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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.