WRAB III: Writing As Multimodal Text Production

Here are slides from my talk, “Writing as Multimodal Text Production.”

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Fourth Post from SDRC “Hack and Yack” Series

This post was originally published on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative blog on January 23, 2014.


Over the past two weeks, we explored the big ideas behind digital reading and ebooks, and have looked at basic ebooks and enhanced ebooks. Today, we wrap up the series by thinking about the possibilities afforded by interactive ebooks.

Features of Interactive eBooks

 

Interactive eBook Features and Examples

To return one more time to Avi Itzkovitch’s thoughts on ebooks, he defines interactive ebooks as “apps designed specifically to utilize the powers of tablets to enable users to interact with the storyline in sight, sound, and touch.” There are a variety of interactive ebooks available, and my colleague Rob Rozema has recommended Frankenstein (iPad App) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (iPad App) as two popular examples. I would also encourage you to check out his book, Bent Not Broken, which he has now made available for free.

Image from Robert Rozema's ebook Bent Not Broken
Image from Robert Rozema’s ebook Bent Not Broken

For Rob’s book in particular, he weaves the personal stories of refugees with a history of the war in Liberia end Sierra Leone. While many e-books are made for entertainment purposes, I appreciate the work that Rob put into his project, both as a researcher/writer and as someone interested in digital literacy. He was able to incorporate documents and video available in the public domain with his own multimedia including audio and video recordings as well as interactive maps of the region.

In addition to apps that are specifically designed for tablets, I would also like to introduce the idea of “transmedia storytelling,” described by Laura Fleming in this manner: “Transmedia storytelling exemplifies learning in the twenty-first century by merging the concept of storytelling with that of the listener-learner and the resulting emotional engagement with the pervasiveness of media” (p. 371). She builds on Henry Jenkins and his colleagues’ ideas of participatory culture and, I would add, connected learning. Finally, the Transmedia Storyteller defines this process as “telling a story across multiple media and preferably, although it doesn’t always happen, with a degree of audience participation, interaction or collaboration.”

One of the transmedia stories that Laura has studied and used with her own students is Inanimate Alice. Here is a description from the homepage: “Set in a technology-augmented near-future, Inanimate Alice tells the story of a young girl who grows up to become a videogame designer at the biggest games company in the world.” In her article, Laura describes the educational possibilities of Inanimate Alice, and transmedia more broadly, as:

Inanimate Alice is a bridge to literacy that today’s young learners inherently connect with and understand. Readers go to the story for inspiration, creative writing, and multimedia text analysis. It offers engaging materials enmeshed with educational guidance to be delivered across structures in a variety of formats. (pp. 375-6)

In short, I see the possibilities of composing an interactive ebook in much the same way as I do composing a transmedia story. Thus, for teachers aiming to support their students as they develop texts that include interactive features, I would encourage us all to consider the ways in which we may use blogs, websites, or wikis as a tool for production. In other words, students can compose a lengthy, significant text (like a book) and have it spread across multiple pages on a website, embedded with multimedia.

Tools for Creating Interactive eBooks

As noted above, to officially produce an interactive ebook, as compared to a transmedia story shared across multiple platforms (primarily the web), specific software will be needed. There are two primary tools for creating interactive ebooks, and they come from the tech giants that you would expect: iBooks Author (which forces users into Apples proprietary format and to distribute their work via iTunes) and Adobe InDesign, a part of their professional suite of tools in the Creative Cloud. In keeping with the free and open source ethos of this series of blog posts, however, I will offer two alternatives.

First MegaZine 3 (First Version Available as Open Source), is described in this manner: “MegaZine3 recreates the look and feel of actual books or magazines on the screen. And much more… all kind of multimedia content like video and audio and interactive forms, games and quiz are supported.” While I have not used MegaZine, I did take a look at some of their samples, including brochures, books, magazines, and reports. I’m sure there are other publishing tools that allow for the types of embedded multimedia that MegaZine offers, too, but the fact that the first version is available under an open license makes this particularly appealing.

Sopie Design Interface
Sopie Design Interface

Second, I’ve done just a little exploration on Sophie (Open Source – Mac/PC/Linux), which is billed as “software for collaboratively authoring and viewing rich media documents in a networked environment.” Much like what I have experienced with iBooks author, the interface for Sophie appears to have multiple options for laying out the page and embedding multimedia. And, like MegaZine, there are examples of Sophie projects to explore.

Conclusion

As I conclude this series of posts on ebooks, I continue to think about the amazing opportunities now offered to our digital readers and writers. As someone deeply interested in digital writing (with all its affordances including the use of links, images, and video), I’m genuinely curious to think about the ways in which we can support our students as they both comprehend and create a lengthier texts.

Many teachers are now having their students compose on blogs and wikis, use discussion forums or social networks, and create digital stories or other types of video projects. I wonder what might happen if, much like a portfolio, students might collect many pieces of digital writing and compile them in an ebook? Could one interactive feature also be in “author’s commentary,” much like the director’s cut on a DVD where we get insights into why and how the film was shot?

Personally, I look forward to continuing my own exploration of ebook publishing as I begin writing a professional book that will incorporate many multimedia components. As you continue your thinking and teaching, I will be curious to know what you and your students are working on, too.

References

Fleming, Laura (2013) “Expanding Learning Opportunities with Transmedia Practices: Inanimate Alice as an Exemplar,” Journal of Media Literacy Education: Vol. 5: Iss. 2, Article 3. Available at: http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/jmle/vol5/iss2/3


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Second Post from SDRC “Hack and Yack” Series

This post was originally published on the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative blog on January 17, 2014.


As mentioned in our introduction to this series of blog posts, we are heading into the world of e-reading for the next few days, considering what it might mean for us as digital writers and rhetors. Today, I want to explore the first type functionality made available to typical ebooks.

Features of eBooks

eBook Features

These books can be as simple as a PDF document, or they can be comprised of “flowable” text that allows for font size adjustment. Probably the most common formats for  ebooks are the Kindle and iBooks formats as well as the more ubiquitous ePub. Some of the essential features for ebooks in these formats include:

  • Basic search and annotation: users can search for particular words or phrases using an integrated search function. Additionally, users can “highlight” selected passages that can be collected by the ebook software as a set of notes.
  • Readability features: because of the digital nature of the text itself as an XML or HTML5 format, Michael Wesch reminds us that the content and form are separate. Thus, flowable and adjustable texts have become the norm. No longer do we need to tell students to turn to page X. Instead, we can have them search for words and passages.
  • Use of external computing functions: another useful feature of eBooks is the connection to the dictionary and web browsing functions. Finding a definition or more information about a word or phrase is, quite literally, at one’s fingertips by simply pressing and holding a word and launching these additional features.

These features — while not nearly as snazzy as some of the ones we will explore in our next two posts on enhanced and interactive ebooks — are nonetheless quite useful for readers. Moreover, they are important for us to remember as writers, too. Are there ways that we can use images within our digital writing, for instance, to maintain the exact size, shape, and color of a particular font? Might we use certain words, alone or in combination, together to signal certain sections or transitions in the texts (without necessarily using sub headings, bold or italics)? Are there ways to hide other “Easter eggs” in our very basic ebooks that would reward a savvy user?

Basic eBook Examples

Project Gutenberg is probably the widest known site, providing tons of texts that exist in the public domain and available in a variety of ebook formats. Additional sources for public domain ebooks include Amazon, Feedbooks, and your local library’s ebook service. As noted above, there aren’t too many features that these texts have, but the one specific advantage to getting the book in an ebook format — as compared to a straight up PDF — is that the book will have flowable text. For instance, here are two screenshots of from the Kindle App showing some of the features noted above.

Kindle Viewing Options
The Kindle app allows users to change default font sizes, as well as text and background color.
Kindle Highlighting Options
Also, the app allows users to highlight text and provides quick access to the dictionary and web resources.

Tools for Creating Basic eBooks

Finally, what tools can we use to create ebooks — in the flexible, flowable ebook format? As I explore software packages and web-based solutions over the next few blog posts, I am sticking to free, open source options. So, please know that there are other programs out there for creating ebooks, and I suggest using Alternativeto.net as a resource for finding them.

So, given the free and open source requirement, for standalone software there are a few options. A standalone program such as Sigil or eCub, both ePub editors, as well as the Mobipocket Creator, could do the trick. For the iPad, there is Storykit, which is simple yet quite useful for younger students. A search of the iTunes store also yielded Quark DesignPad, though it looks from the reviews that an upgrade to the pro version might be necessary to get the types of features that would make it truly useful. Finally, you could use the open source Scribus and then share it as a PDF.

Conclusion: Pushing eBooks into New Territories

Again, I wonder how we can remediate and use text in innovative ways, perhaps speaking directly to the reader in a basic ebook format? Of the tools listed above, are there ones that you have experience using and would you recommend it to others?

Before my next post, we will have a guest post from someone who has done a great deal of thinking about e-reading: Heidi Perry of Subtext. This is a very useful e-reading app for the iPad, allowing teachers and students the ability to communicate during the reading process. As always, I appreciate your comments and questions so we can keep the conversation going!


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Notes from Michelle Hagerman’s “Disruptive Promise” Dissertation Defense

As the fall semester nears its end, I am planning one more round of classroom visits to work on our “Reading in a Digital World” book project. So far, Kristen Turner and I have collected nearly 1000 surveys and 20 interviews. We are still doing lots of thinking on all of this. Thus, I wanted to hear more about what research is showing us in terms of how students read online.

So, earlier today I was able to attend a colleague’s dissertation defense. Michelle Hagerman presented on “Disruptive Promise,” a study where she worked with 16 ninth grade students to discover how they used the open web, including multiple and multimodal texts, as they worked to find evidence and build an argument. She asked them to use multiple internet sources (of any type) to write an essay on radiation treatment (a type of integrative task is one that is indicative of the types of tasks students will be required to do for new science standards). Her method was interesting, as she used screencasting and a webcam recording to capture both what happened as the students were searching as well as their conversation (and facial expressions) while searching.

She introduced her “LINKS” strategies for working with students as they evaluate online materials, including purpose, source, trustworthiness, connections between and among texts, and other scaffolds to help them work while reading online. Hagerman coded “strategic episodes” in her data where she observed what students were doing during their reading and searching process. With her first research question, she was looking at frequency of strategies. In her control and experimental group, she saw no statistically significant difference in the amount or frequency of strategies that students used during their research process. She did, however, as a part of her treatment, see that those students would use pre-existing knowledge while searching. Using the strategy instruction did have an effect over time. Identifying important information was the primary strategy, and they would spend more time searching for information.

With her second research question, she developed an “integrativeness rubric,” where she looked at how students would combine resources in the effort to make an argument in their writing. Between the control and experimental group, there was no statistically significant differences in how students constructed their writing. She also looked at a case study of two students, and discussed the amount of time that they spent on different strategies. By the end of the study, the two engaged in a broader set of strategies overall; they used more strategies and had slightly more integrative writing. She noted some “disruptive promise” in the LINKS strategies, and demonstrates how difficult it is to teach these strategies; still even a nudge from teachers toward a more active stance in internet research would be helpful for students.

Hagerman’s work demonstrates the immense complexity of teaching students how to choose, comprehend, evaluate, and synthesize the many components of digital reading. It reminds me that — despite years of good work from the New Literacies Research Team at UConn — I am not sure that we are any closer, at least in K12 instruction, to really teaching the (digital) reading strategies that students need today. It also shows me how important it will be to teach students to use tools like Evernote or Citelighter as a key component of their own searching and reading because, as Hagerman notes, even if they use strategies it may not have an effect on their writing. In short, we have to teach students to use strategies and document their work along the way. Also interesting, in the Q/A, she also noted that students did not use multimodal resources, and that — in school at least — they are often discouraged from using anything other than text on a web page as evidence.

Finally, her suggestions for teachers are helpful, and remind me that we, as teacher educators, need to model this work for K12 teachers, too. First, Hagerman suggests that teachers think about complexity of the online reading process and do some think aloud modeling, just as we would do with other reading comprehension strategies. She also suggests that we use screencasting for brief clips demonstrating these strategies, possibly a good resource for flipped classrooms, too. Lastly, of course, equipping students with a set of online reading strategies can be helpful, and reminding them of those strategies before, during, and after the process of reading.

All of us interested in digital literacy should appreciate the work that she has done in her dissertation. I want to get my hands on the “LINKS” framework that Hagerman has presented and see if there are some connections to what Turner and I are trying to document in our book. Our students need a great deal of support as they learn how to read digital texts, and my hope is that the book can provide teachers with some specific ideas. Hagerman’s dissertation will surely be one resource that we cite.


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Reflection on #literacies Chat: 12/6/12

My thanks again to Anna Smith for inviting me to host the last #literacies chat of 2012 focused on digital writing and the common core standards: “Broadening the Scope: Teaching Multiple Literacies in an Era of Common Core Standards.” Before reading much further in my reflections, you might be interested in catching up on the archived chat here. (Also, for kicks, I created a PDF of the full chat, too. 42 pages!) As shared beforehand, the chat was focused on a few main ideas:

While scholars of literacy studies push the envelope and explore ideas such as multi-modality, digital writing, and critical literacy, our colleagues in K-12 classrooms continue to face a number of challenges. Most notably, countless elementary, middle, and high schools are now preparing for the Common Core State Standards as well as the PARCC/SBAC assessments that will be implemented in the 2014-15 school year. What will these changes bring to an already narrow vision of literacy proffered by a years of NCLB-style “reforms?”

Throughout the chat, there were some “big questions” to consider, although none of them fit conveniently in 140 characters, so I am posting them again here:

  • In this era of corporate education reform, where “educational technology” and “networked learning” are often euphemisms for standardized curriculum packages that can be sold and delivered online, how do we help students and colleagues maintain a broader vision of literacy?
  • Given the reality of these new standards, how might we leverage the demand in the CCSS to “Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently” to teach multiple literacies?
  • With the large variety of organizations that are touting plans for education reform, with whom can we ally our efforts? With which constituencies do we need to collaborate with as we try to broaden the vision of literacy — and the technologies needed to enable those broader visions — while still maintaining our core beliefs about literacy learning?

So, here I highlight a few of the more compelling interactions throughout the hour-long conversation, and also provide a list of the many links that my colleagues and I shared throughout (NOTE: because I am trying to keep similar threads together, these are not necessarily in precise order!).

Part 1: Broader Visions

A number of related questions and concerns came in this early part of the chat:

  • Kristen H.Turner @MrsT73199 ~ @hickstro  Does  the  #ccss  push  us  far  enough  in thinking  about  #literacies?
  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ Thinking  of  ways  we  can  position  teachers  as  agents who  interpret  #CCSS;;  rather  than  have  that  done  for them  by  state/district.  #literacies
  • Darren Crovitz @dcrovitz ~ what  will  be  the  influence  of  lurking  testing  regime  on teachers’  willingness  to  experiment  with  tech, multimodalities,  etc?  #literacies
  • anna smith @writerswriting ~ @hickstro  Though  I  don’t  think  it  is  necessary  to interpret  #CCSS  as  limiting  in  regards  to  the  ways #literacies  are  approached.  Discuss  🙂
  • Matthew Hall @mhall78 ~ I’m  wondering  about  the  push  for  career  &  college ready.  It  seems  like  there  is  a  narrow  definition  of career  implied  #literacies

And a nice summary/transition/call to action:

  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ @MrsT73199  a  big  step  is  to  stop  saying  “CCSS  says…” and  start  saying  “I  say…”  when  it  comes  to  planning. #literacies

Part 2: Leveraging the CCSS

Here, I pushed the conversation into thinking about practical action. What is it that we can do, immediately, to support multiple literacies and digital writing? Anna and Emily had an interesting interchange here:

  • Emily Pendergrass @Dr_Pendergrass ~ @writerswriting  @hickstro  broad  interpretation  it  is then,  right.  #literacies.  Risky  for  teachers.
  • anna smith @writerswriting ~ @Dr_Pendergrass  What  do  you  see  as  risky  in  having interpretative  space  in  terms  of  #literacies  and  the #ccss?
  • Emily Pendergrass @Dr_Pendergrass ~ @ryanrish  @amystorn  fear  of  being  different,  fear  of being  fired,  fear  of  taking  risks,  #literacies #tomanytooname

Also, a separate but related thread on how the tests are going to be constructed was summed up by Judy:

  • JudyArzt @JudyArzt ~ @MrsT73199  I  assume  the  same;;  it’ll  be  hard  to  test  for multimodal  #literacies,  and  test-­makers  are  not  ready #literacies

And, Darren and Matthew were talking about implications of non-fiction reading and writing:

  • Darren Crovitz @dcrovitz ~ Re:  nonfiction  issue,  David  Coleman  seems  to  think we’re  getting  all  anxious  over  a  misinterpretation bit.ly/RFtAK9  #literacies
  • Matthew Hall @mhall78 ~ I  do  think  David  Coleman  thinks  nonfiction  writing  is more  important.  I’ve  heard  him  say  it.  What  does  that mean  for  MM?  #literacies

I then introduced the idea of “how  might  we  leverage  the  demand  in  the  CCSS  to  “Use technology,  including  the  Internet,  to  produce  and publish  writing  #literacies”

  • anna smith @writerswriting ~ In  my  work,  I  have  found  admins  respond  to  concrete answers,  but  it  doesn’t  really  matter  what  those answers  are.Let’s  use  that!  #literacies
  • Sean Connors @profconnors ~ The  question  the  students  I’m  following  are  taking  up this  quarter:  How  do  medium  and  format  shape  an author’s  message?  #literacies
  • Darren Crovitz @dcrovitz ~ @profconnors  and  digital  composing  phenomena  are gaining  more  legitimacy  vs  traditional avenues…gradually  #literacies
  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ @writerswriting  @hickstro  Agreed.  Locating  the counter  narrative…#NWP,  literacy  practices framework,  etc.  #literacies
  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ I  do  think  that  the  concern  with  disciplinary  literacies is  a  promising  departure  from  focus  on  universal reading/writing  skills  #literacies
  • Heather Rocco @heatherrocco ~ @hickstro  Digital  writing  gives  students  access  to  a wider  audience.  Allows  them  to  produce  more authentic  pieces.  #literacies
  • Melissa Techman @mtechman ~ @writerswriting  @hickstro  I’m  leveraging  by  mixing ages,  using  quadblogging  -­  4th  and  5th  interview  1st and  K  students  for  blog  #literacies

There was another interesting side-thread that developed here, too, about “fake” digital writing:

  • Kristen H.Turner @MrsT73199 ~ @heatherrocco  @hickstro  But  only  if  they  truly  engage with  a  real  audience.  Is  “fake”  digital  writing  good enough?  #literacies
    • When prompted to describe “fake” digital writing, Kristen replied: @8rinaldi  @heatherrocco  @hickstro  Writing  so protected  it  doesn’t  have  an  audience?  Inauthentic? Translation of trad to tech? #literacies
    • And, Heather replied: Using  tech  to  process  &  develop  writing  should  be  a closed  audience.  Publishing  should  seek  a  wider audience  when  possible.  #literacies
    • And Emily offered this: @MrsT73199  @heatherrocco  @hickstro  nope.  No  fake digital  writing,  please.  Old  school  if  not  writing  outside self  and  teacher.  #literacies

Part 3: New Constituencies

Here, I began by asking “#literacies  With  the  large  variety  of  organizations  that are  touting  plans  for  education  reform,  with  whom  can we  ally  our  efforts?”

  • anna smith @writerswriting ~ @hickstro  Good  question.  Is  anyone  working  with  or know  anything  about  @NCLE?  #literacies
  • Heather Rocco @heatherrocco ~ @writerswriting  @NCLE  is  a  developing  resource  w/ great  potential.  I  think  we  rely  on  @ncte  and @CELeadership  to  support.  #literacies
  • JudyArzt @JudyArzt ~ @heatherrocco  @writerswriting  @NCLE  @ncte @CELeadership  Are  you  receiving  the  NCLE  Briefs  via email  or  other  means?  #literacies
  • Troy Hicks @hickstro ~ Who  else?  What  about  local  literacy  groups?  Libraries? Adult  tutoring  organizations?  Who  else  do  we  need  to work  with  on  #literacies  ?
  • Ryan Rish @ryanrish ~ @hickstro  we  need  to  pull  administrators  and department  of  ed  into  these  convos;;  can’t  just  be teachers/teacher  ed  #literacies
  • Heather Rocco @heatherrocco ~ ? @hickstro  Definitely  parents. Maybe #literacies should join with #ptchat for a discussion. @joemazza #literacies
  • Darren Crovitz @dcrovitz~ @hickstro  major  media  organizations  with  an  ed interest?  #literacies
  • Sean Connors @profconnors ~ Meaningful  PD  strikes  me  as  important  tool.  More than  sitting  teachers  down  at  computers  and introducing  “cool”  programs.  #literacies
  • JudyArzt @JudyArzt ~ @hickstro  The  issues  are  immense,  changing,  and complex-­-­we  need  extended  conversations,  resources, etc  #literacies

Last: Links and Such

I think that Sean summed up my feelings about starting on my iPhone and having to switch over to the computer:

  • Sean Connors @profconnors ~ Okay,  had  to  jump  on  my  computer.  Tweeting  on  a  cell phone  in  a  twitter  chat  is  definitely  not  one  of  my #literacies.

Indeed! I think it points to the fact that the tools we use are definitely a component of the literacies we are able to enact.

I offer a brief reflection here, both on the content and the process of the conversation. First, with the topic for this evening, I am reminded that there are other like-minded English educators and English teachers around the country, all thinking critically and creatively about how to introduce digital literacies into an already crowded curriculum. Also, I am reminded of the fact that “what’s measured is what’s treasured,” and that we all need to become keenly aware of how the CCSS will be assessed with the PARCC and SBAC tests.

Second, in terms of the process, I really enjoyed this conversation and I appreciate the ways that Twitter chats can actually help us focus on a particular topic and generate a variety of ideas in a short period of time. More than just random tweets or back-channeling, this kind of focused conversation gives many smart people the chance to “tweet aloud,” akin to the “think aloud,” and we are able to digress slightly from time to time in the conversation, generating even more useful ideas and links. As the host, I wanted to honor the time and topic, so I kept moving things along at regular intervals, but the conversation was rich and reviewing it this morning has been valuable for me as I wrap up this semester and plan for my methods class again in the spring.

Thanks again, Anna and everyone, for an invigorating conversation. After the day we had in Michigan last Thursday  I needed that healthy dose of collegiality and a reminder that we are still moving forward with worthwhile literacy reforms.

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Broadening the Scope: Teaching Multiple Literacies in an Era of Common Core Standards

Originally posted on the #literacies chat blog:
On 12/6 7PM EST, guest host Troy Hicks (@hickstro) will lead our last #literacies chat of 2012:
While scholars of literacy studies push the envelope and explore ideas such as multi-modality, digital writing, and critical literacy, our colleagues in K-12 classrooms continue to face a number of challenges. Most notably, countless elementary, middle, and high schools are now preparing for the Common Core State Standards as well as the PARCC/SBAC assessments that will be implemented in the 2014-15 school year. What will these changes bring to an already narrow vision of literacy proffered by a years of NCLB-style “reforms?” 
Some questions we will consider:
  • In this era of corporate education reform, where “educational technology” and “networked learning” are often euphemisms for standardized curriculum packages that can be sold and delivered online, how do we help students and colleagues maintain a broader vision of literacy?
  • Given the reality of these new standards, how might we leverage the demand in the CCSS to “Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently” to teach multiple literacies?
  • With the large variety of organizations that are touting plans for education reform, with whom can we ally our efforts? With which constituencies do we need to collaborate with as we try to broaden the vision of literacy — and the technologies needed to enable those broader visions — while still maintaining our core beliefs about literacy learning?

Chat with you all online via Twitter with the #literacies hashtag tomorrow night at 7:00 EST!

Ideas from AERA 2012 (Part 1)

Unlike many conference experiences where I am “on” for most of the time, presenting or meeting, I was able to take a slightly slower pace at AERA 2012 this weekend in Vancouver. Although the long travel days and time zone differences were a little tough to contend with, the few focused hours that I spent at the conference itself were very valuable for me in thinking about my teaching, research, and service. With the upcoming NWP SEED grant coming due, there are many things I can take from this weekend to think about while writing.

A quick list of some highlights:

  • A panel of Kris Guitterez’s graduate students talk about the teaching of writing and service learning
  • Roy Pea and other distinguished educational technologists from around the world discuss current and future trends in ed tech
  • Both listening to and engaging with (through Today’s Meet) a panel of young scholars who are studying participatory democracy and social media
  • Numerous connections, conversations, and opportunities to think through some of my current ideas related to our next NWP grant, including a smart round-table conversation with the Writing and Literacies SIG
  • Presenting with my colleagues on adolescent literacy in the content areas, with my focus on English language arts

A little more detail on each of these sessions/ideas over the next few days as I reflect on them and offer some further analysis. For the moment, here is my own presentation on “Learning with Text in the English Language Arts.”

As a part of a panel discussion about engaging adolescent learners in both content area literacy learning as well as general reading and comprehension strategies, I began by describing a unit of study crLeated around Of Mice and Men. To read more, take a peek at this preview of our chapter in Google Books. This, of course, led me to present a critique of such models of language arts instruction as being to text-focused, and lacking a multidimensional approach that could lead to both greater comprehension of the text itself as well as a better understanding for students of who they are as readers, writers, and literate individuals in the world. While they are not much, here are some slides that share the gist of my talk:

For those who know me and my work — a few of whom attended the session, and I appreciate taking the time to do so! — I probably had a surprising dearth of technology-talk as part of my conversation. In writing the chapter, Sue and I wanted to steer clear of critiques where readers would say, “Well, that would be great if I had access to more technology…” Instead, we talked about best practices in the teaching of English language arts, bringing in some technology as it seemed appropriate, but not at the forefront. My goal, for the chapter and the presentation, was as Michelle Hagerman said, “pedagogically purposeful,” and I wanted people to walk away with an understanding of what could/should be different in this type of effective conversation.

That said, I had some thoughts rolling around in the back of my head from reading I had done on the way to Vancouver. Last week, I was finally able to get a copy of a book that has been much-talked about by many colleagues in the past few months: Mike Schmoker’s Focus. In this book, he argues for a simplified approach to language arts (eschewing, in many ways, the affordances of technology and other “fads” related to literacy teaching. In his own words, here is what Schmoker has to say, from page 26 of his book:

Screen Shot from Mike Schmoker's Focus
Screen Shot from Mike Schmoker's Focus

I’m trying to figure out exactly why I am completely in agreement with Schmoker on the surface, and yet deeply disagree upon giving his ideas further thought. Certainly, we do not want students to make skits or claymation without an adequate exploration of story telling, character development, and the like. Is he implying that we need to do more with argumentative and informational writing, to use the CCSS parlance? Perhaps it is his parenthetical identification of some teachers and scholars — (as some do) — as an offhand remark without further explanation that bugs me the most. I’ll need to think through this some more.

More reflections from AERA over the next few days…

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