NWP/NCTE 2012: Mentoring Matters

Natalie Merchant opens up NCTE 2012
Natalie Merchant opens up NCTE 2012

As NCTE President Sandy Hayes said at the very beginning of the convention, this entire weekend would feel like Christmas: so long in the making, with the magic lasting only a moment.

Still, what a moment it was, and continues to be, as the many conversations I had this weekend still resonate with me. Natalie Merchant opening the conference, for one, still echoes.

Identifying a key theme is always a difficult task, yet if I had to zero in on just one, it would be this: mentorship. The power of mentors in small moments — and across generations of teachers — continues to amaze, it keeps me connected to the profession of teaching and thinking about how best to empower students.

There are the mentors who guide me mostly through the books and articles that they write, and with whom I was able to share a few moments to describe my appreciation: Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, and Linda Christensen were three in particular that I hadn’t met before and I was able to spend a few moment with each. Others, like Barry Lane, Jim Burke, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Richard Kent, and Jeff Wilhelm have invited me into this profession as a fellow author, friend, and colleague.

And, now, I am beginning to have more opportunities to interact with my contemporaries, all of whom mentor me in different ways. Fellow authors and English Educators like Rob Rozema, Allen Webb, Cathy Fleischer, Bill Tucker, Elaine Hunyadi, Lindsay Ellis, Sara Kajder, Jory Brass, Jim Fredricksen, Leah Zuidema, Janet Swenson, Carl Young, Sam Caughlin, Anne Ruggles Gere, David Kirkland and Ken Lindbloom have all provided me with opportunities to collaborate and learn from them. Kristen Turner and I were honored with a grant from CEE, and we continue our collaborations around digital writing and teacher education. Friends and colleagues who defy categorization because they touch so many parts of my professional life were all here, too: Jennifer Collison (and Jim,too!), Paul Oh, Paul Allison, Chris Sloan, April Niemela, Bud Hunt, and Kevin Cordi.

Yet, most importantly, I appreciate the opportunities that I have had to mentor others, especially through my work with the National Writing Project. Seven teachers from my site were on the program at the NCTE annual convention: Erin Busch-Grabmeyer, Jeremy Hyler, Beth Nelson, Penny Lew, Andy Schoenborn, Kathy Kurtze, and Amanda Smoker. More colleagues than I can count from broader NWP circles were on the program, too, and one of them, Dawn Reed, has now been invited to be a Co-Director of the Red Cedar Writing Project, a role I once proudly held and shared with colleagues like Mitch Nobis, Renee Webster, and Toby Kahn-Loftus. I met people who I first knew through twitter — like Meenoo Rami, Cindy Minnich, and Chad Sansing — and others who I will now know better through twitter. Also, I was fortunate enough to meet with a number of doctoral students, especially from Fordham and Liz Homan from U of M.

I have now been to a decade of consecutive NCTE conventions, as well a trip to Detroit for the 1996 convention. Over those ten years, I have been able to go from being a face in the crowd to, I hope, a face who welcomes others to the crowd. All of my sessions were fun, but in particular I enjoy the hour at the “tech to go” kiosk and my CEE round table discussion, interacting with just a small handful of colleagues over the course of an hour. These small moments where we have time to dig deep into a number of ideas that will, I hope, help us all improve teaching, learning, and assessment.

As I do each year, I head back to campus to work with pre-service teachers, fresh with ideas, knowing that all of these mentors and mentees, colleagues and friends will come with me. I try to describe the power of these professional networks to my students, but even in writing this post I know how futile a task this really is. Handshakes, hugs, and smiles are the best way to see what I mean, and these are way to hard to capture writing, or even in pictures, as these are fleeting moments.

The real mentoring happens during the other 360 days of the year, when we exchange emails and tweets, create new projects, write about the ones we are doing, and prepare to enter our classrooms again. And, I am sure that I have inadvertently left off many other names of colleagues with whom I met this weekend — as well as those who I didn’t even get to catch up with, like Kevin Hodgson and Antero Garcia — and for that I apologize.

I wish you all well as you step back into your classrooms and enjoy Thanksgiving with your families. I continue to be thankful for the mentoring you have provided me, and the mentoring you allow me to provide you.

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Preparing for NWP/NCTE 2010

Photo courtesy of NCTE

Well, the week is here.

So, now that it is Monday of my biggest and busiest professional week of the year, I need to hit full stride.

NCTE and NWP 2010. Hooray!

NWP AM  2010
Image courtesy of NWP

Although I tell myself each year that I’ll cut back, do a little bit less, and just enjoyed my time at the convention, it seems a year after year I find more and more things to do. This year is no exception, and in reality I’m thankful for the many opportunities that these two organizations continue to offer me each fall as I network with my colleagues, present new ideas, and grow as a professional. In some ways it’s fitting that this happens right before Thanksgiving, because it does make me thankful for all the people with whom I am going to interact with in the next few days (although I will say that I’m usually exhausted by the end of it all!). So, as I am preparing for multiple sessions, I want to share some of my thinking, as well as the details on when and where I’ll be, during these busy days coming up.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Upon arriving in Orlando on Wednesday night, there really won’t be any time from the moment we get on board the Disney Express until we crash at our hotel. That means a bright start on Thursday morning as Sara and I make our way from the Yacht and Beach Club over to the Contemporary Resort for the NWP annual meeting. Right away, at 9:30 AM, I’m presenting with one of our CRWP co-directors Kathy Kurtze and two other NWP colleagues in a session called “Reading in the Summer Institute.” Goals for the session include inviting people into our thinking process about how, when, and why we choose particular texts, inviting participants to share their own texts that they use in the Summer Institute, and thinking more broadly about how we can respond to texts through a variety of professional types of writing and with various technologies. As with every NWP session that I have been a part of over the past seven years, this one provides new opportunities to think about what it means to teach teachers, and I’m excited to work with Rick, Ann, and Kathy to lead this session. In particular, I am really interested in hearing how other sites are engaging teachers and reading responses through the use of technologies such as digital stories, podcasts, discussion forums, and other types of read/write Web. After the session, we will ask people to contribute to a collaborative Google Doc where they can share their reading lists with one another. I look forward to seeing what will be happening with NWP’s new social network as well as the Digital Is collection of web-based resources.

After my morning session with NWP, I will have a little bit of time to hang out and talk with some other colleagues there. Before too long though, I’ll have to make my way back over to the Coronado, as Sara Kajder, Bud Hunt, and I are on tap to repeat our session from last year’s annual convention, Three Reports from Cyberspace. During the session last year, Sara was, unfortunately unable to join us. That said, her spirit still infused the interactive, multi-layered discussion while Bud and I led the room of about 200 teachers, as well as some online colleagues who couldn’t be at the convention. When are asked to present the session again, we jumped at the chance, and we think that there will be a whole new series of opportunities to open up conversations about how on why to use technology in our classrooms. In particular, Bud is going to talk about infrastructure, Sara is going to talk about assessment, and I’m going to talk about pedagogy. At that point, we’ll open up the floor as we did last year questions, comments, links, and insights from the audience. What we hope to do this year, even more so than what we did last, will be to continue the dialogue. We all began by collaboratively composing a welcome letter in a Google document, which we then each posted to our blog, the presentation wiki page, and the NCTE connected community. While many conference presentations comes and go, we hope to inspire an actual dialogue where our colleagues able to share their reports from cyberspace, and we might find stories, examples, and other types of data that will support the argument that digital learning matters.

Once we finish with the cyberspace reports, we will immediately run down the hall in the Coronado and present at NCTE’s middle level get-together. Sara will lead the way on this session, followed with lots of tech support and ideas from Bud and me. This is a wonderful honor for me, since being asked to be a featured speaker at NCTE is something that, quite honestly, I never really imagined. I remember attending my first and NCTE conference in Detroit in 1997, and I saw many of the people that I’ve been reading in my undergraduate methods courses, hearing about from other colleagues, and wondering if they were, in fact, real people. As an undergraduate, this experience opened my eyes, and now I know that those who are featured speakers at the NCTE annual convention really set the tone, pace, the conversations for our entire organization. So, working together to deliver the cyberspace reports and then moving to the middle level get-together is a wonderful opportunity for Sara, Bud, and I to set our own ideas in NCTE’s broader conversations related to literacy. One of the things that we want to make clear is that we are not using technology for technology’s sake, and that we want NCTE to continue taking a leadership role in promoting digital literacies in curriculum and instruction practices, as well as in decision-making about school infrastructure and assessment.

That rounds out a busy Thursday or sessions, followed that evening by a gathering of my CRWP colleagues to celebrate the second year of our writing project’s work and the fact that we are bringing ten site leaders to this year’s annual meeting. I look forward to hearing from them about their experiences at the annual meeting, many of them attending for the first time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday morning brings us to my favorite part of the NWP annual meeting, the General Session, where the Executive Director  speaks, as well as the keynote speaker, other site directors, NWP teacher consultants, and various guests. It is, by far, one of the most exciting moments of the entire trip every year. We are bringing 10 CRWP teacher consultants with us this year, and I look forward to being at the session with them. Energy, excitement, enthusiasm that this two hour meeting generates propels the writing project forward through the doldrums of winter and into our planning for spring and summer months. So, needless to say, it’s something that I want to attend. Also because the rest of my time on Friday will find me at NCTE, it might be one of the few opportunities I have really connect with NWP colleagues, unless I can make it back for a tweet up later on.

Also on Friday, NCTE will be premiering its 100th anniversary film “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” Two years ago was fortunate enough to be invited by John Golden to be interviewed for this film while in San Antonio. At the time, I was still working on my book, and didn’t really know what would be happening with my career in digital writing. Two books, a new writing project, three NCTE webinars, and too many PD sessions to count later, I’m kind of curious to see what I sounded like two years ago, and whether or not the things I said I’ll been reported in San Antonio still ring true. I’m told that they do, from those who have reviewed of the film, and I’m still honored to be a part of the many among many distinguished voices that will be heard in celebration of NCTE’s past, present, and future. One of the things that I enjoy most about NCTE is the fact that, as colleagues, I do feel comfortable roaming the hallways of the convention center, easily talking with my mentors and peers as well as those who are just now entering the profession. This dialogue that happens across generations of teachers happens in few other places, and I really enjoy the opportunity to be a part of it, and I hope that this film contributes to NCTE’s rich history and exciting future.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The NCTE adventure continues on Saturday, first with a “tech to go” session on writing with wikis, and then participating in the Google monsters session with Bill Bass, Andrea Zellner, Tara Seale, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks.

Photo courtesy of Bud Hunt

First, Tech to Go. Sara Kajder has, over the past three years, invited a number of teachers to participate in NCTE’s just-in-time, nearly one-to-one personal development experience teaching English for technology: “Tech to Go.” While topics vary from video production, blogging, collaborative wordprocessing, using apps for the iPhone, the Tech to Go sessions have become a destination for many the past few years. In the three sessions that I have led, I’ve enjoyed the intimate conversations with colleagues, all who are able to ask genuine questions about why and how they might use particular technologies in their teaching. Moreover, I appreciate the opportunity to be standing there with the computer and be able to put their hands on the mouse and keyboard, rather than standing on the front of the giant lecture hall, unable to have an interaction, perhaps teaching them just one small thing that they can take back to their classrooms.  While we know that seeing these tools in action in front of a large audience is sometimes inspiring, I also know that many teachers benefit from the one-to-one support types of sessions offered. So I’m looking forward to being a part of to go again this year.

The other component of that day is the Google Monster presentation. Last year, Jeff Golub invited Sara, Bud, and I to do the reports fromcyberspace session. Attendees in that session included Bill Bass, Tara Seale, Andrea Zellner, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks. We wondered if there was a way to do something with all of these teachers were already trained as Google certified teachers similar to the reports from cyberspace session. I suggested that we extend his reports from cyberspace model to a Google monster session, and they snapped up the opportunity and submited a proposal. So, here we are with kind of a cyberspace reports, part two, but Google style. Although my role in this session is technically listed as responder, I’m actually going to act as more of a moderator of as Bill, Andrea, Sara, and Tara offer their insights about how they use Google tools to solve their daily tasks and problems as educators. Like the cyberspace report session, this should be interactive and invite comments questions and interaction from the audience. It will be lightning fast, so there’ll be resources posted online for later. All in all, very excited about the opportunity to watch Sara present to a large audience, see her enthusiasm for teacher education and technology shine through along with Bill, Andrea, and Tara.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday bring a little bit of a break this year, at least in the sense that while we are wishing many of our colleagues safe travel home, we will have a little bit of downtime where we are actually able to attend some sessions and connect with other colleagues. Again, this is one of the most exciting parts about being at the convention. These sessions are always useful, as the one session that I went to last year on fair use has completely changed my thinking on why and how to invite students to use copyrighted materials and creating digital media. It’s amazing to think that one hour-long session really fundamentally change the way I go about teaching and writing. But this session has, and I’m thankful for opportunities such as this during the annual convention. What I normally say to myself when I jump on the plane is that if I can come back with one good, solid, thoughtful idea that I can integrate into my own teaching and writing, then I’ll be all that much better for. A usually come back with much more, but it’s my goal to seek out that one nugget, that one session that I know will provide me with some answers and movie forward to next year. I look forward to finding that session sometime on Saturday or Sunday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just as many people are heading home from the convention, I’m still warming up. On Monday I’ll actually be a part of two different workshops. First, I will be a part of the ACE workshop, hosted by Ewa McGrail, and presenting on the topic of using Zotero and and RSS for researching. I really do want to hone this presentation, and think more carefully about how I can talk to teachers in a future book, article, and/or presentation about fundamentally rethinking what it means to teach argumentative and informational writing at the secondary level. This stems in part from a blog post I wrote last year about rethinking the research process. Given the requirements of the common core standards, not to mention standardized assessments by which we are measured, and our students are measured, I really do want teachers to think more critically and carefully about how digital writing tools such as a bibliography manager, an RSS reader, social bookmarking, and any number of other interactive, web-based digital writing tools may help students become more active, engaged, and the research process. Also, given the many commercially licensed products that are out there nowadays, I want teachers to see that they really can organize their research process with free web-based and open source tools. So, I look forward to constructing a hour-long workshop and getting feedback from peers.

Later in the morning, I leave ACE and  head over to the CEE colloquium: “Multicultural, Multiliterate: Writing the World.”  Kristen Turner and Jonathan Bush invited me to be a featured speaker during this year’s session, sponsored by the commission on writing teacher education. They wanted to focus on the multigenre approaches as well as multimodal technologies. Featuring, Tom Romano and Christina Ortmeier-Hooper in the morning, I’m fortunate enough to be speaking about multimodal composition in the late morning. One of the unique challenges of presenting at the NCTE annual convention this year will be the fact that there is limited or no wifi connectivity, and this day is no exception. For many years now, there are a number of us who have lamented the fact that these conventions do not have free, open, and adequate wifi access. If we really wanted to our colleagues to move forward with digital writing, this is an absolute essential. At any rate, that means that my session will focus on mobile learning, and that is a cool new area for me to explore and present on.

That said, the goal for the afternoon will be to move to EPCOT center to both capture and critique the ways in which we see cultures presented there. So, a large degree what we’ll be doing later in the day will involve mobile devices, so that’s where I’m focusing my attention during my presentation. I want to get people thinking about how and why they might choose audio recordings, video recordings, snapshots, twitter messages, and other forms of digital writing that can happen on their mobile devices and across networked spaces in order to both capture their reflections in the moment and prepare to make a digital composition later on. I will probably invite them to use Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Cinch. Other tools are, of course, welcome! One of the goals that they have for the moment in terms of simply capturing digital assets is that they can go back to their computer later create into a digital story, wiki, or other type of digital writing media. We want people to be comfortable using their mobile devices to stay connected both with their small groups, across the entire CEE group, and in preparation for preparing pieces of multi-genre pieces of digital writing. We are following up this colloquium with the webinar December, the time and date still yet to be set, as an opportunity to read/view/listen to one another’s texts and respond to them.

Since we will be in EPCOT Center Monday afternoon, my hope is that Sara and I will be able to enjoy one last dinner alone, or perhaps with a small group of colleagues, before we hit the road on Tuesday. She will be heading back to the UP while I stay in Florida to visit with my dad. This is one of the bittersweet parts about  NCTE; once you convene with all your friends and colleagues for many days, everyone heads home for Thanksgiving, exhausted, yet refreshed at the same time. I get tired just looking at my schedule is coming week, yet at the same time I am genuinely excited about the opportunities that continue to be presented to me. My hope is that my message across all the sessions remains consistent: if we engage students as writers, and we offer writing tasks and technologies that are both timely and useful, we as teachers will be able to open up our pedagogy, expect more from them as writers, and begin to see their worlds and different ways.

I look forward to continuing conversations with many of you face-to-face next week in Orlando.

Travel safe, my friends.

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Reflections on NWP and NCTE 2009

As the holidays begin, another conference season comes to a close.

For the past week, Sara and I have been in Philadelphia at the National Writing Project‘s “Digital Is…” pre-conference, the NWP Annual Meeting, and the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention. As it is each year, we enjoy spending time with colleagues and find opportunities to learn about their work. Moreover, we pause to think about our own work including what we have accomplished in the past year and what we are looking forward to in the next.

To that end, I began writing this reflection in the lobby of the Sheraton in Philly, continued it at the airport and on the plane, and now post it as I spend Thanksgiving with my parents. Here is my day-by-day account of NWP/NCTE 2009.

Tuesday, 11/17/09

Arriving in Philly on Tuesday afternoon, we had some time to enjoy a quick walk and prepare for the “Digital Is…” reception. Sponsored through NWP’s work with the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, the entire “Digital Is…” conference was designed as an opportunity to convene teachers, teacher educators, and other stakeholders in conversations about what we know about teaching and learning with digital media. The opening reception was fun, followed by dinner with colleagues from Science Leadership Academy. A great way to begin our week, for sure.

Wednesday, 11/18/09

Digital Is…“convened in the Sheraton, with two slideshows from Danielle DeVoss. The first ran as a background show during breakfast, the second was her keynote. There is no way to capture the energy that she shared during this session, except to say that she really framed the day with her eight key themes about “digital is…” that I outlined in a previous post. So, even though the experience is not nearly the same, here are the slideshows:

For the afternoon, I was again fortunate to present with Dawn about our work with podcasting, as featured in Teaching the New Writing. By doing a protocol analysis discussion of the work, we were really able to dig deeply and think about what was there. One of the more stunning realizations that we had in the conversation was about the ways in which the composing process changes when writers begin with the goal of creating a spoken and, in some sense, permanent text. I think that the line from the notes that captures it best is that the process of recording the podcast “reinforces writing as a capacity that changes across genres and audiences and mediums.” It will be interesting to see where Dawn goes next with this work.

The second round of discussion was interesting, too, as we mixed up groups and have conversations across the elements of student work. Rather than try to capture all the complexities of that conversation in writing, I will share two items. The first is a list of “final words” that I asked participants in our session to state in relation to their thoughts about composing in digital environments at the end of this hour-long conversation. The second is a concept map that I tried to draw while we were talking. Neither alone captures all that happened in our session, but perhaps will give you some insights into what happened.

Concept Map from Digital Is
Concept Map from Digital Is
  • Hybridity
  • Genre
  • Messy
  • Openness
  • Elegance
  • Excitement
  • Immediacy
  • Future
  • Mistakes
  • Surrender
  • Reciprocity
  • Space
  • Dirty
  • Play
  • Organic

I had the opportunity to then help close the day, asking participants to create “invitations” that could be used to ask other stakeholders to join in the conversation about digital writing with youth. One of the most consistent themes from throughout the day was the fact that most of the digital writing opportunities that students have are taking place outside of school. This is a travesty. If we can create these types of engaging opportunities outside of school, then surely we can consider how to do better at creating these types of learning spaces inside of schools. This is something to chew on in the weeks and months to come as I figure out where to go next with my own work and the direction of our writing project.

That night, we were treated to a panel discussion of “What Kids Learn When They Create with Digital Media” with Renee Hobbs, Founder, Media Education Lab, Temple University; Nichole Pinkard, Founder, Digital Youth Network and DePaul University professor; and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Director, National Programs and Site Development, National Writing Project.

Thursday, 11/19/09

The NWP Annual Meeting kicked off with morning and afternoon workshops. In the morning, I attended one on developing site leadership and, in the afternoon, on integrating new literacies into the site’s work that featured Paige Cole, Joe Conroy, Shasta Looper, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks. Along with Sara’s overview of how she integrated her own growth as a tech leader into her site’s work and securing mini-grants and creating professional development experiences, I was particularly interested in watching Paige and Joe talk about the work that they initially developed at Tech Matters 2007 and to see how they have grown work at their sites. Literally, I had goose bumps watching Paige’s video reflection. Taken with ideas from the morning about how to support and encourage site leaders, the two sessions reminded me of the power of the NWP network, and how small doses of encouragement from a mentor can turn into incredible work.

Friday, 11/20/09

More NWP today, with Billy Collins bringing down the house at the general session. Truly, truly wonderful. Also wonderful was the introduction of the Chippewa River Writing Project as one of the new sites in the NWP network! Later in the afternoon, I was able to attend a session on community partnerships, including a presentation from Joel Arquillos from the amazing 826 organization (which, if you haven’t heard about, watch Dave Eggers’ TED Talk and then visit the 826 website). Also, I got to hear about the Eastern Michigan Writing Project‘s Family Literacy workshops from their program director, Kim Pavlock. So many powerful ideas here from both Joel and Kim, but the biggest one being that we need to make learning to write purposeful for students and the process of doing so clear to their parents. What incredible programs to model from. To close the day, I got to hear from two of my mentors — Patti Stock and Peter Kittle — about the power of taking an inquiry stance towards teaching demonstrations in the summer institute. I am very much looking forward to returning to CRWP and talking over all this information with my leadership team, most of whom were there with me and will have ideas of their own to share, too.

Saturday, 11/21/09

An early morning brought both Sara and me to the NCTE booth, leading Tech-to-Go sessions for those beginning their day at NCTE. I talked about wikis, while Sara presented on Google Forms and then, later in the day, on iPod Touch applications. This led us to my presentation with Bud Hunt, “Reports from Cyberspace,” This was truly an amazing session, as we tried to incorporate a backchannel discussion through Twitter, delicious, and Chatterous. Also, in trying to use newer tools for presentations, I created a Prezi and Bud made a Voice Thread. The conversations that occured in the session, both face-to-face and online, were amazing, and we are thinking about repeating the session again next year. One recurring question was about access, and both Bud and I contended that it is reasonable to expect kids to do digital writing now, because there is access available in many more places and most of the tools are web-based. We also touched on issues of filtering, curriculum, assessment, and how to begin digital writing workshops.

Later that night, Sara and I were able to join the Heinemann reception and found out that my book sold out in the convention hall! Thanks to everyone who picked up a copy there, as well as to everyone else who then ordered one online. I am  looking forward to where my next writing opportunity may take me…

Sunday, 11/22/09

We awoke Sunday morning for a wonderful session on erasing copyright confusion, and I was then able to interview Renee Hobbs for an aricle on fair use for CCCC-IP. We also were able to meet with the CEE Web Site Editors, and came up with a plan for developing some basic content for the site. Our afternoon found us on adventures in Philly with my friend Carl Young, and we enjoyed a visit to the National Constitution Center. In thinking about how and why we ask students to compose digital writing, our visit to this center was particularly appropriate, as we were greeted with remixed versions of “People” magazine covers, featuring such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln and Betsy Ross, as well as a highly-interactive multimedia experince in the museum.

Monday, 11/23/09

While we had planned to go to SLA, and appreciated the invite to be there, we ended up spending most of our day at at the Franklin Institute. Perhaps we will have to do EduCon instead. So, even though we missed SLA, we greatly enjoyed the Body Worlds exhibition, and felt that was a good use of our final hours in Philly.

Also, we realized that we missed the NCTE Centennial Preview, but John Golden provided the link for me, so you can enjoy it online!

As with all NWP/NCTE trips, this one game me so many good ideas and connections with colleagues. Next on my agenda are to begin planning next summer’s CRWP SI and, ideally, an advanced institute related to digital writing and copyright. Also, I am working on writing the article for the Cs Intellectual Property Caucus, CCCC-IP. Still thinking about so much, and hoping to get back to Philly with my entire family for more of the historical aspects of the town that we missed.

And, so goes another NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE Convention. Thanks for sticking with me through this whole pose.

Now, time to plan for the convention in Orlando, celebrating 100 years of NCTE.

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CEE Podcast: Examining Writing in a Time of Change

The CEE Web Editing Team has been hard at work, and this is the first in what we hope will become a series of regular podcasts with leaders in English Education. Please add comments to the page and continue the conversation about teaching writing in the 21st century.

Examining Writing in a Time of Change: An Interview with Anne Ruggles Gere about NCTE’s “Writing Now” Policy Research Brief

“The meaning of writing is changing pretty dramatically,” claims Anne Ruggles Gere, Past-President of NCTE. Given the theme of this fall’s annual convention, “Because Shift Happens: Teaching in the Twenty-First Century,” her work on NCTE’s new “Writing Now” Policy Research Brief is particularly timely, and the topic of this CEE Podcast.

Reflections on Social Networking based on NCTE/NWP 2007

Today’s NCTE Inbox had an official list of blog posts about the convention, as well as Traci Gardner’s commentary about whether and how teachers should blog (for the record, she thinks that they should, although some districts do not). I find this thread of conversation an interesting complement to a few others floating around today, too.

One of the threads is a group of NWP tech liaisons talking about whether and how we should start a national social network of teachers doing great things with writing and technology. This network exists, in some ways, but it is scattered in many places, not all of them “officially” sanctioned by NWP (nor do they need to be). This conversation is important though because I think that it raises one fundamental issue — for all the blogs, wikis, podcasts, social bookmarks, RSS feeds, Facebook groups, Ning networks, and other ways that we have to stay in touch, do we actually stay in touch?

I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I help my pre-service teachers understand the implications of blogs and wikis as well as try to organize such groups for the various professional organizations that I am in including RCWP, MCTE, MRA, and CEE. How to build and maintain a network — let alone if a “formal” network is needed at all — is at the core of what I and four other colleagues are thinking about as we prepare to propose a new interactive website for CEE. There is also interaction in the works for MRA. Yet, RCWP and MCTE have had interactive sites, more or less, for a year or two now and neither of them generate much traffic. So, even if you build the space for the network, it is not a guarantee that teachers will come.

So, what to do about social networks for teachers? I am not sure how to best answer that. We are trying a wiki and Google groups for Project WRITE, and having limited interactions and success with those spaces. Is part of the problem that the idea of social networking is still too new or different from what we are used to with F2F networking? Are we still just stuck in email mode and not ready to venture out to the web to find a network, rather waiting for it to come to our inbox? Or, is it just the fact that a certain type of chemistry, one that can’t be forced, but must be natural, must emerge?

I certainly don’t have any answers, especially not tonight. But, I feel that the questions are worth asking; even if we don’t get to answering them outright, we can begin to understand why teachers (generally) choose not to use these networks. My thoughts range from being busy to not being aware, from being happy within a school-based learning community to simply not wanting to move outside of one’s comfort zones. As networks continue to grow, I think that we need to ask these fundamental questions about why and how they work for some teachers, while not for others, and whether we should be trying to make the perfect network, or rethink what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century.

End of 21st Century Literacies Meeting Reflection

The questions that we have collectively explored the past two days leave me with many thoughts, which I will get to in a moment. First, I need to synthesize this weekend with the other working retreat that I recently attended — the CEE Leadership and Policy Summit in Chicago.

Having had two weeks to reflect on that meeting, I think that its essential purpose was two-fold:

  1. How do we, as a professional organization of English Educators, induct new members into our field and give them the material and emotional support that will help them succeed?
  2. In what ways is the nature of our work changing and how can we respond to as well as be at the forefront of those changes?

What I took from that meeting — and am still working on from it — is that we, as a field, need to begin articulating our positions on what have previously been controversial or taboo subjects and, whether we all completely agree on the position or not, have something to rally around and begin focusing our attention towards. Issues like the achievement gap, restructuring doctoral programs, addressing globalization, teaching literature, and others are all broad enough that we could gain some consensus and need to do so.

In many ways, I think that this weekend is similar to the work of the CEE Summit in that we are trying to capture the state of the field related to wrting with technology (nature of the work) and figure out how to share best practices in the teaching of digital writing with other teachers (induction). There is at least one significant difference between NWP and CEE that I need to address first, and then I will explain how I think we might mobilize in a similar way.

My understanding of the NWP is that we can not, by our very nature as a federally funded program, take a specific advocacy role on issues in the same way that NCTE/CEE can as a non-profit organization. That said, I think that there are many things that NWP can say, definitively, about the nature of digital writing in K-12 classrooms and teacher professional development (based on the work represented here this weekend) that NCTE (or, to my knowledge) any other network of teachers can make claims about.

In other words, we need to use the momentum from this weekend to clearly and concisely say something to all the sites in our network, the field of education, policy makers, and the general public about the nature of writing, how it is changing, the roles that literacy can play in empowering youth, and why the work that we have done in this tech initiative matters.

If NWP was willing and able to produce a book entitled “Because Writing Matters” or “Writing For a Change” — and those books are seen within the scope of our mission and not stretching our advocacy role — then I think that we need to begin thinking about a book such as “Because Digital Writing Matters” or “Learning Multiliteracies and Enacting Change.” We have the case studies, research, and capacity to do this. All that we need to figure out now is how to get started.

CEE Summit, Day 2 Panel: Vision for CEE in….5 Years?

Panel: Vision for CEE in….5 Years?

This panel is a prelude to a brainstorming/visioning activity that we are going to be involved in next.

  • Don Zancanella, University of New Mexico
    • In five years, CEE should and will be further along in the process of using technology to support English Educators; right now our work is done in an ad hoc way and it is inevitable that we will be further along with technology and we need to do it strategically. We need to figure out how to do it well.
    • In five years, CEE will be further along in figuring out its role in educational policy. How do we respond at the federal and state level or help others live within that context? We have been caught up in federal policy and we also need to get involved at the state level, too.
    • In five years, CEE should or will have created better ways in supporting new English Education faculty. They can see the benefit of membership. Track faculty job openings and then follow up with people who get hired. Set up opportunities for new and adjunct faculty to meet at conferences.
    • Probing questions
      • Should the web editor have a grounding in technology, digital/visual rhetoric and other understandings of how technology changes writing?
      • State affiliates?
      • Policy action?
  • Suzanne Miller, University at Buffalo, State Univ. of New York
    • In the next five years, we need to become the “keeper of the guild” and creating research agenda and organizational identity.
    • We need to maintain our own individuality, but we also need to talk about consensus and what voice the organization will put forward. We have the wisdom, voice, and action.
    • Individually, we need to step up to contribute, get doctoral students involved, and if we don’t do it, no one else will. We will cede the vision of the profession to others who have political and economic interests that may run counter to what we value.
    • We need a vibrant online community. We are looking for a CEE web editor who will help develop content and provide daily change of information. There will be a great deal of information on there, including lesson ideas, video clips, and other resources for methods courses.
    • Get grad students involved.
    • Get a research agenda and ideas out there. Conduct a national study that collects data from multiple contexts from many CEE members. Create policy documents from that.
    • What counts as literacy — we need to promote multimodal literacy as the major focus in the 21st century. What can these literacies help us to do?
    • Set policy at the state level. Could we have 50 CEE Affiliates in 5 years?
    • Create sets of documents that are readable by parents, administrators, and policy makers.
    • If we are to be the keepers of the guild, and we need to be the one developing standards for teachers of ELA.
    • We need more retreats/conferences/working meetings where CEE members can all work collaboratively together.
    • Probing questions
      • NCTE funding research; how can CEE partner with other research entities to co-sponsor research (foundations, organizations, etc)? Do not look at CEE as a stand alone organization.
      • Who gets included in our conversations in terms of diversity of viewpoints? There are people who have more conservative positions that might share some goals with us and we need to understand their positions.
      • Should we remain an almost exclusively secondary group, or include others from the elementary level? We don’t all talk the same language all the time, but we can be allies as teacher educators.
  • Kent Williamson, NCTE
    • I think that we are talking about the CEE experience as being a part of a social network that make this a community of practice that is sharing questions, ideas, and other thoughts at an informal level. Then, things move to a more formal level such as a monograph or article.
    • We need a web editor who is a great teacher and we need to encourage people to comment and post. People need to see themselves in the questions that are asked. The nuts and bolts of everyday life need to be present in the site. If there was extended weekly participation, that would be good.
    • CEE’s involvement with teacher education. NCATE isn’t the only thing that we can do to support program development. We can be assistive in helping build programs and support new faculty and curriculum adoption.
    • Licensure is not an end of the road goal, but a continuing process.
    • Data from authoritative research will being you more notability. Begin the research now for five years now.
    • More participation at both ends of the career scale: grad student and retirees. We need to tap the knowledge base of the past.
    • More collaboration with similar organizations. Groups need to find common ground at the level of program and project development while creating interdisciplinary expertise.
    • Probing Questions
      • How are we going to reach the 6 out of 7 teachers who are not members? Parents? Administrators? Open source publishing? How do we go beyond serving our members to serving the larger world.
      • The CEE website is looking more and more ambitious, even daunting. Who is the audience that will view the website?
      • English educators who are not active members of CEE.
  • Joyce Stallworth, University of Alabama
    • Chair of NCTE’s Advisory Committee for People of Color
    • CEE must be more inclusive. We have to have inclusions of teacher educators from a variety of institutions.
    • If we are to think critically and creatively about teacher education, more diverse voices must be a part of the conversation and the group must be have full participation.
    • Classroom teachers do not see CEE as important to their work; how can CEE work with teachers to create useful solutions to problems?
    • CEE can be more involved in forming policy.
    • Taking small steps to become more politically active.
    • CEE and NCTE must be more responsive to the efforts of subcommittees and recommendations and we need to be more careful about the ways in which we act.
    • Probing questions
      • The language we use to talk to legislators.
      • Who is CEE for? Teachers? Teacher educators?
      • Recruiting doctoral students from personal connections and bringing them to CEE.
  • Sheridan Blau, University of California, Santa Barbara
    • From Peter – Why is it that “doing progressivism” is seen as not being rigorous?
    • From Ernest – Schools are problematic for learning as racists, classist, and anti-intellectual.
    • From Cathy – States messing up what teacher educators have done.
    • When have schools not been like this? When we think that we win, we lose…
    • The world isn’t ready for what we propose — what does that mean for us?
      • We don’t give up on working with public schools. The best teachers feel, right now, that they are totally demoralized and we need to work with them.
    • We can do a few things in the next five years:
      • We need to become a critic of standards of ELA that we don’t agree with
      • We can offer other forms of guidance for beginning teachers
      • We need to take it as our role that we harness the research engine and provide scathing evidence-based data that show the ways in which policies and standards are not working.
      • Include both elementary and college teacher preparation.
    • Probing questions
      • The conversation hasn’t changed, some would say. I would challenge us to contextualize our problems and values here in 2007. What are we doing for the classroom English teacher in public schools? Our conversations need to be in the “now.”
      • We are also thinking about huge changes that are happening in our country and how do we deal with things in the long term? Who might be opposition to us that we have to have a relationship with here and now and in the future.
      • There are some things that are substantive and some that are more political (how do we act on what we believe). I wonder how we have a conversation about how we engage politically about what we now and believe.

More small group discussion will follow…

Digital Writing Wiki

Of the many great things happening at the CEE Summit, I have had many opportunities to talk to other English Educators and find out about their online lives.

As we prepare for the second panel discussion to start, I am sitting with Carl Young, editor of the CITE Journal and blogger of the SITE blog and Rick Beach, blogger and writer of a new book/wiki, Engaging Students in Digital Writing.

Lots of new ideas and RSS feeds to keep up with here!

Notes from CEE Summit: “Reflections on the Future of English Education”

The morning session began with some intros and overview stuff, then we got into a more formal presentation called “Reflections on the Future of English Education.” Here are some notes from those presenters and there will likely be more at the CEE blog:

  • The Role of CEE within NCTE – Kent Williamson, Executive Director of NCTE
    • CEE is was formed in 1963 to get teacher educators together to talk about teaching future English teachers and a conference was established in 1965
    • A deeper purpose within NCTE and the broader education community is that it is the “keeper of the guild,” a position of authority within the professional
    • When you look at other professions, you see that there is a gateway into the professional and knowledge that is shared by the professional community
    • If we want things done by our professional community, CEE needs to be the place where there is everyday exchange of knowledge with quality control of peer review
    • This leads to the messages we send out, the research we do, and what gives us authority as practitioners in this field
    • All the strands at this conference are important and it leads us to ask if we can be trusted to chart the course of ELA instruction in this country
    • In a world where “literacy” has been appropriated by all fields, we know that we have been saying that for awhile but we need to make sure that the implications of that are clear for policy
    • I think that the public policy community is questioning the current state of educational reform, and I think that a peer review community can contribute to that conversation
    • It is worth investing in this community as we get together face to face, but it won’t be good enough if we only meet like this periodically. We need ongoing dialogues that center on peer-reviewed information that we can take out and describe what happens in the classrooms of ELA teachers.
    • There is more than a PR campaign going on. The rest of the world looks at the learning problems, but there are things that are happening in these professional communities and we need to share, report, and exchange within and outside of our community.
  • Ernest Morrell, UCLA
    • Thinking about critical pedagogy and mathematics, Bob Moses, and mathematical literacy — from this, we can think about literacy as a civil rights issue
    • When we think about literacy as civil right, we need to think about those populations in our society who are being denied their rights
    • What role can CEE play
      • We have to critique the “literacy achievement gap” because the onus is being placed on students and not institutions
        • There are many social, political, and economic consequences to this; student: “literacy is a matter of life and death”
      1. We need to think about the literacies in a post-industrial world, more than just academic literacy
      2. Identify successful practices with most marginalized students; articulate what this looks like
      3. We need to think about the practices of teacher education and professional development and how this engenders these types of classrooms
      4. We need to develop a body of scholarship that looks at these classrooms and connects to teacher education
      5. We need to look beyond literacy for a global economy and see what the public thinks is a rigorous and relevant education for students
      6. We must remembers that literacy practices happen in schools and that schools are problematic institutions to begin with
        • How are we going to take a stand within and against institutions and who we are going to ally with
  • Peter Smagorinsky, University of Georgia
    • Will there be teacher education in the future?
    1. Teacher education accountability movement
      1. PRAXIS, Mass. Teacher Exam, NCATE
    2. We work in a policy environment
      1. NCLB mindset moving towards colleges
      2. Federal mandates that require colleges of education to teach phonics
      3. Things are pressuring us to be things that we don’t want to be
      4. State curricula push us in directions that we don’t want to go – Hillocks, The Testing Trap
      5. Districts are having teachers teaching within prescribed curricula that are connected to testing
      6. We can’t send teachers out to teach without letting them know about these situations
      7. There are corporate entities who are making lots of money on this
    3. Alternative routes of certifications
    4. Presence of a capitalistic economy
      1. How do we acknowledge and deal with this in schools?
    5. Public opinion that runs counter to colleges of education
      1. Students put this pressure on us in this direction, too
    6. Public response of policy makers (post 9/11)
  • Why is Dewey’s progressivism seen as irrelevant?
  • Why are our values of work viewed as counter-productive?
  • Cathy Fleischer, Eastern Michigan University
    • Balancing mind-numbing conformity with research-based, best practices in our classrooms
      • Example from Michigan: we just revised state curriculum and the committee that was formed included NCTE, CEE, NWP, and other smart people
      • For those of us not involved, but concerned about it, we were happy that these folks were involved
      • Now, we look at what had to happen to get the standards approved by Achieve.org, but we still felt that it was good curricula with enough flexibility
      • Then, the roll out of the standards became connected to thematic sample units with sample exams. Even though the state is not prescribing these, many districts are adopting these units as what teachers need to do.
    • What is our role in a world where we know that our teachers will be going to schools where they will not be allowed to use writing workshop and will have to use units that are prescribed? Are we going to be seen as the enemy of school districts?
    • I believe that we have to work with pre-service teachers to help them understand all of this and help them articulate their beliefs about what they do.
    • I believe that we also have to help them be savvy in the ways that they speak to administrators, parents, consultants, and others.
  • David Stevens, Durham University and NATE
    • I have been struck so far on how many parallels there are and what is happening in England and the UK
    • I am interested in adopting a fundamentally romantic vision of English and the root traditions of the subject as a counter to the reductive tendencies of what is happening now
    • Expanding the scope of literacy and literature as well as other arts
    • If English teaching is to be relevant, maybe we need to establish a new idea of research and what effective English teaching is: English teaching as liberating
    • It seems to me that most English teachers are still feeling inspirational and adopting progressive pedagogical models; yet they face the challenge of prescriptive curricula and assessment
    • We need to find ways of being creatively engaged in English teaching while working in this paradigm
  • Questions and Answers
    • Where is NCTE at? What schools does NCTE touch/where does it not even exist? How do we invite people into the professional conversation when they don’t even know that one is happening?
    • How can we develop relationship both at the grassroots level in schools but also with policy makers and others who work with English teachers?
    • Thinking about marketing ourselves and how/when students/young teachers join NCTE. The average NCTE member joins after 7 years in the profession.
    • Mandatory membership for students as a part of coursework?
    • The gap between what we do as teachers and researchers (what we know about how learners become critical, smart, and engage) as compared to what administrators know about ELA instruction (e.g., teaching grammar). We need to adjust what we are doing with policy makers at all levels.
    • Attempting to understand the mindset that creates the dichotomy between what we value and what is advocated by others. How do others frame the debate as compared to us (we say, “Literacy is complicated” and that can lead to misperception).
    • We have to be sure that we aren’t perceived as “soft” on education and make sure that we are showing how we, too, are rigorous and relevant.
    • We have to engage at the school level in ways that work in small ways.
    • We have 1.5 million literacy educators in the US, but only 250,000 people are members of any professional organization. We need to figure out how to package what we have so that it can be localized in small spaces (e.g., departments in schools).
    • Thinking about money and asking philanthropists who might be able to help us in the same systematic ways that universities do.
    • Conservatism of the 1980s is still reflected in educational policies today; also, Jim Moffett wrote “Hidden Impediments” and we did research, but we were still associated with the excesses of the 1960s. The backlash of judging people of today with their association from a previous time.
    • Impact and consequence in policy decision — we need to remember that the legal authority for teacher licensure and curriculum standards rests at the state level and I don’t think that we, as an organization, have a relationship with any state or the agencies within the state that work on certification or curricula.
    • One of the things to learn from NCATE is the way in which they worked aggressively with a clear agenda to work with states. They came forward with clear directions and processes so that they became the voice that represented authority. If we want to do that, we need to be engaged in states.
    • Do we find reference to professional organizations in the literature on teacher education reform — there is no mention ever as part of the problem or part of the solution. We need to become one of those if we want to have a consequential impact on what of those sides of the debate.
    • These sense of embattlement that teachers in classrooms face in terms of blockades. Spending more time on testing and analyzing annual yearly progress. We need to teach our future teachers to talk to one another and the institutions that they will be embedded in much better than they are now. Parents want accountability, but we don’t know how to show them that.
    • People are listening to the things that you do and write, but we don’t always see how it happens in classrooms.
    • In NCTE, we do have an association of state ELA coordinators. It is difficult for them to work with us unless they are subversive.

Reflecting on TTT, Preparing for CEE

It has been a long day of travel from East Lansing to Chicago and now a bit further north to Lake Forest, where the CEE Leadership and Policy Summit begins in just a few minutes. Just a few quick thoughts on last night’s Teachers Teaching Teachers and what I will be doing for the next three days here at Lake Forest College with my CEE colleagues.

There were many things that came up in last night’s show that I will have to really re-listen to be better able to offer a reflection on it.  One thing that I will note is the idea of teachers developing their own online skills before working with their students. In the context of talking about Dawn’s experience creating podcasts with her students, Paul invited Dawn into the Youth Voices work, and we got into an interesting side conversation about how and why teachers would want to join online communities, create their own content, and generally engage in the processes that we are advocating happen with students related to digital literacies. Long story short, it has to be personal. I want to think more about that, especially in relation to all the institutes I will be involved in this summer.

The other thing going on — and starting in about 15 minutes –  is the CEE Leadership and Policy Summit happening this weekend. I am a part of the strand exploring doctoral education for English educators. This proves to be an interesting topic for me personally (as I am almost done with revisions to my dissertation) and professionally (as I will likely be working to develop a PhD program at CMU once I get there next fall). So, I am looking forward to the weekend and hope to blog about some of the general sessions and other ideas that come to me. More soon…