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?


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Managing Learning and Assessment in a Connected Learning Environment

Earlier this evening, I participated in a wonderful closing discussion as part of the sixth and final webinar in KQED’s TeachDoNow series. The archived video as well as a summary of my tweets with links from the conversation are below. Broadly, our conversation centered on this big question: How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?

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Social Media, Educational Research, and “Keeping It Real”

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Join the KQED #TeachDoNow MOOC this summer!

This summer, I’m participating in KQED’s #TeachDoNow MOOC, though I am just a little bit behind the game. I finally caught up on the week one webcast, and I have been checking out the discussion board on Google+.  Later this summer, the week of August 11, I will cohost a webcast on the idea of “How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?” There are many things happening in many places with this MOOC, and I am really intrigued how they are using Tagboard as a hub for collecting resources.

So much to think about! This, of course, is both the opportunity and a challenge of social media use in education. For the moment, however, I want to focus on the question of the week: What is the value of social media for your professional learning?

Of all the possible answers to this question that I might consider — such as finding resources that I can use in courses and workshops for preservice and in-service teachers, delving more deeply into the lesson ideas and unit plans of networked colleagues, or simply keeping my finger on the pulse of conversations around education — the biggest value for me, as an educational researcher and teacher educator, is simply making connections with K-12 colleagues.

There are many examples that I could cite, but I will share one that happened just this week. On Wednesday, I was presenting a session about growing your PLN at the Michigan Reading Association‘s summer literacy conference. In my session, one of the participants was an NWP teacher consultant from the Lake Michigan Writing Project, Erica Beaton, whom I hadn’t had a chance to meet in person, though we were connected on Twitter. She acted as a guide and mentor to others in my session as they were learning to use Twitter. I, in turn, then made the choice to attend her session on “creating hype for reading,” and posted numerous resources.

At the end of the session we were talking about possibilities for engaging readers with e-books. Though we only have a few moments, it turned into a lively conversation and Erica offered me an invitation to visit her classroom next school year. What had begun as a collegial, though semi-anonymous relationship on Twitter before the conference quickly blossomed into a new professional connection and, ultimately, will probably result in me visiting her classroom and — who knows? — perhaps even writing an article together or co-facilitating a conference presentation.

This is but one example of how social media contributes to my professional learning, specifically as an educational researcher and teacher educator. I am talking with teachers all the time, and many times those conversations begin on social media and result in sharing coffee or a meal together. As one Michigan colleague, Todd Bloch, recently reminded me, our K-12 colleagues rarely, if ever, actually see university researchers and teacher educators engaged in real conversations with teachers, visiting classrooms and attending the conference sessions. This continues to exacerbate the “ivory tower” divide between educational research and classroom practice, and he was appreciative of the fact that I present at conferences, visit classrooms, write with teachers, and participate in social media.

All of this is to say that social media — to use the popular phrase — “keeps it real” for me as a professor with deep roots in the K-12 classroom. Social media participation is a must for all educators, especially those of us who do educational research and are preparing the next generation of teachers. To do less is a disservice to the educators that we serve and to our own sense of what it means to be a professional.


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Welcome IWP Colleauges

IWP LogoThis morning, I am looking forward to a conversation with colleagues from the Indiana Writing Project about the ways that I use blogging and Twitter as a writer during their Advanced Institute: Get Your Write On! My colleague Susanna Benko will be getting the conversation started, and then I will be joining in to answer some questions that they have prepared for me.

Since I am sure that the time will go fast, I’ve prepared a few opening remarks here on my blog for them to read ahead of time. Then, we can use our time together for more of a Q/A.

How do you see yourself as a writer who uses digital spaces – like blogs and Twitter –as a way to reach others? What do you most often write about? Who do you see as your audience(s)?

One of the beliefs that I hold as a writer in any space, and especially in digital spaces, is that I want to contribute to the conversation. How can I add value to what other people are saying? How can my new ideas, reflections on old ideas, and notes that I scribe from other presentations offer something to other educators? If I am not contributing to the conversation in a productive, professional way, then I need to question why I am writing at all here on my blog, with Twitter, with my wiki, or any other digital forum.

As the title of my blog suggests, I most often write about ideas related to teaching writing in this digital age. I do not do personal blogging, and I reserve Facebook for any family photos or political opinions. So, my topics are mostly educational and, somewhat benign. I want to blog more about educational policy and politics, though I haven’t brought myself to do so yet. Here, I stick with topics related to writing, literacy more broadly, and educational technology.

My audiences vary, and are worldwide. Sadly, lots are spambots! However, I do know that I reach other educators because, most importantly, I hear back from them. They put comments on my blog at @reply me on Twitter. Again, I try to add to the conversation. I rarely check stats, but I know that I get many enough on my blog from Google and other search engines to know that it really is a person seeing my work.

What challenges do you see for teacher-writers who want to use digital spaces as writers more often, and how do you suggest teachers navigate those challenges?

This is a timely and useful question. And I have both a philosophical and technical answer. In terms of the philosophy, as we find ourselves in an increasingly hostile political climate, we as teacher-writers need to offer insightful visions into our classrooms that the media, policymakers, and the public may not see. While there are a number of overtly political blogs and bloggers, you do not have to take that stance as a teacher-writer. In the process of writing about your own experiences, you are taking a stance that shows how important the work of teaching is.

In terms of the technical challenges, the barriers to entry on blogging and social networking, at least initially, are really low (as you are likely figuring out today). Once you are part of the edublogosphere, then the technical hurdle is getting noticed (that is, having others find your blog or tweets, read them, and reply). There are some technical (and rhetorical) moves that can help with that such as linking to other blogs, using @replies and hashtags, and becoming active in regular Twitter chats.

What other advice might you give writers who are wanting to blog or use Twitter –especially novice users of either medium?

This sounds so cliche, I know, but just jump in, as you are today. You have to start somewhere, so just get started. Dip your toes in the stream of ideas, and you will soon be swimming. For some more specific advice, I would encourage you to:

  • Learn about RSS and begin using a tool like Feedly or Flipboard
  • After you sign up for Twitter, begin to use a social media management tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite
  • Take the advice of estblished edubloggers, of which there are too many to name here in the time I have…
  • Contribute and add value to the conversation!

My hope is that these responses get the conversation moving along, and I look forward to hearing more thoughts on this from my IWP colleagues later this morning.


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Live, Learn, and Thrive

Meenoo Rami's Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching
Meenoo Rami’s Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching

Though I first met Meenoo Rami before a National Writing Project retreat in January 2011, it was over that long weekend that my wife, Sara, and I were able to talk with her about a new venture she was beginning, #engchat. I was intrigued by her idea that a weekly chat could be something interesting and useful for English teachers, many of whom were still brand new to Twitter. I knew right away that this would be the first of many conversations with Meenoo, and the past three years have proved me right. Since that conversation, I have hosted #engchat a few times myself, and given it a shoutout at many professional conferences. So, last fall when Meenoo asked me to “blurb” her upcoming book, Thrive, and I gladly obliged. Here is what I’ve already said:

“Meenoo Rami has written the right book at the right time. In an era of corporate education reform, Thrive reminds us of how we, as teachers, need human interaction, intellectual fulfillment, and empathy just as much as our students.  Rami encourages us to move beyond the mechanical acts of scripted schooling and mandatory professional development, offering us numerous ways to pursue our own passions and bring them to the classroom. She notes that “the rewards of this work will be paid with your students’ success and engagement.” Filled with practical suggestions, stories from fellow educators, and smart questions, Thrive will reward you as a reader, too.”

—Troy Hicks, author of Crafting Digital Writing

And, now, I want to add one more thing.

https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/422463372815499264/Ub-dq6yT.jpeg
Meeno Rami (@meenoorami)

I recently asked Meenoo to share her thoughts on this question: “As a digital writer yourself, most notably through your blog and via Twitter, what specific lessons have you learned about digital writing that transfer back to your own students as you teach them how to be better writers?” Her thoughts, as always, demonstrate her compassion and dedication to her students:

There are several things I have learned that have helped me to become a better teacher of writing by actually doing some writing of my own:

Overcoming fear: Whether you share your work with one other person, keep a public blog, or never go beyond writing in a journal, I have come to appreciate how difficult it can be for students to share their work. I am even more committed to building a safe space for writers in my classroom after going through an intense writing period in my life where I worried about doing my best to articulate the ideas that meant so much to me.

Building trust: I think it is so important for me to earn my students trust so that they can share their struggles and fears when it comes to writing. I think I can also earn their trust by being more open about own writing process with them. Writing in front of my students, as I have learned to do so from Kelly Gallagher has fundamentally changed my classroom. I think when my students see me grapple with things in my own writing, they tend to trust me more when I give feedback.

Information vs. Stories: There is no dearth of information in our age today, however, I think we need to think about helping students shape stories out that abundance of information. We readily buy into the idea of the power stories in shaping us, I think we need than take the next step and help our students shape powerful stories based on their experiences and inquiries.

So, if it isn’t clear yet, I would strongly encourage you to get Thrive. In interest of full disclosure, I am a Heinemann author, too, and received a digital pre-print version of the book in order to write the review. Still, I am going to be happy to buy my own copy, and share with my colleagues this summer as well. I hope you do, too.


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Edutopia Article and Talks with Teachers Podcast

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Image from Elizabeth Mendelson’s EDU 3110 Blog

This past week, I’ve had two pieces enter the educational social media space.

First, my blog post for Eduoptia, “Feeding Our Students’ Reading Interests with RSS,” came out last Friday, March 21st. In it, I “reiterate the power of RSS as a tool for active reading” and recommend using Feedly and Flipboard as two great apps.

Second, my podcast conversation with Brian Sztabnik on Talks with Teachers released yesterday was a welcome reminder of why we choose to work with students, engaging them in the writing process and supporting them as best we can with individual attention.

Talks with Teachers Podcast (Episode 19)

Enjoy these two pieces and let me know how you are using RSS and social media in your teaching this spring!


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Examining Digital Learning Day

As with all educational initiatives and fads, I strongly encourage everyone participating in the Digital Learning Day celebrations this week to do some homework about the history of the day itself, as well as some of its corporate, foundation, and “core” partners (which, for the record, include the two professional organizations I call home: NWP and NCTE).

So, this week I’m playing with Storify and trying to curate a “live textbook” about Digital Learning Day, but looking at it from a critical perspective. In other words, I am trying to follow the money. Thus, as Digital Learning Day enters its second year… I wonder what do we know about the day itself?

  • Who are the corporate partners? Who are the foundation partners? What about some of the “core” partners such as iNACOL, CCSSO, and Pearson?
  • What are the broader themes and messages that we should explore, based on the stated interests and goals of these partners? Who wins and who loses in these partnerships? Teachers? Students? Taxpayers?
  • Finally, what is the vision of digital learning that these corporations, foundations, and “core” partners represent?

I pose these not to extinguish the excitement that so many people have in Digital Learning Day. But, I do want to raise awareness and ask the unasked questions. I’ll be curious to find out what everyone else discovers and reports back this week.

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