Teacher Leadership and Digital Writing

Wordle of Initial Thinking from CAWP Professional Development Workshop
Wordle of Initial Thinking from CAWP Professional Development Workshop

This weekend, I began working with teacher leaders from the Columbus Area Writing Project on the hybrid course we are calling “Teacher Leadership in Teaching Digital Writing.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to make many trips to Columbus in the last few years, and look forward to having this opportunity to work with these NWP colleagues as they prepare for their two-week Summer Institute as well as advanced institute for teacher leadership in digital writing.

We began Friday night by looking at one of Clay Shirky’s TED Talks, and in thinking about the implications for our classrooms and professional development work, specifically as it relates to the changing environments and expectations for writing in an era of the common core standards. This initial conversation generated a number of inquiry questions and ideas including thoughts about how we can value the principles of good writing instruction over technology tools as well as how we can invite our colleagues into these broader conversations about the changing nature of literacy.

We then went on to identify a number of our concerns through the “yeah but, yes and” activity used by many theater companies, and more recently as a training exercise for MBA students. We ended Friday evening by generating a list of potential technologies to explore together over the next few weeks, including Google Communities where we had already begun a conversation.

This morning we began by looking a the chapter I’ve been writing about our experiences in the Chippewa River Writing Project end how we have positioned ourselves as an “digital writing project,” embedding a variety of technologies and new literacies into our practices. While generally complementary, we were also able to generate a thoughtful discussion about how technology can have positive — and potentially negative — influences on teacher identity, and how sharing work publicly online can affect the ways in which teachers express themselves and choose to write.

The remainder of the day was devoted largely to a deeper exploration of the technologies that participants identified Friday night as being potentially valuable for our work together over the next few months. In particular, we delved deeper into the possibilities with Google+, Twitter, and Flipboard. Here are some of our notes:

  • Google+
    • Advantages
      • Easy integration with all Google services
      • Easy to add members
    • Drawbacks
      • Conversations get lost quickly from home page/lack of threading
      • No way to upload documents easily
      • Being in real time is a challenge in certain situations
    • Hangout
      • Possibilities for conversing with more than one person
      • Having a much larger group work, writing groups
      • Someone is in their classroom, in their school and they want some feedback from other people who are in other places
      • Documenting and saving the comments and responses
      • Moving beyond Skype to use as a way to collaborate across classrooms
      • Get together on early-release days with cross-school teams
      • Giving an oral presentation and receiving feedback from the chat room
      • Connecting with kids outside the classroom
      • Creating a panel of experts
  • Twitter/Chats
    • Hootsuite
    • EngChat
    • Twitter
      • Constraints of space make you choose what you are going to write and share; gets to the essence
      • Connect quickly with people whom you would never connect
      • Who you choose to follow — finding the educational resources — who am I choosing to follow, and why?
  • Flipboard/RSS

The three books that we are going to read are:

  • Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. First ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.
  • Rheingold, Howard. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. The MIT Press, 2012.
  • Warschauer, Mark. Learning in the Cloud: How (and Why) to Transform Schools with Digital Media. Teachers College Press, 2011.

Overall, I feel like this initial plunge into digital writing and teacher leadership was a successful one. As we concluded the day today, they generated a number of additional ideas and inquiry questions:

  • What leads to and then feeds thriving digital writing communities for students and for teachers (and are those the same thing)?
  • How do we put everything together in a coherent, usable way?
  • How do I act as a learner and a leader at the same time? What is the balance of teaching and learning at the same time?
  • Where do I find the time to learn it and then be able to teach it? Giving myself permission to be less than expert in it.
  • If you are working with in-service or pre-service teachers, how do you address the tension between the teaching of writing and the learning of the tools?
  • The potential for balancing potential use with triviality — how do we sort out and sift through what is trivial and a waste of time as compared to what will lead to meaningfulness and depth?

Over the next few weeks, we will be meeting once a week via Hangout or Twitter chat to share our experiences, discuss readings, and think about plans for their site as they create future professional development opportunities. At some point in the near future, I am hoping that we will be able to make some of our work public, and this is certainly a rich experience for me as well as I think about future models for professional development and learning and hybrid or mostly online scenarios.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Preparing for NWP/NCTE 2012

NCTE 2012 Convention Logo
NCTE 2012 Convention Logo

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for English teachers!

We are just weeks, days really, away from the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention and the National Writing Project Annual Meeting.

As a way of gathering my wits and preparing to head to Las Vegas in a few weeks, I am listing the sessions that I am presenting in during these two gatherings. I do this not to brag (because really I need to learn how to say “no” just a bit more often), but more as a way to think through what I need to do for each session and to offer a quick sense of what will be happening in each (if you are interested in catching any one of them). So, without further adieu, here is my schedule.

Thursday, November 15th at NWP Annual Meeting

NWP 2012 Annual Meeting
NWP 2012 Annual Meeting

A6: Digital Writing and the Common Core

Time: – 1:15pm – 3:00pm

Location: MGM Conference Center, 3rd Floor, 307

Digital writing is a prominent feature of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. How are sites leveraging this reality to provide professional development opportunities for their service area? Join Troy Hicks of the Chippewa River Writing Project and Michelle Rogge-Gannon of the Dakota Writing Project as they share experiences of local institutes that focused on responding to the Common Core’s call for digital writing.


  • Michelle Rogge Gannon, Dakota Writing Project
  • Troy Hicks, Chippewa River Writing Project

Friday, November 16th at NCTE Convention


Time: 12:30 PM – 1:45 PM

Location: Grand Ballroom Room 119, Level One, MGM Grand

Session Wiki: Chippewa River Writing Project

Description: National Writing Project Teacher Consultants demonstrate ways to invigorate the learner and teacher alike through innovative writing instruction by exploring different genres and technologies while using the Common Core State Standards as the foundation.


  • Chair: Troy Hicks Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant –
  • Speaker: Erin Busch-Grabmeyer Chippewa River Writing Project, Alma, Michigan – Argumentative Writing
  • Speaker: Jeremy Hyler Chippewa River Writing Project, Greenville, Michigan – Informational Writing
  • Speaker: Elizabeth Nelson Chippewa River Writing Project, Greenville, Michigan – Narrative Writing

Saturday, November 17th at NCTE Convention


Time: 9:30 AM – 10:45 AM

Location: Room 301, Level Three, MGM Grand

Session Wiki: School TM

Description: English teachers encounter commercial textbooks, curriculum packages, testing programs, and technologies that often limit their decision-making and student participation. Presenters will describe the benefits and constraints of for-profit educational materials, identifying ways to save money, address the learning needs of students, foster greater classroom freedom, and still reach high standards for learning.


  • Speaker: Jory Brass Arizona State University, Tempe –
  • Speaker: Robert Rozema Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan –
  • Speaker: Allen Webb Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo – From Pearson to PlatoR, From K12 Inc. to Accelerated Reader TM: Profiting Students, Not Corporations
  • Respondent: Troy Hicks Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant –


Time: 1:15 PM – 2:30 PM

Location: Grand Ballroom Room 117, Level One, MGM Grand

Session Wiki: ENG 315

Description: Commission members of the CEE Commission on New Literacies, Technologies, and Teacher Education will hold interactive roundtable presentations addressing how digital technologies can help foster and enhance connections and community in the teaching of English and English Teacher Education.


  • Roundtable Leader: Troy Hicks Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant – The Digital Writing Workshop as a Component of Methods Courses

Tech-To-Go Kiosk: Capturing Student Work, Creating Digital Portfolios

Time: 1:15 PM – 2:30 PM

Location: Tech-to-Go Kiosk

Session Wiki: NWPM Portfolio Institute Resources

As mobile devices become more and more a part of our teaching and learning, there are powerful tools that we can use to capture students’ work and reflections through image, audio, and video. Using mobile apps such as Evernote, VoiceThread, and Three Ring, we will explore ways to create digital portfolios that students can share with you, their families, and the world.


It’s high energy-Vegas style-Come join in the fun as middle level teachers meet to dream-to connect-to ignite at this year’s mosaic! We have lively entertainment, dynamic speakers, spirited roundtable discussions, techno gadgets and fun demonstrations-and some special surprises from Vegas history in store for all!

Time: 2:45 PM – 5:30 PM

Location: Studio Ballroom B, at Entrance of Grand Garden Arena, MGM Grand


  • Chair: Heidi Huckabee New Mexico Military Institute, Roswell –
  • Associate Chair: Michael J. Vokoun Corbett Preparatory School of ISD, Tampa, Florida –
  • Keynote Speaker: Troy Hicks Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant –
  • Keynote Speaker: Bud Hunt St. Vrain Valley School District, Longmont, Colorado –
  • Keynote Speaker: Sara Kajder Shadyside Academy Middle School, Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania –
  • Keynote Speaker: Barry Lane Discover Writing Press, Shoreham, Vermont –
  • Keynote Speaker: David Lubar author, Tor/Forge/Starscape/Tor Teen, New York, New York – The Drama of Engaged Reading
  • Keynote Speaker: Jeff Wilhelm Boise State University, Idaho – The Drama of Engaged Reading

Sunday, November 18th at NCTE Convention


Time: 8:30 AM – 9:45 AM
Location: Grand Ballroom Room 115, Level One, MGM Grand
Description: Here are three of our profession’s ‘cyberspace superheroes’ who are doing things in the classroom that haven’t even been invented yet! Find out what is possible and promising when the newest technologies-including wikis, podcasts, digital stories, and social networks-are used to develop the newest literacies.


  • Chair: Jeffrey N. Golub consultant, Seattle, Washington –
  • Speaker: Troy Hicks Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant –
  • Speaker: Bud Hunt St. Vrain Valley School District, Longmont, Colorado –
  • Speaker: Sara Kajder Shadyside Academy Middle School, Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania –


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Reflections on CRWP 2012 Open Institute

CRWP 2012 Open Institute Flyer
CRWP 2012 Open Institute Flyer

As many readers of my blog know, the funding situation that hit the National Writing Project in the spring of 2011 still causes repercussions throughout our network. One way that we at Chippewa River Writing Project have responded is, for this summer, to hold out on offering an invitational institute and, instead, offer a hybrid online/face-to-face open institute (also offered for SB-CEUs and graduate credit). Beginning online June 11 and stretching until July 13, with one week of F2F contact June 25-29, we created Teachers as Writers: Reflecting on and Responding to the Common Core. Here is the program description:

The Chippewa River Writing Project invites K-12 teachers from all content areas to participate in a one-week open institute focused on the integration of a genre-based, technology-rich approach to teaching writing in an era of the Common Core Standards.

During the week of June 25-29, 2012 — with additional interactions online both before and after the institute — participants will work with CRWP teacher consultants to better understand the expectations in the CCSS, explore useful digital writing tools, and engage in their own personal writing.

This hybrid professional development experience, like many other workshops that I conduct with teachers, was both surprising in its rewards and challenging in implementation. My co-directors (Penny and Kathy) and I tried to structure an opportunity that would offer participants a glimpse into the summer institute (participating in teaching demonstrations, although not leading one; writing groups; creating personal and professional texts; engaging in digital writing). Here is a brief synopsis of what we did before, during, and after the institute, with reflections at the end of the post.


When we recognized last fall that we would in fact not be offering an Invitational Summer Institute, we marked “the week” on our calendars and opened up registration via Google Docs. Working with colleagues in the English department, when I realized in the late spring that there would be enough attendees to warrant an application as a CMU Global Campus course for grad credit and SB-CEUs, I began that process, too. What was interesting about this process — as compared to the careful recruiting and vetting of applications for the ISI — is that we had many, many people complete the Google form indicating their interest, and I sent them email updates along the way. However, about five never replied (and never showed up) and about five more emailed me the week before to say that they couldn’t attend. A few more dropped during “the week” due to personal circumstances. In short, this was unusually high attrition. Also, because our ISI usually enrolls people “by hand,” and not through the normal course scheduling process, I hadn’t even thought that some people would enroll without me knowing. Hindsight being 20/20, I could have done more to describe the institute in our advertising.

Once we got to the point where we were entering “class time” and the online sessions began, I knew that having a webinar to go over routine matters on the syllabus and assignments would be helpful. Thus, I used Doodle to schedule a poll of participants and set up a webinar on the Friday before class began to go over these details. I was able to record a screencast of the webinar and send that to those who could not attend. Since participants would be working on two major projects — a “significant professional text” and a “digital belief statement about teaching writing” — I wanted to clarify those assignments. I was still clarifying well into the week, and that was OK because it acted like so many coaching moments.

The other portion of the work before the institute was for participants to share their thoughts about the CCSS and the introduction to the Calkins et al text, Pathways to the Common Core through a discussion board on the wiki. Despite my efforts at encouraging people into participating and replying to one another, only one other person really did (and, admittedly, I did not either because I didn’t want to stifle conversation). The balance between teacher-directed and student-centered online conversations still eludes me, even though I attempt to craft engaging questions and welcome people to reply to one another. At any rate, we used these responses during the institute to initiate conversation about the CCSS and introductions to one another on Monday.


During the week-long institute

Our daily schedule included Writing Into the Day, a teaching demo on narrative (Tuesday), argument (Wednesday), and informational texts (Thursday). Also, in the afternoons, we explored technologies, as generated by participant interest: Google Docs, Prezi, Glogster, Citelighter, WeVideo and iMovie. To the extent we were able, we also had impromptu writing groups. Over the course of the week, I also took time to meet with individual participants to help them frame their thinking for their final projects. From pre-service teachers who were trying to develop lesson and units plans to graduate students creating their syllabi and assignments to veteran teachers and professors thinking conceptually about how to redesign their approach to teaching writing, it was a busy week.

As with most NWP institutes, the magic happens in these interactions, and I wish that I could point to one specific reason why it all seemed to come together. Participants K-college were pleased to have a chance to dig into the CCSS with colleagues who were both interested and empathetic. We had one participant from an urban high school and two who taught adult ed, as well as two teacher educators. Even the graduate students who, not directly affected by CCSS (yet), were interested in finding out more about what students should know and be able to do as they enter freshman composition. On Friday, each participant shared a brief overview of what he/she had learned and would be working on for his/her final project. We used a simple “I think, I like, I wonder” response and the conversations that afternoon were engaging right up until the end.


CRWP Hangout
CRWP Hangout

After a week of vacation with intermittent internet access (which I had warned participants about), I returned home to find their “progress reports” on our wiki page and then had to arrange for two types of online response groups. One group, mostly the graduate students who would be teaching freshman composition, wanted to use Google Docs to offer brief responses to one another’s projects and then participate in a Google Hangout to talk together. The other, mostly those in K-12 settings, wanted to use Google Docs only to offer comments and feedback to one another without any other type of group meeting.

This worked out fairly well, and the resulting Google Hangout I was quite interesting because people were able to share a variety of projects from Google Docs, to Prezis, to wiki sites, all with the embedded features.  more importantly, I think that most of the participants ( high school and college teachers) thought that using a hangout to connect with other writers do something that they could do themselves in a writing group or with their students outside of class time.


As our open institute comes to a close, I am generally happy with the results. We had ten teachers enroll for credit, three more for SB-CEUs. So, it seems as though a one-week commitment with some additional online work is one way that people feel comfortable completing a course. And, of course, we had the NWP spirit infused throughout the entire institute, even though the online portion was not as fulfilling as I would have hoped it would be. We do have a group of people that we can look to for next summer as we begin thinking about recruitment for the ISI (where we will offer a stipend or tuition remission). And, I appreciated the diversity of the group, from new teachers to veterans, from early elementary through college.

In planning a future event like this, perhaps I would have participants do something more substantive online before the institute began (such as create a writer’s profile), although I wouldn’t want the technology to be off-putting. Also, for lack of better term, striking the balance between teacher-centered and student-centered approaches to online and F2F pedagogy is necessary, although I am still not sure what else I could do to engage people (and hope that they don’t drop out along the way). I want to welcome teachers to an institute such as this on their own terms, based on their own interests. Yet, when we expect a certain number of participants to show up and then one-third of them drop out right before or during the institute, that makes the financial costs of running such a workshop seem like a less worthwhile investment.

As for the post-institute online work, I recognize that I need to be much more organized with this. I should have made expectations for group communication much more clear our last face-to-face session. Throughout the weeks people were e-mailing me to ask how best to respond to one another when I naturally assumed that they would be communicating via comments on Google docs and other web-based texts. That said, I do feel that most participants gained from having the face-to-face and then online writing groups, their final projects reflected a deep level of thought and engagement. A few that were particularly interesting include:

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the open institute and I look forward to hearing about how they implement ideas from the common core and digital writing in their classrooms this fall.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Workshop on Historical Thinking and Argumentative Writing

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

Workshop Planning

When Tim and his ISD partner, Beckie Bush, contacted me about the possibility of co-facilitating the workshop, I was immediately interested given my obvious work with teaching writing in the broadest sense, as well as teaching writing in the disciplines. Together, we agreed that we would use two professional texts for the workshop, aimed at inspiring both historical thinking and a better understanding of argument writing.

Beckie and Tim asked me to bring a focus on argument writing, with the clear goal of integrating credible, web-based sources and, to the extent possible, digital writing with multimedia tools beyond slideware. When we first met, we immediately began constructing a working agenda via a wiki, and I knew that Zotero would be a key component of our teaching and learning. While somewhat fearful that the topic would be one that teachers would find mundane, Tim helped guide us through thinking about Truman’s decision to drop the bomb as a time-period appropriate dilemma that we could use to teach historical empathy and argumentative writing.
Thus, we decided on two main tasks for the teachers to complete over the three days by engaging in a digital writing workshop that would involve lots of research, collaboration, and development of both a written individual essay and a group multimedia presentation from one of three perspectives: Truman’s advisors who supported the bomb, those in his cabinet who were against it, and the scientific community. As Tim led the group through many exercises on historical thinking, DBQ (document-based questioning), and historical empathy, I took the lead on teaching the argument writing.

Day 1

During this day, my primary role was to begin a discussion about the similarities and differences between persuasion and argumentation. With resources from Smekens Education Solutions, and our crowdsourced Google Docs, we began thinking about the subtle differences that teachers will have to make as we move away from teaching “persuasion,” (with its strong reliance on rhetorical appeals and one-sided arguments) and “argument,” (which requires the writer to acknowledge both sides and use reason to support a claim).

Argumentation Persuasion
  • Opinion
  • Facts and Statistics (Both Sides)
  • Support
  • Position
  • Stance
  • Evidence
  • Interpret
  • Refute
  • Debate
  • Validity
  • Agreement/Disagreement
  • Persuade
  • Conflict
  • Details
  • Validate
  • Information
  • Balanced
  • Attitude
  • Acknowledgement
  • Grapple
  • Issue
  • Problem
  • Logic
  • Reasoning
  • #@!%*&? (Cursing or strong language to get a point across)
  • Position
  • Support
  • Emotion
  • Passion
  • One-Sided
  • Propaganda
  • Advertising
  • Facts and data
  • Spin
  • Influence
  • Appeal
  • Aggresive
  • Credible
  • #winning
  • LOCK
    • Loaded Words
    • Overstatements
    • Carefully Chosen Facts
    • Key Omissions

These will be big shifts in the years to come as we implement the CCSS, and I relied on a number of resources to guide us through our thinking about how to create an argumentative essay including Hillocks’ book, the NWP Writing Assignment Framework and Overview, the ReadWriteThink Persuasion Map, a small sample of They Say/I Say Templates, and the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s List of Transitional Words.

Also, on this first day, we talked about how the essay (written from your personal perspective in 2012) would differ from the group multimedia project, meant to be delivered as a factual report to a (fictitious) Congressional inquiry in 1950, built only from evidence available at that time, most of which came from the Truman Library. This was quite interesting, as it forced us to take two different approaches:

Individual Essay Group Mulitmedia Presentation
Mode Argumentative essay (reliant on logical reasoning and multiple forms of evidence from WWII-present) Persuasive presentation (reliant on logic, but also emotional appeals of the era; most evidence was textual, with some images and film footage)
Media Composed in Word or Google Docs, with use of Zotero Composed with a multimedia tool such as Prezi or Capzles
Audience Peers, teachers, general public (op-ed) Peers and teachers, set in roles at a fictitious Congressional Hearing in 1950
Purpose To create a coherent, sequenced argument for or against the dropping of the bomb based on its short and long-term consequences To create a well-reasoned, yet impassioned case for one of three positions about dropping the bomb
Situation Situated in the present, and with historical knowledge from dropping of the bomb, through Cold War, up to present Situated in the past, without knowledge of historical effects beyond 1950.Using the media of today to make a presentation for that era.

Day 2

Screenshot of "Think Aloud" for Argument EssayMy notes here on day two are brief because, for the most part, it was a work day. Lots of trouble-shooting with Zotero as people got their accounts synced up with the web plugin and standalone, connected to our group library, and worked on their multimedia presentations. There were many, many quick conversations with teachers about the affordances and constraints of the technologies — as well as many frustrations — but by the end of the day most of them felt pretty good about the work we were doing. Also, I worked with them to do a “think aloud” of my first draft of my attempt at the individual essay (look at revision history for Jun 20, 1:42 PM). This brought up interesting conversations about the trap of writing though a lens of “presentism,” the use of “I” in writing for history class, and how to best use the They Say/I Say templates and transition words as a way to get started (note the highlights).

Day 3

Screen Shot of "Final" Essay on TrumanMoving into the morning of day three, we talked about ways to effectively integrate peer response groups and did a “fishbowl” model with my essay. Again, this yielded some interesting results as this group of history teachers worked with me to think about what was valuable in terms of both historical thinking and the quality of writing.

We looked at an online rubric generator as a way to keep our conversation focused on assessment, and also discussed the “checklist” type of criteria (Five transitional words/phrases; Three “template” transitions from They Say/I Say) as compared to the parts of the essay that could be judged in a more evaluative sense:

  • State a clear claim and back it with appropriate evidence, from the WWII era through today
  • Develop three main talking points (diplomatic, social, military, political, economic), with two or three sub-points (specific example)
  • Identify and rebut at least two significant counter-arguments

In all of this, we talked about what counts as “evidence,” and many elements were listed including political cartoons, as this screen shot from my “final” essay shows. Also, we discussed the fact that we have to be open to sharing our rough draft thinking with students, even though (by nature) most teachers are perfectionists. One participant noted that if I, as an English professor, was willing to share my writing in this way and not just try to impress the crowd with an amazing essay on the first attempt, then they as middle and high school history teachers should be willing to do the same. I heartily agree.

Then, we moved into the last part of the workshop where groups presented their cases to the “Congressional Hearing.” We tried to complete a speaking and listening guide, as well as some work with Bernajean Porter’s Digitales Multimedia Evaluation Guides, but I have to say that we mostly just enjoyed the presentations. There were, of course, some creative dramatics involved, and here are a few of their results.



Much of what I have to say about this entire workshop can be summarized in the simple, yet powerful mantra from NWP in that teachers must be writers. When I asked them at the end how they felt about the process, they wouldn’t want to do the group work and the individual essay at the same time. Many felt overloaded, both with tasks and technology. So, there is some tweaking to do. But, some of their final thoughts we captured in conversation were useful:

  • What else would you, as social studies teachers, be looking for in the writing?
    • Background information about the topic: era, people, place (set the stage)
      • Historical thinking gurus: one of the advantages of this approach as a process of thinking is that it gives students a chance to apply what they have learned and then they are able to do something with it
    • Defining key terms/vocabulary
    • Key/relevant statistics/data
    • Citations: analyzing primary and secondary sources
    • Gathering data from their classmates/community
    • Cause and effect, sequential, compare and contrast

And, with that, I will put this particular PD experience in my own history, at least for now, until I have another opportunity to do a workshop on argumentative writing, when all of this will come in quite handy.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The New Normal: NWP and NCTE 2011

Welcome to Chicago
A moment in front of the Chicago Institute of Art on my first night.

Each fall, November brings the NWP Annual Meeting and the NCTE Annual Convention, two events that mark the new year in my professional life.

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

Working on Google Docs
Google Docs saves the day for procrastinating presenters

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.

Teach. Digital. Writing.

We still tried to share many ideas with people though, all of which are outlined in our Google Presentation, Google Doc, and recorded in the archived version of the webinar, available here.


Reflections on NCTE 2011
Looking back at Chicago and NWP/NCTE 2011

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.

That, I know, will never change.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Reflections on Digital Writing (Future of Education Interview)

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to talk with Steve Hargadon on his Future of Education webinar series. Details of the show, including access to the MP3 version and Elluminate sesssion archive are available with those links, and also are on his blog. It was a wonderful and far-ranging conversation about the importance and effects of digital writing and social media on our culture, as well as the state of writing instruction and teacher professional development in our schools. Many NWP colleagues joined in the backchannel conversation, including Christina Cantrill who kept a steady stream of resources from the Digital Is site flowing into the conversation.

There is so much to think about and reflect on from the conversation. As many others have noted, Steve is a well-prepared, thoughtful, and entertaining interviewer. He kept asking me great questions and was very attentive to trends and ideas raised in the backchannel. This kept the conversation moving along, and I found myself trying to limit my responses to two minutes or so (although I am not entirely sure how well I did that!). Of the many questions that I tried to field during the show and answer while talking, there were a number of other ideas that popped up, and I wanted to look at some of them here.

The first key idea was one of our main principles from NWP, just with a slight addendum. Steve Taffee stated that “It’s difficult for teachers to advocate for digital writing if they are not practitioners themselves.” Indeed. The trick, then, is how to invite our colleagues into discussions and opportunities to do digital writing which led to a humorous comment from Lisa Cooley who asked, “I wonder if Troy knows what Douglas Adams had to say about technology and age.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.” Sadly, I haven’t read any of the Hitchhiker’s series, or any of his other work. This gives me new inspiration to check them out.

The second major idea that surfaced was first mentioned by Adam:

In Because Digital Writing Matters, there’s a phrase that keeps resonating for me. It’s one Tim Wright said about digital writing being collaborative, yes, but also “real time, improvisatory writing…” This resonates because it breaks down a traditional notion that writing has to be “final draft talk” and writing can be “exploratory talk.” In the way this Elluminate Level is allowing us to do now…I’d like to hear more about this notion of digital writing as improv.

He elaborates a bit more:

Having to jump in and learn to use a wiki or Google Docs, if someone has never done that before, in a way forces them to improvise…For me, great digital writing occurs when I am in over my head and I have to figure out creative ways to make new things happen…

Digital writing as improv.

I like that.

That’s a unique take on the old idea of “writing as discovery” or “writing to discover.” It brings new meaning to the aphorism, “How do I know what I think until I see what I am going to say ?” (or something to that effect). Also, I like it because it reminds us that the tools for digital writing — computers, mobile phones, cameras, recorders — are all open to interpretation and revision. There are opportunities to capture, recapture, and rearrange words, images, sounds. Digital writing is like improv, and we only get good at improv when we play.

In that same vein, a second key idea about what counts as digital writing came up. Richard Close asked “Is creating your own YouTube digital writing? Or sending a pic with a text digital writing?” Yes, indeed, it is, although I want to clarify that a bit. We can teach students how improv with both creativity, and responsibility. Simply recording something on your cell phone and posting it to YouTube without thinking about how, why, when, or by whom your video could be viewed or repurposed is not, in my eyes, a responsible way to think of yourself as a digital writer. Just because you can post something doesn’t mean that you should (think of all the scandal that has happened just this week about indiscretions via Twitter). We want to teach students to be intentional, to frame their thinking and the composition process in light of purpose, audience, and situation. So, if they are going to use an image or video clip and share it through a text or social network then, yes, they are writing, and they need to take responsibility for themselves and their products, for better or for worse.

Third, a bit later, Peggy George notes “does digital writing change the notion that writing isn’t “finished” until it’s the final, published version? seems like it’s much more about writing as communicating and growth–not necessarily final products.” Again, a good point. I think that is one of hallmarks of all writing, at least all authentic writing, is that it is never done, just due. The digital nature of texts and wiki-fication of the writing process now allows us to think about writing going through many stages, many revisions, and many audiences. Also, I think it is important to understand the idea that when we make a multimedia piece, all the elements fit together in just such a manner, and any change to part of the composition will change the the other elements. And, once something is publicly available online, it becomes open to public comment, criticism, and repurposing. So, digital writing is very much work in progress, even when we think it is done.

Finally, I end with two quick questions that came up:

First, Jeff Mason asked  “Are there models of Writing Workshop in content classes? ..as opposed to LA classes.” I am sure that there are, and one is in the Annenberg Series, “Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers.” Check out episode 3, “Different Audiences,” at about 44 minutes into the show; there you will see an example of a writer’s workshop happening in a science classroom. And, as Christina pointed out, “There are some beautiful visions of a digital writing workshop here created by Joel Malley and his students in western NY, http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/1133

Second, Steve Taffee asked “Troy – What thoughts do might you have about alternative input devices for writing, for example speech to text?” I am all for them. As Ira Socol points out, text-to-speech software is useful both for special education students in their writing, as well as for anyone else who wants to learn how to use it so that they can hear their own writing in a different voice. Moreover, I personally have started using speech-to-text software to compose some of my own writing. Writing and speaking are, at least from my non-linguistically trained perspective, very different processes, so using speech-to-text to write things like emails generally works well, although not so well for composing longer pieces like this blog post or academic papers.

So, those are some thoughts and reflections from the show. Going back to review the transcript has been useful for me as I prepare to teach for MSU’s Ed Tech program this summer in France. The interview with Steve provided me a chance to collect my thoughts as I work on a few articles and a book proposal, too. I will go back and give myself a listen at some point soon, but first I need to catch up on Renee Hobbs’ talk with NWP on BlogTalk Radio and brush up on my French, so I will have to save my own recording for the plane. Au revoir!

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

On Scholarship, Significance, and the NWP

As many of my colleagues participate this weekend in the #blog4nwp cooperative, I want to thank Chad Sansing and Pam Moran for coordinating the effort and for the dozens of teachers who are adding their voices to this important conversation about saving the National Writing Project.

At the same time, I hope that my voice offers a complementary, although slightly different perspective — the voice of a junior faculty member who is also a director of an NWP site. In an era where the liberal arts in general, teacher education, and school performance are continually scrutinized, and the value of all three are constantly in question, I hope that my perspective as someone from inside the “ivory tower,” someone who is in the business of educating educators, offers yet another reason why NWP must be funded.

To begin, I acknowledge that there are many stories that have been and will continue to be told this weekend about the value of NWP to our personal and professional lives, and the life-changing experience that an NWP summer institute offers. This is all very true from my experience, and I consider myself a teacher and a writer, for sure, because of my involvement in NWP.

In addition, I am also a young faculty member and scholar whose work — my teaching, scholarship, and service — has been shaped and focused by NWP. To that end, I need to say more about how and why NWP works. I say this to show that NWP is a positive force for change, and worthy of continued funding from the federal government.

Without NWP, I can say quite simply, I would have no work.

While this is not entirely true (as I would likely still be teaching methods courses, participating in conferences, and writing for publications without the NWP). Perhaps I should say that I would not have meaningful, worthwhile work, or, at the very least, I don’t know that much of that work would matter. My teaching, scholarship, and service are all defined in relation to my work with NWP. Without NWP, I truly don’t know that my work would be possible, at least not in the way that I imagine strong, quality professional learning to happen.


As a junior faculty member, my colleagues in NWP have helped me think through all of my responsibilities to teachers and the profession, and it has given me the collegial space in which I can try out teaching ideas, explore digital writing, and seek collaboration. NWP has given me the opportunity to travel the country, work with teachers, and understand their many different classroom contexts. The people with whom I have worked offer me ideas and inspiration to write more, think more, present more, and work diligently to change the way writing is taught in this country. NWP has allowed and encouraged me to write books and articles. At CMU, I have articulated a vision for teaching, scholarship, and service that centers on the idea of active engagement, all guided by the NWP philosophy. And, most importantly, as a young faculty member who is often confronted with pressures inside and outside the university about the value of a liberal education and sometimes forced to defend myself as a teacher of writing, NWP has offered me the strength to state, with conviction, my beliefs about teaching writing as a personal and social act that can lead to personal and professional growth, reflection, and action.

If Congress wants a liberal arts education to have value, putting universities in partnerships with local schools and community agencies, then its members should vote to keep the NWP.

If Congress wants teacher education and professional development to be timely, evidence-based, and instructive, then its members should vote to keep the NWP.

And if Congress wants to see changes in teacher practice that lead to student achievement, then its members should vote to keep the NWP.

Without NWP, yes, I would still be teaching, still be researching, and still be serving my university, community, and profession. Yet, I have to wonder… to what extent would my teaching just be average? Would my research be filed away in obscure journal? Would my service be limited to peer review of articles and serving on only small committees? Would I really be a teacher, a write, and a voice in the dialogue about education reform in this country without NWP?

I am not 100% sure. However, I can say unequivocally that NWP has helped me become the teacher, researcher, and leader I am today. NWP works not only because it is one of the most cost-effective and results-oriented educational programs ever conceived, but also because it puts so many stakeholders involved with education in conversation with one another. And, these conversations matter. In schools. In communities. And, in universities.

Case in point: This past Wednesday, I was awarded with CMU’s Provost Award for outstanding achievement in research and creative activity by a junior  faculty member. I thank my family, friends, and colleagues, all of whom have contributed to me earning this honor, many of whom have NWP connections. And, now that I have been recognized by CMU with the Provost’s Award in large part because of NWP — and, more importantly, on the weekend that we are sharing our collective voice about the importance of NWP —  I want to share the text of my personal statement that I wrote.

Congress, quite simply, I ask that you reallocate funds to the National Writing Project. It is an investment that will pay dividends that go far beyond dollars. My hope is that both this letter above and my personal statement shared below can contribute to this conversation.

Troy Hicks

Director, Chippewa River Writing Project

Personal Statement for CMU Provost’s Award
Troy Hicks, January 2011

Significance of scholarship can be measured in many ways, including acceptance rates for a journal or the number of citations a work generates. More importantly, given the increased scrutiny on the role of arts and humanities in a liberal education, measurements of significance can include grant dollars, credit hours, and public recognition beyond the university, including commendations and awards. These measures are, indeed, important, and my scholarship had earned significance in these ways.

Yet, as a public intellectual in a digital age, my work takes many forms, including traditional academic formats such as books, journal articles, grants, and conference presentations, as well as a scholarship of application that includes teacher research, workshops, webinars, and blogging. In turn, my scholarship is significant because it reaches a variety of audiences, from the local level at CMU to the larger field of K-16 education, affecting the ways that we teach and learn writing in a digital age.

In my work, I explore the ways in which teachers adapt writing instruction to newer literacies and technologies, an emerging field called “digital writing.” Thus, the nature of my work has been—and will continue to be—flexible and timely, connecting the rich history of research in composition studies to the ever-changing needs of my colleagues who are teaching a new generation what it means to write with pencil and paper, as well as with computers, mobile phones, and digital cameras. My thoughts on digital writing are summed up best in a recent interview for District Administration, in which I stated:

The shape of writing has changed… Kids are now writing for real audiences and for real purposes, not just other kids in the class or the refrigerator door. And they are composing on computers and on phones in text and multimedia. These are substantial changes.

At CMU, my scholarship has direct effects on the undergraduate and graduate students that I teach, most of whom are pre-service and in-service teachers. Because I explore how we can use technology to teach writing, I am constantly collaborating with colleagues to write grants, plan workshops, collect data, and analyze what is happening in their classrooms. Along with the undergraduate writing methods course that I teach, ENG 315, I have worked with CMU colleagues to establish our site of the National Writing Project, the Chippewa River Writing Project (CRWP). In 2009 and 2010, and again in this coming summer of 2011, we offer a four-week summer institute for K-16 teachers of writing. My scholarship moves immediately from the process of writing a grant to fund CRWP into a process of application where we work with teachers to improve their practice. For instance, the chapter I have included in my materials that I co-authored with Dawn Reed, “From the front of the classroom to the ears of the world: Podcasting as an extension of speech class,” is indicative of the types of teacher research projects that I develop with my colleagues through writing project work. At least nine teachers affiliated with CRWP have completed or are working on their own teacher research projects, including IRB protocols and systematic inquiry in their own classroom practice. I encourage teachers to engage in the research process, leading them to create conference presentations, journal articles, and book chapters. In short, my work at CMU with the CRWP is an applied form of scholarship, showing the importance of how we can study and teach the arts and humanities broadly, and writing in particular.

From the immediate effects on CMU’s campus, my work is significant in local, state, and national professional development, too. While teachers can often read about ways to integrate technology in their classroom, we know from research in teacher education that they need time for their own learning and reflective implementation of these plans. Thus, professional development must be timely and embedded in teacher practice, and I actively move my scholarship forward from the articles and books that I write into my relationships with teachers. This past year, I have collaborated with the Center for Excellence in Education to develop a Title II Professional Development grant, WRITE NOW, extending many of the ideas of that I write about in my work into workshops and literacy coaching for local teachers. For instance, my co-authored article “Transforming the group paper with collaborative online writing,” offers many examples for how teachers can invite their students to use technology to collaborate and revise. To enact this, in the summer of 2010 I led a five-day workshop for twenty local teachers to learn how to use these tools. Then, as a follow-up this year, I am working as a literacy coach in Mt. Pleasant High School and Oasis Alternative High School, helping teachers take the ideas that they learned and applying those ideas in their classrooms. Again, my work on this grant is scholarship in action, leading teachers as they examine research on digital writing and immediately applying it. These initiatives with teachers are where most of my day-to-day work happens, and it is through this process where change occurs, leading to significant effects for students in their classrooms.

The work that I do with these teachers in local contexts then leads to broader conversations that occur across the nation, beginning with the books that I write and continuing with the subsequent conference presentations, webinars, and workshops that I lead. For instance, my first book, The Digital Writing Workshop, has combined two areas of composition studies – writing workshop pedagogy and the study of digital writing – and solidified the use of the term “digital writing workshop” in the discourse of K-12 writing instruction. My approach to writing this book was one that would speak to writing teachers about pedagogy, not just offer a list of technology tools that they could use in their classroom. One review of the book summarized it in this manner: “Teachers’ fear and preoccupation over technology tends to feed an either/or dualism that sets teaching and technology against each other… Hicks avoids this pitfall. Instead, he portrays technology and writing as ‘intricately intertwined’ by keeping a firm hand on two visions.” Because of this approach, my book has been adopted by numerous National Writing Project sites and English education courses across the nation, and Heinemann began a second printing only eight months after its initial publication in September, 2009. As a result of this work, I have been invited over the past eighteen months to speak at over twenty professional conferences and workshops broadly related to English education and teacher education, as well as one invitation even to speak with an audience of school architects. I estimate that I have delivered over 10,000 contact hours of professional development, thus extending the reach of my scholarship well beyond traditional academic publications and conference presentations. Also, as a sign of the book’s effect on English Education, I was awarded National Technology Leadership Award in English Education from the Society for Information and Technology Education’s English Education Special Interest Group.

Along with classroom practices, I am interested in larger concerns about curriculum development, school policies, and infrastructures. My second book, Because Digital Writing Matters, released in November 2010, has already entered the discourse of K-12 education by influencing school district policies and curriculum design, as well as teaching practice. For instance, the Etowah County Schools in Alabama have recently adopted Because Digital Writing Matters as a text for their latest professional development initiative. As a co-author of the book, published jointly by the National Writing Project and Jossey-Bass, I am also involved as a “curator” of the new NWP website, “Digital Is,” a collection of multimedia resources created by teachers and students. As writing continues to change, I understand that the ways in which we share our scholarship needs to change, too, and online resources that complement traditional academic publications will be significant as educators create professional development initiatives nationwide.

As demonstrated in my work, there are many measures of significance—especially the effects that it has on teacher professional development and student learning—that matter as much or more than traditional measures of academic success. When I lead a workshop and have a teacher tell me that my work has changed the way that she teaches writing, that is significant. When I am compared by my peers to some of the historic leaders in the field of teaching writing, that is significant. When my work inspires others to do research, create workshops, and reflect on their own teaching, that is significant.

Significance can be measured in many ways and my work appeals to both traditional academic audiences and K-16 educators more broadly, thus changing the conversations about how we teach writing in our schools and contributing to a new line of scholarship that will last for decades to come.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

My Response to the White House

Here at the eleventh hour, I am submitting my response to the White House’s “Advise the Advisor” survey. While I don’t really agree with the ways that they have framed the questions, I am sharing my responses here. Hope I get news of this much earlier next time so that I have time to compose longer, more thoughtful responses.

Parents: Responsibility for our children’s education and future begins in our homes and communities. What are some of the most effective ways you’re taking responsibility at a personal and local level for your child’s education?

Along with the traditional modes of volunteering for field trips and working concession stands, we are also inviting our own children to take typical kinds of homework assignments and infuse them with new technologies. For instance, when our son was asked to write a list of ways he used and conserved water in the house, he took a digital camera and documented all the ways we use water, presenting his final work in an online slideshow. We talk with our children’s teachers about ways that they can use technology to support critical and creative thinking.

Teachers: President Obama has set a goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. How are you preparing your students for college and career? What’s working and what challenges do you face?

As a teacher educator, and a Director of a site of the National Writing Project — the Chippewa River Writing Project at Central Michigan University — I see the challenges that teachers face as they are asked to “cover” mandated curriculum in ways that stifle student writers. I unequivocally encourage you to reinstate funding for the National Writing Project, as it is both the most cost-effective and professionally powerful way we can use federal dollars. Each site has at least a one-to-one match of local dollars to the federal grant, and we need to have high-quality professional development for all teachers if we ever expect our students to be strong writers and be prepared for college and career.

Students: In order to compete for the jobs of the 21st century, America’s students must be prepared with a strong background in reading, math and science along with the critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity needed to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce. How has your education prepared you for a career in the 21st century? What has worked and what challenges do you face?

My children would tell you about their experience in their elementary school where they are enrolled in a Chinese Immersion/International Baccalaureate program. They are, in all senses of the word, being educated in a “global” manner — through language, culture, math, social studies, science, reading, and service learning. We need to stop forcing our schools to compete for funding and, instead, share enough resources with all schools so that they might develop innovative programs like this.

I hope that one more voice added to this dialogue helps… now, I look forward to engaging in professional conversations during a great weekend at MRA 2011.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Wikispaces announces free wikis for higher ed


For those of you who know my teaching and writing, you know that I am a fan of wikis, in particular of Wikispaces.

From my ENG 315 course to the Chippewa River Writing Project, from my own wiki full of digital writing resources to the wiki for my book, I use their wikis all the times for presentations, workshops, and teaching.

Along with having created a user-friendly and robust product with their wikis, the team at Wikispaces has always been responsive to the needs of teachers, including their free K-12 wikis that now number over 400K. This is not meant to be a straight up product endorsement. Instead, I honestly believe that the team at Wikispaces is working to support K-12 educators in all the ways that they can not just by offering free space, but by offering the time (through email support) and resources to make their wikis pedagogically useful, too.

So, when Sarah from Wikispaces asked me to share a new plan that they will announce next week — free Wikispaces for higher education — I was honored to post the announcement here.  Details of the plan, described by her, include:

  • Our wikis for education are completely private, have no advertising on them, are fully featured, and never expire. And teachers are welcome to sign up for as many of them as they like.
  • The features included in our education wikis usually cost $50 per year — but are completely free when used for K-12 or higher education.
  • We have given away over 980,000 free wikis for education so far, and are committed to giving away at least 2,000,000 in total.
Want more details? Check out this press release (Wikispaces Higher Ed Blog Announcement 2011-02) and watch next week on the Wikispaces blog. Thank you, Wikispaces, for your continued support of K-12 and higher education.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.