Personal Technology Learning and the Teaching of Writing

Today, I will be introducing my ENG 315 pre-service teachers to the idea of developing their “digital teaching persona” and thinking critically about why and how to use technology in their personal technology learning and to become better teachers of writing.

Each semester, I face the act of balancing the introduction of a number of digital writing tools — Google accounts for Gmail and Google Reader, Edublogs, Wikispaces, podcasts, digital stories — and the content of our course which includes principles of the writing workshop, reflecting on a midtier teaching experience, and examining our work as writers.

And, each semester, I find that students initially (and sometimes in their final reflections on the course) say that the first weeks of class are overwhelming in terms of the new technologies.

So, I am thinking about how to make things only “whelming,” not overwhelming, and also articulate why I think that learning how to use these digital writing tools are critical to their success as teachers. Thus, I offer this brief list that I intend to share with my students today:

  • Understanding digital writing tools can be intimidating at first, yet provide opportunities for writers to share their work and read the work of others. This kind of publication ritual is an important component of the writing workshop, and digital writing tools enables students to easily distribute their writing to a wider audience.
  • Understanding and applying technologies to the teaching of writing — as well as understanding concepts associated with them such as copyright and fair use — has become the professionally responsible way to teach writing. Professional organizations such as NCTE, NWP, IRA, ISTE, the Center for Media Literacy and others have moved quickly and clearly in the past few years to show that integrating technology across content areas, including the teaching of writing, is critical for creating students who are literate in a variety of ways.
  • Creating a digital teaching persona — via one’s own blog, wiki, RSS reading, email address, digital portfolio and through other online tools — has become essential for teachers who are increasingly being asked to use these tools as they search for jobs and establish classrooms that use technology in critical and creative ways. By learning these tools in a pre-service methods course, and understanding the ways in which they can be applied as a part of one’s overall approach to teaching, pre-service teachers can enter the profession well-prepared to represent their work to a variety of audiences including students, parents, administrators, and other stakeholders.

My hope is that learning how to use digital writing tools will help my pre-service teachers accomplish these three interrelated goals — providing opportunities for student writers, being a better teacher of writing, and creating a classroom environment that fosters critical and creative writing.

While it is difficult to jump into new technology learning, and I acknowledge that the learning curve can sometimes be very high for some of these tools, my goal this semester is to help students in their learning by offering more time during writing workshop where they can collaborate and I can confer with them.

If you have other ideas about why personal technology learning and the teaching of writing are important, I welcome additional ideas to add to this list so my pre-service teachers can gain more insights into why and how teachers should learn about these tools and ideas.


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Reflections on the Semester and the Season

Been trying to get focused on writing for the books again tonight, but catching up on RSS reading and some recent posts from Andrea, Aram, and Sara reminded me to take some time with family and catch up on some personal reading (besides RSS feeds).

So, I figured I would reflect on a few things from this semester and then probably not blog again until after the new year, so I can so hopefully I can get caught up on those books and then be able to turn my attention to my kids and family over the holidays. In no particular order, here are three things that have been making me think as the semester comes to a close:

1. Reflecting on the experience of conducting a webinar

As I think about what I consider to be elements of “best practice” in teaching teachers how to integrate literacy with technology, two major points are clear: they need hands-on experience and time to play with technology outside the pressures of the classroom. While preparing for and conducting the webinar, I was continually reminded of the time constraint that we were under (apx. 50 minutes to present) and the fact that all the technologies we would introduce would not only not be played with by the teachers during the session, but would only be alluded to with links to resources later. Part of that was simply the function of the webinar, and I am OK with that. Yet, part of it seems to be that we have yet to fully embrace the idea of play in learning to teach, and especially in learning to teach with technology. My hope is that, given the opportunity to do a webinar again, I will be able to think about how to focus on something specific so that participants can walk away with a clear understand of what to do, as well as why and how to do it.

In short, the experience conducting the webinar — as well as the overall outcomes of the webinar itself — were good, based on the original intent we had for it. Now, I just need to reconsider what my intent for another webinar (or similar web-based presentations) would be. This will be important as we consider the work of our new writing project site at CMU.

2. Reflecting on teaching a senior seminar in 21st Century Literacies

This semester, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach ENG 460, a senior seminar where students develop a final research project related to the course theme; in our case, this was 21st century literacies. My requirement for the final projects that students created was that it had to include some form of multimedia, and making a power point was the bare minimum. As I reflect on the final student projects — which included websites, informational videos, hyperlinked slide shows, and one student who created a Knol — I see a variety of topics that all integrated multimedia in some way. That is good.

Yet, it is clear that some students “got it,” and were really able to take advantage of the multimedia component, combining their own original content with links to other resources and/or representing their content in critical and creative ways through audio, video, or multimedia. On the other hand, there were some students who simply delivered a pretty standard presenation and, instead of having a power point, made a basic web page, moving through their presentation with minimal interactivity and effective use of multimedia. Or, they just gathered other people’s multimedia and put it all together into one website.

I say all of this cautiously, for as a teacher I don’t want to offend any of my students or call them out, especially since they have made their work public and most were composing in digital environments for the first time. Instead, I want to say it simply to give myself pause to think about how I will frame projects like this in the future and how I will talk about the effective use of multimedia and design in light of creating a meaningful and substantive presentation.

I’m still learning, too.

3. Reflecting on teaching a writing methods course

ENG 315 gets more fun every time I teach it. I feel like I have finally hit my stride in terms of the content and pace of the course, as well as the technologies that I ask my pre-service teachers to engage with as they develop their voices as writers and teachers of writing. In particular, this semester I had them blogging their professional reading responses, sharing their field notes with my via Google Docs, and creating their own wiki page. I also invited, but did not require, them to make a podcast or digital story.

As I think about what I will do next semester, I am going to continue pushing in these directions and make some slight changes. First, for their portfolio of personal writing, a requirement will be that one of the pieces is digital. It can be an online photo essay, a podcast, a digital story, a piece of hypertext fiction, or a “kiosk” style presentation with hyper links, but I will make the requirement that at least one piece have a digital component.

Also, I am going to require that either their portfolio of writing or their multigenre project be presented as a website.

Finally, I am going to make a more concious effort to have them create a personal learning network, both inside and outside the class, using RSS, blogging, and microblogging. I am not sure if I want to move from a wiki to Ning as my primary means of communicating with students, so I have to give that some more thought.

The challenge for all of this, of course, is making sure that I continually remind them of how this connects to the writing process and will be applicable to them as teachers as well as to their K-8 student writers. But, it is a challenge that I seem to get better at overcoming each semester that I teach.

Well, that is about it for tonight, and for the semester. I really need to turn my attention to writing for the books and we have many weeks of busy family time planned over the holidays, so most likely I won’t post again until the new year. While 2008 has been successful professionally, my hope is that 2009 will prove to be a better year for me personally and for my family, too. So, I need some time to just pause and think about all that lies ahead. Thanks again to my friends and colleagues for reminding me to take some time to do that.

I wish you all a safe, restful, and joyous holiday season. See you in 2009.


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Notes from “Partnering Students, Parents, and Teachers Through Technology”

The second in a series of workshops from NWPM colleagues at MRA 2008, these are notes from Portland Middle School teachers Amanda and Garth Cornwell’s session on “Partnering Students, Parents, and Teachers Through Technology.”

  • Begin with questions from the audience:
    • How to get younger students to access technology on their own?
    • How do parents react, what do they want?
  • Our Hopes
    • To demonstrate daily uses of technology that serve a variety of purposes
    • To aid students, parents, and colleagues in realizing the technology of potential
    • To equip students with the skills that they will need
    • Michael Wesch vide: “A Vision of Students Today
  • Our Plan
    • To share the tech tools that we use with students and parents
    • To discuss why it is important to integrate technology when we feel like we are “giving up” time for content
    • To discuss how flexibility is the key, because teaching with technology always yields surprises
  • Students
    • Shared Drive
      • Create hotlists in word that students can click to for computer lab assignments
    • District Digital Dropbox
      • Track changes in word sometimes works with middle school students
    • Wikis
    • Nicenet
      • Classroom discussion forums
      • Good for access at home and school, because it is all online and doesn’t require a specific word processor (files lost, incompatible formats, etc)
      • Watching for IM language and asking students to express themselves more clearly
    • Google Docs
    • Podcasting
      • Buy inexpensive MP3 recorders
  • Parents
    • Blogs and Edline
    • Lack of participation and interest in training sessions
    • Considering teaming up with local libraries
    • Be persistent and specific
  • Teachers
    • Open yourself up to learning with your students
  • Our learning
    • Small, simple steps can be beneficial
    • Honor the time of the student, parent, or teacher coming to learn
    • Listen to input from students
  • Lessons and Student Work
    • Book discussions

Note from “Blogging — Maximizing Writer’s Notebooks with a 21st Century Dimension”

Here are notes from my Crossroads Writing Project colleagues, Lavon Jonson and Sonja Mack: “Blogging — Maximizing Writer’s Notebooks with a 21st Century Dimension.”

  • Background
    • Bringing blogging into the traditional process of using a writers notebook
    • Writing with your students encourages them to write (Graves, etc.)
  • Blog Growth
    • In April 2007, 70 million blogs, 90% by teenagers
    • In four years the growth has been phenomenal
  • Rationale for use in the classroom
  • Why use blogging in the classroom?
    • To share items from writer’s notebook (used to share it in a circle on the floor, now we do it on blogs)
    • Edublogs forums (support video)
  • Blogs to check out

    What we’ve noticed from our students

  • All students are able to contribute
  • Comments are more heartfelt

An Update on Blogging, Podcasting, and Wikiing with Pre-Service Teachers

January has been a busy month for me as I have been coordinating field placements for my ENG 315 students and we have begun exploring the use of blogs, wikis, podcasts, and RSS in our teaching lives. When we began this work a few short weeks ago, only a handful of these pre-service teachers had heard of a wiki or a podcast, fewer still knew about RSS, some had a general idea about blogs, and none of them were thinking about how these tools would translate into the teaching of writing in their classrooms. So, we started slow, and now things are moving along quite well.

The second week, we downloaded Portable Apps, and I explained my rationale for why would use these tools — both because they are free and open source as well as the idea that they need to be able to take their data with them. We also started setting up our blogs, and discussed the Common Craft video on blogs, thinking about implications for our classrooms and personal learning. The third week, we turned our attention to understanding RSS and reading each other’s blogs. This week, we set up our Google Readers, and I am now challenging them to begin using RSS reading in their professional responses.

So far, this process is going fairly smoothly and I do not feel that I am detracting from the “content” of the course by focusing on the technologies. In fact, I feel that they are helping me get some ideas across even better. For instance, it is one thing to encourage them to read each other’s blogs; it is quite another to provide them with a combined feed of everyone in their class and invite them to read, through their Google Reader, everyone’s posts. I will be building in some time for people to read and comment each week, as their reading of other blog posts will help them activate their brains for our class discussions.

Also, I am finding that they are all having “aha” moments as we move forward. Some are seeing connections to other classes an projects, and I think that they are all starting to see the ways in which we can connect with one another. For instance, one student explained how she immediately subscribed to all her friend’s blogs and, while it wasn’t purely academic, that solidified in her mind the power of RSS to gather information. In a time where we take for granted that all of our students understand so much about the web intuitively, it is good to know that we can talk about these technologies in relation to the teaching of writing and that they can begin to see some new connections.

Next up, we will be working with Rob Rozema’s class at GVSU to post our “This I Believe” essays to a Ning social network and get comments across classes. Then, after spring break, digital stories. As we continue on in the semester, I am looking forward sharing more ideas. It is interesting to compare the snapshots of two generations of teachers that I am seeing this semester — the pre-service students and the in-service teachers in Project WRITE — and compare how they are engaging with similar technologies in different ways. I feel as if with the pre-service teachers, they can pick up on the technology quickly once it is introduced, yet the conversations about pedagogy are still emerging. for the in-service teachers, we are able to talk about pedagogy very easily, but only after very thorough discussions of how and why to use the technology.

The differences are clear and makes me even more aware of the generational gap that must be happening as new teachers enter schools. They are very excited about the technology, yet can’t talk about it in pedagogically sophisticated ways. Veteran teachers are, as they should be, very concerned about pedagogy. This dichotomy makes me wonder how we can get everyone speaking the same language and beginning to think more about the pedagogy and the technology at the same time, regardless of age or experience. Then, we need to layer in discussions of literacy for everyone, because those are not present yet.

More teaching to be done, for sure and it is a great deal of fun in additional to a continual pedagogical challenge.


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Shout Out to Aram Kabodian

And, finally for tonight, a quick shout out to my friend and RCWP colleague, Aram Kabodian, who is getting back into the blogging business this holiday season.

Mr. Kabodian’s Blog

Well, I took the plunge and let people know I’m playing with pageflakes and bustin’ out this blog. And people actually responded!

It was nice to hear that there’s a world of readers out there. The message board on the pageflakes site is active, I had my first comment on this blog, and the emails are rolling in too. It makes me feel like the time I spend on this tech stuff is worth it. People seem interested — though maybe it’s just the novelty of the whole thing — which makes me want to keep at it.

I’d like to think that I’m not just doing this to play and impress myself and others. I want to make it a meaningful place to think things through and improve my teaching.

Keep those cards and letters coming 🙂

You heard the man — check out his blog! He has a great sense of humor, many insights into teaching middle school kids, and some other fun things thrown in. And, while you are at it, his class’s wiki, too!

Glad to see you blogging again, Aram!

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Social Networks, School Policies, and Surveillance

My colleague Rob Rozema from GVSU has invited my students and I to participate in a new Ning social network, Teach English. I am very excited about the opportunity to be involved in this project, and we will also have students from Allen Webb‘s course at WMU join in, too.

As we consider what we will do with this network, I think that we have to ask ourselves a key question about its implementation and potential for use: how do we account for and respond to the contradiction in local, state, and federal policies regarding internet use (for instance, no blogging or social networking) and the call to teach these skills in our schools?

In other words, if we teach students how to use social networks, will they be able to use those skills once they are teaching?

Moreover, this raises another issue that my best friend Steve Tuckey and I were discussing a few weeks back — does taking a technology and reappropriating it for use in schools undermine the excitement and potential uses for that technology?

As an example, we talked about the idea of a “cheese sandwich blog,” one that tells basically accounts for the mundane happenings in everyday life. (If we build 20 million blogs, will the readers come?). Contrast that with the more substantive kinds of blogging that many edubloggers are calling for and teaching; that is, a more “academic” form of blogging. Steve asks, what’s wrong with the cheese sandwich?

He asks this not to be sarcastic (well, OK, maybe a little bit), but more to take a critical approach to how we use blogging. From an email conversation, he says, in part:

by trying to call for highfalutin standards of rigor in what our students blog about, we are essentially trying to colonize one of the most democratic spaces with the self-important hierarchy of academia. We try to set up the same old benchmarks for “good writing” in a new environment, all the while touting the greatness of its promise as something “new.” Seems schizophrenic to me. And don’t get me started on how real-time authoring serves to feed the dragon of continuous assessment…

In other words, if we reappropriate “blogging,” into an academic setting, is it blogging anymore? Or, is the definition of “blogging” (or, perhaps, edublogging), such that a higher level of discourse is now becoming expected above and beyond the typical diary/journal/update blogs of the past. And, with microblogs in Facebook and Twitter, are we going to have to think about how to make that academic blogging, too?

Steve was interested in seeing me raise this point with the other edubloggers that are thinking about similar ideas, perhaps in another forum beyond our blogs, too. Perhaps I will write a letter to EJ or something like that. If others have an idea about where and how we might discuss this issues — the appropriate use and reappropriation of blogging for academic purposes — let me know. It will certainly be on my mind as I prepare for next semester.


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