Networked Conversations and Transformational Technology

CC licensed image from Flickr user Frau Hölle

This past week has been a busy one for me, with professional experiences ranging from face-to-face workshops and two webinars, to our first school-based field experiences with pre-service teachers; additionally I met with my writing project leadership team, facilitated two writing groups and ended last night by helping to moderate a panel discussion amongst principals for helping them secure a job. Whew…

In and amongst all of these activities, I have been reminded of the power of teacher networks. In fact, my entire professional life centers on the idea of teacher networks. Identifying networks. Building collaborations. Nurturing novice and veteran teachers alike. Putting them in conversation with one another. Asking smart questions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Creating new networks, and beginning the process again. It’s part of who I am, part of what I do.

In that sense, part of what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers this semester to do — through the use of Twitter — is to build a teacher network. I am not simply asking them to “use Twitter.” Instead, I am coaching them in the process of using Twitter as a tool for building their PLN. This happens both online and off. As evidence of this, I spent about 20 minutes of class time last week introducing some of the nuances of Tweetdeck as a tool for monitoring and participating in hashtag conversations.

At the core, what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers is about using technology in a way that moves well beyond simplistic integration. As Ruben Puentedura describes it in his SAMR model, I want pre-service teachers to move from technology as a tool for enhancement of teaching practice into an opportunity to transform their practice.

Yet, I find my pre-service teachers, even the most engaged Twitter users amongst them, to be hesitant about using social networking in this manner.

Of course, change is hard, and I am working to ease them into it. I want to provide them with the opportunity, yet not foist Twitter upon them. At the same time, we cannot move fast enough. There are so many conversations, so many ideas that they need to jump into, so many networks that they can learn from.

Indeed, my colleagues in teacher education could take a play from the Twitter/PLN playbook, as I do not often see teacher educators participating in regular conversations. There are exceptions, of course, but when I was in a recent college of ed meeting about reforming our teacher ed program, no one presenting mentioned how we could tap into these existing networks as a way to recruit mentor teachers, build school partnerships, and learn about current trends in the field. Many of my colleagues need to rethink how they, too, participate in networks as a broader component of their own (and their pre-service teachers’) professional learning.

At this point, I am still pushing forward with Twitter outside of my methods class, though I think I might use it in class next week to hold a backchannel conversation, too. I’ve resisted the urge to place any kind of grade on Twitter participation, though I have told students that they will be evaluated on their participation in class, both at the mid-term and at the end of class. So, I will keep working to get them involved, and to get other teacher educators involved, too.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Contributing to the Conversation: Pre-Service Teachers Get Started on Twitter

“A Conversation” by Flickr user Khalid Albaih.

Over the past week, my ENG 315 students have been joining Twitter and using the #eng315cmu hashtag to start discussing ideas related to teaching writing and creating their own PLNs. I provided them with a few resources to get moving along.

First, to create your own professional learning network and reading list, begin by reading How To Build Your Professional Learning Network Online and Offline and How Do I Get a PLN?

Then, sign up for Twitter. Install a Twitter app on your phone or in your web browser and read What The Tweet? Your Illustrated Guide To New Twitter Jargon. Also, take a look at Edutopia’s  Five-Minute Film Festival: Twitter in Education.

For this week, I am trying to help them “contribute to the conversation.” That is, I want them to begin thinking about how their tweets — while sometimes personal, eccentric, or irrelevant — can generally be about their professional lives, including their questions and discoveries about teaching writing. For instance, I encouraged them to create “substantive tweets” (paradoxical in some sense, I know), that might do the following related to our own class discussions:

  • Summarize a key idea from an article or blog post
  • Respond to a colleague from class in a supportive manner, yet also pushing the conversation forward
  • Provide a link to a resource related to the original idea

Or, alternatively, if entering a broader conversation, they might:

  • Ask a specific question to another teacher on Twitter about his/her teaching practice
  • Ask a teacher that they follow already what some good chats are to join as well as other teachers to follow
  • Share their own observations about working with student writers (not using the child’s name, however!)

Soon, I plan to adapt some ideas about setting professional goals from Jon Hasenbank, a math professor at Grand Valley State University. He asked his students to identify some professional goals and then choose a Twitter chat that would help them reach those goals and, of course, reflect on the experience (such as this one from Holli McAlpine).

So, I am happy with the progress we are making so far. If you are interested in following our group and contributing an idea, I know that that my pre-service teachers would appreciate it. You can find a list of them here, and we are using the #eng315cmu hashtag.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Inviting Pre-service Teachers into the Social Media Conversation

Image from TechFaster
Image from TechFaster

This fall — in fact, tomorrow — marks my return to the classroom after a year-long sabbatical filled with many research projects, lots of writing, and quite a bit of travel. Like most teachers, I both crave and fear the “regularity” of the school; the days become somewhat more regimented, but the overall craziness of our lives seems to intensify.

There are many additional projects to discuss in the year ahead, yet pressing on my mind at this moment is how to invite my pre-service teachers into the broader conversation(s) that happen amongst educators via blogs, Twitter, and other online communities.

Over the past seven years of working with pre-service teachers, I have dabbled with a variety of digital reading and writing tools, consistently returning to the use of wikis and Google Docs as mainstays in my ENG 315 course. Early on, I integrated blogs and RSS, later trying other elements like podcasting, digital storytelling, and social media/classroom management hybrids.

Yet, I haven’t had them fully jump in to the world of Twitter or edchats. Perhaps this is because, first, when I taught my last course in the spring of 2013, the real explosion in edchats had yet to really hit. Perhaps it was because I felt we were crunched for time in an already-crowded curriculum. Perhaps I was having trouble making a clear connection between digital writing and social media.

Well, edchats are here, the curriculum will always be crowded, and I wrote a chapter in a book about the composition processes of social media. So, I suppose that this semester is as good as any to invite my students to jump in.

So, the question now becomes: how and where to begin? This then begs further questions:

  • How do I scaffold and layer their experiences with social media over the course of the semester?
  • What authentic and useful tasks can I ask of them as a part of normal course work (for instance, to discuss readings or find relevant new articles)?
  • How can I encourage more authentic participation in edchat communities that moves beyond what the are “supposed” to do for class?

I know that I can take some of my own social media advice in terms of what I have previously suggested to other teachers, but I think that pre-service teachers are a slightly different audience.

As I mull this over in the next few hours — I teach tomorrow afternoon and I am wondering where to begin — I would be curious to know what my colleagues, especially teachers of high school students and undergrads, have done to thoughtfully, critically, and creatively introduced social media into your classrooms?

Any advice before I stand up to start teaching tomorrow?


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Two New Articles for Teacher Educators and Parents

In the past two weeks, I’ve had to wonderful opportunities for writing, one through my colleague Todd Finley via Edutopia, and the other from a group of English educators via their Writers Who Care blog. Here is a brief preview from each, as well as links to the originals.

Engaging Pre-Service Teachers in Authentic Writing Instruction

One of my ENG 315 students presenting part of her multigenre research project.

As a writer, I know firsthand how important it is for me to share what I’ve written and receive feedback on my work. And as a teacher of writing — from my initial experience in the middle school classroom up to my current work as a teacher educator at Central Michigan University and director of our Chippewa River Writing Project — I want my students to experience this, too. It is with this understanding in mind that I teach my methods course, ENG 315: Writing in the Elementary and Middle School.

Unfortunately, I know that many of my pre-service teachers come to my course with a jaded view of writing. If high school hadn’t already taken a passion for writing out of them, four years of college certainly have. Thus, I must teach my preservice teachers how to re-envision themselves as writers and, consequently, as teachers of writing…

Teaching Writing, Tablet Style

CC Licensed Photo (Some rights reserved by flickingerbrad.)

While I am very much an advocate for digital writing that incorporates multimedia content such as audio, video, and images, I also understand and appreciate the idea that writing involves — and should always involve at some level — the use of words. Very rarely, if ever, does a young writer need all the bells and whistles that come with standard word processing software.

This is especially true when it comes to using a tablet, given the limited amount of space we have for viewing and typing on smaller screens, especially when not using an external keyboard.

So, when it comes to helping our students to write, to put words into sentences and then into stories, essays, scripts, and more, I look for applications that make the writing process simple and elegant. As a teacher, this means that an app does not, should not, have to do everything from brainstorming to drafting to publishing…

Hope that you find the articles useful!


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Reflections on CMU’s High Impact Teaching Academy

Last fall, I joined CMU’s High Impact Teaching Academy with the specific goal of rethinking the approach to teaching my methods course, ENG 315: “Writing in the Elementary and Middle Schools.” While I am unable to present my final project in person this week, I did want to share three components of my refined approach: a course concept map created in Prezi, a “visual syllabus” to replace my old, standard design, and a few of the activities that I used in class to get students more engaged in conversation about our subject matter.

Course Concept Map

As a tool to help frame my own thinking as well as to visually represent our goals and the path for our semester in ENG 315, I created this Prezi. During the first class session, I used this to complement our talk about the syllabus and the schedule of assignments. Then, during the next three weeks of class I returned to the Prezi, briefly, to reorient students to where we were at and what we were heading toward. After that, I only took class time to look at the Prezi intentionally twice more: once immediately after spring break and again with two weeks left in the course. With each tour of the Prezi, I also tried to connect to the big ideas that we were discussing in class at the time.

Survey Results - Prezi
Survey Results – Prezi

While I need to wait until the end of the semester to read their written comments from SOS forms, the results from an anonymous survey that I gave last week show that my students’ reactions to having and using the Prezi were quite mixed. I am not entirely sure what this means for me as I continue to think about creating course concept maps in the future, but the fact that nearly 3/4 of them appreciated having the Prezi is a positive sign.

Visual Syllabus

Both because my old syllabus had become weighted and bulky with tons of text, and because I was really trying to really rethink some major elements of the course, I opted to create a visual syllabus over the holiday break and after meeting with Eron. As I streamlined assignments, readings, and procedures — including a new “collaborative unit plan” assignment — I shaped the visual syllabus to reflect the organization of the course and the ways in which the assignments related to one another.

ENG 315 Syllabus First Page - Fall 2012 ENG 315 Syllabus First Page - Spring 2013
Previous version of ENG 315 Syllabus (PDF) Spring 2013 version of ENG 315 Syllabus (PDF)
Survey Results - Syllabus
Survey Results – Syllabus

Again, like the Prezi, results were mixed, but not nearly as much. Possibly because a syllabus is the defining document for a course, or perhaps because they really did appreciate the design, students all rated the syllabus as favorable. There are some minor tweaks that I would go back to fix, and again I will need to see their written SOS responses to get a better idea of what they really liked and what didn’t work so well.

Creating Engaging Discussions in Class

ENG 315 Group Work
ENG 315 students work to create a visual representation of a major idea from the course.

Over the past few years, I have worked to create interactive, inclusive discussions. For a few semesters, I worked with a colleague to create what we called the “read/share” project where students would read a professional book, then lead a lesson from that book. This didn’t seem to elicit the types of interactions I had hoped for, so I shifted focus last year and asked a different group of students to prepare a discussion activity each week based on a particular article or chapter. Again, this didn’t seem to elicit the types of active reading and engagement I was hoping for. I knew that continuing with the traditional “call and response” format would only show me that a few students had read and were prepared to discuss course ideas in a substantive manner.

ENG 315 Concept Map
ENG 315 Concept Map

Thus, this semester I took a number of the ideas from the HITA workshops and tried them out — using playing cards to randomize groups, bringing chart paper and markers for brainstorming, allowing for adequate wait time, back channeling, and having students complete reading guides or discussion questions on Blackboard. I would also take these comments that were produced before class online and bring them directly into our class activities. For instance, I had students agree or disagree with a statement from another student’s online post. Also, in private, I asked some students who had posted something unique to please speak up in class, and most were willing to do so.

Survey Results - Discussion
Survey Results – Discussion

While I am not sure that I mastered all of the techniques, and I recognize that I “lost” some time with lengthier discussions, I am sure that the positive responses to the survey are telling me that I am moving in the right direction. Classroom discussions, even for college seniors preparing to enter their student teaching, can still feel stifled. Yet, I think that I helped encourage a variety of voices to contribute to our dialogue throughout the semester.

Conclusions

These three main changes in my approach to teaching ENG 315 were relatively easy to incorporate and have led to equal, if not better results than what I have experienced in previous semesters. Participating in HITA has reminded me of effective and engaging practices that I knew but seemed to have forgotten, as well as providing me opportunity to learn a few new strategies as well.

As a teacher educator, I am constantly thinking about how best to engage pre-service teachers in meaningful activities that will actually help them better understand both content knowledge and the practice of teaching. In the coming year, as we expand the audience for ENG 315 to include all elementary education majors, I know that the work I have done this semester will contribute to my continued growth as a teacher educator and, more importantly, to my students’ growth as new teachers.

My thanks to Eron and the entire FaCIT staff for a wonderful professional development experience, as well as my students in the Spring 2013 section of ENG 315.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Social Network “Fail” Leads to A Renewed Approach to ENG 315

Another semester began this week, and I have been updating my syllabus and wiki site for ENG 315. Last semester, I was quite surprised and delighted by the number of you who asked me about my Wikispaces to Edmodo shift. Well, we learn from our failures, right? This is one that taught me a great deal about digital writing and teaching, and I share a few thoughts here.

First, I realized how dependent I had become on using a wiki, both to prepare for class as well as in class. Each week, I would create a new agenda page and share that with my students. While I could share links in Edmodo, I switched to a Google Doc for the agenda, and that was confusing to many students. In other words, I didn’t find an easy way to put a weekly agenda up and — while I had placed a link to the agenda in Edmodo, asked them to save the doc in their own Google Drive, and sent a link out each week — the document itself became overwhelming. There may have been an easy workaround for this, however that was not the major concern that students had.

Second, I populated our course’s feed with two RSS feeds so they could get updates on educational news and events. There were so few posts from class members in between our regular class meetings each week, that these syndicated RSS feeds would essentially “fill” the front page for the class. Students were not interested in or easily able to search for assignments or posts from their classmates. Again, I could’ve turned off the RSS, and I’m sure that some simple tagging and searching skills would’ve made this a moot point, that it was something that bothered students in a way I had set up our Edmodo course.

Finally, when I would go to use Edmodo in class as a way to take notes on course discussions, or invite them to post a piece of writing, again there seemed to be no convenient way to do this. I could take notes in the Google talk and make a link, or in a post, but that seemed to get lost. Also, when I had students write in class and then post to the wall of the Edmodo course, again became quickly filled with posts and made it difficult to see everything directly.

For each of these problems, I’m sure that I could’ve figured out a way around them, and I know that Edmodo recently released an update as well, so perhaps on these issues would be less of a concern. However, for me and the preservice teachers with whom I work, it just wasn’t the right fit. So, this semester I am definitely going back to a wiki and I will be more intentional about the times we use the wiki as compared to when we choose Google docs.

The other good thing about my “fail” is that it has coincided nicely, or at lease given me a great deal of material for, my experience in the High Impact Teaching Academy that I have then participating in at CMU. Once a month, a group of about 10 faculty, graduate students, and a facilitator from our faculty development center have been meeting to discuss issues related to syllabus design, assignments, implementing writing, assessment, integrating technology, flipping the classroom, and a variety of other topics.

The chance to talk with like-minded colleagues from disciplines across the university has been very valuable. Part of the work that we are doing this year is to create a product that demonstrates substantive change in our teaching practice. I am approaching ENG 315 with a renewed focus the semester, and have created two artifacts over the break that I shared during our first week of class: a “visual syllabus” and this Prezi that outlines my vision for the course. And, I will be moving back to a wiki… so I will share more about thinking later in the semester.

http://prezi.com/embed/c4ld5qdv_vf7/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=0&autoplay=no&autohide_ctrls=0 Good luck with the new semester and thanks again for sharing your feedback. A number of readers have told me that the comment features on the blog have not been working properly, and I ever moved a number of plug-ins so hopefully commenting will be much easier.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

NWP/NCTE 2012: Mentoring Matters

Natalie Merchant opens up NCTE 2012
Natalie Merchant opens up NCTE 2012

As NCTE President Sandy Hayes said at the very beginning of the convention, this entire weekend would feel like Christmas: so long in the making, with the magic lasting only a moment.

Still, what a moment it was, and continues to be, as the many conversations I had this weekend still resonate with me. Natalie Merchant opening the conference, for one, still echoes.

Identifying a key theme is always a difficult task, yet if I had to zero in on just one, it would be this: mentorship. The power of mentors in small moments — and across generations of teachers — continues to amaze, it keeps me connected to the profession of teaching and thinking about how best to empower students.

There are the mentors who guide me mostly through the books and articles that they write, and with whom I was able to share a few moments to describe my appreciation: Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, and Linda Christensen were three in particular that I hadn’t met before and I was able to spend a few moment with each. Others, like Barry Lane, Jim Burke, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Richard Kent, and Jeff Wilhelm have invited me into this profession as a fellow author, friend, and colleague.

And, now, I am beginning to have more opportunities to interact with my contemporaries, all of whom mentor me in different ways. Fellow authors and English Educators like Rob Rozema, Allen Webb, Cathy Fleischer, Bill Tucker, Elaine Hunyadi, Lindsay Ellis, Sara Kajder, Jory Brass, Jim Fredricksen, Leah Zuidema, Janet Swenson, Carl Young, Sam Caughlin, Anne Ruggles Gere, David Kirkland and Ken Lindbloom have all provided me with opportunities to collaborate and learn from them. Kristen Turner and I were honored with a grant from CEE, and we continue our collaborations around digital writing and teacher education. Friends and colleagues who defy categorization because they touch so many parts of my professional life were all here, too: Jennifer Collison (and Jim,too!), Paul Oh, Paul Allison, Chris Sloan, April Niemela, Bud Hunt, and Kevin Cordi.

Yet, most importantly, I appreciate the opportunities that I have had to mentor others, especially through my work with the National Writing Project. Seven teachers from my site were on the program at the NCTE annual convention: Erin Busch-Grabmeyer, Jeremy Hyler, Beth Nelson, Penny Lew, Andy Schoenborn, Kathy Kurtze, and Amanda Smoker. More colleagues than I can count from broader NWP circles were on the program, too, and one of them, Dawn Reed, has now been invited to be a Co-Director of the Red Cedar Writing Project, a role I once proudly held and shared with colleagues like Mitch Nobis, Renee Webster, and Toby Kahn-Loftus. I met people who I first knew through twitter — like Meenoo Rami, Cindy Minnich, and Chad Sansing — and others who I will now know better through twitter. Also, I was fortunate enough to meet with a number of doctoral students, especially from Fordham and Liz Homan from U of M.

I have now been to a decade of consecutive NCTE conventions, as well a trip to Detroit for the 1996 convention. Over those ten years, I have been able to go from being a face in the crowd to, I hope, a face who welcomes others to the crowd. All of my sessions were fun, but in particular I enjoy the hour at the “tech to go” kiosk and my CEE round table discussion, interacting with just a small handful of colleagues over the course of an hour. These small moments where we have time to dig deep into a number of ideas that will, I hope, help us all improve teaching, learning, and assessment.

As I do each year, I head back to campus to work with pre-service teachers, fresh with ideas, knowing that all of these mentors and mentees, colleagues and friends will come with me. I try to describe the power of these professional networks to my students, but even in writing this post I know how futile a task this really is. Handshakes, hugs, and smiles are the best way to see what I mean, and these are way to hard to capture writing, or even in pictures, as these are fleeting moments.

The real mentoring happens during the other 360 days of the year, when we exchange emails and tweets, create new projects, write about the ones we are doing, and prepare to enter our classrooms again. And, I am sure that I have inadvertently left off many other names of colleagues with whom I met this weekend — as well as those who I didn’t even get to catch up with, like Kevin Hodgson and Antero Garcia — and for that I apologize.

I wish you all well as you step back into your classrooms and enjoy Thanksgiving with your families. I continue to be thankful for the mentoring you have provided me, and the mentoring you allow me to provide you.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.