Upcoming Series on Teachers Teaching Teachers

Each Wednesday for the next three weeks, I will be hosting a series of episodes that invite teachers highlighted in the book on for conversations about teaching in the digital writing workshop. Here is the announcement for this week’s webcast:

Teachers Teaching Teachers: Choice and Inquiry in the Digital Writing Workshop
September 30, 2009

This week, please join Troy Hicks, author of the new Heinemann title, The Digital Writing Workshop, and Director of the Chippewa River Writing Project at Central Michigan University, as we begin a three-part series exploring the principles and practices described in the book. For this first episode, we welcome four teachers to the conversation as they discuss how they foster student choice and inquiry in their writing classrooms:

  • Penny Kittle, Kennett High School in New Hampshire will offer perspectives on writing workshop principles and why we need to begin to focus on digital writing
  • Sara Beauchamp-Hicks, formerly of Negaunee High School in Michigan will discuss her use of wikis and Google Docs to spur student inquiry
  • Chris Sloan of Judge Memorial High School in Salt Lake City will share insights on how students can make choices with RSS readers and blogging
  • Shannon Powell of Central Montcalm Middle School in Michigan will discuss her experiences as a new teacher as she has begun to use digital writing in her classroom, including her recent integration of “SSR with RSS” for a class of reluctant readers

Then, on October 7th we will explore the idea of “author’s craft” as it relates to creating digital texts and, on October 14th, discuss the process of conferring and response to student writers as they create digital texts.

We would invite you to join us on Wednesday at http://EdTechTalk.com/live at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific USA Wednesdays / 01:00 UTC Thursdays World Times

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Teaching teachers about connected learning

This morning, we are in the middle of week two of our Chippewa River Writing Project summer institute, and the timing for writing this post couldn’t be better.

Yesterday, we went to the CMU library and our English reference librarian, Aparna Zambare, gave us an introduction to the library databases and Zotero. Minus a few technical glitches with getting Firefox installed, participants in the institute were immediately drawn in to Zotero, figuring out how to use it to cite materials from the library’s databases, link to books on Amazon, take snapshots of current web pages, and then tag and make notes on their items. As they begin to frame their teacher research projects, I felt that introducing Zotero as a bibliography management tool would provide them with a constant place to keep track of their sources and reflections on those sources. So far, it seems to have worked, with one participant commention about how he could see using this tool in his classroom next fall.

Then, this morning, we are being introdcued to the idea of creating a personal learning network by Sara Beauchamp, Technology Liaison from the Upper Peninsula Writing Project. She introduced us to the idea of the Networked Student, which led into a conversation amongst participants about how and why we might want to learn these tools for our own learning as well as for use in our classroom. She reminded us that using all of these tools can become overwhelming if we let them, and that they are messy when we begin using them. Yet, over time, you can learn to adapt some of the tools to make them useful to you.

She continued by sharing RSS in Plain English and Google Reader in Plain English. We then moved into the process of setting up their Google Readers. We are thinking about all of this in the context of teacher research projects, and Sara also framed the demo around some of the ideas in Christensen’s Disrupting Class. As the demo continued, participants set up their readers with feeds related to their personal interests and professional inquiry. We then had time to add feeds to our Reader and think about how to structure folders to that the information is organized.

Through both presentations, we came to think more about how information is accessed, shared, and integrated into our own research and learning. This is a good point for us to be at as we begin developing our teacher research projects and reach the mid point of our summer institute. More learning to come!

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Reflections on Day One of a Digital Writing Project

In the few moments that I have before beginning the second day of the Chippewa River Writing Project summer institute, I wanted to pause to reflect on what happened in day one as it relates to digital writing. We were able to get up and running with very little trouble in way of having people use their own laptops, connecting to the network, navigating the wiki, and begin posting discussion items and making page changes.

As we continue on today, we are going to introduce Google Docs as a means for creating collaborative responses, begin looking at the tools for creating digital stories, and also continue use of the wiki for posting teaching demonstration materials and continuing with online discussions.

My overall impression of participants’ thoughts on all of this is that they are quite comfortable with the technologies, as we have introduced them slowly and purposefully. As we continue working with digital storytelling this week, I want to allow for plenty of play time that is framed by discussions about how and why we (and our students) should compose in digital environments. To me, the play time in these early stages is the most important part, so along with discussions about the writing process and writing pedagogy, I am hoping that people just feel the freedom to play and explore in this first week of the institute.

One thing that we have to figure out is how we plan to sustain our site’s work after the institute. I know that this is a topic of great consideration at many rural sites, and it will be no different here. I have been thinking about the affordances and constraints of setting up a Ning, a Facebook group, a Google group (list serv), or some combination of all of them. I don’t want to be spread across too many digital spaces, but I am not sure that our wiki will serve that purpose for keeping everyone connected in an immediate manner. There was talk of Twitter yesterday, too, but again I am not sure that is the best way for us to stay in touch as a local network. Any ideas are welcome!

Time to get moving into day two. My goal is to post more regularly as we move through the next four weeks, talking about the successes and surprises of working in a digital writing project.

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Story on CRWP from The News @ Central

From our site visit earlier this winter, the media and public relations team at CMU has put together an article and podcast about the Chippewa River Writing Project. I find it fitting that as we pursue digital writing within the project that the way in which it was announced to the CMU community comes in the form of a web-based article and podcast.

CMU becomes site for National Writing Project

The National Writing Project, a federally funded professional development program with nearly 200 sites, provides over 7,000 programs for K-16 teachers across the country, reaching more than 135,000 participants in 2008. The CRWP was one of ten new sites established in the U.S. this year.

“We aim to develop programs unique to CRWP that will distinguish us in the state and nation by addressing the issues that face us in northeastern Michigan. We will do so by utilizing technology for distance learning and building on the strengths of the English department and interests of local teachers,” said Troy Hicks, a CMU English faculty member and director of the CRWP.

Hicks is optimistic about the impact the writing project site will have on teachers in the area.

“My goal is to establish the CRWP as a site that partners with teachers in suburban and rural settings throughout northeastern Michigan, utilizing technology to both support their professional learning as well as to become a key component in their own teaching,” Hicks said.

My journey with the National Writing Project began in 2003 with my participation in my first summer institute at Red Cedar Writing Project and has continued to take me in places, personally and professionally, that I could not have imagined. To say that beginning a new writing project is a dream come true, despite the cliche, would be an understatement. So, it is with great anticipation that I look forward to our summer institute that begins in a few short weeks.

As a key component of the summer institute, we have created a wiki to organize, share, and archive our writing, teaching demos, and discussions. My hope is that by working with a digital writing space as our main point of contact in the summer institute, we will establish the habits of mind that will make collaborating and communication with digital writing tools a part of the fabric of our writing project. Because our service area will cover so many rural communities in northern Michigan, my plan is to engage teachers and students in digital writing so that they have opportunities to connect outside of their classroom, school, and district in meaningful ways, with technology being a part of an equation that focuses first on the writer and then on the mode and media of the writing.

So, as the summer institute gets closer and I have more opportunities to think about how we are engaging in digital writing, my hope is to capture some of that thinking here. In additional to having human subjects research approval and media releases from all the participants in the summer institute, my plan is to blog more regularly so we can really document how a digital writing project unfolds in its first year.

Wish us luck, and feel free to join the wiki and contribute, too!

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Creating a Digital Writing Project

As the end of the semester approaches, the pace quickens for us as we plan for our inaugural summer institute at the Chippewa River Writing Project. In conversations that began many months ago and have stretched across talks with NWP folks like Will, Bud, Paul, Peter, and Sara, my thinking on what I want for a web presence for our site has been boiled down to the public face through our own website as well as a workspace for our teachers in this wiki. These conversations have now led me to a chat today with my writing group, Rob and Jim, both of whom are working with writing projects at their own universities.

The topic — what does it mean to have a “digital writing project?”

Now, I do not mean to be presumptuous here. There are plenty of writing projects who are doing digital writing in some way. And, many of them are doing outstanding work, leading the field of K-12 digital writing, as represented in the new collection – Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom (which we will likely use in our summer institute).

Our site can do something different, however, from the very first moment of our orientation that happens next month, through our summer institute, and into all the work of our site thereafter. We will be a digital writing project from the get go. We begin our work as a site with the expectation that digital writing is simply a part of our work. I am not sure how other sites that have begun in the past few years view their use of technology to support the site, represent their work, and connect their teachers, but I see our site as being a digital writing site because the use of blogs, wikis, collaborative word processors, digital stories, and other media will be a constant part of our work. From the initial Google form that teachers used to apply to their final digital portfolios this summer, digital writing will simply be a part of our site’s identity.

So, what does this look like for the writing project summer institute? Rob encouraged me to think about what I want participants to know and be able to do, and how those skills contribute to a deeper understanding of digital literacy. Here are some thoughts right now:

Personal writing
Participants will be invited and encouraged to share their alphabetic writing through a blog or wiki page, as well as by using collaborative word processors. In addition, as a component of personal writing in the summer institute, we will encourage them to create multimodal writing, most likely in the form of digital stories for this first summer. Through alphabetic and multimodal writing shared across digital spaces, participants will have a better understanding of how and why to choose different media for production of and response to writing.

Teaching demonstrations
Participants will again be invited and encouraged to share their teaching demonstrations on the CRWP wiki. We can show them how to upload and embed images, audio, slide shows, chat rooms, and other media, as well as how to use the discussion and history functions of the page to invite their peers into their presentation in ways otherwise not available without the technology present. This will, over time, create an archive of teaching demonstrations that will be both horizontally aligned by SI cohort and grade level within those cohorts as well as vertically from year to year, thus showing major themes in each summer’s institute. By inviting participants to create their teaching demo on a wiki page, we are creating an automatic archive that we can look to in the future for purposes of research, reflection, and professional development.

Reading research groups
In thinking about ways that we want participants to engage with one another and keep track of their own reading and research, there are a number of tools such as delicious, Diigo, and Zotero that I want them to be aware of and, ideally, use as research tools. As we engage in the process of reading, online and offline, and keeping track of that information by using digital writing tools, we will be teaching participants skills that they can use for their own professional learning as well as share with their students who are learning to become digital researchers themselves.

Writing response groups
As perhaps the key element of the summer institute, participants will share their writing in response groups. By using blogs, wikis, and collaborative word processors, we will be able to see the benefits and constraints of each tool including how they can be used in public and private ways. By inviting participants to think about what it means to respond in face to face and digital environments, we can compare the ways in which the context shapes our response process. Also, we can think about how offering comments through digital tools such as microphones or voice recorders can change the response process, too.

So, as I thought through all of these things, Rob and Jim asked me what this means for the culture of our site. This is bringing together my interests in digital literacy, teacher professional development, and the teaching of writing. So, of course, it leads me to a number of questions:

  • How does an explicit focus on digital writing affect the experience of being in the summer institute?
  • There is lots of research and writing done about relationships that individuals develop within institutes, but there is not as much about the vertical relationships that expand over time. How can being a digital writing project help these relationships materialize?
  • We know that the NWP experience is powerful. What makes this such a powerful experience for teachers and how can we track it digitally? 
  • How will a deeper understanding of how and why to use digital writing tools change participants’ perceptions of what they can and should do in their classroom?

Jim also suggested that participants create a literacy autobiography before the summer institute, but ask them to do so by creating it with a digital tool with which they are comfortable. This would help set the tone for the summer and provide us with an icebreaker activity in the first days when people share their autobiographies.

Of course, one of my jobs this summer will be to identify the two or three participants that can help do this kind of digital writing work next year and invite them to become leaders at our site.

What, then, am I going to do in a practical sense? Well, here are some thoughts right now:

  • At the orientation, have participants sign up for Wikispaces and Gmail, doing demos of each with the expectation that they will use each for SI work
  • Create a Google group that we will use for communication between the orientation and the summer institute and then beyond
  • In the institute, explicitly introduce blogs, wikis, and collaborative word processors for a variety of purposes
  • Also, in the institute, focus on digital storytelling early on so that participants can consider creating one for their final portfolio
  • Introduce research tools such as social bookmarking and Zotero
  • Require that participants create a digital portfolio for at least part of their final project

So, those are some initial thoughts. I will be curious to see how this develops and how teachers react to the overall experience of working in (and then reflecting on their work in) a digital writing project. I look foward to the journey. 

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