Brief Review of Webb and Rozema’s “Literature and the Web”

Earlier this summer, Allen Webb and Robert Rozema published their text through Heinemann, Literature and the Web: Reading and Responding with New Technologies. I received a copy as a gift, and just got a chance to read it over Labor Day. Besides thanking the two of them for mentioning my blog in the book, I also want to compliment them on the way that they approach the task of teaching with technology.

The text makes the idea of using technology very approachable because they maintain a consistent thread through the entire text, one that focuses on how we ask students to respond to literature and how technology can support that response. So, beginning in the introduction, they ground their discussion of how to use technology in principles that guide good response to literature:

  • Entering the story world
  • Close reading
  • Understanding social, cultural, and historical contexts
  • Responding to the text

Throughout the text, they return to these main principles and discuss how teachers can use newer technologies to support these types of reading responses. This approach encourages me to continue thinking about how to ground discussions of technology and newer literacies in larger discussions of pedagogy, and not vice versa. As teachers design units of study and connect them to state standards, the text boxes in each chapter will help them connect back to these principles of reading response. The projects that they describe in the text all seem very doable, although I do wonder if some readers of the text will want more step-by-step instructions.

One technology that I wonder more about — as a response to literature — is digital storytelling. While I don’t fault them for not covering that topic in the text, as Rozema does a great job of discussing how he invites his students to create podcasts in response to literature as one form of multimedia, it is a question that I have more and more. What is digital storytelling? Is it a personal narrative, or can we call other forms of digital video production “digital storytelling? That is, if it is non-fiction, or a response to literature, does it count as a digital story? Or, does it matter so long as kids are engaged? Could his podcasting project be adapted (relatively) easily to digital storytelling? Also, what are the copyright implications when remixing chunks of literature already present on the web, such as in Project Gutenberg?

That side note notwithstanding, the text is sharp and full of examples. My favorite chapter comes in the conclusion, where Webb and Rozema discuss how to become a “web advocate.” “[B]eing a web advocate,” they argue, “means mentoring those around you.” I couldn’t agree more, and I look forward to learning more from the two of them, as they have been mentoring me for years. It is great to see their thinking captured in this text, so they can mentor others as well.

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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Notes from “Educational Blogging: What, Where, Why and How”

Today, I had the chance to attend an educational technology session at MSU featuring Nicole Ellison, Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies & Media, MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences, and Leigh Graves Wolf, Learning Technology and Culture Programs, MSU College of Education. Their topic is “Educational Blogging: What, Where, Why and How.” Here are some notes from the session:

  • What is educational blogging?
    • Blogging in educational settings: in the classroom, between department members, intra- and inter-university research collaboration
    • We will focus on cases where students maintain blogs as part of their coursework
    • Pew research: 8% of internet users maintain a blog, 39% of internet users read blogs, 57% of bloggers are younger
  • Why blogs and education?
    • Not much work that makes causal claims about how blogs impact education, but that is difficult
    • Focus on critical skill of writing
    • Encourages students to engage with positions divergent from their own
    • Students are invests because their is a larger audience
    • Increases digital literacy
    • Supports peer-to-peer learning and student-to-instructor knowledge sharing
    • Learning becomes less bound by time and space
  • Where to blog?
    • ANGEL — they are protected, but no RSS
    • On your own server — college is in control of the content and can protect it with complete administrative control
    • Edublogs, Blogger, WordPress — differing levels of administrative rights
    • MicroBlogs: Twitter and Facebook
  • What: An educational blogging case study
    • What are the differences among students’ perceptions regarding the educational beenfit of writing a blog entry vs. reading other students’ blogs vs. reading other students’ comments?
    • What are student perceptions of the experience of blogging as an educational activity?
    • Overall perceptions:
      • A new experience and uniquely engaging in ways that traditional papers are not
      • Encouraged a less formal writing voice. potentially eliciting a more authentic writing style
      • Exposed students to different perspective; surprised by range of responses
      • They felt it was most useful to read other people’s blogs
      • “I liked the fact that we had to comment on others blogs. It’s cool to get some feedback on what I’ve written.”
      • ” I felt it was really cool when one of the people actually cited what I said in my blog on someone else’s blog.”
      • “It taught be some things that I didn’t pay much attention to before. It was cool because i was able to see what students thought about things we typically wouldn’t talk about in class.”
      • “[comments] are nice to see when the person really puts thought into them, and sometimes make me think and want to write more.”
      • I think it is more effective using the WWW because anyone can view it and we saw that when Ryan’s blog was commented on by the actual author of the piece that we read.”
  • What: Commenting
    • Not all students saw benefits of reading others’ blogs or comments
    • Uncomfortable giving critical feedback: “Some people didn’t even write what they were supposed to. Plus, I don’t really know how to respond to other people’s ideas, I don’t want to tell them that they are wrong or anything like that.”
    • Technical problems
    • I didn’t give them lots of guidance on how to provide comments, so I would do that differently
  • What: Implications for Practice
    • Students are going to come in with a notion of what blogging is, and students may need guidance on how to reconcile their notions of blogging with the classroom context
    • In some cases, encourage use of pseudonym since this content (if public) will be archived for years to come
    • Consider technical implementation
    • Students need guidance on providing constructive criticism
  • What: Enthusiastic, yet wary and ambivalent
    • Enjoyed reading others’ blogs
    • Expands thinking
    • Didn’t want to sound preachy and start arguments
  • How to blog
    • Different Use Models
      • One to many: From the teacher as a posting to students; from the student to others
        • Provide feedback to a presenter on his/her blog
      • Many to many (class blogs)
        • People can become experts in one area
      • Many to one (RSS aggregation)
        • Use Google Reader to read all of my students’ blogs
      • Experimental Writing
        • Creating an “academic” writing in blogging environment — posts within the blog are tagged and connected as well as external links (Leigh’s example)
      • Issues
        • Anonymous blogging
        • FERPA concerns
        • Intellectual property
      • Other tools
    • How: Assessment
      • Grade for content or completion?
      • Require a set number of posts?
      • Specify timing of posts throughout semester?
      • Require comments and feedback?
      • Need to back up posts
    • How: Practical Advice
      • Blog yourelf
      • Start small
      • Subscribe to RSS feeds
      • Read other educator blogs
      • Virtual University
      • Blogs for Learning

Back to School (2.0)

Things have been absolutely crazy the past two weeks, but that has been good for me especially as I get back in the swing of teaching. As I begin the semester, there are a few things that I’ve been thinking about that I want to capture here and come back to think about more later.

First, in my writing class, the students have pretty much jumped up to each new technology that we try. On the first day of class, we began a wiki and I had students post some intro material there. This week, we created Google accounts and got set up with Blogger and Google Reader. All this is leading them to create their own research agendas, affinity groups for a multimodal presentation, and to become writers in their professions in the 21st century. Based on their initial surveys, there was a wide range of tech skills, and they are willing to help one another in the classroom, so that is good. Based on what I have seen, this will be a very “school 2.0” type of experience for them.

Second, in my methods class, we began a wiki, too. Unlike my writing class in which things are organized more thematically and students will have some choice about the types of writing that they do, I have to organize this class around a slightly more structured curriculum. That said, there is still lots of room for flexibility and I will be inviting them to do some digital composition as well. They, like the writing class, were a bit apprehensive at first about writing on the wiki, but in an activity tonight, they were doing quite well. In fact, one student synthesized a few lists of responses from separate groups on one page without being asked (as we learned last week that overwriting can be a problem). I also showed them Google Docs, and some seemed intrigued. So, we might go in that direction a bit, too.

All of this is just to say that I have been reminded again and again about taking things in slow, manageable chunks. One student half-joked that she was thinking about dropping the writing course after the first day (she didn’t, thank goodness, and did well today setting up her blog). It reminds me that some students know quite a bit about this and can help others. And, for everyone, it is nice to have reminders and tutorials; thus, I am going to look for tutorials on YouTube for everything that we do so they can go back to it later to be reminded (or, perhaps, I will make my own with Jing).

At any rate, this has me very excited about the semester and the fact that students are taking to the school 2.0 kind of learning. I appreciate all the podcasts, blog postings, and one-on-one coaching that my colleagues have provided to me so I can be at this point — and look forward to sharing thoughts back here. More to come as the semester progresses.

Happy back-to-school (2.0) to all of you!

Preparing for Writing Methods, K-8

The month of August has brought a number of transitions, not the least of which is that I begin teaching at CMU next week. There are two courses that I will be doing this fall; one is a writing methods course for K-8 pre-service teachers and the other an intermediate composition course. More on composition next week, but for now I thought that I would post some of my thinking about writing methods as I created my syllabus.

I must say that sections of this intro to the course are taken from my department chair, Marcy Taylor’s syllabus, but I have added a few things. I forgot how much a syllabus can, in a sense, be a teaching philosophy of sorts, and I really enjoyed crafting this introductory part of the document. In my next post (and once I have the assignment refined a little more), I will post what I plan to call the “Educational Contexts Multigenre Research Project.” For now, here are some of my thoughts on writing and teaching writing, as represented in my syllabus  for this fall’s class.

Course Overview
In “The Neglected ‘R’: The Need for a Writing Revolution,” the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges begin their report by claiming that

Writing is how students connect the dots in their knowledge. Although many models of effective ways to teach writing exist, both the teaching and practice of writing are increasingly shortchanged throughout the school and college years. (2003, p. 6)

Given this national context, we will explore models of teaching writing while attempting to understand why and how writing is being “shortchanged” in our schools. A complex task, teaching writing requires that we understand why and how people choose to write, what methods are appropriate in certain situations, how social-cultural and cognitive factors play into individual writing processes, and the effects of newer technologies and multiple literacies on what constitutes “good” writing instruction.

Good writing instruction requires more than following a textbook. A trusted scholar and practitioner, Lucy Calkins offers a vision for what it means to be a teacher of writing:

If our teaching is to be an art, we must draw from all we know, feel and believe in order to create something beautiful.  To teach well, we do not need more techniques and strategies as much as we need a vision of what is essential.  It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art but the selection, balance and design of those ideas. (1994, p. 3)

Thus, this course is designed to help you make wise decisions about the “selection, balance and design” of writing in your elementary-level classrooms. Think of it as a workshop; the emphasis will be on creating and critiquing ideas about writing pedagogy through a hands-on approach. It is designed to focus on five basic areas of preparation:  your own writing; reading and discussion; working with children in the classroom; creating teaching materials; and written reflection on the first four.

Methods courses can never be only about “methods” or lesson planning alone. Many students expect to get a “bag of tricks” or “set of strategies” from the class that they can simply take and use directly as lessons in their classrooms. This is reasonable. Because you are anxious to get out and have your own classroom, I can understand why you may be impatient with what you see as theory or “busy work.” My goal is that you come to realize is that “theory” is all you have with which to filter the events of the classroom; you won’t know what to do completely until you get there. Think of this class as offering a theory, an approach, to writing instruction, one that will define writing and literacy in a broad manner.

For that definition, we turn to Anstey and Bull who offer us a vision of what literacy pedagogy, when deeply and critically theorized, can look like:

[L]iteracy pedagogy must teach students to be flexible, tolerant of different viewpoints, and able to problem solve, analyse situations, and work strategically. They must be able to identify the knowledge and resources they have and combine and recombine them to suit the particular purpose and context. Consequently, school classrooms and teachers’ pedagogy must encourage, model, and reflect these sorts of behaviours. The content and pedagogy of literacy programs must reflect the literate practices of local to global communities and equip students for change. Educators cannot hope to teach students all they need to know, as this will change constantly. But teachers can equip their students with the knowledge, skills, strategies, and attitudes that will enable them to meet new situations and cope with them. (2006, p. 18)

No small task, indeed. Learning how to teach writing may involve unlearning how you were taught writing. It may challenge your conceptions of what a “good” writer is and should be able to do. Thus, the focus of this course will be on practicing the strategies of a writing workshop approach as filtered through the multiple lenses of curriculum and pedagogy, practice and theory. This applies to both traditional written texts (e.g., stories, essays, and poems) and those composed with newer technologies and in multiple media (e.g., hypertexts, audio, video, and other multimedia).

One of the most fundamental tenets that scholars in our field argue is that teachers of writing need also to be writers. It is my goal as your teacher to help you become both a better writer and teacher of writing in different genres, for different purposes, and across various audiences. By the end of the course, you will believe the mantra, “I am a writer.”

  • Anstey, M., & Bull, G. (2006). Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association.
  • Calkins, Lucy. The Art of Teaching Writing. 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.
  • National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges. (2003). The Neglected “R”: The Need for a Writing Revolution. Available: