Notes from “Using Multi-Media Records of K-12 Practice as Teacher Education “Texts””

Here are some notes from another presentation on campus:

Using Multi-Media Records of K-12 Practice as Teacher Education “Texts”

by Pam Grossman and Anna Ershler Richert

In this presentation we will explore the use of web-based, multi-media representations of practice in teacher education. Both of us are affiliated with the Quest project, of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Quest has been actively developing web-based cases of teaching for use in teacher education. Over the past several years, we have been looking at how teacher educators use these representations of K-12 practice in their teaching, and how both their assignments and the nature of materials focus novice’s attention on particular aspects of the work. We will introduce the overall project and explore more deeply the uses of these materials in our different teacher education settings. In addition, we will discuss how we have
documented our own practice and created web pages that describe this
particular teacher education strategy in our classes. Our documentation work has has provided us new ways to think about our students’ learning, which we will explore in this presentation as well.


Anna and Pam will talk about their work as teacher educators — how to put practice at the middle of teacher education in the university and not to wait until they are in the schools. There will be an overview of the Quest project, then talk about how we use these multimedia texts in our classrooms. Finally, they will talk about future directions for the project, both in terms of practice and research that could be done.

  • Project Overview
    • Making practice visible: the development of the CASTL website
    • Learning to use multimedia materials in teacher education, developing curriculum and pedagogy
    • Creating a community of teacher educators
    • Making the practice of teacher educators visible
    • Documenting student learning
    • Now we want to know, “so what?” What is the new advantage to using these tools?
  • Part of this began as a way to help teach English teachers how to talk about literature with their students
    • How do we get them to lead kids in student-centered text discussions?
    • There was a two hour video of a class discussion on the website, and it was a lot to see (it happened in April)
    • My students would not see all the work from the entire year that led up to that April discussion; how did the teacher get there?
    • We went back and videotaped earlier parts of the year, and the website became collaborative between teacher educators
    • Yvonne Divans Hutchinson’s website.
    • Where does this fit in an already crowded teacher ed curriculum. I wanted it to be more than show and tell, and have the pre-service teachers investigate the website.
      • I developed an assignment where I created a set of questions around the teaching of discussion, and I had my students investigate the site in pairs. People took different questions.
      • Second, they had to come back to our class and enact a discussion on their questions. The pairs were split so they could lead a discussion with half of the class.
    • Decomposing practice into constituent parts
      • Leading a discussion in the teacher ed classroom to approximate
      • Then, they had to identify something that they learned from Yvonne and do it in their classroom. They taped it and brought it back to their student teaching classroom.
      • Finally, they brought it back to our teacher ed classroom. They viewed the video, reflected on their experience and sought input from their peers.
      • We are teaching them to learn from the practice of others and to learn from their own practice, making the connection between the two.
  • How to help students grapple with the centrality of “knowing the learner” in secondary school settings?
    • One thing that I didn’t expect would be how obvious it would be to establish the purpose for talking to students about how they should love their subject, and their students.
      • They didn’t understand why they were taking adolescent development
      • There are many websites of secondary teachers that are teaching well, and I wanted them to look at websites of teachers who were having success teaching students of color
    • They needed to know them as learners in general, but also in the different subject matters, too.
  • There were three texts in the adolescent development class
    • One, a hefty text of course readings
    • Two, the voices of kids — talking to adolescents
    • Third, working with the websites of experienced and accomplished teachers of adolescents
  • The websites were assigned by content area and students were asked to investigate the sites alone and with partners.
    • I gave them a frame to look at the sites:
      • How did the teachers learn about their learners?
      • What did they find out?
      • How are they using this information?
    • You have to build things into your practice to get to know kids.
  • How can we use this information to create a professional learning community for teacher educators, helping prepare doctoral students to do this work, too.
  • Representation
    • What do we choose to represent?
      • Do we need lots of video?
    • What is the nature of the representation?
      • Do we need full videos, or just clips?
    • How do we design multi-media representation of practice to best support novice learning?
    • What central principles and practices lend themselves to multimedia representation?
    • What practices, assignments, and contexts facilitate learning from multimedia representations?
    • What are the consequences for student learning in approaches like this?
  • We can now look at all these representations in many ways and we need to think about how best to use them.
  • Q&A
    • Q: One thing that you noted was how this helped teacher educators have discussions with one another. How?
      • A: Teachers talk in stories, and the video helps us look at the fuller picture of what is going on within a larger context. It is a type of case in teacher education and builds on that work. Many of the teachers come back and want to create websites so they can share their work with other teachers.
    • Q: How do we avoid the trap of having teachers look at these examples and dismissing it (these kids are not like my kids, etc.)?
      • A: I have them look at practices, not the practitioner. I also have the enactment piece, so they will try it out, even if they are resistant. One student said, “I didn’t think this was going to work, but I couldn’t believe how well it did when I tried it.” So, they can all analyze it in some way.
      • Need to select sites and focus carefully on practice. The stance that you take on it, of the “images of the possible,” is what matters. Approach it from an inquiry stance. We know that the students are going to react this way, so we need to anticipate it and design assignments in such a way that they will be able to get something out of it.
    • Q: How do novices and expert teachers look at it? What do they see in it at different stages?
    • Q: How do we have students explore this in a social collaborative way?
      • A: Looking at these sites together helped students see different things that they may not have seen on their own.

eSchool news article on New Literacies Research Team

Here is an article that features a summary of the great work being done by the New Literacies Research Team. I saw them at AERA earlier this year and I think that they are on to some interesting points about online reading, especially in light of all the Wikipedia-ish concerns this summer.

Study aims to improve internet literacy
Researchers test new way to teach internet comprehension skills to students

By Laura Ascione, Assistant Editor,
Researchers at the University of Connecticut and Clemson University are in the middle of a three-year project to find a proven method of boosting the internet literacy skills of disadvantaged students. As part of the study, they’re testing a new way to teach students how to read, understand, and critically evaluate the information they find online, through a “reciprocal” model that has been proven to work well in teaching traditional literacy skills.

eSchool News online – Study aims to improve internet literacy

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Missing the (Power)Point

What is it with our affliction with Power Point? Check out today’s Foxtrot:

FoxTrot by Bill Amend – September 8, 2006

Over the years, I have seen many cartoons, articles, and voices in education and the media taking pot shots at Power Point without ever really talking about the root of the problem: lacking a point for the presentation itself. Everyone from the Onion to Wikipedia takes shots at it. There is even the infamous Gettysburg Address made from a PPT template.
Rather than blaming the tool, why aren’t we talking more about how and why we compose with PowerPoint or other slide show programs? And, while Microsoft and other software makers would invite us to think that PowerPoint is just a tool…

“We are trying to make PowerPoint a much more intuitive product,” said John Duncan, product manager for Microsoft Office. “We are in the business of giving people easy-to-use tools. It is up to the users in terms of how they want to use them.”

Wired News: “The PowerPoint Amateur Hour”

… we also know that writers are bound by the affordances and constraints of what the software itself presents. But, it isn’t always about the tool.
Case in point: I was sitting through a session where a tech-savvy presenter wanted to share some information about a project, but said at the beginning how much he hated Power Point presentations. He then went on to his website, turned on a CSS template for a his presentation page, and created a bulleted list of points that he could scroll through screen by screen, just like a slide show. And then he talked. And talked. And talked. No bells and whistles. No audience interaction. Just a Power Point talk with the unofficial Power Point to go with it.

There are many harsh critiques of PPT, to be sure. For instance, check out the work of Edward Tufte. Some of this criticism is well-deserved, as Tufte points out here and here. And, the classic essay in for educators considering the use of PPT, McKenzie’s Scoring Power Points, is still worth a read. Given the new Michigan high school standards and expectations for students to create and publish digital media, I think that these three pieces should be required reading for teachers.
All that said, I am not quite so ready to dismiss PPT outright, although I want to be sure that we are using it in schools for more engaging purposes than what I imagine Paige has created for her book report. I recall the one time when a seventh grade student of mine made a really slick PPT – with different fonts, slide backgrounds, and animations (as her computer lab teacher taught her to do, sigh…) – about Roosevelt and his role in WWII. Unfortunately, she spent so much time on the PPT (and I, as a new teacher, forgot to scaffold her in the research process), that it was about one Teddy Roosevelt, not Franklin. Did PPT cause that problem? Partially, as the cut and paste ease of making the presentation was appealing. But part of it was just poor teaching and no self-monitoring by the student.

The other reason that this PPT issue caught my attention today is that earlier I talked to language arts consultants from around the state about doing digital storytelling workshops and, of course, the question of software came up. One person asked about PPT, in particular, because that was the only multimedia program that she knew how to use. Could that work for digital storytelling? While I think there are better programs for this, I said yes, PPT could work.
Honestly, if David Byrne can make PPT into art, then we can surely use it to make digital stories. But, remember, it is about the art, the story. Not the program. If they are pointless stories, then we will have the same reaction to PPT digital stories as Roger does to his co-workers and, perhaps, his daughter. Let’s keep the family happy and teach students like her how to make a point with multimedia, not just get lost in it.

Blogged with Flock 50 Coolest Websites

So, I ran across 50 Coolest Websites the other day. There are many great sites on here that I have tried already like Jumpcut, YouTube, and Charity Navigator, but many more to explore.

I am curious… does anyone else have experience with any of these websites that Time thinks is cool? As an educator, what would you add? Perhaps we can start a list of the 50 coolest websites for writing teachers.

The Pop Culture Translator

Screenshot of Pop Culture TranslatorThis summer, RCWP has been doing a number of workshops related to writing and new literacies. One of them was on using pop culture in the classroom and the facilitator of the session just shared The Pop Culture Translator with our list serv.

This site is both hilarious and scary all at the same time. Since my son is a fan of Sean Paul, I thought that I would listen to his video translation first. While I was not so subtle in talking to my son about the message of the song (which, he admitted, he didn’t understand all the innuendo, he just liked the beat. Yeah…), this translator is attempts to be as literal as possible, something that our language and technology often don’t do. So, I laugh, while also thinking about the implications that it makes clear. It’s not as if I didn’t listen to music laced with innuendo, nor my parents, but the ways in which things are becoming more and more blatant kind of scares me as a parent.

At any rate, as a teacher, I think that this is an interesting way to appropriate media for critical purposes and would like to know more about how others might use something like this with your students. What would a lesson using this site look like in middle school? High school? College? I can imagine that the conversations would be somewhat different at each level, but I think that the idea of “translating” one text into another discourse is very intriguing and offers many critical possibilities for language learning; take “mash ups” as an example of that. Using technology as part of that makes it all the more compelling. I will try to remember to share it with my son the next time he is over. And, I will see how his translations compare.

I hope that they put more examples up soon…

Some thoughts on assessment of new media

David makes an interesting point about blogs and assessment. After noting the old aphorism, “Not everything that is measurable is valuable and not everything that is valuable is measurable,” he adds this:

I think the things that are most educationally valuable about blogs and read/write web tools are the hardest to measure. Certainly, the creativity they encourage, the excitement they generate are almost impossible to reduce to a simple checklist.


Indeed, I think that another little saying that involves assessment might be in order here, too. “What gets measured gets treasured.” So, not only are the intangible aspects of new media composing probably the ones that are most valuable to teachers’ pedagogy and students’ learning, they are also the most difficult to justify in light of standardized tests and other measures of accountability.
Interestingly enough, in Michigan, our new high school content expectations are filled with references to multimedia and other digital projects. In a way, it is good that these digital creations are now “in the standards,” for that makes it easier to justify professional development and the like. Yet, the conceptual jump from teaching the personal narrative to the digital story — and back again — is still a somewhat difficult one to make both in terms of talking about the writing task itself and the teaching of it.

All the same, I agree with David’s main point. Some of the aspects about teaching writing with technology are the ones that are most difficult to explain and to evaluate. Yet, we need to begin to think about ways to do that. One place to begin looking for answers is Bernajean Porter’s “Evaluating Digital Projects” site.

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IM and Code Switching

A study from the University of Toronto’s Linguistics Department has now verified what many writing teachers have been trying to argue all along — instead of ruining kids’ grammar, IM is actually a different discursive register and that kids end up code switching between IM and other forms of communication quite clearly. Here is an excerpt from an article about the study from

“What we found is that kids are using the colloquial vernacular language but they’re also using this formal language that isn’t used in speech,” says Denis, 21.

“So it’s really a combination, a fusion of both these styles. It wasn’t surprising to me because I’m a user of instant messaging and … I knew that it wasn’t as bad as people say it is.”
Tagliamonte says participants would use different levels of diction, both informal and formal, in their speech. For instance, they’d use “shall” alongside words such as “gonna.”

“It shows that this generation of kids is fluidly moving through media of communication that just didn’t exist before and they’re doing it extremely well,” she says.

Katherine Barber, editor-in-chief of Canadian Oxford Dictionaries, says she views instant messaging as a sub-dialect of English that likely won’t have an effect on spelling.

“The analogy I always like to make is, you know, we used to have things called telegrams and people had to tinker with their syntax, their normal syntax, to write,” she says.

“Telegrams as well, they created this telegraphese and that hasn’t had an effect on the language as a whole. It was used for that particular circumstance and that’s where it stayed.”

Technology News: Wireless: IM No Syntax Spoiler, Says Study

I have been asked many times if I think that technology is enabling kids (with spell check in Word) or ruining their spelling (with IM) and my answer has always been that kids will switch discourse based on the rhetorical situation. If we teach them that way. This study appears to confirm that pedagogical belief.

What do the rest of you think? Is IMing really just a chance for kids to code switch and practice different language? Or, is English doomed? I would be curious to hear what you think.