This summer, I’m participating in KQED’s #TeachDoNow MOOC, though I am just a little bit behind the game. I finally caught up on the week one webcast, and I have been checking out the discussion board on Google+. Later this summer, the week of August 11, I will cohost a webcast on the idea of “How do you manage learners, tasks, resources, and assessment in a connected learning environment?” There are many things happening in many places with this MOOC, and I am really intrigued how they are using Tagboard as a hub for collecting resources.
Of all the possible answers to this question that I might consider — such as finding resources that I can use in courses and workshops for preservice and in-service teachers, delving more deeply into the lesson ideas and unit plans of networked colleagues, or simply keeping my finger on the pulse of conversations around education — the biggest value for me, as an educational researcher and teacher educator, is simply making connections with K-12 colleagues.
At the end of the session we were talking about possibilities for engaging readers with e-books. Though we only have a few moments, it turned into a lively conversation and Erica offered me an invitation to visit her classroom next school year. What had begun as a collegial, though semi-anonymous relationship on Twitter before the conference quickly blossomed into a new professional connection and, ultimately, will probably result in me visiting her classroom and — who knows? — perhaps even writing an article together or co-facilitating a conference presentation.
This is but one example of how social media contributes to my professional learning, specifically as an educational researcher and teacher educator. I am talking with teachers all the time, and many times those conversations begin on social media and result in sharing coffee or a meal together. As one Michigan colleague, Todd Bloch, recently reminded me, our K-12 colleagues rarely, if ever, actually see university researchers and teacher educators engaged in real conversations with teachers, visiting classrooms and attending the conference sessions. This continues to exacerbate the “ivory tower” divide between educational research and classroom practice, and he was appreciative of the fact that I present at conferences, visit classrooms, write with teachers, and participate in social media.
All of this is to say that social media — to use the popular phrase — “keeps it real” for me as a professor with deep roots in the K-12 classroom. Social media participation is a must for all educators, especially those of us who do educational research and are preparing the next generation of teachers. To do less is a disservice to the educators that we serve and to our own sense of what it means to be a professional.
A number of undergraduate students presented today at Central Michigan University’s first annual conference on English studies, “Movement, Mobility, and Migration.”
One particular session at the end of the day had a great Q/A, and I tried to capture some notes here from the “Technology and Education” forum. A few of the ideas that we discussed included:
What constitutes a “text” in relation to multimodal hybrid texts (especially graphic novels), and especially when considering texts for middle and high school students?
How do we help students of this generation better understand the ways that language — and exploring language — can be a wonderful, validating experience? How can we use language as an opportunity for play? This led to a broader discussion about dialect, code-switching, and social power.
Finally, I asked them to answer by describing one loss and one opportunity with the shift to technology.
A shift to e-books, because I don’t like them. There is value in having an actual physical copy of the text for you to annotate.
We are using the written word to promote more more literacies, but text messaging can be impersonal and emotionless.
Thinking about the ways that literature is evolving, and to see these ideas incorporated is exciting. At the same time, we don’t want to lose focus on the classics in literature to enjoy the word usage and beautiful language.
Along with countless hours lost to fiddling with things that won’t work, we are also at risk of a reduced attention span. There is a great deal of overstimulation in all of this, and what is it doing to our brains.
There are many new ways to be creative, and it makes more critical and creative modes of expression possible.
It is interesting to hear that these undergrads, members of the “digital generation,” are still expressing many of the same ideas related to the possibilities and pitfalls of digital writing as their elder counterparts are. The best part of all is that we continue to keep asking good questions.
Let’s begin with the critique of this panel’s main premise, that social media is transforming civic education and participatory democracy. That critique was the what discussant Joel Westheimer (University of Ottawa) offered. From his perspective, the technologies that allow us to use social media — the mobile web with apps, the ability to find, share, and remix multiple forms of media relatively easily — do not fundamentally change civic participation. In one sense, I appreciate his willingness to keep us all from drinking the kool aid, and to bring his perspective as a veteran civic educator to think about the implications, or not, of social media. That said, many if us disagreed.
Thus, the panelists shared their experiences working with youth in projects surrounding civic engagement and social media, including a fantastic presentation by Antero Garcia. There is much more to talk about from his presentation, let alone the entire panel, than I can capture here, yet one rhetorical move that he made which was truly effective was to show an image of his school, taken from a news helicopter, in a lockdown. Outside the school, police patrolled and kept students and teachers locked inside for about seven hours because a “latino male” in a white t-shirt had been spotted in the area with a gun, all the while playing out on television news. The blatant uses of power and authority to, quite literally, turn the school into a prison where the innocent were incarcerated as guilty has so many levels for critical interpretation and analysis that I could write a dissertation on it. In short, Antero made it clear that he invites his students to use social media in ways that push against the dominant narratives of race, class, and prejudice that infiltrate his students’ lives.
As I continue to think about how to frame the conversation about digital writing for my next book, there is no doubt that I will have to include social media. As I think about the ways in which most students, especially teens, experience and use social media, my strong suspicion is that they still don’t see this as an act of writing (as this WIDE report from a few years back shows), thus they don’t frame it as a rhetorical situation. For K12 students, especially those growing up with 1:1 opportunities in their homes and schools, this is a significant oversight on the part of writing teachers. And, as this panel from AERA shows, the fact of the matter is that social media pervades our lives and communities, so we better figure out how to invite students to compose with these broader audiences and purposes in mind.
One of the considerations that I am keeping in mind as we re-imagine the midtier field placement for ENG 315 is to wonder if and how we could conceive of it, at least in part, as an opportunity for service learning. While it is critically important that our students spend time in elementary and middle school classrooms — and that they observe writing workshop instruction in those classrooms — it is also quite important that they have time and space to talk and work with writers. One of the best ways that I can think of doing that is to set up an out-of-school or after-school space for students, from struggling writers to very proficient ones, to share their thoughts and ideas with our undergraduate pre-service teachers.
The more formalized space of a writing workshop is, even in the “best” of classrooms, a place where teachers and students adhere to a set of norms about writing. Even in the most “authentic” of writing workshops, where students are given choice and inquiry drives instruction, the students are not generally the ones who are really in charge of their own literacy learning. With the many scripted curricula that exist for writing instruction, teachers are still leading/guiding/forcing students through units of study that are contrived for specific, “schooly” genres.
What I imagine is a space more like 826, a space where our pre-service teachers have some flexibility and ability to change their approaches to working with and for students. Some of the panelists described this with the notion of “third space,” and Guiterrez followed up with a discussion of many related ideas. It is within these spaces that, I believe, our pre-service students could work, writing center-like, not only as novice teachers, but also as peer consultants, adopting the persona that invites inquiry and exploration. Here are a series of summarizing tweets that I recorded during her discussion, in reverse chronological order:
How we might design such a program, I am not sure. I would have to imagine that we would use the space of the school, although I would prefer that we didn’t. Instead, I would imagine a “collaboratory” type of space, yet how to get the many students from various schools into that space would be difficult, at best and could not fall on the shoulders of our pre-service teachers. Transportation and other issues would hinder this, too, so I need to think more about what the possibilities are and could be, let along if my colleagues would go along with the idea as a parallel or even alternative experience.
That said, I am still inspired by visions such as those provided by 826, and I wonder what we might be able to do at CMU to capture some of the service learning ideals expressed in this session.
Roy Pea has long-studied educational technology and, in this interchange with Larry Cuban hosted by Tapped In, reminds us that:
A second caution is replacing flesh with silicon. The point here about technology is to augment physical, hands-on learning, face-to-face encounters, not to replace it, and yet, certainly, there may be places that come to feel that interactive programs, simulations, teleconferencing, travels in cyberspace, are cheaper, more effective, and easier to conduct than the real thing. Let’s watch out for that. (The Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom, 1998)
That said, as I listened to him talk about adaptive technologies that monitor and respond to student progress (ala Khan Academy), I became increasingly concerned. Captured in these tweets, here are some of the “benefits” that Pea described, without much in the way of critique, posted in reverse chronological order:
Being an #edtech advocate, I am becoming concerned about the focus on collection of student metadata, both implicit and explicit. #AERA2012
Roy Pea: adaptive systems create large scale testbeds to do experiments in comparative pedagogy; expand social networks for learn #AERA2012
Roy Pea: Expand learner access to data in relation to others creating a networked systems of learners in adaptive learning systems #AERA2012
Roy Pea: expand data gathering outside of school contexts; give access of data to learners themselves (performance dashboards)#AERA2012
Roy Pea: learner perceptions and motions (& emotions); capturing uses of written language; expanding our sense-making techniques#AERA2012
Roy Pea: By expanding profile metadata, greater context of learner’s history of learning, capturing learner perceptible aspects#AERA2012
Roy Pea: How can adaptive technologies become trusted resources for students, teachers, and policy-makers? #AERA2012
The idea of a “school of one,” while appealing on one level to anyone who has ever talked about differentiated instruction is, ultimately, terrifying to me. Not because it will eliminate the teacher, per se, although teachers do become more like technicians in this model where they work to support students without really teaching anyone anything directly, or engaging in more substantive conversations in small groups or as a class. While it could be beneficial for students in many ways, my fear is that the implementation of adaptive assessment will inherently isolate students from one another and, as Leigh Graves Wolf reminded me of in a tweet (or three), will create data sets that are ultimately intended to evaluate (and, arguably) punish teachers. This idea of adaptive assessment ties with another popular ed tech trend, one that is perhaps seen as more “progressive,” but in effect is really not much more so, much like many recent edtech fads. For instance, as Ira Socol noted earlier this year, the concept of “flipping” the classroom is very problematic:
But the “Flipped Classroom” is worse than ‘typical homework’ – it literally shifts the explanatory part of school away from the educators and to the home, however disconnected that home might be, however un-educated parents might be, however non-English speaking that home might be, however chaotic that home might be. So, kids with built in advantages get help with the understanding, and kids without come to school the next day clueless. (Changing Gears 2012: rejecting the “flip”)
So, to hear Pea and other distinguished educational technologists talk about adaptive technologies in this manner was, at best, disconcerting. At worst, it is terrifying to think that our children will be measured by computers, as the recent hullabaloo over computer-based writing assessment reminds us. As the CCSS assessments come online, literally, my sincere hope is that teachers continue to question not only their validity as a measurement tool, but also the unintended consequences of such assessments on their students, curriculum, and instruction.
Footnote: Of course, we are all now familiar with the TED-Ed initiative to “flip” videos on their site, and this could be another interesting twist in the conversation. At least with TED, teachers are still in control of the learning process since they create their own versions for the flip.
This year was no different, yet quite different at the same time in the sense that the NWP as we have known it for so long is no longer. We are adjusting to what many are calling the “new normal.” Since the elimination of federal funding this past spring, the NWP has been scaling back, and this annual meeting was a tangibe result of that process while, on the other hand, the NCTE convention seemed as big as ever, celebrating its 100th birthday in the town where it all began, Chicago.
For me, this annual pilgrimage becomes a chance to meet with colleagues, share new ideas, reaffirm our beliefs about teaching, and to identiy the latest technologies to support readers and writers. From the moment I got on the train last week to the ride home, where I am composing the bulk of this blog post, I have been offered hugs, handshakes, and smiles from countless colleagues, both those in Michigan who I sometimes only see in November and from others around the country and, this year, around the world. As an opportunity to reaffirm my convictions about teaching and in the strength of educators, NWP and NCTE have always been the cornerstone for me.
Yet, this year is different, as noted above. The NWP Annual Meeting was subdued, perhaps even sad. Still, the work continues, and I document my days in Chicago with as much detail as I can remember, with hopes that this reflection will be useful to others, too.
Thursday, November 17
The morning began early, with a breakfast meeting that found Paul, Steph, Michelle, and I tucked in a corner of the Corner Bakery, putting the polishing touches on our NWP session, “NWP Connect Community Builders.” This was a chance for each of us to share one case study related to our use of NWP Connect, and I talked about how the NWPM network used it during out advanced institute last summer. This led to a smart conversation about how sites can use NWP Connect to continue engaging in site work. Rather than focus on the tools, we talked about the many elements present in NWP Connect could be used by TCs as the organize Summer Institutes, Professional Development, Continuity, and Youth Programs.
In the afternoon, I found myself engaged in conversations with other site directors and, in all sincerity, found myself asking them “Why are you here?” Please understand that we had already had many opportunities throughout the day to express our concerns and, indeed, our remorse over the loss of federal funding. Yet, I was still surprised at the bitterness and anger that permeated that conversation. When one of my close friends and colleagues was struggling to figure out a plan for moving forward, I asked her why she was here, at the NWP Annual Meeting, if she didn’t see a purpose in her work. This led to a broader conversation about what we value as teacher educators, reminding us of the importance of what it is that we do. That was Debbie Meier’s message from lunch, a message that was meant to be hopeful, and I hope that I was able to refocus that conversation.
In short, the NWP Annual Meeting was bittersweet, and moving forward in this new educational and financial landscape remains a task that will be both challenging and rewarding. Our luncheon speaker was Deborah Meier, and that was inspiring to hear from a seasoned educator and real reformer. That said, is anything in education NOT ever both challenging and rewarding, simultaneously?
Friday, November 18
The first morning of the NCTE Annual Convention brought an educational heroine, Linda Darling-Hammond, into conversation with a few thousand English teachers. Her message, as always, was inspiring and evidenced-based, giving us pause to think about what “counts” as evidence and to whom that evidence counts. Clearly, as the research she has done her entire career shows, there are many things that we know about successful schooling, as outlined below in this series of tweets I sent out, reading from the bottom up:
LDH: “Those who can do. Those who understand teach.” #ncte11
LDH: If we are serious about equitable schools, we will set meaningful learning goals, provide equitable and adequate resources. #ncte11
#ncte11 Think about how you are spending your (and your school’s) money. Who benefits from the books you buy? ow.ly/1AzPBN
Whose interests drive standardized assessments? Who pays? Are we indirectly supporting bad curr. and inst. by the texts we buy? #ncte11
LDH: Highest achieving nations: kids have housing, healthcare, and pre-school. Invest in teacher learning. Leaner curriculum. #ncte11
LDH: Alternative certification and less coursework lead to teachers who have students that achieve even less than others. #ncte11
@MrsT73199 Indeed. Sadly it depends on your ultimate goals and what counts as evidence. I think we see education much differently… #ncte11
LDH: Evidence from NCLB is clear: lower test scores, more drop outs. Hooray for “evidenced-based” education… #ncte11 There are other ways!
#ncte11 Sadly, our school system is doing a great job at what it is designed to do: replicate inequality, demoralize teachers and students.
LDH: Anatomy of inequality diagram. We are moving backwards since the 1980s #ncte11 ow.ly/i/lyF4 We know what to do, now do it!
LDH: Amongst industrial nations, US follows on Mexico in rate of childhood poverty, nearly 20%, and major inequity in their schools #ncte11
LDH: Equitable teachers see, hear, and understand the child. They look for experiences, prior knowledge, and strengths. #ncte11
#ncte11 What does the fact that we are laughing at Ferris Bueller clip 20 years later tell us about ourselves? Our colleagues, profession?
LDH: The amount of information we have access to doubles each year. Most important skill is learning to learn. #ncte11
Blurry picture of LDH slide showing growth in high skilled jobs vs low skill jobs over last century ow.ly/i/lyAp #ncte11
LDH: Metaphors be with you… Hummingbirds, steel traps, and colonies of e. coli #ncte11
LDH: The power of literacy is so great that those who want power deny others access to the book. #ncte11
#ncte opens its second century w/ an award to Linda Darling Hammond and a standing ovation. Great start to #ncte11 !
The next session gave me opportunity to (finally) see a presentation by a long-time friend, Jennifer Collison, who invited us to write and think about the connections between film and literature. Also, in that session, another NWP teacher, Nick Kremer, presented his work on using comics to teach writing. He gave us some ideas from Scott McCleod‘s work, and then asked us to compose our own “sequential art narrative” using William Carlos Williams‘ poem, “The Act.” In the spirit of creativity, I made a short, digitized version of the nine-panel comic that I drew, repurposing the original text of the poem in the background.
I was also able to take in a brief session on globalization and then headed to the CEE Luncheon to hear author Rebecca Skloot. Her book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, has become a best seller, and I read it over the summer. Her backstory as an author was interesting, weaving her history in school (including, essentially, dropping out of regular high school only to complete alternative high school in 18 months, and heading to college at age 16). She also talked about the obsession that she had with writing, biology, and, of course, Henrietta Lacks, which all combined in a ten year pursuit of the story that led her to craft the book. Hearing the story of an author, especially one who writes creative non-fiction, was inspiring, to say the least.
The evening found me in conversation with my colleagues from the Chippewa River Writing Project over a family-style, Italian dinner. We each talked about our big take aways from the day, as well as what we would hope to have happen for our site in the coming year. I think that we are on the right track, and the enthusiasm they all shared reminds me of our shared goals as colleagues in a writing project site. We will, of course, have to think about our finances and our mission in relation to what we are, and are not, able to do, but I am confident that our decision-making will be guided by our shared knowledge and experiences from NWP/NCTE this year.
Saturday, November 19
I will start my thoughts on Saturday by working backwards from the NCTE 100th birthday party and my first visit to the annual Scholastic dinner. Despite my general wariness about the role of publishing companies and textbooks — and their effects on students, teachers, instruction, and assessment — I feel that the words of the Scholastic CEO are genuine and that the family history and philosophy of the company is one that aligns with NCTE. It was good to be a part of this centennial event.
Now, back to the morning. I began my day in a great conversation with Kristen Turner, talking about data that we had collected from her writing methods class in the spring. That data had revealed some “opportunistic tensions” in the ways that pre-service teachers described their own experience with digital writing and what they (perceived they) were able to do in the classroom. That led us to our morning session, “Writing Our Inquiry,” where Kristen, Kia, and I reported on our experience with last year’s CEE Colloquim on multimodal/multigenre writing. We had a small, but participatory crowd, and the conversations about digital writing in pre-service teacher education were valuable. Kristen and I have plans to write an article, and I enjoyed having the chance to talk with her about our work.
Then, in the afternoon, I got to see my friends and colleagues Bill Bass and Franki Sibberson talk about “digital mentor texts,” and they shared some great resources on how to help students think about identifying and using mentor texts to create their own digital writing pieces. Bill especially gave some great examples that helped me think how to talk more about the craft of digital writing, and we carried that conversation well into the evening. I hope that there are some collaborations that may come from these ideas.
Sunday, November 20
And, now on to today. I have to admit, I kind of stayed away from the conference sessions until it was actually my turn to present. I had some wonderfully productive conversations with my long-time MRA colleagues, Amber and Sue, which led them to give some great insights into what I want to write for my upcoming book. This led to a conversation with my editor from Heinemann, Tobey, who again offered some great ideas and has given much to think (and write) about in the coming weeks.
Finally, this brings me to the session that I was most anticipating for NCTE 2011, the opportunity to do “Reports from Cyberspace” with Sara Kajder and Bud Hunt, our third annual attempt and introducing newer literacies and technologies to our colleagues. This year, Bud joined us virtually, using Adobe Connect, and we attempted to use Celly and Google Docs for backchannel conversation. Our audience this year was very concerned about the practical and pedagogical implications of using technology, fueled in part by many of continuing trends in education towards budget cutting, lack of technology resources, and more standardized curriculum, as evidenced by their comments in the “yeah, buts…” list that Sara transcribed:
Where is the research that shows it works?
Where is the tie to common core?
I don’t have the time and the energy
My kids don’t have access to the internet at home
When do I have time to learn how to do this myself?
I am afraid the students know more than meWhere do I even begin?
I am teaching to my strengths – that doesn’t include this.
How will they function when the world ends?
Is it cheating?
Where is the discursive space for critique?
That media project doesn’t product the same quality as does my beloved 5 paragraph essay?
My district has no money for this.
They will be distracted and their grades will go down
We can no longer talk with one another
If I use it, won’t they just play games when I’m teaching?
How can I test this?
Students are spending time in corporate-controlled online spaces
I don’t want my kids’ work online.
Why spend time on a tech project when we need to spend time on the paper…
I have to prepare them for a MC test
What happens if the power goes out?
I can’t afford a smart phone myself so how can i let kids use theirs
It kills their brain cells, right?
That’s quite a list.
I am not sure exactly how best to answer all of the questions, except to say that we need to shift paradigms, as I have said before. I think that Bud, Sara, and I have been consistently on target with our message over the past three years, and our article that will be appearing in English Journal next year. It almost goes without saying, but I suppose it needs to be said… the time to act is now.
Since this was the tone on which we ended the conference, I am not quite sure what to think. As I sit here on the train, talking with my good friend and colleague Aram Kabodian (who is making a much more engaging and playful video about his experience in Chicago, which I am sure he will post to his blog), I am a bit disheartened. NWP was not, and will never again, be the same. At NCTE, while we wanted to have audience members this afternoon grab the bull by the horns and become advocates for themselves and their students seemed, instead, to end with a whimper, not a bang. And, finally, as I look ahead to what will happen for our site, Chippewa River Writing Project, I am just not sure where things are at, or where they are heading, although I know that we won’t stop.
As with many reflections of this nature, I come home from NWP/NCTE very tired, and a bit sad, although not for the normal reasons of leaving friends and colleagues behind for another year. This time, sadly, I think that I have finally said “good bye” to the NWP as I have known it, and I am not sure what my future holds. No matter what, I will return to NCTE in future years to share my knowledge and experience, learn from my colleagues, and renew our faith in teaching writing.