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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