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.