways that I can think of doing that is to set up an out-of-school or after-school space for students, from struggling writers to very proficient ones, to share their thoughts and ideas with our undergraduate pre-service teachers.

The more formalized space of a writing workshop is, even in the “best” of classrooms, a place where teachers and students adhere to a set of norms about writing. Even in the most “authentic” of writing workshops, where students are given choice and inquiry drives instruction, the students are not generally the ones who are really in charge of their own literacy learning. With the many scripted curricula that exist for writing instruction, teachers are still leading/guiding/forcing students through units of study that are contrived for specific, “schooly” genres.

What I imagine is a space more like 826, a space where our pre-service teachers have some flexibility and ability to change their approaches to working with and for students. Some of the panelists described this with the notion of “third space,” and Guiterrez followed up with a discussion of many related ideas. It is within these spaces that, I believe, our pre-service students could work, writing center-like, not only as novice teachers, but also as peer consultants, adopting the persona that invites inquiry and exploration. Here are a series of summarizing tweets that I recorded during her discussion, in reverse chronological order:

Troy HicksTroy Hicks ? @hickstro

Kris Guiterreez: is a community better off for us having been there (as teachers and teacher educators)? #AERA2012

Kris Guiterreez: repertoire of practice, inter subjectivity, zone of prox dev, mediated praxis, teaching organized for the future. #AERA2012

Kris Guiterreez: Reject binaries; prior knowledge not only from one place to another, instead there is negotiation/hybridization.#AERA2012

Kris Guiterreez: Contradictions become the engines of change, a space for sense-making and examining our assumptions.#AERA2012

Kris Gutierrez: ecologically valid, race-sensitive, equity-oriented, transformational, grounded in particularities of communities.#AERA2012

Kris Gutierrez: How do we develop a new “pedagogical imagination,” remediate activity, involve multiple activity systems…#AERA2012

How can we design creative, collaborative spaces for students, pre-service, and in-service teachers to learn literacy together?#AERA2012

Novice teachers as students and organizers of learning, especially n out-of-school and after school settings. #AERA2012

Narrative as a way to make sense of pedagogy/theoretical ideas. How are pre-service teachers socialized to talk about teaching?#AERA2012

How does a strategically designed experience for undergrads in a K12 university partnership affect their views of literacy? #AERA2012#nwp

Listening to discussion on university/community partnerships#AERA2012 Thinking about implications for ENG 315 and @chippewariverwp #nwp

How we might design such a program, I am not sure. I would have to imagine that we would use the space of the school, although I would prefer that we didn’t. Instead, I would imagine a “collaboratory”  type of space, yet how to get the many students from various schools into that space would be difficult, at best and could not fall on the shoulders of our pre-service teachers. Transportation and other issues would hinder this, too, so I need to think more about what the possibilities are and could be, let along if my colleagues would go along with the idea as a parallel or even alternative experience.

That said, I am still inspired by visions such as those provided by 826, and I wonder what we might be able to do at CMU to capture some of the service learning ideals expressed in this session.

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Ideas from AERA 2012 (Part 1)

Unlike many conference experiences where I am “on” for most of the time, presenting or meeting, I was able to take a slightly slower pace at AERA 2012 this weekend in Vancouver. Although the long travel days and time zone differences were a little tough to contend with, the few focused hours that I spent at the conference itself were very valuable for me in thinking about my teaching, research, and service. With the upcoming NWP SEED grant coming due, there are many things I can take from this weekend to think about while writing.

A quick list of some highlights:

  • A panel of Kris Guitterez’s graduate students talk about the teaching of writing and service learning
  • Roy Pea and other distinguished educational technologists from around the world discuss current and future trends in ed tech
  • Both listening to and engaging with (through Today’s Meet) a panel of young scholars who are studying participatory democracy and social media
  • Numerous connections, conversations, and opportunities to think through some of my current ideas related to our next NWP grant, including a smart round-table conversation with the Writing and Literacies SIG
  • Presenting with my colleagues on adolescent literacy in the content areas, with my focus on English language arts

A little more detail on each of these sessions/ideas over the next few days as I reflect on them and offer some further analysis. For the moment, here is my own presentation on “Learning with Text in the English Language Arts.”

As a part of a panel discussion about engaging adolescent learners in both content area literacy learning as well as general reading and comprehension strategies, I began by describing a unit of study crLeated around Of Mice and Men. To read more, take a peek at this preview of our chapter in Google Books. This, of course, led me to present a critique of such models of language arts instruction as being to text-focused, and lacking a multidimensional approach that could lead to both greater comprehension of the text itself as well as a better understanding for students of who they are as readers, writers, and literate individuals in the world. While they are not much, here are some slides that share the gist of my talk:

For those who know me and my work — a few of whom attended the session, and I appreciate taking the time to do so! — I probably had a surprising dearth of technology-talk as part of my conversation. In writing the chapter, Sue and I wanted to steer clear of critiques where readers would say, “Well, that would be great if I had access to more technology…” Instead, we talked about best practices in the teaching of English language arts, bringing in some technology as it seemed appropriate, but not at the forefront. My goal, for the chapter and the presentation, was as Michelle Hagerman said, “pedagogically purposeful,” and I wanted people to walk away with an understanding of what could/should be different in this type of effective conversation.

That said, I had some thoughts rolling around in the back of my head from reading I had done on the way to Vancouver. Last week, I was finally able to get a copy of a book that has been much-talked about by many colleagues in the past few months: Mike Schmoker’s Focus. In this book, he argues for a simplified approach to language arts (eschewing, in many ways, the affordances of technology and other “fads” related to literacy teaching. In his own words, here is what Schmoker has to say, from page 26 of his book:

Screen Shot from Mike Schmoker's Focus
Screen Shot from Mike Schmoker's Focus

I’m trying to figure out exactly why I am completely in agreement with Schmoker on the surface, and yet deeply disagree upon giving his ideas further thought. Certainly, we do not want students to make skits or claymation without an adequate exploration of story telling, character development, and the like. Is he implying that we need to do more with argumentative and informational writing, to use the CCSS parlance? Perhaps it is his parenthetical identification of some teachers and scholars — (as some do) — as an offhand remark without further explanation that bugs me the most. I’ll need to think through this some more.

More reflections from AERA over the next few days…

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Adaptive Assessment and the Purposes of Educational Technology (AERA, Part 3)

Roy Pea has long-studied educational technology and, in this interchange with Larry Cuban hosted by Tapped In, reminds us that:

A second caution is replacing flesh with silicon. The point here about technology is to augment physical, hands-on learning, face-to-face encounters, not to replace it, and yet, certainly, there may be places that come to feel that interactive programs, simulations, teleconferencing, travels in cyberspace, are cheaper, more effective, and easier to conduct than the real thing. Let’s watch out for that. (The Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom, 1998)

That said, as I listened to him talk about adaptive technologies that monitor and respond to student progress (ala Khan Academy), I became increasingly concerned. Captured in these tweets, here are some of the “benefits” that Pea described, without much in the way of critique, posted in reverse chronological order:

Troy HicksTroy Hicks ? @hickstro

Being an #edtech advocate, I am becoming concerned about the focus on collection of student metadata, both implicit and explicit. #AERA2012

Roy Pea: adaptive systems create large scale testbeds to do experiments in comparative pedagogy; expand social networks for learn #AERA2012

Roy Pea: Expand learner access to data in relation to others creating a networked systems of learners in adaptive learning systems #AERA2012

Roy Pea: expand data gathering outside of school contexts; give access of data to learners themselves (performance dashboards)#AERA2012
Roy Pea: learner perceptions and motions (& emotions); capturing uses of written language; expanding our sense-making techniques#AERA2012
Roy Pea: By expanding profile metadata, greater context of learner’s history of learning, capturing learner perceptible aspects#AERA2012
Roy Pea: How can adaptive technologies become trusted resources for students, teachers, and policy-makers? #AERA2012

The idea of a “school of one,” while appealing on one level to anyone who has ever talked about differentiated instruction is, ultimately, terrifying to me. Not because it will eliminate the teacher, per se, although teachers do become more like technicians in this model where they work to support students without really teaching anyone anything directly, or engaging in more substantive conversations in small groups or as a class. While it could be beneficial for students in many ways, my fear is that the implementation of adaptive assessment will inherently isolate students from one another and, as Leigh Graves Wolf reminded me of in a tweet (or three), will create data sets that are ultimately intended to evaluate (and, arguably) punish teachers. This idea of adaptive assessment ties with another popular ed tech trend, one that is perhaps seen as more “progressive,” but in effect is really not much more so, much like many recent edtech fads. For instance, as Ira Socol noted earlier this year, the concept of “flipping” the classroom is very problematic:

But the “Flipped Classroom” is worse than ‘typical homework’ – it literally shifts the explanatory part of school away from the educators and to the home, however disconnected that home might be, however un-educated parents might be, however non-English speaking that home might be, however chaotic that home might be. So, kids with built in advantages get help with the understanding, and kids without come to school the next day clueless. (Changing Gears 2012: rejecting the “flip”)

So, to hear Pea and other distinguished educational technologists talk about adaptive technologies in this manner was, at best, disconcerting. At worst, it is terrifying to think that our children will be measured by computers, as the recent hullabaloo over computer-based writing assessment reminds us. As the CCSS assessments come online, literally, my sincere hope is that teachers continue to question not only their validity as a measurement tool, but also the unintended consequences of such assessments on their students, curriculum, and instruction.

Footnote: Of course, we are all now familiar with the TED-Ed initiative to “flip” videos on their site, and this could be another interesting twist in the conversation. At least with TED, teachers are still in control of the learning process since they create their own versions for the flip.

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