Review of Amplify by Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke

For a number of years now, I have been wanting to provide elementary colleagues with a book that offers a glimpse inside a classroom that runs as a digital writing workshop, one that truly embraces the principles of writing workshop pedagogy while integrating digital writing tools into day-to-day literacy practices. I have been fortunate to connect with many elementary educators who embrace the writing workshop approach with digital writing tools, but hadn’t yet seen a book that captured, in words and images, what a digital writing workshop might look like.

Amplify! Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom By Katie Muhtaris, Kristin Ziemke
Amplify! Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom By Katie Muhtaris, Kristin Ziemke

Then, last year, I found out that Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke were working on a book to be based on some of the techniques and strategies they share in their blog, “Innovate Ignite Inspire.” Knowing that they were doing this kind of smart work with their kids, I have been eagerly awaiting their book. The result is Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom.

Now, having met Kristin quite some time ago at a Michigan Reading Association conference, I knew that she was an educator who was a bit skeptical about the use of technology, but wanted to integrate tech in productive, responsible ways. Or, as Stephanie Harvey describes it in the foreword of the book, though Katie had been enthusiastically integrating technology in her classroom for number of years and, subsequently, Kristin would “peek in, curious about how tech platforms might enhance learning in her first-grade classroom, but not entirely convinced” (vii).

Just as its title suggests, Katie and Kristin’s book does not supersede or replace existing literacy practices with technology-enhanced lessons. Instead, their goal is, indeed, to amplify best practices in reading and writing workshop, modeling literacy practices for their students, and moving them toward a hybridity of reading and writing in both print and digital spaces. As they explain:

Digital learning is at a crossroads, and it’s time for teachers and students to share our voices in how, why, and when our kids should use technology as a learning tool. We invite you to join us on a journey of discovery, exploration, and empowerment. (xii)

Their core principles are ones with which I, and countless other teachers, would certainly agree:

  • Use a workshop model for instruction
  • Hold small-group and individual conferences
  • Engage kids in cross-curricular content
  • Scaffold learning
  • Encourage collaboration and conversation
  • Drive instruction with assessment

These principles align with their overarching goal — “Technology in the classroom fits easily into this hands-on approach to learning (the writing workshop): our students should be the ones using it” (5).

They back these principles up with numerous examples, and I especially appreciate the way that they create “technology anchor charts” in much the same way they would when exploring a new genre, discussing reading strategies, or documenting a process. Also, they describe how they adapt the workshop model by adding in the element of “play” before a mini lesson. “Play,” they contend, “is collaborative, experiential, tactile, and active,” all ideas that lend themselves well to using technology (33).

The book itself takes the voice that we have come to expect in all Heinemann titles — respectful of teachers’ time, knowledge, and needs for high-quality professional learning and growth. Rather than providing a buffet of tech tools, Katie and Kristin actually focus their efforts on just a few key tools and processes: capturing ideas with Padlet, engaging students in a backchannel with Today’s Meet, teaching them how to record voice and video with a webcam and microphone. Throughout the book, there are suggestions that a teacher can “try tomorrow” with minimal technology knowledge.

As the book comes to a close, they share insights on reflection and assessment. Regardless of any number of digital tools at their disposal, Katie and Kristin remind us that

The simple act of giving ourselves permission to stop and watch opens our eyes to the rich fabric of learning in our classroom. We can examine the quality of the tasks we ask our students to undertake. What impact do they have? Why is this important? How can this be better? (90)

Amplify has provided elementary teachers a glimpse into the workings of what I would call a digital writing workshop and what Franki Sibberson has recently begun to call a “digital reading workshop” in Digital Reading: What’s Essential in Grades 3-8. Though I am curious as to why Katie and Kristin do not use that language, I imagine that they avoid adding the “digital” label to the work that they do for good reason — to keep the focus on reading and writing, thinking and learning. As we all continue to think about ways in which we can purposefully bring technology into the K-6 classroom, Amplify provides us with both the principles and practices for doing so.

NOTE: While I am a Heinemann author and did request a complimentary copy of this book, please know I am writing this review independently, not at the request of Heinemann or the authors.

Update: 12/10/15, 11:33 PM – Katie was kind enough to point out that I transposed two letters in “Padlet,” so that has been corrected.


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

Hosting #engchat Next Week

This next Monday, Kristen Turner and I host #engchat for a conversation on Connected Reading. Here’s the announcement:

Recently, a friend of Kristen’s on Facebook posted a GIF that showed the evolution of a desk.  In 1980 the desk was covered with items: books, newspapers, magazines; a fax, phone, stapler and tape dispenser; a rolodex, clock, globe, calendar, and bulletin board; and a computer and phone.  One by one the items on the desk evolved – and disappeared, becoming an app on the computer – as a scrolling mast of years advanced.  By current day, only a computer full of apps and a Smartphone remained on the desk.

The GIF represents the possibilities of a digital world.  We can, if we choose to do so, conduct our professional and personal lives entirely on, with, and through devices, and a recent Pew study suggests that more and more teenagers and adults are making the choice to go digital.  What does this transformation mean?

As teachers of reading and writing, we recognize that our own desks – and those of our students – are markedly different than they were even just a decade ago.  We accept that, as the National Writing Project asserts, “digital is,” and we wonder how we can help adolescents to become critical readers in a world where they encounter short-, mid-, and long-form texts through their devices on a daily – and even hourly – basis.

For us, reading is not an isolating activity.  Digital tools allow individual readers to connect to a network of readers; texts of all kinds can be shared quickly and widely.  Digital tools also allow readers to share their reading experiences – before, during, and after – with others.  In a digital world, reading is visibly social.

In our book Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World, we describe a model of reading that takes into account the networked, social nature of reading today.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 9.39.36 PM

This model suggests that readers encounter texts in a variety of ways.  They may receive them from others, somewhat passively, or they may actively seek out new reading material by surfing without much intention, stumbling through sites with some intention, or searching with focused intention.

How do we help students develop their comprehension skills as they encounter and engage with Kindles and Nooks, RSS feeds and Twitter, hypertext fiction and digital textbooks?  How do we help them to read critically in a world where information flows constantly?  And perhaps most importantly, how do we help them to leverage the possibilities within a network of readers?

As we consider these questions, we look forward to the #engchat session on October 5, where we will discuss what it means to be Connected Readers.

In the mean time, you might be interested in reading this recent feature article in NCTE’s Council Chronicle: Teaching Teens—and Ourselves—to Be Mindful, Connected Readers.

See you Monday on #engchat!

Update on 10/27/15: Courtesy of Momchil Filev, the video creator, I have updated the link of the video to the original file available from BestReviews.com.


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

More Updates from AILA: Notes Visual Literacy and the Digital Workplace

Here are some notes from the first keynote was from Wibke Weber, in her talk about “Fusing words and images — new forms of public storytelling.”

  • In recent years, the rise of multimedia creates a complex milieu of words and images; they must be seen as equal partners in meaning making
  • Data visualizations
    • In the past few years, these have found a home in “data journalism” — a hybrid form using images, words, and numbers to create a new cohesive form
    • For a long time, images were viewed as the “little sister” of language and the fact that images could represent ideas was largely ignored
    • However, we know that visuals have more than an illustrative function — they can help narrate and make arguments
    • The semiotic system of language appears in the form of headlines, articles, captions, but numbers and maps show visual orientation and analysis
    • With the continuing forms of data visualizations, there are many new ways to represent ideas
    • The strength of data visualizations is that they provide evidence; they explain something visible that is difficult to understand in text alone (if designed well)
    • On the other hand, visual evidence can appear misleading and can look “objective,” but this is illusive. Even though they are based on numbers and texts, they are always the artifacts of an artist and/or design team. They are open to critique of color, font, shape, and more.
    • This means that we need to look at the data source, how it was collected, how it was visualized, and more. Words tell, but pictures show. So the main function of data visualization is to show, to tell a story.
  • How do images tell stories?
    • A data visualization must have a beginning, middle, and end
    • Famous graphic from Charles Joseph Minard that depicts the devastating losses in Napoleon’s army on their march to Moscow
  • Comics
    • The use of the comic medium to cover events, even in journalism, is at an all time high. For instance, they are being used in the Guardian and NYTimes.
    • Comic journalism is not about funny pictures, it means that you are pulling on the news and using journalistic techniques and ethics
    • Like narrative journalism, comic journalism covers the public story behind the private one
    • They can represent a variety of ideas and events, for instance this one about Ebola
    • The challenge for comic journalism is that, because comics are generally seen as fiction, people may struggle to see comic journalism as “true” and authentic
    • Journalists must use verbal and visual clues to share the fact that they are a part of the work (e.g., having a picture of the journalist in the comic, or by having a historical photograph of a person with their comic representation)
    • Colors, tone, light, shape, handwriting or print — all of these devices are ways that comics can be read for authenticity. Speech bubbles versus text boxes, too. The stylistic elements corroborate the authenticity of the comic.
    • It must be clear that the journalists are telling the truth, not a fictional story. This becomes even more important when illustrating breaking news and when using virtual reality.
    • What are the authentication strategies that we can use?
  • Research/dissertation drawn as a graphic novel
    • Nick Sousanis’s “Unflattening”
    • We are often unable to see past the boundaries of our current frame of mind — we need to bring the visual into academic discourse. It allows us to step outside of our own system and to see work in relation.

She has shared a great list of resources for infographics, and I thank her for allowing me to post them here:

Tools: 

Blogs and Tutorials:

Finally, Daniel Perrin shared his thoughts on “Investigating intercultural communication in the digital workplace”

  • AL Research Frameworks
    • Beginning with a “newspaper extinction timeline” from futureexploration.net
    • How do we begin to investigate solutions in this field
    • Combining many frameworks
      • Ethnography, grounded theory, Realist-social theory, Transdiciplinary action research, Dynamic systems theory
      • Connecting to real life problems
      • Change and stability
      • Agency and structure
      • Practitioners and researchers bring in their knowledge as experts
      • Collaborate and learn from one another
      • Learn and adjust goals, methods, and findings
      • To produce new, emergent, situated knowledge
      • Focusing on what works, for whom, under which circumstances
      • Not about the grand theory, but what works in certain contexts
  • The Idee Suisse Research Project
    • Focusing on SRG public broadcasting which is caught between a public mandate and private forces while being asked to stimulate public discourse
  • Macro level findings
    • In the program mandate, SRG is supposed to promote understanding, cohesion, and exchange across the various publics
    • Intercultural communication is a part of the media company’s mandate, but they don’t have the right tools and knowledge to bring together contradictory expectations of public discourse and compete against private, entertainment programs
    • Managers talk the talk, but do not walk the walk in propositional reconstruction — “public service media are not the institutions to solve social problems.”
  • Knowledge transformation from the ground floor — it doesn’t come from management, it comes from those who are doing the work
    • Understand the macro results
    • Take a closer look at experienced practice
    • Discover emergent practices and “third ways” out of critical situations
    • Deriving and telling the good practice story
    • Formulating guidelines for knowledge transformation measures
  • Data collection and analysis
    • What are the distinctions between what happens in the newsroom, in the conferences, and what appears on screen — recording the data during the course of a year
    • This is the “mother of spyware” that we installed — so we had to plan for ethical and practical aspects, also just having people know what we were doing and why
    • How do we do all of this in a theoretically and methodologically sound manner?
  • Conclusion: from tacit to explicit
    • We had to look at the hypocrisy framework — the organization is exposed to contradictory expectations. They must response to the conflicts in order to survive.
    • We also looked at the tacit knowledge frame — looking at how individual, experienced journalists filled in the slots left open by management. They develop strategies to meet organizational and public needs.
  • Looking at a specific case
    • Thinking about the writing situation, activity, and the strategies/practices
    • A particular journalist was highly experienced and was allowed to do “forbidden things” such as closing a story with a quote. He was a counter-conventional person and had the skills to be able to pull this off.
    • He would write the text after composing the video with the editor.
    • He would also write the introduction for the anchor woman himself; this is uncommon, because the journalist normally writes the story and the anchor writes her own introduction
    • Normally, the anchor’s introduction is about selling the news piece. But, for this journalist, it is really important that the anchor provides context for the piece. He knows how to tell about complex things in a simple manner.
    • The journalist goes through a very linear writing process for the anchor’s part of the story. His own writing process is a bit more recursive, but he is able to get the info for the anchor created in a very linear manner.
  • In a more abstract format… writing strategies in a propositional format
    • To distinguish between the two stories (background and current)
    • To tell the recent story in the news text because it fits the recent pictures
    • To tell the background story because not all the audience is up-to-date
    • To tell the background story in the anchor text because there are no pictures
    • In short, there was a high degree of intercultural communication between the journalist and the anchor (different professional cultures within the organizations)
  • What are the strategies that the journalist uses across the writing process?
    • Goal setting
    • Planning
    • Controlling
    • Revising
    • Defining the task
    • Implementing the product
    • Reading sources
    • Reading the text so-far
    • Handling writing tools
    • Handling task environment
    • Handling social environment
    • Establishing relevance for the audience
    • Finding the sources
    • Holding space and time restrictions
    • Limiting the topic
    • Staging the story
    • Taking own position
    • Revisions
  • This differs from the traditional Flower and Hayes model, where a student is given a task that they are supposed to do for school
    • But, in real life, writing requires goal setting well before planning
  • The “good practice” story
    • Whereas critical situations denote exemplary constellations of circumstances which could lead to failure, good practice stands for potential success for everyone involved in creating the story.
    • Production conflicts force an emerging solution
    • Orientation to uptake to complicating action to resolution to coda
  • “what works for whom in what circumstances” (Pawson and Tilley, 1997)
  • Research-based guidelines for knowledge transformation measures
    • Fostering conditions as drivers of emergence
    • Ensure experience in teams
    • Facilitate negotiation
    • Promote variation
    • Reflect routes and develop repertoires
    • Expose to the unexpected — and remain open to it
  • Conclusion
    • Applied linguistics research shows and fosters intercultural communication on three levels
      • between societal groups of a multicultural society
      • between professional cultures within the broadcast company
      • between practitioners and researchers in trasndisciplinary collaboration
    • Linguists can identify, analyze, and solve problems related to real-life issues

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