Sharing Our Insights on NWP’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program

Yesterday, at the annual MCTE fall conference, I was fortunate enough to share a presentation session with my CRWP colleague, Andy Schoenborn, and one of our CMU English Education students, Rachel Kish. Our focus was on the way that Andy has been implementing NWP’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program.

In the session slides, Andy and Rachel share the ways that he taught the Connecting Evidence to Claims mini-unit. In particular, they described the ways in which students engaged in dialogue, a point that I tried to summarize… and captured quite well by Jen Ward:

Thanks, Jen, for capturing the spirit of the presentation, and I hope that others find the resources we shared to be useful.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

My New Metaphor: Being the (Hyper)Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, you have to keep clicking, keep linking.

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


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

4C’s Collaborative Comprehension Activity

Image by Anna Demianenko from UnsplashThe past week has found me presenting to both pre-service teachers (three times!) and to fellow faculty (just once), and with each audience I shared the same activity: the 4Cs for Collaborative Comprehension.

Adapted from Ritchhart, Church,, and Morrison’s Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners, my spin on this particular lesson invites students to collaborate using a Google doc as a space to engage in shared reading of a particular text. As they note in their book, “[T]he 4C’s routine allows for a rich and fairly complete discussion of a text nonetheless, each step can be used as a standalone discussion,” and “[a]s students become familiar with the routine and expectations, it can act as a protocol to structure student-directed discussions of the text” (144). 

There are a number of reasons for why this particular reading, writing, and thinking strategy is well-suited for an adaptation using Google Docs:

  • We know that reading is a social experience and, unfortunately, we also know that students are not likely to read – at least with a deep level of comprehension – their homework. While this activity does not solve all the reading problems that students may have – and they most certainly should still be reading outside of class – this does emulate the types of thinking that good readers will use while engaged with the text.
  • We know that writing, too, is also a social experience and can have many purposes. With this activity, writing is a tool for thinking, and asking students to write both individually and collaboratively allows them to see one another’s thinking unfold, in real time, and in a low-stakes environment.
  • We know that thinking – and, in this sense, I mean thinking like a disciplinary expert – is a skill that must be modeled, rehearsed, and assessed. In order to help students understand the ways in which we might approach the text, we need to make the actions that we undertake explicit and clear.
  • Finally, as a way to incorporate technology in a purposeful manner, I taught this as a lesson that was designed for a collaborative group work session that students would engage in during class time. That said, once students become familiar with the routine, they could likely engage in some aspect of this protocol outside of class time and come prepared with their writing done in the Google Doc.

Thus, the idea behind the activity is to have students engage in a shared reading, document their initial thinking – in this case, by connecting to the text, challenging the text, identifying key concepts from the text, and recognizing how the text is asking you, as a reader, to change – and develop a consensus about the most important takeaways from their shared reading. And, they do so using the collaborative technology of Google Docs.

As you’ll see in the instructions embedded in the document, each group will make a copy of this initial template. What’s important to note is that you – as the instructor – could make any modifications to the thinking that you want students to do. Though I like “the 4Cs” as a nice, alliterative phrase to describe what students are doing, you could certainly invite them to do any number of other learning tasks such as interpret, examine, or evaluate.

I begin the activity by ensuring that each student in the group, typically groups of four, has a role. I talk through the different tasks with them, give them a moment as a group to decide who wants to do what during the reading, and then I ask, “Who’s my connector in each group? Who’s the challenger?” Who’s identifying key concepts?” and, finally, “Who’s thinking about changes?” Depending on the particular class, as well as the reading that I am asking them to do, I may do a little bit more of a discussion about the text in order to prime the pump. However, the main goal here is that students jump in to the reading activity with their particular lens (connect, challenge, key concept, change) in mind.

Additionally, before sending them into the reading task, I ensure that at least one person in the group is comfortable making a new version of the Google Doc template and then sharing that new version with their group mates. Thus, each group has their own copy of the 4Cs activity and are then able to write ideas in their squares while they are reading. If it is a group that I feel would benefit from the task, I may also suggest to them that they find relevant sentences or phrases from the article and copy/paste them in to the Google Doc, with appropriate quotation marks. They can then use these segments of the text to make further connections, invite other challenges, identify key concepts, or indicate where the author is encouraging the reader to change.

Then, it is time to have everyone begin reading. As they read, I set a timer for a modest amount of time (usually about 5 to 7 minutes with an article such as the one linked here: “A Month Without Sugar“).  As they read, I encourage them individually to take notes in their group’s Google Doc. Then, after they have had sufficient time to read, I invite them to continue the “silent” conversation in the Google Doc. Once it appears that most students are done with the reading as well as with their writing in Google Docs, I invite them to engage in a face-to-face conversation with one another around the table.

Depending on my goals for the particular reading and how this activity fits into the scope of our overall course of study, I may have students offer comments upon one another’s documents, I may have the groups write a summary, or I may have individuals summarize the main ideas from both their reading and the small group discussion. There are many possibilities for formative assessment, depending on whether the article is being used mainly for getting their thinking started, or inviting them to delve much deeper into a topic we have been studying for a long time.

In talking with the pre-service teachers as well as with my fellow faculty members, a number of interesting extensions and adaptations came to light:

  • The activity could be redesigned with different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy or cognitive tasks in mind for the 4Cs, it could be used for different genres of reading material, or it could be reconfigured around entirely different articles for each group that they could then bring to a larger, whole class discussion.
  • The activity could also be done out of class, inviting students to thoughtfully read and annotate the article as well as to write their brief response, then coming prepared to class and ready for discussion.
  • The activity could also be done with entirely different kinds of texts including images, paintings, charts, videos, or other forms of media as the basis for response.

Again, the main purpose of this activity is to invite all students to read actively – with a particular perspective in mind – and to bring that perspective to their shared conversation about the text.

Yes, this is an activity that could work perfectly fine with pencil and paper. Still, as many of the pre-service teachers and faculty with whom I worked this week have noted, engaging in this activity with the use of Google Docs allows them to see one another’s thinking unfold in process.

It is a very visual reminder of the fact that we all come to a text with a slightly different perspective and yet can still glean meaning from the text when engaged in substantive conversation.

Update, 4/15/17: Minor editing for a typo


Image by Anna Demianenko from Unsplash

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Thinking Through a Digital Deliberation, Part 4: Handwriting, Typing, and Fluency

Summer Institute in Digital Literacy Logo
2016 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy

Today, I head to Rhode Island for the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, and next Thursday I lead a “Digital Deliberation” session on “typing vs. handwriting.” In my first post for this series, I shared an overview of the debate. Then, in the second post, I look at handwriting curricula and typing tools. The third post explored the rhetorical approaches that proponents and opponents of handwriting and keyboarding both take. Today, I take one more dive into the deliberation, specifically trying to discern what — if anything — we can make claims about when it comes to students’ writing fluency, and what we can reasonably expect of them when handwriting as compared to typing.

I close this part of my inquiry and deliberation delving deeper into a point that Seán McHugh posed in his own blog post about typing vs handwriting, though I want to look at it in a different manner. His idea was this:

In other words, when you can touch-type, the cognitive load of writing and thinking at the same time are lessened and free up working memory for thinking—a bit like cycling a bicycle—once the effort required for remaining balanced, and changing gears et cetera are automatic, you can spend more time noticing/enjoying where you are going. The same idea applies to things like decoding in reading via ‘sight words’, this frees thinking space for understanding instead of decoding. The absence of effort in one frees cognitive space for the other…

In short, he equates fluency in touch-typing with gains in the composition process in the same manner that we know gains in fluency for readers will lead to better comprehension. This makes a good deal of sense, and is also backed up by all the research that he summarized. I thank him for contributing that part of his thinking so I could use it to further this deliberation.

So, to elaborate on the idea of writing fluency: in a NAEP report entitled NAEP 1996 Trends in Writing: Fluency and Writing Conventions, writing fluency is described as “a writer’s facility with language both in terms of the development and organization of ideas and in the use of syntax, diction, and grammar” (4-5). Much like a reader develops fluency (speed and accuracy) as well as prosody (performative measures such as volume, tone, and expression), so, too, must a writer develop these skills.

Returning to McHugh’s point above (and summary of the research), touch-typing frees up the cognitive load in our brains so we can focus on the composing process at the level of words, phrases, and clauses in a manner that, for many writing tasks, is superior to handwriting. Again, common sense would dictate that the words can flow more quickly with touch-typing when doing simple transcription tasks. Also, it seems that touch-typing also allows us to focus on higher-order concerns in the composing process.

This is not to say that we cannot, with handwriting (or cursive), compose intelligent, elaborate, and emotionally-rich written texts. Of course we can, and anyone who has his or her own writer’s journal, or enjoys the art of calligraphy or simply prefers to write by hand, can attest to this. What it does suggest, however, is that “handwriting vs. typing” — regardless of neuroscience or nostalgia, is a moot point.

Students must learn both how to touch-type for purposes of transcription (copying from their own handwritten texts or other texts) and composition (creating their own, original written products) in order to be fully literate in today’s world.

Back to the Standards

Because the CCSS offers no clear direction about how much writing a student at any grade should do in one sitting — a composition process that, much like reading well, requires both fluency and prosody as writers — I am going off the writing samples in Appendix C,  as representative samples of fluent writing, completed in one sitting. And, at the moment, I am not even looking at the quality of the writing or the commentary provided about how those pieces compare to the standards. I am, indeed, just looking at word counts and assuming that students produced those texts in “one sitting.”

In the table below, I provide a simple summary of the word counts of these pieces (I copied and pasted the selections into Word) so we can think carefully about this question of writing fluency as it compares to the time that it will take. For what it’s worth, the three kindergarten pieces, both first grade pieces, and the argument piece for the second grade sample and the third grade narrative were handwritten. Also, some of the older grades had pieces where handwritten, too. Thus, I started looking at arguments that were done as on-demand that were “on-demand” or noted to have been written in one sitting (and, I assumed, typed).

Grade Word Count
4 408
6 1026
7 473
10 719
12 582

In order to build this out further, I needed some reasonable estimation of how many words a child might compose based on age. After much searching — both through Google and the academic databases — the most concise document that I could find is this “Curriculum-Based Measurement: Written-Expression Fluency Norms” created by Jim Wright of Intervention Central who, in turn, had built it based on research from Gansle et al (2006) and Malecki & Jewell (2003). Take a moment to click on those fluency norms, and then take a look at Utah’s keyboarding standards, which was one of the few curriculum guides that, again, offered any kind of specificity in terms of the number of words a student should be able to produce at any one “sitting” of writing time.

Here, then, is my best attempt to combined Wright’s version of Gansle et al’s WPM of handwriting with a parallel match to Utah’s WPM of typing at the same grade level. I then compare that number to the average number of words in those samples from Appendix A and, finally, try to calculate an average sitting time for a student composing a text of that length, by keyboard, with the Utah standards. Please note that the Utah standards max out at 25 WPM in fifth grade and then suggest that, beginning in sixth grade, students “will demonstrate correct keyboarding techniques while increasing speed and maintaining accuracy.” For sake of this argument, then, I am adding 5 WPM each year until they make it to 12th grade and are fluent at 60 WPM.

Also, note that Wright’s fluency norms only go up to sixth grade, at which point the range could be from 44-72 (and this is just for total words written per minute, not counting errors). I am going to top out the students at a max of 80 WPM for no other reason than, based on my own experience, I don’t know that I can be in a state of “flow” while writing and pump out more than that. And, as you may recall from my earlier post, I tested myself a few times and I ranged between about 70 and 73 WPM. I’ll assume, however, that we can get our high school students to be accurately composing their written expression at 80 WPM, max.

So, what do we have?

Grade* Word Count Utah Typing Standard WPM Wright’s Fluency Norms (by spring) Wright’s Fluency Range (by spring)
4 408 20 46 30-62
6 1026 30* 58 44-72
7 473 35* 66 (No rates reported, but adding 6 WPM from 6th grade) No rates reported
10 719 50* 80 (No rates reported, but assuming that students top out at this level) No rates reported
12 582 60* 80 (No rates reported, but assuming that students top out at this level) No rates reported

OK, so one more table, now condensed a bit and adjusting for time. How long would “one sitting” be for our hypothetical, Common Core exemplar students, using a keyboard and allowing for a straight-on composing process (no time for planning, organizing, reorganizing, revising, or editing… just putting words onto the screen in a coherent manner).

Grade* Word Count Utah Typing Standard WPM Time Needed to Meet the Standard and Compose This Many Words (Rounded Up) Wright’s Fluency Norms (by spring) Time Needed to Meet the Standard and Compose This Many Words
4 408 20 21 Minutes 46 9 Minutes
6 1026 30* 35 Minutes 58 18 Minutes
7 473 35* 14 Minutes 70 (Estimate) 7 Minutes
10 719 50* 15 Minutes 80 (Estimate) 9 Minutes
12 582 60* 10 Minutes 80 (Estimate) 8 Minutes

Conclusions (For Now)

I will leave any more deliberation to my readers — and the participants in this week’s institute — but for the moment I will leave with some questions:

  • Are these times realistic given the time we have devoted to writing instruction in our school days and adequate access to computers?
  • Are they realistic given the time our students’ attention spans and ability to compose in on-demand or very short time frames?
  • How much more time do we need to allot in terms of allowing students to actually go through a writing and revising process that, even under ideal circumstances, would mean that they are not writing at the maximum WPM throughout?

Tying all of this together, I share the voice of one more teacher, Terri Fortmeyer.

I just wanted to let you know what we do at our school – North Muskegon Elementary. As a 3rd grade teacher for 16 years, we’ve had many of the same discussions about cursive and keyboarding skills. Currently, we teach cursive during our first semester so students are able to read any cursive they may encounter as well as have a cursive signature. We do not, however, spend large amounts of time on learning cursive letters – maybe 15 min. at the end of the day when students winding down for the day. We also begin teaching keyboarding skills during the second semester of second grade and more consistently during all of third grade. We notice that by fourth grade, students are able to read and write cursive as well as type at a decent speed so that they can begin to move away from paper/pencil writing. Last year I started teaching fourth grade and except for my on-demand assessment pieces and writer’s notebooks, my students drafted, revised, and edited on netbooks computers . . . and they preferred it.

So, what can we learn from Terri’s experience — as well as this entire series of blog posts? What is the state of handwriting and typing in our classrooms? I’ve got to tie all of this together into a 30 minute presentation before Thursday, so I hope that I will have some more ideas by then. And, as always, I appreciate your comments, questions, and insights.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Thinking Through a Digital Deliberation, Part 3: What is Gained, What is Lost

Summer Institute in Digital Literacy Logo
2016 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy

In less than two weeks, I head to Rhode Island for the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. One main item on my agenda is to lead a “Digital Deliberation” session on “typing vs. handwriting.” So far, I’ve shared some initial thoughts on the debate, as well as a look at some particular concerns with curricula and web-based tools.

In this post, I want to look at “what is gained” and “what is lost,” as well as to bring in the voices of teachers. As with many of the great debates in education, there are many opinions on the matter… and most of them are based in nostalgia and some basic surveys, (though not necessarily in deep, substantive qualitative or quantitative data).

Voices in the Media

Of the responses that I got to my last blog post, a few of them pointed to articles in the popular media that discuss studies done with neuroscience and fMRI images that show positive correlations between handwriting and other functions, studies that suggest good handwriting is tied with academic achievement, and the neural pathways that are activated by cursive as compared to touch-typing. Look at a few of the headlines and, using some very basic critical discourse analysis, see if you can spot a trend.

If you need a hint, scroll down to the word cloud below, which is comprised of all the text that I copied/pasted from these articles:

Representative Language from Cursive Writing Articles (Word Cloud Created with Wordle.net)
Representative Language from Cursive Writing Articles (Word Cloud Created with Wordle.net)

Just as a side note, here are two pieces produced by National Public Radio and its affiliate, WNYC, that I left out of the word cloud.

So, what is the narrative that dominates the media? Well, it certainly has something to do with our children, their brains, and the powerful effects of cursive writing.

Also, I finally ran across two state-level curricula for handwriting, from Kansas and Utah. Why I didn’t find it last week when searching for handwriting curricula, I have no idea. Utah, coincidentally, has curriculum for keyboarding, too. There also appear to be some other handwriting/legislative updates documents on this site, sponsored by Zaner-Bloser (who also offer a handwriting curriculum).

Voices of Teachers

As you might imagine, it seems like the voices of teachers are a bit more even-keeled.

In 2012, my NWP colleague and creative teacher-leader Kevin Hodgson noted the ways in which his sixth graders struggled with the task:

… they began to type and I was curious to see their skills at the keyboard. It wasn’t so great. Some students took almost 45 minutes to write a single paragraph. Most were hovering over their keyboards (ergonomic alert!) with a single finger jabbing at keys, their eyes darting from paper to computer. When I asked how many had ever used any kind of keyboarding system, only a few raised their hands. Most of the programs were online games.

Hodgson concludes, “We don’t do our students any service by leaving out keyboarding from the school curriculum, and the ideal age is around second grade.”

Also, another NWP colleague (and Spartan!), Rachel Huntley, responded to my last post via FB with these thoughts:

As a Kindergarten teacher, I teach both handwriting (letter formation, placement, shape, etc) in conjunction with typing. I support the fact that to create digital composition beginning in 3rd grade, it benefits my students to be more familiar to keyboarding from the start. I have (and continue) to try new programs, apps, websites to facilitate this.

Those are two voices that jumped right into the conversation last week. A little more searching yielded a few other teachers with positive things to say about the need for keyboarding (with a healthy overall balance focused on handwriting as well). For instance, Jacqui Murray, a K-8 technology teacher, describes a lesson in which she asks her students to use the scientific method to measure their handwriting WPM as compared to typing WPM, all within a discussion of the school’s keyboarding curriculum. There is also this article from Education World about the importance of teaching proper keyboarding technique.  Finally, Gary Stager posted a literature review from a deceased colleague, Steve Shuller, which was written in 1989. The concluding section of Shuller’s report: “There is widespread agreement that elementary school students need keyboarding skills.”

Conclusion (for now)

As I continue to prepare for the Digital Deliberation session, I am still trying to figure out exactly how I will frame the debate. One thing is for sure, we can always look to Finland for some answers. There are many ideas for me to consider as I prepare a 30 minute, interactive talk on the topic… but I look forward to the challenge, as well as your continued comments, questions, and links to other resources.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Updates from AILA Junior Researchers Meeting

This week, I have had the good fortune of presenting a keynote at the 7th Junior Researchers Meeting in Applied Linguistics, sponsored by the International Association of Applied Linguistics. I focused my keynote yesterday on both the work that I have done with my NWP colleagues to produce Assessing Students’ Digital Writing, as well as my own career trajectory as a teacher and researcher.

It has been wonderful to interact with various researchers throughout the rest of the morning, most of whom are finishing their PhDs or beginning their careers in Europe. As I listened to the variety of topics they are studying and questions that they are pursuing, I was pleased to see so many of them employing theoretical frameworks that address new literacies and methods that employ new technologies such as analysis of digitally-mediated communication — including words in English and other languages, as well as the new universal language of emojis — as well as screencasting as a tool for capturing, and then replaying and analyzing, the writing process.

Dr. Gitsaki's latest book: Recipes for the Wireless Classroom – Mobile Learning Activities
Dr. Gitsaki’s latest book: Recipes for the Wireless Classroom – Mobile Learning Activities

This morning, I was able to enjoy a keynote from Christina Gitsaki, from the Center for Educational Innovation, Zayed University, Higher Education, UAE. The focus of her presentation was on an iPad initiative that she supervised over the course of 18 months at numerous universities across the UAE. The major takeaway from her talk is one that I think we continue to grapple with throughout the world as we employ new technologies — how can we invite teachers to engage in meaningful professional development so their instructional methods change in substantive ways? That is, rather than simply introducing the iPads into the classroom and asking students to do something on screen as compared to doing it on paper, how can we instead engage them in a task that they would not otherwise be able to do without the technology? Needless to say, she shared a fast-paced talk, and here are some quick notes from her presentation.

  • MALL – Mobile-Assisted Language Learning
  • Looking at the explosion of mobile learning in 2005-201 with new technologies such as MP3s, PDAs, mobile (and then smart) phones, tablets, and laptops. This led to ubiquity, but then in 2010 the iPad brought about a revolution.
  • The UAE education system has a bilingual language policy, and students learn English for an average of 3-6 hours per week. All the courses in bachelor’s degree programs are taught in English, and about 20% of high school graduates are eligible for these programs right at graduation. The other 80% enter “foundational” courses to gain more English proficiency.
  • Gitsaki was in charge, as an associate dean, in implementing the iPad initiative. This involved 17 colleges, 22,000 students and the demand was for an entirely paperless classroom.
    • To assess this program, she conducted a variety of formative applied research methods including surveys, observations, and classroom assessment data.
  • Teachers reported that they gained confidence in using the iPads in the classrooms, managing their lessons, taking care of technical issues, and preparing materials.
    • However, they remained concerned that the iPads were really helping their students gain proficiency in English. Unfortunately, most teachers were only using the iPads for vocabulary lessons.
  • Students generally reported positive results with using the iPad, including a great deal of use in the classroom. Most of them do feel that the iPad is helping them learn more with English. In short, there is a very different picture from the students and the teachers, but this is all self reported data. Students were also using their iPads for other tasks, such as blogging.
    • So, she tried to correlate what the students said that they were doing with what the end-of-semester assessments showed, too. Students who performed at least three types of activities on the iPad in class and outside of class, did show some impact on their test scores.
  • Critical issues that we learned from the study:
    • Pedagogy — technology was dictating what the teachers were doing in the classroom, needed to help them use a “technology-enhanced,” not “technology-driven” method
      • Also, needed to teach teachers how to use the iPad in an EFL context. We need to discover and understand best practices for teaching and learning English.
    • Teaching materials — the materials created by textbook publishers were simply PDF copies; interactivity was very difficult because of having to use different annotation tools on the iPad
      • We also requested that the teachers to create their own resources, but we never really taught them how to do this; we had no expertise in teaching teachers how to create these resources
    • Assessment — current practices for evaluating the impact of tech in education needs to broaden; this does not fully measure the extent of the skills that students are learning
      • We need to find new ways to identify and measure the skills and knowledge that students are gaining from mobile tech
      • For instance, looking at a platform like Knewton for learning analytics
  • So, where does this take us as we look at mobile devices in the classroom?
    • Need a longitudinal research agenda
    • Need to rethink teaching tasks
    • Need to reconsider what it means to read and write in digital spaces
    • Need to understand how mutlti-tasking and environmental distractions can affect learning
  • Intro to the Center for Educational Innovation
    • Invitation to come to the center as a visiting researcher — travel to the UAE!

There are more sessions today and tomorrow, and I hope to find time to blog about them as well. For the moment, Gitsaki’s work remind me that we need to continue our efforts at teaching teachers how to employ digital tools and spaces in smart, critical, and creative ways. This is a challenge that I can relate to and — as is evidenced by the many other young researchers here at this conference — one that we will continue to face, and embrace, for years to come.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Digital Learning Day (Week/Month) 2015

DLDay Logo
Image from http://www.digitallearningday.org/

Celebrating Digital Learning Day this year has been quite an experience, beginning last week and going all the way through this weekend, with the “official” celebration happening, of course, this Friday with a live feed from the Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington DC.

Last week, I was honored by my friend and colleague, Dawn Reed, who nominated me as a Digital Learning Champion. She and I are working on our new book with Corwin, and “Research Writing Rewired” should be published later this year! She is a digital champion herself, and I have enjoyed collaborating with her again over the past year.

Then, last Thursday, I joined Greg Mcverry for part of his open “Question the Web” course, discussing ideas for teaching with blogs and RSS. He recorded the conversation via Hangouts on Air, and we tried to keep it brief and focused coming in just over 20 minutes. You can watch the episode below and find more resources on pages linked above.

This week will have me moving right along, too. Earlier today, I participated in a hangout on air with Amber White and other colleagues from North Branch Area Schools and the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative to discuss the conference we are offering in the district this Friday. In short, here is what’s happening:

District colleagues involved in the TTI have been working diligently to prepare a wide-variety of interactive sessions to provide a small lens into some of the learning and thinking going on in the realm of technology as a result of their participation in the Teacher Technology Institute.

It was a great conversation — and brief, so very viewable — and I encourage you to view the recording. I look forward to seeing how all our colleagues in North Branch share their own inquiry and learning this Friday, and hope to blog about it soon.

TandL Logo
In DC this weekend for http://teachingandlearning2015.org/ Join us!

So, that will be a great day, followed by a quick trip to Washington DC to join in the second day of the Teaching and Learning Conference. My brief trip to DC will include two presentations with my NWP colleagues Tanya Baker, Janelle Bence, Gail Desler, and Kevin Hodgson: “Mixing Sources, Amplifying Voices: Empowering Students Through Connected Learning” and “Readers, Writers, and Citizens: Principles and Practices for Digital Literacy.” I will post our handouts and materials on my wiki later this week.

Earlier this morning, Heinemann published my new blog post, “Connecting + Making = Digital Writing.” Here is the opening…

Often, while I’m delivering professional development workshops or webinars, teachers ask me about new tools that have been released since I wrote Crafting Digital Writing in 2013. While I try to keep links updated on the book’s companion wiki page, I know that many resources come and go each year. There are some stand-bys, such as Google Docs and Wikispaces, that have long track records and that many educators find quite useful. Sharing a link to these tools is often enough to point teachers in the right direction.

Yet, when teachers want to dig deeper, to think about creative ways that they can invite students to play, transform, and critique existing materials with digital writing tools, sometimes the stand-bys aren’t enough. Yes, it is great that Google Docs allows us to embed images and links and that Wikispaces allows us to create a collaborative online classroom; but once our students are familiar with these tools, how can we help push their thinking and learning in new directions?

Moreover, I am happy to announce that NCTE has opened up the site for pre-ordering my new book with Kristen Turner — Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World. A quick summary, courtesy of our back cover copy:

As readers of all ages increasingly turn to the Internet and a variety of electronic devices for both informational and leisure reading, teachers need to reconsider not just who and what teens read but where and how they read as well. Having ready access to digital tools and texts doesn’t mean that middle and high school students are automatically thoughtful, adept readers. So how can we help adolescents become critical readers in a digital age?

Using NCTE’s policy research brief Reading Instruction for All Students as both guide and sounding board, experienced teacher-researchers Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks took their questions about adolescent reading practices to a dozen middle and high school classrooms. In this book, they report on their interviews and survey data from visits with hundreds of teens, which led to the development of their model of Connected Reading: “Digital tools, used mindfully, enable connections. Digital reading is connected reading.” They argue that we must teach adolescents how to read digital texts effectively, not simply expect that teens can read them because they know how to use digital tools. Turner and Hicks offer practical tips by highlighting classroom practices that engage students in reading and thinking with both print and digital texts, thus encouraging reading instruction that reaches all students.

Connected Reading Cover
From ncte.org

This afternoon, I recorded a podcast with Kristen and our editor, Cathy Fleischer, and I will share that link when I have it. Thanks to everyone who has shared the link via FB, Twitter, and G+. We appreciate the initial positive reaction and hope that the book lives up to your expectations! For some preview of the material, you can visit our companion wiki page.

Finally, this month of digital learning continues next week with the MACUL conference next week and the Educator Collaborative’s Maker Space Camp, where I will deliver a virtual keynote on Monday March 30 (which is available for free viewing).

So, this will be a busy Digital Learning Day (Week? Month?). I am pleased to be celebrating digital learning in so many ways, yet still I caution us all think about this day in the same way we would ask our students to think about ideas that they encounter online — critically and carefully. My 2013 post about Digital Learning Day is still as relevant today as it was two years ago, especially as the new assessments are upon us, and upon our students, too.

Thanks to all my colleagues who are making my experience with digital learning so rich and fulfilling. I appreciate the work that all of you are doing and look forward to celebrating it this month and well into the future.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.