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.

Why?

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.

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Conversations and Collaborations from EduCon

We have quite a crew of NWP colleagues here at EduCon 2.3 in Philadelphia this weekend, too many to list right now. As we begin our conversations this morning, for instance, I am in a room with Chrsitina Cantrill (NWP), Meeno Rami (PhilWP), Paul Allison (NYCWP), Chad Sansing (CVWP), Cindy Minnich (CAWP) and probably even more colleagues who I have to meet yet. As I sat down this morning for the presentation, I met Shelley Krause (@butwait), who I had been conversing with about digital literacy via Twitter when at the NWP Resource Development Retreat a few weeks ago. EduCon’s theme this year is “innovation,” and the ideas and connections so far this morning remind me of how creating an environment, a space (both physical and virtual) is so important to creating opportunities for innovation. And, the fact that all the sessions are being streamed, tweeted (#Educon), GoogleDoc’ed, blogged, wikied, or whatever, it is truly an opportunity to help us innovate.

So, speaking of innovating, I know that webcasting isn’t really an innovation (in the sense that people have been doing it for years). But, for me, trying to do a live presentation and a webcast at the same time is something that I haven’t done yet. Also, our local site (Chippewa River Writing Project) and state network (National Writing Projects of Michigan) will be hosting a month-long online book study for Because Digital Writing Matters beginning later this week. So, as a kick off, Sara and I are going to give webcasting for BDWM a try this afternoon when Christina Cantrill and I present at EduCon in Philadelphia from 2:30 to 4:00 EST. You should be able to watch live on EduCon’s site, but we hope that you are able to join us in the webinar to by clicking on this link, launching Wimba, and joining as a participant:

http://cmichlive.wimba.com/launcher.cgi?room=_cmich_s__43031_1_826813

This is a new experience for Sara and me, even as techies, and we hope that we are able to get you as our NWP colleagues to join in the conversation. So, enjoy all the conversations coming out of EduCon this weekend, and we hope that you can join in our webinar, too.


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Reflections on NWP and NCTE 2009

As the holidays begin, another conference season comes to a close.

For the past week, Sara and I have been in Philadelphia at the National Writing Project‘s “Digital Is…” pre-conference, the NWP Annual Meeting, and the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention. As it is each year, we enjoy spending time with colleagues and find opportunities to learn about their work. Moreover, we pause to think about our own work including what we have accomplished in the past year and what we are looking forward to in the next.

To that end, I began writing this reflection in the lobby of the Sheraton in Philly, continued it at the airport and on the plane, and now post it as I spend Thanksgiving with my parents. Here is my day-by-day account of NWP/NCTE 2009.

Tuesday, 11/17/09

Arriving in Philly on Tuesday afternoon, we had some time to enjoy a quick walk and prepare for the “Digital Is…” reception. Sponsored through NWP’s work with the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, the entire “Digital Is…” conference was designed as an opportunity to convene teachers, teacher educators, and other stakeholders in conversations about what we know about teaching and learning with digital media. The opening reception was fun, followed by dinner with colleagues from Science Leadership Academy. A great way to begin our week, for sure.

Wednesday, 11/18/09

Digital Is…“convened in the Sheraton, with two slideshows from Danielle DeVoss. The first ran as a background show during breakfast, the second was her keynote. There is no way to capture the energy that she shared during this session, except to say that she really framed the day with her eight key themes about “digital is…” that I outlined in a previous post. So, even though the experience is not nearly the same, here are the slideshows:

For the afternoon, I was again fortunate to present with Dawn about our work with podcasting, as featured in Teaching the New Writing. By doing a protocol analysis discussion of the work, we were really able to dig deeply and think about what was there. One of the more stunning realizations that we had in the conversation was about the ways in which the composing process changes when writers begin with the goal of creating a spoken and, in some sense, permanent text. I think that the line from the notes that captures it best is that the process of recording the podcast “reinforces writing as a capacity that changes across genres and audiences and mediums.” It will be interesting to see where Dawn goes next with this work.

The second round of discussion was interesting, too, as we mixed up groups and have conversations across the elements of student work. Rather than try to capture all the complexities of that conversation in writing, I will share two items. The first is a list of “final words” that I asked participants in our session to state in relation to their thoughts about composing in digital environments at the end of this hour-long conversation. The second is a concept map that I tried to draw while we were talking. Neither alone captures all that happened in our session, but perhaps will give you some insights into what happened.

Concept Map from Digital Is
Concept Map from Digital Is
  • Hybridity
  • Genre
  • Messy
  • Openness
  • Elegance
  • Excitement
  • Immediacy
  • Future
  • Mistakes
  • Surrender
  • Reciprocity
  • Space
  • Dirty
  • Play
  • Organic

I had the opportunity to then help close the day, asking participants to create “invitations” that could be used to ask other stakeholders to join in the conversation about digital writing with youth. One of the most consistent themes from throughout the day was the fact that most of the digital writing opportunities that students have are taking place outside of school. This is a travesty. If we can create these types of engaging opportunities outside of school, then surely we can consider how to do better at creating these types of learning spaces inside of schools. This is something to chew on in the weeks and months to come as I figure out where to go next with my own work and the direction of our writing project.

That night, we were treated to a panel discussion of “What Kids Learn When They Create with Digital Media” with Renee Hobbs, Founder, Media Education Lab, Temple University; Nichole Pinkard, Founder, Digital Youth Network and DePaul University professor; and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Director, National Programs and Site Development, National Writing Project.

Thursday, 11/19/09

The NWP Annual Meeting kicked off with morning and afternoon workshops. In the morning, I attended one on developing site leadership and, in the afternoon, on integrating new literacies into the site’s work that featured Paige Cole, Joe Conroy, Shasta Looper, and Sara Beauchamp-Hicks. Along with Sara’s overview of how she integrated her own growth as a tech leader into her site’s work and securing mini-grants and creating professional development experiences, I was particularly interested in watching Paige and Joe talk about the work that they initially developed at Tech Matters 2007 and to see how they have grown work at their sites. Literally, I had goose bumps watching Paige’s video reflection. Taken with ideas from the morning about how to support and encourage site leaders, the two sessions reminded me of the power of the NWP network, and how small doses of encouragement from a mentor can turn into incredible work.

Friday, 11/20/09

More NWP today, with Billy Collins bringing down the house at the general session. Truly, truly wonderful. Also wonderful was the introduction of the Chippewa River Writing Project as one of the new sites in the NWP network! Later in the afternoon, I was able to attend a session on community partnerships, including a presentation from Joel Arquillos from the amazing 826 organization (which, if you haven’t heard about, watch Dave Eggers’ TED Talk and then visit the 826 website). Also, I got to hear about the Eastern Michigan Writing Project‘s Family Literacy workshops from their program director, Kim Pavlock. So many powerful ideas here from both Joel and Kim, but the biggest one being that we need to make learning to write purposeful for students and the process of doing so clear to their parents. What incredible programs to model from. To close the day, I got to hear from two of my mentors — Patti Stock and Peter Kittle — about the power of taking an inquiry stance towards teaching demonstrations in the summer institute. I am very much looking forward to returning to CRWP and talking over all this information with my leadership team, most of whom were there with me and will have ideas of their own to share, too.

Saturday, 11/21/09

An early morning brought both Sara and me to the NCTE booth, leading Tech-to-Go sessions for those beginning their day at NCTE. I talked about wikis, while Sara presented on Google Forms and then, later in the day, on iPod Touch applications. This led us to my presentation with Bud Hunt, “Reports from Cyberspace,” This was truly an amazing session, as we tried to incorporate a backchannel discussion through Twitter, delicious, and Chatterous. Also, in trying to use newer tools for presentations, I created a Prezi and Bud made a Voice Thread. The conversations that occured in the session, both face-to-face and online, were amazing, and we are thinking about repeating the session again next year. One recurring question was about access, and both Bud and I contended that it is reasonable to expect kids to do digital writing now, because there is access available in many more places and most of the tools are web-based. We also touched on issues of filtering, curriculum, assessment, and how to begin digital writing workshops.

http://prezi.com/bin/preziloader.swf

Later that night, Sara and I were able to join the Heinemann reception and found out that my book sold out in the convention hall! Thanks to everyone who picked up a copy there, as well as to everyone else who then ordered one online. I am  looking forward to where my next writing opportunity may take me…

Sunday, 11/22/09

We awoke Sunday morning for a wonderful session on erasing copyright confusion, and I was then able to interview Renee Hobbs for an aricle on fair use for CCCC-IP. We also were able to meet with the CEE Web Site Editors, and came up with a plan for developing some basic content for the site. Our afternoon found us on adventures in Philly with my friend Carl Young, and we enjoyed a visit to the National Constitution Center. In thinking about how and why we ask students to compose digital writing, our visit to this center was particularly appropriate, as we were greeted with remixed versions of “People” magazine covers, featuring such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln and Betsy Ross, as well as a highly-interactive multimedia experince in the museum.

Monday, 11/23/09

While we had planned to go to SLA, and appreciated the invite to be there, we ended up spending most of our day at at the Franklin Institute. Perhaps we will have to do EduCon instead. So, even though we missed SLA, we greatly enjoyed the Body Worlds exhibition, and felt that was a good use of our final hours in Philly.

Also, we realized that we missed the NCTE Centennial Preview, but John Golden provided the link for me, so you can enjoy it online!

As with all NWP/NCTE trips, this one game me so many good ideas and connections with colleagues. Next on my agenda are to begin planning next summer’s CRWP SI and, ideally, an advanced institute related to digital writing and copyright. Also, I am working on writing the article for the Cs Intellectual Property Caucus, CCCC-IP. Still thinking about so much, and hoping to get back to Philly with my entire family for more of the historical aspects of the town that we missed.

And, so goes another NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE Convention. Thanks for sticking with me through this whole pose.

Now, time to plan for the convention in Orlando, celebrating 100 years of NCTE.


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Notes from “The Social Media Portfolio: Using Technology to Promote Meta-cognitive Skill Development” at NWP’s Digital Is

The Social Media Portfolio: Using Technology to Promote Meta-cognitive Skill Development

At NWP’s Digital Is

Rafi Santo, Amana Kaskazi, and Shonell Richmond

  • Global Kids
    • 20 Years in existence and focusing on significant global issues
    • Issues: Local to global and global to local understanding
    • Leadership: Skills necessary to affect change
    • Technology: How does new media contribute to our mission of global citizenship; our mission to empower youth voice aligned well with the use of technology
    • Youth: We work with youth in a variety of contexts, both locally and from a distance through technologies and in virtual worlds
    • Afterschool: Need to overcome the stereotypes of afterschool technology programs that create “super geeks”; our students are not geeks, necessarily, but there is something much broader about how to use technology in these contexts
  • Media Masters
    • Goals for addressing the challenges to media literacy
      • Giving students the means and skills to produce media who otherwise might not be able
      • Discussing ethical issues surrounding digital media production and participation
      • Promote active student reflection on skill development
    • Creating a “digital transcript“creating a portfolio with Voice Thread
      • Examining media use (music, web, etc)
      • Visualization, negotiation, and other key themes
      • Recognize the skill, utilize the skill, and enact the skill (Do it, recognize it, talk about it)
    • Discussion
      • Specific example of Harry Potter reading to discuss copyright, appropriation, and “whole life learning”
      • What can the assessment tell us — about students’ change in media literacy skills, attitudes, and abilities?
      • How can an assessment like this work in school contexts (very qualitative, not quantitative)?
      • How can we connect this to other academic skills?
      • Student preparation for portfolios — having earned the badges, it was easier to identify the project that connected to the skill, but then we had to add a reflection to it, and that was more difficult
      • Extending the assessments into different contexts; using this portfolio with meta-cognitive elements for other purposes, such as college admissions
      • Helping make explicit for young people the ways in which we are asking them to think
      • Power of ownership and the ability to hear someone’s voice, as well as the commitment behind the voice
      • How does having a framework help make the portfolio more powerful?
      • Using writing to teach critical thinking in different content areas


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Notes from Danielle Nicole DeVoss’s Opening Keynote at NWP’s “Digital Is…”

Danielle Nicole DeVoss asks us to think about what digital was then and is now…

Digital is…

  • Networked — we compose in networked spaces
  • Collaborative — people are able to connect and create through these networks (LolCats)
  • Multimodal — typography, kinetic type, digital stories
  • Re-Mediated — taking a media object and recreating it so it moves across media; moving across text to audio to video (StarzBunnies)
  • Remixed — taking bits and pieces and parts of other media to create new messages and meaning
  • Policed — digital millennium copyright act; You Tube copyright issues (Fair Use)
  • (Requires) Critical thinking — because of the visuals (Harry Potter, Redbook)
  • (Can be) Democratic — Iran and Twitter, YouTube Debates

Writing is Digital — this is, as Elyse put it, our moment.


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