Rewiring Research on Teachers Teaching Teachers

This past week, I was able to join in a conversation with my good friend and colleague, Dawn Reed, on an episode of Teachers Teaching Teachers so we could talk about our forthcoming book, Research Writing Rewired: Lessons That Ground Students’ Digital Learning. Enjoy!


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What I’ve Done on Summer Vacation (So Far)

Troy and Kathy
Working with CRWP Co-Director Kathy Kurtze (shown here), as well as Elizabeth Brockman and Shannon Powell, I facilitated the Chippewa River Writing Project’s 2013 Invitational Summer Institute.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the good fortune of facilitating our 2013 Chippewa River Writing Project and participating in a number of Google Hangouts where I have talked about my new book, Crafting Digital Writing.

I’ve gathered all those videos up and posted them on a page of the book’s companion wiki. All in all, I’ve had some great conversations with some amazing educators, and I hope that you find them as useful to listen to as I found them when I was participating in them.

Also, in the past two weeks, I have had to-coauthored journal articles released, both available for free online. :

Then, last week, I was out in Colorado presenting at the Conference on English Education summer gathering. It was great to talk with other English educators about the power of my professional writing group and some of the research I am working on right now. Needless to say, it’s been a busy summer so far!

Then, next week, I work my way down to the Discovery Education near DC to present at their Common Core Academy with a stop on my way home in Charlottesville, VA, to work with teachers at Albemarle County Public Schools on creating their digital writing workshop. In fact, we had a virtual meeting today to start our conversation, and they came up with a great list of topics for us to pursue next week:

  • Digging in deeper to smart assessment practices and building useful rubrics
  • Among their PLC, creating a repository of digital mentor texts and teaching resources
  • Exploring the affordances and constraints of different forums for students to write and comment on each others’ writing
  • Discussing ways to help parents who may be hesitant letting their students use digital writing tools feel more comfortable about why and how we are teaching with web-based technology

As I reflect on the summer so far, I have been impressed with the willingness and dedication of teachers, all working to understand the Common Core and implications for digital writing with their students. Most of these conversations have been positive, despite the negative political rhetoric surrounding the CCSS right now. I am still not an outright fan of CCSS, but I am confident that many teachers are thinking about how to use these standards in thoughtful, generative, and — dare I say it — even creative ways, not reductive ones. Let’s hope that we can keep the positive momentum going, focusing on how to help students craft digital writing.

One last note — please join in the book’s G+ community and feel free to post. I need to get back in there and stir up some conversation, yet always welcome comments, questions, and insights from you, too.

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NWP Crafting Digital Writing Webinar

Thanks to my many friends and colleagues who joined in our conversation yesterday about my new book, Crafting Digital Writing, as well as the professional development experiences that they are creating this summer around the book.

It is both exciting and humbling to know that so many other writing project sites are engaged in these ideas, helping teachers think critically and creatively about how to craft intentional pieces of digital writing with their students.

Even though Jenn Cook had some trouble joining in, and Paul lost his connection due to poor internet speed at the school in which he was leading a PD session (which certainly leads to more important conversations about access and equity across America’s schools and communities), I felt like the conversation kept moving along in thoughtful productive ways. I really appreciate how Jenn Wolfe and Melissa Wilson were willing to share their work with teachers and students in greater detail when we were figuring out the technical difficulties.

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For more on the book, and the conversations, please join in the Google+ community for the book, and stay tuned for information about more conversations coming up in July on Teachers Teaching Teachers.

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School Reform, Digital Learning, Online Privacy, and Food Waste

Here we are with another month having passed us by and it seems like I’m struggling with a number of issues related to digital learning, in some senses, but more broadly on issues of school reform and how we will ever be able to set the ship of education sailing in the right direction again. So, this is a random series of thoughts for a single blog post, and yet I wanted to share them before this week gets underway. I promise that I will try to tie them all together in the end.

School Reform

Over the past month, I’ve been in a variety of twitter conversations with really smart people about the issue of school reform and high school dropouts and, subsequently, on two episodes of Teachers Teaching Teachers. Couple this with conversations I’ve been having with my wife about the future of our children school district which, like many in Michigan, is facing unrealistic budget constraints, declining enrollments, and mounting obstacles to real improvement. all of these conversations are interesting, and there was one recent blog post by John Merrow that captures nearly all of the frustrations I think many educators share. In particular, I found myself tweeting back and forth with Lisa Nielsen, arguing the merits of homeschooling (or alternatives to models of “schooling”). Here’s a clip:

hickstro: @InnovativeEdu Great convo on TTT. Still, what is it schls can/could do well/better than a lone student guided only by his/her own passions?10:12pm, Feb 22 from Web

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro The idea of “lone student” is a fallacy. A student has plenty of resources at their fingertips. Many are blocked/banned by school10:13pm, Feb 22 from Web

hickstro: @innovativeedu I’m happy that my 2nd grader turns to Google for info for his animal report. But he turns to me for advice on writing it.10:16pm, Feb 22 from HootSuite

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro – Why are you only seeing choices as school or Google? Many are learning w/out school & with relevant learning.10:43pm, Feb 22 from Web

hickstro: @innovativeedu I hear you. There is more than school or Google. The best parents are going to provide rich experiences for their children.10:58pm, Feb 22 from HootSuite

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro Or…the best parents will support their children in pursuing & developing rich experiences.11:03pm, Feb 22 from Web

hickstro: @innovativeedu So, is this a school problem? Or a parenting problem?11:06pm, Feb 22 from HootSuite

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro what i am talking abt is a school problem cuz there are PS students that don’t have involved parents so they need school.11:10pm, Feb 22 from Web

hickstro: @innovativeedu I’d like to think more… what can the best elements of home schooling offer schools? What can schools offer home schooling?11:13pm, Feb 22 from HootSuite

InnovativeEdu: @hickstro Many of these questions have been answered. Government won’t fund it. How do we change that? Feb 22, 11:16pm via Web

There were others involved in this conversation including Teresa Bunner, and it came at the end of a very smart episode of TTT, so there’s little bit out of context here in this blog post. I’m not sure what else say about all of it at the moment, that this will be an interesting spring as my personal life —  and education of our five children —  seem to be on a collision course with my professional life and what I truly value about schools, education, and learning.

Digital (Peer) Learning

Speaking of school (or, in this case, not school) and learning, I will be facilitating a course in Peer 2 Peer University, also known as P2PU, beginning next week with my NWP colleagues, Christina Cantrill and Katherine Frank: Writing and Inquiry in the Digital Age.  Focusing broadly on what it means to write in the digital age, my particular interest with this course is thinking carefully about how and why we can use curation tools for teaching and learning. Sure, I am riding on the coattails of the Pinterest craze and advocating for this is one of our foci. Still, I’m trying to figure out how this can be a useful tool after a conversation earlier this semester with Andrea, Leigh, and some others educators. For what it’s worth, I’ve started a board, “Content/Creation/Curation,” and already received my first comment: “I THINK YOU PEOPLE SHOULD JUST LEAVE PINTEREST ALONE! & let people like ME JUST ENJOY IT!”

Indeed. I will try.  Join the conversation at P2PU over the next few weeks.

Online Privacy

In my next seemingly random entry for the evening, I want to mention that I will be speaking this week at one of CMU’s “Speak Up, Speak Out” forums entitled “R They Watching U? Technology, Surveillance, Censorship & Privacy Rights.” Here’s the lowdown:

Date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Time: 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Location: Bovee UC: Auditorium

Speak Up, Speak Out: The Current Events Series presents “R They Watching U? Technology, Surveillance, Censorship & Privacy Rights.” SUSO is not a lecture series – it’s more like a town hall meeting called to discuss important events and topics in the news. Each forum is an opportunity for all participants to collaborate in thinking through the issues, identify problems, and consider solutions. For more information, visit the SUSO website. The forum facilitator is Justin Smith (SASW). Panelists include: Christopher Armelagos, graduate student; Amanda Garrison, Sociology; Troy Hicks, English; Jaime Humpert, student; Roger Rehm, CMU’s Chief Information Officer; and Ken Sanney, Finance & Law.

If there are enough of my colleagues who might be interested, I’ll certainly start the twitter back channel for this conversation as well, and could even open it up as a video feed on a Google hangout. let me know if you’re interested.

And, Finally, Food Waste

So, in the wonder of all things digital, I was enjoying Netflix this morning during my jog on the treadmill, And ran across this short documentary: Dive! Living Off America’s Waste. Tonight, we have the kids watch it with us, for two reasons. First, there’s the obvious social commentary that I want them to understand  about food waste and all the issues about consumerism, consumption, environmental quality, and related ideas. Second, I found myself fascinated by the production of the film itself as a digital writing process. Jeremy Seifert appears to have produced this film in a manner that could be replicated by middle and high school students with a basic HD camera, a simple movie editing program, some creativity, and a lot of determination. I appreciated the mix of interviews, B roll footage, archival footage (most of which appeared to be from historical, public domain archives), stop motion animation, and the creative representation of food throughout. I think that the kids appreciated it, too, and my hope is that our two Girl Scouts might take this idea up as part of their social action project. At any rate, at the end of the week where I feel professionally helpless and I’m not sure to what I am doing is making much of a difference, it was good to see Jeremy’s film and to think about the power that a few good people can have in affecting change.

So, that was a mishmash of ideas for one evening. But, that’s what blogging is for, right?

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Third Episode of Teachers Teaching Teachers: Conferring and Response to Digital Writing

Teachers Teaching Teachers: Conferring and Response in the Digital Writing Workshop
October 14, 2009

In this final episode of our three part series, please join Troy Hicks, author of The Digital Writing Workshop, and Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project at Central Michigan University, as we continue exploring the principles and practices described in the book.

For this third episode, we welcome three teachers to the conversation as they discuss how they teach students to craft their writing through conferring and response:

  • Melissa Pomerantz of Parkway North High School in St. Louis, Missouri, will describe how she uses audio feedback to respond to students through virtual conferences.
  • Heather Lewis of Waverly Middle School in Lansing, Michigan, will discuss how she guides students through the revision process with Google Docs.
  • Joe Belino, a teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages at Montgomery County Public Schools in Gaithersburg, Maryland, will discuss the ways in which his students offer response to one another through the use of Google Docs. 

As this series concludes, we invite all listeners to continue the conversation by joining the Digital Writing Workshop Ning and follow us on Twitter.

We would invite you to join us on Wednesday at http://EdTechTalk.com/live at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific USA Wednesdays / 01:00 UTC Thursdays World Times


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Teachers Teaching Teachers — Episode 2: Exploring Author’s Craft

Teachers Teaching Teachers: Exploring Author’s Craft in the Digital Writing Workshop
October 7, 2009

In this second episode of our three part series, please join Troy Hicks, author of The Digital Writing Workshop, and Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project at Central Michigan University, as we continue exploring the principles and practices described in the book.

For this second episode, we welcome four Michigan teachers to the conversation as they discuss how they teach the craft of digital writing:

  • Dawn Reed of Okemos High School will discuss how students craft audio essays in the form of podcasts
  • Aram Kabodian of MacDonald Middle School will share his insights on the process of composing digital stories and public service announcements
  • Sharon Murchie of Bath High School will describe how she guides her students through the research process for creating multimedia senior projects
  • Shannon Powell of Central Montcalm Middle School in Michigan will discuss her experiences as a new teacher as she has begun to use digital writing in her classroom, including her recent integration of “SSR with RSS” for a class of reluctant readers

Finally, on October 14th, we will discuss the process of conferring and response to student writers as they create digital texts.

We would invite you to join us on Wednesday at http://EdTechTalk.com/live at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific USA Wednesdays / 01:00 UTC Thursdays World Times


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Reflecting on the Purposes of Digital Writing and Professional Development

Over the past few weeks, I have had a few opportunities to reexamine my thinking about the purposes of digital writing and professional development. As Sara begins her doctoral program at MSU and has started to share her own thinking through her “Connecting, Collaborating, Continuing to Learn” blog, it has given me pause to think about why and how we enact professional development in the ways that we do, especially if we are hoping to have teachers pursue (improve? discover?) the ways in which Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) can affect their teaching. Sara’s interests align with my own:

Connecting, Collaborating, Continuing to Learn » Thinking Out Loud

Teacher networks and professional learning communities have been shown to be very effective models for encouraging teacher professional development. These networks are successful due to the relationships teachers build, exposure to inquiry based research and the continuity of the professional development projects. Now there is a new phenomenon: the use of technology to enhance the notion of developing a personal learning network. Technology, in particular social networks, empower teachers to connect with other professionals who have the same interests and issues in a continual learning environment. The digital environment allows for customization of professional development in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner.

So, more recently, I’ve been thinking about how we can do this. What do we do to create networked learning opportunities for digital writing, especially when the process of digital writing is both part of the activity itself and an outcome that we hope to achieve? What can we reasonably expect teachers to know and be able to do as a result of particular professional learning opportunities, both online and face to face? I have been thinking about this as a result of at least four different PD invitations I have been pursuing in the past month, and here are some of my ideas.

One invitation I received was from NCTE, and I was able to present a webinar, Creating Your Digital Writing Workshop, about two weeks ago. Like the one I did last year, I tried to make this webinar informative and interactive, providing some “hands on” digital learning with some discussion of theory and some sharing of student examples, courtesy of Aram Kabodian. So, we tried to use the chat room, the white board, audio responses, and the ability to stream video during that session. Overall, I found the webinar to be a successful experience, but there were a few questions raised about the value of digital writing and its relation to the rest of the curriculum (including standardized testing) that we need to cover. One particular criticism was that digital storytelling could be considered a bit “plug and play.”

My response at the time may not have been as articulate, but I basically feel that we (and our students) get from the process of digital writing what we put in to it. Simplistic, I know. But, the idea is that if we have students just grab some photos, throw them in a timeline, and simply narrate over top, then yes, it is plug and play. But, if we really engage them in a recursive process, ask them to examine the choices that they are making about which words, images, and transitions they are choosing, then we can really focus on teaching them how to digitally write. Sadly, I don’t think that I was able to get that across in the webinar, and that may have been an issue of format and time constraints, so I wonder how I could do that better in future PD events such as this — how do you invite teachers into both the pedagogy and the process of digital writing through an online experience such as a webinar?

My second recent experience was a presentation to pre-service teachers about the digital writing workshop. In this session, I was able to do in a face-to-face setting what I had hoped to accomplish online with the webinar. The face-to-face setting, as one would expect, was richer in the sense that I was able to converse with the pre-service teachers directly and gauge their reactions to what we were discussing. I also had two hours, allowing them time to talk in small groups so they could have more time to process their own thinking. As I reflect on the experience of doing the webinar — and the value that it has in distributing a professional development experience widely — and the local experience of being in one classroom, I am torn. I wish that there were enough ways (and bandwidth) to have people engage in some of the smaller group discussions through a webinar. And, I wish that it were practical enough in the classrooms in which I was teaching to use some of the technologies we had in the webinar (such as a chat backchannel and interactive whiteboard). Not sure where I am going with this particular series of thoughts right now except to say that I do feel that teaching digital writing seems to be best when there are some elements of both online synchronous and face-to-face elements involved. 

A third experience that is coming soon will be my hosting of three episodes of Teachers Teaching Teachers, all featuring my colleagues who shared lessons and ideas in the book. My goals for this PD, in conjunction with the Ning that I have set up, is to provide the teachers who are doing this work in their classrooms the opportunity to share what is working and engage in a conversation with other colleagues about questions and concerns that they have related to teaching digital writing. To me, this on-going conversation — both the actual conversation that happens during the webcast and the follow up that can happen on the Ning — seems to be a hybrid model where people may not meet face to face, but they do get to share their ideas, then go back to listen again, and continue the conversation. As we think about ways to develop TPACK, it is this recursive process that I find most inviting for novices and experts alike.

A final set of experiences will come through a variety of upcoming professional development sessions that I will do as a part of CRWP and other conference presentations, including UPRA next week. In these face to face sessions (some with computer access and some without), I think that emphasizing the ways in which digital writing changes our rhetorical contexts as writers will be very important, and it is that focus that I think helps keep the focus on the writer, then the writing, and finally on the technology. My hope is that engaging in these sessions, where I will be able to give some background and show some examples, then inviting teachers into conversations about how and why they could teach digital writing, will then inspire them to get online, join the community in the Ning, listen to the webcasts, and find resources from other interested colleagues.

All of this is just to say that I think professional development for teachers — like all other industries — is undergoing some changes. We can’t just say that it should all happen online (synchronously or asynchronously), or only count face to face sessions (through PD or grad classes) as a means to an end. Like their students, teachers need choices about how, when, and why to engage in learning. My thoughts are still evolving on this and, like Sara, I look forward to hearing other ideas about how you are helping your colleagues engage in digital writing and professional learning.


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