My New Metaphor: Being the (Hyper)Link

Image from Oregon Writing Project Facebook PageYesterday, I was fortunate enough to lead a workshop for teacher consultants at the Oregon Writing Project at SOU. Fall in Oregon is beautiful, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be here.

Like all the workshops I do, it was a unique experience in the sense that I begin with some idea of a plan and, as I interact with the teachers, I make moves from one topic and activity to the next based on their needs and interests. I’ve used this model for nearly all of the workshops that I have done in the past ten years. Call it flexibility, call it intuition. I am not sure. I just can’t plan out, minute-by-minute, a workshop that will be “delivered” to an unwitting audience. I want to be a professor who teaches, not just one who professes.

At any rate, their site director, Margaret Perrow, and I had time to talk on Thursday night, and I had shared my strategy for leading workshops. We talked about flexibility, especially as it relates to using digital tools. She then told me how each teacher in their summer institute will often choose a guiding metaphor to describe themselves, and how they will carry their metaphor throughout the SI and into their writing.

Her metaphor, for me, became “the hyperlink.”

In all the best ways, that gave me pause to think. And I kept thinking about it all day yesterday and into this morning.

Unlike many workshops that I do, this one (on the west coast) didn’t require me to rush off yesterday afternoon to catch a plane (because the flights home didn’t go that late!), so I was able to stay another day. I’ve had some time to think, and I have continued to ponder this guiding metaphor over the past 24 hours.

Immediately, I thought of Bud Hunt’s “Teaching Blogging Not Blogs,” which has been a seminal piece in my thinking about what it means to teach and learn digital writing, and I am spending my few minutes at the airport to reread his work and think about it even more.

Despite Bud’s concern that he is aging (hey, aren’t we all), I think that his post has, indeed, aged well. Written in 2010 as a summary of ideas about blogging (and hyperlinking) from 2005 forward, here are some of the relevant quotes for me as I reflect on what occurred in yesterday’s workshop and, metaphorically, think of myself as the hyperlink.

Blogging is that set of skills that he [Will Richardson] talks about. It’s the reason why I want the students that I work with to use blogs — in the end. But I don’t think that many of them will start with that skill.

Bud’s point here — that students need to experience how we, as writers, use blogs — resonates with the broader philosophy of the National Writing Project: teachers must be writers themselves. In this case, he is talking about how teachers can be digital writers and think about using links in strategic ways. In turn, when I lead a workshop, I want teachers to see me model the kinds of teaching that I want them to do. Without being trite, I want to be the change in the world (of teaching with digital writing tools). When teachers can see a model for digital writing and learning in my workshops, my hope is that they, like students, will begin to build their own skills. Linking requires us to stretch in these new directions.

Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.

This is a quote that I’ve cited before, and I agree with Bud’s hunch. Reading and writing (in a digital space) has the potential to make you a better reader and writer overall. As the news media and some sensationalist scholars would have us believe, it has the potential to make things (much) worse, too. I suppose that the jury is still out on that.

Anyway, during my workshops, I am usually faced with a question. Many versions of the question abound, but one teacher I worked with yesterday asked it pretty bluntly: why should we be asking our students to do this (digital reading and writing) work?

I am not entirely sure how I answered: modeling and mentoring are important, it’s the world in which we live, it’s part of the standards and digital literacies. Something along those lines.

But, at the core, I want teachers and students to be smarter, more productive readers and writers. Being the hyperlink — connecting them to new visions for teaching practice — is, indeed, what I hope I am doing.

Blogging as experimenting. Want us to try out a tool or a lesson or an activity? Post it here along with some instructions and, perhaps, a question or two to guide our exploration/experimentation.

Experimenting is risky, and doing so in front of an audience is even more so. I want the teachers with whom I work to experience risk by trying out new tools and practices, so I need to risk, too. Without a doubt, there will be a link that doesn’t work, a question I can’t answer, or a tool that won’t load on someone’s machine. That is risky, and it causes many teachers to feel (at least) a small degree of panic. I want to model for them how I handle that stress, how I problem solve, how I adapt and move on. Hyperlinks take us from one place to the next. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

But, you have to keep clicking, keep linking.

Again, being the metaphorical hyperlink is something that I can aspire to. Thank you to Margaret for the metaphor, to Bud for your reflections, and to the entire NWP network for continued opportunities that amaze and enlighten me.


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Social Media, Educational Research, and “Keeping It Real”

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Join the KQED #TeachDoNow MOOC this summer!

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.

So much to think about! This, of course, is both the opportunity and a challenge of social media use in education. For the moment, however, I want to focus on the question of the week: What is the value of social media for your professional learning?

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.

There are many examples that I could cite, but I will share one that happened just this week. On Wednesday, I was presenting a session about growing your PLN at the Michigan Reading Association‘s summer literacy conference. In my session, one of the participants was an NWP teacher consultant from the Lake Michigan Writing Project, Erica Beaton, whom I hadn’t had a chance to meet in person, though we were connected on Twitter. She acted as a guide and mentor to others in my session as they were learning to use Twitter. I, in turn, then made the choice to attend her session on “creating hype for reading,” and posted numerous resources.

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.


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Reflections on the State of Writing Instruction

Over at Writers Who Care, Kristen Turner and I have shared some thoughts from our recent experience at Writing Research Across Borders III:

Arthur Applebee, a leading scholar in the field of writing instruction, shared some new research during his keynote at the Writing Research Across Borders III conference last week in Paris.

Applebee and his colleagues have conducted two wide-scale studies — 30 years apart — about the state of writing instruction in middle and high schools in the United States.

We had hoped to hear better news.

Read more…


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Q/A from “Technology and Education” Session

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Movement, Mobility, and Migration Conference

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.

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Teaching Participatory Media and Democracy (AERA, Part 4)

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.

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Service Learning and Teaching Writing (AERA, Part 2)

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:

Troy HicksTroy Hicks ? @hickstro

Kris Guiterreez: is a community better off for us having been there (as teachers and teacher educators)? #AERA2012

Kris Guiterreez: repertoire of practice, inter subjectivity, zone of prox dev, mediated praxis, teaching organized for the future. #AERA2012

Kris Guiterreez: Reject binaries; prior knowledge not only from one place to another, instead there is negotiation/hybridization.#AERA2012

Kris Guiterreez: Contradictions become the engines of change, a space for sense-making and examining our assumptions.#AERA2012

Kris Gutierrez: ecologically valid, race-sensitive, equity-oriented, transformational, grounded in particularities of communities.#AERA2012

Kris Gutierrez: How do we develop a new “pedagogical imagination,” remediate activity, involve multiple activity systems…#AERA2012

How can we design creative, collaborative spaces for students, pre-service, and in-service teachers to learn literacy together?#AERA2012

Novice teachers as students and organizers of learning, especially n out-of-school and after school settings. #AERA2012

Narrative as a way to make sense of pedagogy/theoretical ideas. How are pre-service teachers socialized to talk about teaching?#AERA2012

How does a strategically designed experience for undergrads in a K12 university partnership affect their views of literacy? #AERA2012#nwp

Listening to discussion on university/community partnerships#AERA2012 Thinking about implications for ENG 315 and @chippewariverwp #nwp

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.

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Adaptive Assessment and the Purposes of Educational Technology (AERA, Part 3)

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:

Troy HicksTroy Hicks ? @hickstro

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.

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