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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Reflections on Co-Facilitating a Digital Writing Workshop

As a part of my day at the “Write to Learn: New World, New Literacies” conference yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to lead a keynote, do a breakout session on using mobile devices for digital composition (see this Google Doc for many links), and then do a three-hour writing workshop with fellow teacher/author Penny Kittle. While the morning sessions went well, and were quite enjoyable, I wanted to reflect specifically on the afternoon session that Penny and I led together.

Originally, we had each been slotted to lead our own three-hour workshop, but with only six participants, we decided to combine efforts and lead teachers through the process of creating digital writing, in a workshop format. You can see our agenda (in the form of a Google Doc), and it was an engaging, organic afternoon of learning. We taught in a workshop approach, “to, with, and by.” We began by talking about the idea of creating digital writing, sharing a great example of a PSA from one of Penny’s students. We then read and annotated an example of a This I Believe essay. Penny read aloud, and I captured many thoughts about what could be used in the essay to turn into a digital video.

Annotated TIB Essay with Diigo
Annotated TIB Essay with Diigo
  • Images of the oboe, orchestra
  • “I was mediocore…”
  • Sound effects, classical music
  • Mediocore people never change the world: contrasting images with MLK, Ghandi, etc
  • Baby pictures of the author?
  • Find/download Mendelssohn’s Concerto
  • Find picture of young musician
  • “What kind of thoughts…” — text on screen?
  • Split screen of author/musicianLife with passion… what image do I want? Dawn?
  • Tinkerbell image as contrast — Disney pics?
  • Split screen? Fade through at end? Image of a baby?

That led to me then doing a “think aloud,” modeling how I would find images, music, and the like to include in a very much-shortened, rough draft of this essay as a digital video. Nothing fancy here, except that you can see how we talked, as a group, about the possibilities for the movie: using the scrapbook theme, having the text of her mother’s quote appear on screen, using the music in the background, ending with the image of a baby. It isn’t much, but it was interesting to see what we could all come up with in just about ten minutes of websearching and using iMovie. It is only a draft, not “done,” just “due,” so here is my attempt: Sample This I Believe Digital Video

The six participants in the workshop then worked on writing and finding media for their stories. I was able to watch Penny compose on-screen (she was using my laptop connected to the LCD), and it was really incredible to watch her voice pour out in the Google Doc. Really, go read her story about Donald Graves and Donald Murray.

The process reminded me of a few things: how the teachers appreciated the time to write, permission to play, and the guided practice, especially with technology. A few said that they felt confident enough to go into their classrooms and try digital writing. Soon. Others were less confident, yet happy that they had the opportunity to try digital writing in a safe space.

My thanks to Penny and all these teachers for the opportunity to work with you yesterday. I will remember this process that we went through together as I introduce digital storytelling to my pre-service teachers this spring.

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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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