Embracing the “Both/And” of Digital Writing

Embracing a “both/and” stance toward technology, we can push back against the kinds of dichotomies that characterize most language arts instruction. What might you do to move any of your ELA assignments toward a “both/and” stance, embracing the opportunities that you have right now to utilize the technologies available to you and your students?

As America moves into an endemic stage of our relationship with COVID-19, and professional learning is slowly shifting back to face-to-face settings, I was fortunate enough to travel to the CCIRA conference this weekend, and to share talks related to topics from my recent book, Mindful Teaching with Technology: Digital Diligence in the English Language Arts, Grades 6-12. In one of the sessions, I used a phrase that I learned early in graduate school from a leader in my field and advisor at the time, Ernest Morrell and have borrowed many times since: “both/and.”

Searching for the phrase, there are millions of hits about “both/and” thinking, not least of which is the memoir by Huma Abedin. That said, when Morrell introduced me to the idea it was in relation to the kinds of reading and writing (as well as listening and speaking, viewing and visually representing) that we ask students to do in our typical ELA classrooms. In this sense, he was pushing back against the kinds of dichotomies that characterize most language arts instruction such as to simply read the story and write an analysis of the characters and plot, or to write an argument in the form of the five-paragraph essay.

So, for nearly 20 years, I’ve carried the idea of the “both/and” into my work, too, in particular around digital writing and collaborating with K-12 colleagues to consider new possibilities for writing in their classrooms. I will often start by saying that, “yes, I want for my own children and all students to both be able to craft words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into essays, and…” then providing any number of examples of digital writing tools and tasks that they might consider. After one of my sessions at CCIRA, one of the participants came up and said how much she appreciated that phrase, “both/and,” and wondered if I could elaborate just a bit more.

In response, I shared an example of a lesson where students could take one idea and extend it in different ways. In the book, one of the chapters is an extended lesson that focuses on helping students craft an initial idea in a short paragraph or kernel essay, and the then moving their argument into three forms of digital writing using Adobe Spark (Renamed Creative Cloud Express in June 2022), which has recently been rebranded as Creative Cloud Express. In the lesson, students are encouraged to come up with a hashtag that summarizes their main argument, and to to then reframe their message in 1) an image with a brief caption like a post on social media, to then 2) record their message in a short video, and, finally, to create 3) a web page with a “call to action” as an external link. The entire lesson could take just one class period, or could be stretched out over days, depending on the time that you have and what goals you hope to accomplish. This is what I mean as just one example of the “both/and” kind of thinking.

As I continue to reflect on NCTE’s “Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age,” especially their point that literacies include “a wide range of skills, competencies, and dispositions” and that “[t]hese literacies are interconnected, dynamic, and malleable,” I keep returning to the “both/and” idea. Knowing that our instruction needs to be more flexible than ever and that – even though, according to Common Sense Media, there are still gaps – due to the pandemic, more students in more schools have access to devices right now than ever before (and, perhaps, may ever happen again in the future), I wonder: if we don’t move ELA instruction toward a “both/and” mentality now, when will it happen? Again, while I am sure that divides still exist and that school policies and procedures may prevent some students from taking their devices home on a regular basis (if at all), the simple fact is that the vast majority of students will not be any more connected in the future than they are now.

So, what can ELA teachers do to encourage the “both/and” approach as we consider common tasks in our classrooms? What if we ask students to:

  • Both read the stories to look for elements plot, character development, and use of literary devices, and then craft their analysis and response in the form of a timeline showing how each emerges in the story, using a tool like Sutori or Timetoast to show the intersections of these elements?
  • Both write their initial argument essay an incorporate evidence from outside sources, and then step away from the text to do a “distant reading” of their own work using the word cloud and word frequency tools with a corpus analysis via Voyant Tools so they can use different functions to see their essay in a different manner, using that data to then prepare for revision?
  • Both prepare their speech while recording a practice session, and then post a recording of them practicing it to a video annotation site like Now Comment or Video Ant, noting their own questions and concerns about their performance, and seeking input from their peers and teacher before delivering it?

These are just a few examples, and I am sure that there are many other ways we can continue to take advantage of the tech access that we have right now to more fully engage our students (above and beyond simply assigning digital dittos and collecting work through our LMSs). I will be curious to hear how the landscape of digital literacy is changing as I am able to talk with more and more teachers in the months ahead and, as always, welcome further inquiry, dialogue, and collaboration around these topics here on my blog or via social media.

What might you do to move any of your ELA assignments toward a “both/and” stance, embracing the opportunities that you have right now to utilize the technologies available to you and your students?


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Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Announcing Mindful Teaching with Technology: Digital Diligence

Set for release on October 29, 2021, my book Mindful Teaching with Technology: Digital Diligence in the English Language Arts, visitors to my website can receive a special offer of 25% off from Guilford Press. Learn more…

Digital Diligence Cover Image
Mindful Teaching with Technology Cover Image (Courtesy of Guilford Press)

Set for release on October 29, 2021, my Guilford publication, Mindful Teaching with Technology: Digital Diligence in the English Language Arts, Grades 6-12 (2021).

The book’s companion page is available here, and the links provided here were active as of June 1, 2021, and are presented in the order they appear in the book.

Visitors to my website can receive a special offer for my book from Guilford Press: to save 25% on the book, please use Promotion Code “AF2E” without the quotes.

If you are interested in learning more, please consider joining me for an upcoming webinar:

Thank you for creating effective digital learning experiences for your students and colleagues.

A Fall Full of Conversation: Three Recent Podcasts

Time to binge on some edu-listening! This fall, I have been fortunate enough to be invited to three different podcasts, sharing my passion for teaching writing with technology. Find the links here.

Photo of podcasting equipment by Will Francis on Unsplash
Photo of podcasting equipment by Will Francis on Unsplash

This fall, I have been fortunate enough to be invited to three different podcasts, including Teach Wonder (produced by Ashley O’Neil and Julie Cunningham from CMU’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education), Middle School Hallways (produced by my colleague and co-author Jeremy Hyler), and All About Literacy (produced by my colleagues Erica Hamilton from Grand Valley State University and Deb Van Duinen from Hope College).

I thank them for the opportunity to talk about education broadly, and my passion for teaching writing with technology. Find the specific episodes here:


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What Are Your Best Practices in Digital Literacy?

What are your best practices in digital literacy? If you — or a K-12 classroom ELA educator that you know — are doing exceptional work and might be interested in being interviewed during the month of October or November 2021, please fill out the form linked in this post.

Students at Sutton Middle School use online research to answer questions during a lesson in history class. Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages. As we transition from “emergency remote teaching” and into a new era of hybrid learning that embraces technology more fully, I am working on a chapter for an edited collection that will share classroom case studies of best practices in digital literacy.

Beyond lessons that are just digitally delivered because they must be, I am looking for exceptional examples of K-12 ELA teachers inviting their students to engage in digital literacy practices that NCTE describes as “interconnected, dynamic, and malleable.” I wonder: how are you encouraging students to engage in active inquiry, connected reading, media literacy, and digital writing in ways that support authentic literacy learning?

If you — or a K-12 classroom educator that you know — are doing exceptional work and might be interested in being interviewed during the month of October or November via WebEx (video call or phone call-in), please take a moment to complete this brief Google form between now and October 15, 2021. I will get back to you about a possible interview after mid-October.

Thanks for spreading the word and sharing your work.

Thanks,
Troy Hicks
Central Michigan University


Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

CCIRA Podcast (July 22, 2021)

Troy Hicks, professor of English and Education at Central Michigan University, former middle school language arts teacher, and Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project shares about New Literacies in the classroom.

Have you listened to CCIRA Literacy Conversations yet?

Thanks to Molly Rauh and Jessica Rickert for the opportunity to talk about teaching, writing, and technology with the @ColoradoReading podcast!

(Link to episode and show notes.)

Pandemic Pedagogy: Some Questions About Being “Successful” and Getting it “Right”

Introduction

With the midpoint of the summer and the July 4th Holiday weekend in the rear view, and states (like our own home of Michigan) now releasing plans for a “safe return to school” in August, we feel it is worth taking time to pause.  

As parents and teacher educators, as well as long-time colleagues and friends, the two of us have had many conversations in the past month as educators in the state of Michigan and around the world have moved to “remote learning” in K-12 and higher education.

In thinking about ways we can productively talk about complicated issues, we have been informed by our experiences in the National Writing Project, and the use of protocols, or guided discussion models, for moving forward through difficult conversations. 

In a recent chat, we used the “What? So What? Now What?” protocol to share our thoughts and feelings related to “pandemic pedagogy,” “getting remote learning ‘right,’” and other phrases that capture the COVID-19 zeitgeist. 

This blog post summarizes our current thinking and, we hope, will serve as a time capsule for questions we need to ask in the weeks, months, and years ahead. 

What? 

Humans, by nature, want to help others. Our willingness to do so is, most often, well-intentioned. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and both higher education and K-12 schools moving to “remote” instruction, there have been a number of companies that have offered their products for free (or at reduced cost) so that teachers and students can use them.  Moreover, professional organizations have shared K-12 resources through blogs, podcasts, webinars, lesson plans, and countless social media posts. We believe teachers and their students are doing the best they can, given the circumstances. We also trust that parents and guardians are doing the best they can. Humans are navigating uncertain futures and as we do so, we must help ourselves and our children navigate what is, indeed, a brave new world.

That said, in the past few months — and even more so in as we reflect on “remote learning” successes and failures from the end of the 2019-20 academic year — there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of such resources that have been distributed to support a “continuity of learning.” Again, all well-intentioned, and many useful. 

However, when we see headlines like “getting remote learning right” or “successful strategies for online teaching,” we wonder what “right” or “successful” (or, for that matter, “teaching”) even means. While we do have empirical evidence about “what works” for nearly all students in typical school settings (e.g., IES What Works Clearinghouse), which are still in and of themselves contextual, we don’t yet know what works for all teachers and students when teaching and learning remotely. We also don’t yet know the full impact of social distancing on teachers’ and students’ learning and emotional well-being.

We are left with many questions, few answers, and a great deal of uncertainty. 

So What?

Despite the terrible, tragic circumstances in which we find ourselves, one of the silver linings, perhaps even a gift, of this pandemic for educators —  if we dare call it a gift — is the opportunity to re-think what has been considered the standard parts of teaching and learning for decades, if not centuries. As educational professionals, if we want to take advantage of what we’re learning and experiencing in this COVID-19 era, we must be willing to ask (and, eventually, answer) some important questions.  So, as we consider the days, months, and years ahead, we believe that it will be imperative to create time and space for conversations about what we’ve experienced and learned. 

In other words, as the world is experiencing a pandemic,  what is “right” or “successful” for one remote school or class may not actually be “right” or “successful” for another. And, we believe that part of getting it “right” — or achieving “success” —  extends well beyond the immediate needs and outcomes of the upcoming 2020-21 academic year. 

Indeed, the ways we prepare ourselves for 2020-21 matters in many, many ways. Thus,  framing questions for the conversations we have now — both about what we’re experiencing and learning as well as  how we can use what we learn to help us move forward in the future — is critical. 

Now What?

As noted above, there are already countless resources available for remote teaching and learning. 

We are not dispensing more advice or resources in this post. There are so many of us — individual teachers, entire school faculties, district administrators, teacher educators, policy makers, the business community, and, of course parents and caregivers of our youth — all of whom have questions. And, we’re all trying to figure things out. 

Instead, we want to pivot and pose some questions that, right now, can’t be fully answered here as we are still trying to plan for August. Whatever happens in a few weeks, when schools “re-open” for the fall, we know that it will still be an era of pandemic pedagogy. 

In fact, we consider this a “time capsule” of sorts, and these questions, we hope, can guide our own thinking as well as our PK-12 and higher education colleagues as we transition into a post-COVID, socially un-distanced world. Whether we are face-to-face, online, or both — and whether we are talking about one day of instruction, one week, one month, or a whole year — we wonder…

For educators:

  • What is essential for your students to learn, in terms of content and skills? 
  • What is essential for your students to do as they learn to communicate with one another? 
  • What were the “rhythms” of the school week for each of you? What was the workflow? When did you meet with students? How did you support students’ emotional and academic needs?
  • What communication media (text, image, video, audio), methods (through an LMS, via text message, via email), audiences (one student, small group, whole class), and frequency (hourly, daily, weekly) are effective? 
  • What content needs to be “delivered,” asynchronously, and what, instead, might need to be “modeled” and “coached,” synchronously? 
  • What should be the [new] norms of online meetings with students? 
  • In this time of remote learning, what practices have you developed that could be carried forward, in hybrid or fully online courses?
  • What have you learned about yourself, your teaching style, and what you really value as an educator?
  • How might this entire experience frame your pedagogy and practice moving forward? 
  • How much synchronicity is necessary? For full classes? For small groups? For individual tutorials? 
  • What ways did you see students be creative as they developed their thinking and expressed what they learned? How might they have used “old” and “new” technologies to meet these goals? 

For administrators:

  • What worked best for communicating with your staff? For providing feedback and direction? For maintaining relationships and supporting one another?
  • What might have worked well in the past for organizing faculty meetings, curriculum, assessments, PLCs, etc.? How did these change and, perhaps, become more [or less] efficient? 
  • For online meetings with other adults/colleagues, what norms did you establish and how did these facilitate communication and teamwork? 
  • Based on your experiences supporting teachers during remote teaching and learning, what changes do you hope/expect to make when you return to brick and mortar buildings and classrooms?
  • How did you partner with and/or support students and their families?
  • What success(es) should be celebrated?

For business and community members:

  • In our efforts to create a 21st-century workforce — and with the changes that have been made in your places of work over the past two months — what should educators know about what it means to prepare their students for the workforce in months and years ahead? Given potential past efforts connected to volunteerism and mentorship opportunities for employees to work with K-12 students, what might you need to reconsider when planning for future opportunities?
  • Even in light of the economic impact that all businesses are sure to face, what role do we all play in providing equitable access to broadband or mobile internet, as well as low-cost laptops or devices for family use, both for K-12 students as well as their caregivers who may be reskilling for a new job? 
  • What new partnerships could be developed with local K-12 schools to support students’ learning and connect their learning to the community? 

For higher education faculty, administrators, and teacher educators: 

  • How do we effectively prepare preservice teachers for all the realities of teaching and learning, including future remote teaching and learning?
  • How can teacher educators clearly model high-leverage teaching and learning practices for preservice teachers?
  • How can colleges/schools and departments of education more directly support our communities’ schools, including their teachers and students as well as parents and caregivers?
  • How can we better advocate for and partner with local K-12 districts and schools when integrating technology?
  • What new partnerships, programs, and models could be forged to partner universities and K-12 schools (e.g., traditional models of student teaching and field placements, dictating required observation/teaching hours, etc.)?

For parents, guardians, and caregivers: 

  • What are your children passionate about? How did you help them follow those passions in this time of staying home and staying safe?
  • On the flip side, what led our kids to distraction (and/or ourselves)? What did we do to help them learn and/or practice self-regulation and to follow their interests?
  • What kinds of topics, subject areas, and questions did they follow?
  • What did you notice about their use of various learning technologies and modalities such as video, audio, and text, as well as virtual interactions with others?
  • How did you and/or your child[ren] process the “loss” of the remainder of the school year?
  • What do your children need as they head back to a regular school building and schedule, whenever that might be? 
  • What do you, as a parent/guardian, need as you send your child[ren] back to a regular school building and schedule, whenever that might be? 
  • What was most helpful, in terms of the way(s) your school/district responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What was least helpful, in terms of the way(s) your school/district responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?

For legislators: 

  • What laws perpetuate inequality for public education and how can we change these to ensure all students have access, no matter the location of learning and/or the modes/methods?
  • What needs to change, at the state and/or national levels, so that K-12 administrators and educators can quickly and effectively respond to current needs and environments, including the need for remote teaching and learning?
  • What role does technology play in providing “equal access for all” K-12 students?
  • What do you need/want to learn from K-12 teachers as well as their students and families about their experiences with remote teaching/learning during this crisis? 
  • Beyond increasing teachers’ pay, how might we recognize the contributions that educators and schools/districts made to students’ learning, both intellectual and socio-emotional, during this difficult time?
  • What can we do to recruit new teachers to join/stay in the profession, and prepare them for new modes of instruction?
  • What can we do to keep current teachers in the profession and how can we prepare and support them for new modes of instruction?

(A Few) Essential Questions as We Move Forward

These are a lot of questions and necessitate conversations over time. As we conclude, we close with a few questions for us all:

  • What might a typical school day (week) look like in the years ahead? 
  • How might we build remote/online learning into our normal patterns of work?
  • How will we maximize synchronous learning times, whether face-to-face or remote? 
  • What content can be “delivered” asynchronously and what platforms/delivery works best for asynchronous delivery?
  • How will we engage all students in substantive learning, inviting them to create — and not just consume — content?

These are more questions, we know, than can be answered right now.  However, in addition to responding and reacting to immediate needs and contents, we must also deliberately think about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and its impact on students’ learning and development. 

We are, indeed, in the midst of a pandemic pedagogy and while we’re all hard at work, our success and ability to “get it right” depends not only on what we do right now but also what we do moving forward.

We hope you’ll consider joining the conversation that these questions invite.


Erica R. HamiltonDr. Erica R. Hamilton, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI

Erica R. Hamilton works with pre-service and in-service teachers and serves as a K-12 teacher coach and professional development provider. Erica’s teaching focuses on helping teachers support and extend K-12 students’ literacy and learning. Committed to professional service, Erica currently serves on GVSU’s Online Education Council and GVSU’s IRB committee. She is a peer reviewer for various journals and organizations and is active in West Michigan schools. Her research interests focus on teacher learning and professional development, place-based education, literacy, and educational technology. Connect with her on Twitter @ericarhamilton.

Troy Hicks Portrait

Dr. Troy Hicks, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI

Dr. Troy Hicks is Professor of English and Education at Central Michigan University (CMU). He directs the Chippewa River Writing Project and, previously, the Master of Arts in Learning, Design & Technology program. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K–12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms. Since beginning work at CMU in 2007, he has earned numerous distinctions including the Michigan Council of Teachers of English Charles Carpenter Fries Award (2008), CMU’s Provost’s Award for junior faculty who demonstrate outstanding achievement in research and creative activity (2011), the Richard A. Meade Award for scholarship in English Education (2014), the Michigan Reading Association’s Teacher Educator Award (2018), CMU’s Excellence in Teaching Award (2020), and the Initiative for 21st Century Literacies Research’s Divergent Award for Excellence (2020). An ISTE Certified Educator, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro


Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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Resources for ETA NSW

This list of curated resources represents work that I have produced from March to May of 2020, all aimed at helping educators as they transitioned to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The full article. “Critical, creative, and compassionate: Resources for teaching English in an era of COVID-19” appears in Australia’s English Teachers Association NSW’s journal, mETAphor (openly available through their website and as a PDF here).

The links here are presented in the order that they appear in the article, which I will provide a link to (once the issue is published online).

March 2020

April 2020

May 2020

Summer 2020

Books

Updated on June 30, 2020 to include article link.


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Slides from Keep Michigan Learning Session: Supporting Literacy Learning for Secondary Students

On Tuesday, May 12,  I was able to present some ideas on “Supporting Literacy Learning for Secondary Students” with my friend, colleague, and co-author, Jeremy Hyler, as part of Michigan Virtual’s “Keep Michigan Learning” webinar series. Here are the slides (with links) that we shared during the session.


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Webinar Archive: Literacy in a Time of Rapid Change – Strategies & Resources for Virtual Learning

Here is an archived recording of our Wednesday, March 25, 2020 webinar on EdWeb, “Literacy in a Time of Rapid Change: Strategies and Resources for Virtual Learning,” as well as the GDoc handout from the session.


We are now in the midst of a “new normal,” and questions about what virtual instruction will look like — in our own classrooms and across the globe — abound. Join literacy experts, authors, and experienced virtual educators, Dr. Troy Hicks and Shaelynn Farnsworth, as they discuss resources and strategies to best support remote teaching and learning.

In this edWebinar, explore ways to virtually teach and engage students in literacy learning by sharing curricular content, edtech tools, resources, communities, and tips to get you thinking critically and creatively in this time of crisis. As we are working to meet the needs of all students virtually, we’ll also be mindful of issues related to equity, accessibility, and student populations with special needs.

We can do this together. Please watch the conversation.

This recorded edWebinar will be of interest to kindergarten through higher education teachers, librarians, school and district leaders, curriculum and instruction, TOSAs and coaches, assistant superintendents, and tech directors.

Troy HicksAbout the Presenters

Dr. Troy Hicks is Professor of English and Education at Central Michigan University (CMU). He directs both the Chippewa River Writing Project and the Master of Arts in Learning, Design & Technology program. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K–12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms. In 2011, he was honored with CMU’s Provost’s Award for junior faculty who demonstrate outstanding achievement in research and creative activity, in 2014 he received the Conference on English Education’s Richard A. Meade Award for scholarship in English Education, and, in 2018, he received the Michigan Reading Association’s Teacher Educator Award. An ISTE Certified Educator, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro

Shaelynn FarnsworthShaelynn Farnsworth is a coach, consultant, and educator for Web20Classroom. She is a leader in the convergence between literacy and technology. As a high school teacher, she redefined her English classroom as not only a place to learn about literature but also explore how technology is shaping the future of communications. She continues this exploration in her role as a consultant focusing on technology, literacy, differentiation, and systemic change. Shaelynn is a staff developer, literacy coach, and supports districts in the implementation of initiatives. She is a MIEExpert, Google Certified Innovator, Apple Teacher, and has training in Project-Based Learning from the Buck Institute, Visible Learning with Hattie, Instructional Coaching, and K-12 Literacy Best Practices.

Teaching and Learning (Digital) Literacy in Higher Education

This morning, I am honored to present for the College Reading Educators during one of their session at the New York State Reading Association’s annual conference. My talk will focus on the idea that, without question, learning continues to change in the twenty-first century. Higher education faculty have always valued the teaching of reading, writing, and thinking — and see that our very notion of what it means to be literate is evolving. How, then, do we enhance and extend traditional literacy practices in this digital age? This brief talk will provide some background on Dr. Hicks’ work as a teacher of digital writing, connected reading, and critical thinking for both undergraduate and graduate students, many of them pre- and in-service teachers, at Central Michigan University. Links from the presentation are embedded in the Google Slides and include the following:

Scholarship

Tools for Connected Reading, Digital Writing, and Disciplinary Thinking


Photo by Matthew Kwong on Unsplash

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