Preparing for Tech-Focused Professional Development

For the first time in four years, I will not be going to an NWP tech/writing style workshop, and I have to admit that I am a little bit bummed. Both Tech Matters and the Technology and Writing retreat have been good sources of inspiration and collegiality over the past few summers, and I hope to capture some of those feelings in two workshops that we are planning for RCWP here in August.

The first week, August 4th, we are engaging 40 teachers from Project WRITE in an immerse, inquiry-driven study of adolescent literacy and technology. Much like Bud’s CyberCamp, we are planning to structure this workshop for teachers to make maximum use of the time, access to computers, and collegial support. For the portion of each day that I am planning, I intend to make the first hour a work/collaboration time, with the explicit goal that teachers will produce anything from one lesson to a whole unit, somehow using read/write web technology, by the end of the week. On Thursday, they will share their work with a group of cross-grade, cross-school colleagues to get feedback.

During the other half of each afternoon, I am taking a move from Tech Matters and creating “birds of a feather” groups. Want to brush up on blogs? Go to this room with this teacher leader. Want to find out about photo sharing, which we haven’t discussed yet as a group, but you want to learn something new? Come to this room with this other teacher leader. And so on. Or, keep working on your unit. Throughout the week, I hope to offer anywhere from 3-6 different experiences for people to sample from, all leading to the presentation of their final lessons.

This will be one of the last major pushes with Project WRITE. In September, we will do one of our sessions completely online. Then, we have two full day sessions on Saturdays — one in October, one in November. I am looking forward to seeing what people pull together for our August session, and to seeing what unfolds for them in the year to come as they more fully integrate technology into their teaching of adolescent literacy.

For the second week, August, 11, we are putting on our own version of Tech Matters for the RCWP leadership team. This will involve myself as a lead facilitator, four additional RCWP teacher leaders as facilitators and presenters of their own classroom case studies, and then a number of participants from the RCWP leadership team. Again, the goal is to collaborate and offer people time and space to work, this time focusing more on the work of our writing project site. Each of the case studies will provide us with a situated look at how one teacher employs technology in his/her classroom, and that will open up conversations for the leadership team about how and why we might employ similar technologies at our site for the summer institute, professional development, continuity programs, and youth programs.

Then, in the afternoon, we will have lots of playtime, where we too can do birds of a feather groupings, allow people time to play with tools introduced in the morning, and continue conversations about the future of our site’s work with technology. In some sense, this is kind of the culminating moment of our work with NWP’s technology initiative, as we are now trying to distribute the knowledge of a few key teacher leaders at our site into the larger leadership team and day-to-day work of the site.

I just wanted to capture my initial thinking on these two workshops as we finalize the SB-CEU applications and get ready to move through the month of July in a haze of firework smoke, BBQs, and long, warm summer afternoons. It is good to be thinking ahead to these events and all the great work that teachers will be engaging in this year as a result of them.


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An Update on Blogging, Podcasting, and Wikiing with Pre-Service Teachers

January has been a busy month for me as I have been coordinating field placements for my ENG 315 students and we have begun exploring the use of blogs, wikis, podcasts, and RSS in our teaching lives. When we began this work a few short weeks ago, only a handful of these pre-service teachers had heard of a wiki or a podcast, fewer still knew about RSS, some had a general idea about blogs, and none of them were thinking about how these tools would translate into the teaching of writing in their classrooms. So, we started slow, and now things are moving along quite well.

The second week, we downloaded Portable Apps, and I explained my rationale for why would use these tools — both because they are free and open source as well as the idea that they need to be able to take their data with them. We also started setting up our blogs, and discussed the Common Craft video on blogs, thinking about implications for our classrooms and personal learning. The third week, we turned our attention to understanding RSS and reading each other’s blogs. This week, we set up our Google Readers, and I am now challenging them to begin using RSS reading in their professional responses.

So far, this process is going fairly smoothly and I do not feel that I am detracting from the “content” of the course by focusing on the technologies. In fact, I feel that they are helping me get some ideas across even better. For instance, it is one thing to encourage them to read each other’s blogs; it is quite another to provide them with a combined feed of everyone in their class and invite them to read, through their Google Reader, everyone’s posts. I will be building in some time for people to read and comment each week, as their reading of other blog posts will help them activate their brains for our class discussions.

Also, I am finding that they are all having “aha” moments as we move forward. Some are seeing connections to other classes an projects, and I think that they are all starting to see the ways in which we can connect with one another. For instance, one student explained how she immediately subscribed to all her friend’s blogs and, while it wasn’t purely academic, that solidified in her mind the power of RSS to gather information. In a time where we take for granted that all of our students understand so much about the web intuitively, it is good to know that we can talk about these technologies in relation to the teaching of writing and that they can begin to see some new connections.

Next up, we will be working with Rob Rozema’s class at GVSU to post our “This I Believe” essays to a Ning social network and get comments across classes. Then, after spring break, digital stories. As we continue on in the semester, I am looking forward sharing more ideas. It is interesting to compare the snapshots of two generations of teachers that I am seeing this semester — the pre-service students and the in-service teachers in Project WRITE — and compare how they are engaging with similar technologies in different ways. I feel as if with the pre-service teachers, they can pick up on the technology quickly once it is introduced, yet the conversations about pedagogy are still emerging. for the in-service teachers, we are able to talk about pedagogy very easily, but only after very thorough discussions of how and why to use the technology.

The differences are clear and makes me even more aware of the generational gap that must be happening as new teachers enter schools. They are very excited about the technology, yet can’t talk about it in pedagogically sophisticated ways. Veteran teachers are, as they should be, very concerned about pedagogy. This dichotomy makes me wonder how we can get everyone speaking the same language and beginning to think more about the pedagogy and the technology at the same time, regardless of age or experience. Then, we need to layer in discussions of literacy for everyone, because those are not present yet.

More teaching to be done, for sure and it is a great deal of fun in additional to a continual pedagogical challenge.


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