Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

My sincere thanks go out to all my colleagues in the Michigan Council of Teachers of English, the Red Cedar Writing Project and all the other professional organizations that I have been a part of in the past decade. Last Friday, I was genuinely surprised to be awarded the Charles Carpenter Fries Award, reported here by Andrea Zellner in the RCWP e-Newsletter:

From the October/November 2008 RCWP e-Newsletter

My favorite moment, though, was the look on our own Troy Hicks’s face as his name was called to receive the Fries Award, presented by Rita Maddox:

The Fries Award, first given in 1967, was named in honor of Charles Carpenter Fries, a University of Michigan Professor and an early president of MCTE. Recipients of this award have served their local communities, have provided significant service on state and/or national levels, and in general have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the field of education. Troy more than fits the bill. Congratulations, Troy! We are all so proud of you!

Of the many times in my life that words have escaped me, I wish that they would not have at the moment Rita honored me with the award.  Along with Janet’s kind letter about my work, this award means a great deal to me since it came from my peers. I thank all of you – my colleagues and friends from MCTE, MCEE, RCWP, and NWPM – for nominating me, and should have taken a moment to express my appreciation while standing there at the podium.

Moreover, as you all know, the one person that I wish could have been there to share it with me, my wife, Heather, deserved to be mentioned, too, as she supported me through my many years in the classroom and graduate school. She made much of what I was able to accomplish possible through her love and encouragement, and I feel that this award honors her memory, too.

Although the moment has passed to make these words public in front of the gathered membership of MCTE, I hope that my appreciation comes through as much by posting my sentiments here on my blog as it should have in person.

Thank you.

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Rough Draft Thinking for a Hybrid Professional Development Experience

Well, we have a hybrid professional development experience coming up on September 24th for the Project WRITE teachers. In trying to meet a number of constraints and opportunities, I have set up a wiki page for the evening’s activities. Here is some of my thinking about why and how this is set up this way, as well as a screencast of my thinking, too. I would be very interested to hear your feedback about how (and if!) you think this will work.

First, we had to have a way for participants who choose to go the hybrid route to both log their “seat time” for SB-CEUs as well as be connected to what’s going on. Originally, we had planned to use ANGEL through MSU, but for a variety of reasons, not the least of which we can not have enough guest accounts to invite all the Project WRITE teachers in, I didn’t figure that was the best idea.

Second, even if we had enough accounts, I didn’t want to have to have people log in to something that they were not familiar with and try to navigate multiple tabs on a night that they would be using a new tool, Jing, anyway. Thus, I wanted an easy, open way for them to both “login” and monitor their seat time, while possibly having a back channel for communication AND being able to get the stream without having to have a separate tab or media player open.

Third, and perhaps most important to me, I wanted to make sure that what ever we did was easy and accessible to the teachers, so they could replicate this process in their own classroom. After hearing about Meebo and UStream from many other edubloggers, and seeing that they could both embed in wikispaces quite easily, I figured that this would be the easiest way to go. So, I set up the Meebo chat room, the UStream channel, inserted them side-by-side in a table and, voila!

Now, I am sure that someone else has figured this out, and also I now realize that you can have a chat right on your UStream page if you want. However, I wanted to make sure that the interface was clean and connected to the wiki, so this type of embedding made the most sense. And, what is even more amazing is the fact that I don’t even know how I would have imagined doing something like this even a few months ago (although I am sure that the technologies existed then)… instead, this came as a solution to an institutional problem about how to both monitor seat time and create a workaround for the university’s sanctioned CMS that wouldn’t let us do what we wanted to do

So, this will be an interesting experiment in trying to figure out how to have a hybrid session, implementing digital writing tools while also teaching about digital writing tools. I am excited to see what comes of it, and look forward to any suggestions that you might have for me to streamline the process before we make a go of it here in about two weeks.

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Reflections on Project WRITE’s Summer Institute

Today marked the end of our Project WRITE summer institute, and there were both smiles and tears to be found amongst the many of us who shared our writing this morning and our professional learning this afternoon. My partner, project leader Liz Webb, structured an amazing week, given all that we had to do from evaluating student work to preparing a lesson or series of lessons for the school year and sharing a piece of personal writing. Each morning began with one of her writing starts, and the teachers are working together to produce a book through Then, we would spend some time evaluating student work with the NWP’s analytic writing continuum, and have time for professional reading groups. Finally, I would introduce a short tech topic each afternoon (digital storytelling, Zotero, and SlideShare, respectively) and teachers had the option to continue working on the new technology, or work on their own curriculum plan.

Needless to say, this semi-structured playtime offered a number of teachers who have felt hesitant, if not a bit resistant, to technology all year the opportunity to create some amazing products. I am impressed with the scope of the lessons as well as the ways in which teachers integrated technology, in small and large ways. A few of the key lessons that came out this week:

  • Continuing to differentiate between a blog and a wiki, as well as the purposes for them. Some teachers were finally able to really absorb Edublogs, digging into the overall design of their site, working with widgets, and figuring out categories for organization. Others wanted to stick with wikis, which worked out well, too, to talk about the overall design and organization of a site. In each case, we talked about purpose and audience, considering who would be doing the most posting, commenting, and reading, and making decisions from there.
  • Digital storytelling catches like wildfire. Always. I introduced it on Monday, beleiving that it might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Instead, a number of teachers took to it. This raised (and continues to raise) a series of questions for us about fair use, copyright law, Creative Commons, and how to invite students to build on, cite, and ethically use the work of others. We discussed how some uses may be fair within your classroom walls, but how posting to YouTube made it a whole different game. Suddenly, many teachers this week became hyper aware of this, and I think that it will be an interesting thread that continues into our fall PD.
  • Finally, having time, time, time. We were supposed to have this week of intro last summer. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t. And, while I don’t regret the work that we have done or the many successes that we have had, I do wonder what we might have been able to accomplish over the school year if we had been able to kick off last summer with an entire week of work like this. Ah… a lesson for a future PD experience.

All in all, we enjoyed our time together, minus the extreme heat in Brody Hall. I think that a number of the teacher grew in leaps and bounds, and we all grew in some way or another. I was very impressed with the transparency of technology today in our final read around, where a digital recorder was passed from person to person, pages were brought up on the wiki, and images were shown to complement the work being read. And, we hardly had a hiccup.

So, thanks to everyone in Project WRITE for a great week. We are looking forward to getting the data from your students plugged into our spreadsheet so we can see, statistically, if there was growth in your writers above and beyond what we would have normally expected. The professional learning was a critical part of this project, and now we need to see if we are “taking it to the kids.”

Next week, RCWP’s version of “Tech Matters.”

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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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Shout Out to Aram Kabodian

And, finally for tonight, a quick shout out to my friend and RCWP colleague, Aram Kabodian, who is getting back into the blogging business this holiday season.

Mr. Kabodian’s Blog

Well, I took the plunge and let people know I’m playing with pageflakes and bustin’ out this blog. And people actually responded!

It was nice to hear that there’s a world of readers out there. The message board on the pageflakes site is active, I had my first comment on this blog, and the emails are rolling in too. It makes me feel like the time I spend on this tech stuff is worth it. People seem interested — though maybe it’s just the novelty of the whole thing — which makes me want to keep at it.

I’d like to think that I’m not just doing this to play and impress myself and others. I want to make it a meaningful place to think things through and improve my teaching.

Keep those cards and letters coming 🙂

You heard the man — check out his blog! He has a great sense of humor, many insights into teaching middle school kids, and some other fun things thrown in. And, while you are at it, his class’s wiki, too!

Glad to see you blogging again, Aram!

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Thinking about Multimodal Assessment

Yesterday, our RCWP Project WRITE team had the good fortune of being able to work with NWP’s Director of Research and Evaluation, Paul LeMahieu, on an analytic writing continuum workshop. In his talk, which was similar to the session that I attended last summer, he talked about how the continuum has been developed, the pedagogical uses of it, and how we, as professionals who teach writing, need to not just tell those who value tests to “stop,” but to also offer them something better to use instead (we hope to post some notes on the session soon on the Project WRITE wiki).

Particularly useful for the Project WRITE teachers, as he talked about the different categories for assessment on the continuum (content, structure, stance, diction, sentence fluency, and conventions — modeled, with permission, after six traits), he also talked about how this structure of assessment works for most kinds of writing, but not all and not the least of which is multimodal writing. He mentioned how there are not really any models that explore how to assess multimodal composition and how, perhaps, we could develop one through this work in Project WRITE. That is a very exciting component of this project that I had not anticipated when we originally started, and I look forward to pursuing it more soon. (NOTE: I do think that Bernajean Porter has got our thinking moving in this direction for K-12 students, and put up some good criteria and an interactive rubric maker on her Digitales Evaluation site.)

Coincidentally, I have been chewing on this idea now for the past few days as I was trying to help my students in ENG 201 come up with criteria for evaluating their final multimodal projects. As I asked them to reflect on what they have been doing and how they have been working over the past few weeks on these projects, we talked on Tuesday about how the categories of the analytic continuum (which we have been using all semester) just didn’t quite line up with what they were thinking about in terms of what to earn a grade on. Along with some criteria for judging group member performance, they went back to our discussions earlier this semester about rhetoric, and we came up with the following ideas for grading this project:

  • Ethos: the credibility of the author is established through professional language, use of appropriate sources, and evidence of author’s perspective (within or in addition to the main multimodal documents)
  • Pathos: the texts make appropriate emotional appeals that both engage the reader and provide insight into the chosen topic
  • Logos: the texts present a clear and coherent central idea, supported with appropriate evidence and argumentative strategies
  • Content and Structure: the choice of mode and media support the message in the texts and elements of multimedia are thoughtfully integrated into the project rather than as a gratuitous add-on
  • Design: the choice of design principles (contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity) as well as rhetorical decisions (transitions, word choice, stance) combine to make an attractive and effective presentation

So, it will be interesting to see how this turns out. Students, in groups, will be assessing the other groups’ work and I will be throwing in my grade with the whole bunch to get an average. I haven’t graded anything multimodal yet, let alone a collaborative grading where students are involved in the process. I’ll write more about it once we are done, and look forward to hearing your ideas about how you are teaching and assessing multimodal writing, as well as any resources that you can point to about this messy, yet engaging, component of the writing process.

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Reflections on Social Networking based on NCTE/NWP 2007

Today’s NCTE Inbox had an official list of blog posts about the convention, as well as Traci Gardner’s commentary about whether and how teachers should blog (for the record, she thinks that they should, although some districts do not). I find this thread of conversation an interesting complement to a few others floating around today, too.

One of the threads is a group of NWP tech liaisons talking about whether and how we should start a national social network of teachers doing great things with writing and technology. This network exists, in some ways, but it is scattered in many places, not all of them “officially” sanctioned by NWP (nor do they need to be). This conversation is important though because I think that it raises one fundamental issue — for all the blogs, wikis, podcasts, social bookmarks, RSS feeds, Facebook groups, Ning networks, and other ways that we have to stay in touch, do we actually stay in touch?

I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I help my pre-service teachers understand the implications of blogs and wikis as well as try to organize such groups for the various professional organizations that I am in including RCWP, MCTE, MRA, and CEE. How to build and maintain a network — let alone if a “formal” network is needed at all — is at the core of what I and four other colleagues are thinking about as we prepare to propose a new interactive website for CEE. There is also interaction in the works for MRA. Yet, RCWP and MCTE have had interactive sites, more or less, for a year or two now and neither of them generate much traffic. So, even if you build the space for the network, it is not a guarantee that teachers will come.

So, what to do about social networks for teachers? I am not sure how to best answer that. We are trying a wiki and Google groups for Project WRITE, and having limited interactions and success with those spaces. Is part of the problem that the idea of social networking is still too new or different from what we are used to with F2F networking? Are we still just stuck in email mode and not ready to venture out to the web to find a network, rather waiting for it to come to our inbox? Or, is it just the fact that a certain type of chemistry, one that can’t be forced, but must be natural, must emerge?

I certainly don’t have any answers, especially not tonight. But, I feel that the questions are worth asking; even if we don’t get to answering them outright, we can begin to understand why teachers (generally) choose not to use these networks. My thoughts range from being busy to not being aware, from being happy within a school-based learning community to simply not wanting to move outside of one’s comfort zones. As networks continue to grow, I think that we need to ask these fundamental questions about why and how they work for some teachers, while not for others, and whether we should be trying to make the perfect network, or rethink what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century.

RCWP Wiki Featured in Wikispaces Blog

Have I mentioned before that I love Wikispaces? If not, you are hearing it now:

Wikispaces Blog » Blog Archive » Who Are You and What Are You Doing?

Who Are You and What Are You Doing? October 2nd, 2007 by sarah

In our recent mailing, we asked to hear from you – how you ended up using Wikispaces, and what motivated you to stick around and keep using it. And hear we did. In several future blog posts, we will be highlighting some of the responses we received, showing you the diverse ways that you are using Wikispaces.

Troy Hicks, a professor at Central Michigan University, is using wikis to plan and teach his courses. He has been involved with wikis for over a year. Before joining CMU’s faculty, he and other teachers at the Red Cedar Writing Project at Michigan State University began their own project, a wiki “by writing teachers, for writing teachers.” A year later, their space is going strong. They have used it as a place to post workshop outlines, share notes from conferences, link to blogs they are following, and start book lists. It has become one of the primary spaces in which these teachers collaborate to plan workshops and events for the Red Cedar Writing Project.

Of his experience with Wikispaces, Troy says, “Wikispaces is a part of my everyday life as a teacher and teacher educator, and I thank you for the outstanding service that you have created.”

Check it out as a resource for writing or for getting ideas on how to expand your own collaboration.

Thanks to the entire Wikispaces Team for their support of free wikis for K-12 teachers and students.

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Thoughts on Technology and Literacy Professional Development

Last week, a number of RCWP teachers met to plan professional development for the 2007-08 school year. The meetings went well, as we discussed a number of issues about how and why we should be doing technology/writing PD and we all agreed that we needed to make the sessions compelling to teachers in terms of meeting real needs and stay focused on literacy practices, too.

To that end, the group came up with five topics that we will present over the course of the year, one each month from October through March. Here is a list of topics and the technologies that we will explore in each.

  • Why Technology? Exploring New Literacies (RSS and Overview of Read/Write Web)
  • Reading, Writing, and Researching Online (Searching, Evaluating, and Documenting with Social Bookmarking, Google Notebook, and Zotero)
  • Creating a Community of Writers Using Technology (Blogs, Wikis, Google Docs, EZines)
  • Free, Easy, and Legal Resources for Creating Content (Copyright, Fair Use, Creative Commons, Open Source)
  • Communicating Beyond the Classroom (Public and private spaces, Email rhetoric and groups, Flickr)

We are starting to post agendas on our wiki and look forward to hearing what you all think. In particular, do you think that:

  • We give a good survey of available technologies?
  • We move through the ideas in each workshop and over the series in a coherent manner?
  • Teachers would be willing to pay to come to these sessions (once a month on Thursdays, from 6:00 – 8:30 PM)?

Any feedback that you have would be great. I am in the midst of transitioning from MSU to CMU this week, so I apologize about the lack of posts, but I hope to get back in the swing of posting soon.

Pondering the Curricular Value of Digital Writing

A few weeks ago in Chico, I was fortunate enough to meet John Bishop from the other RCWP, Red Clay Writing Project located near Atlanta, and we had a splashing good time there!

Since then, I have been following his blog and I am particularly interested in the recent post that he created about exploring digital storytelling for youth. He asks some key questions there, one being:

3. How can we help foster skills/practices that are “marketable” for youth? In other words, how can we acknowledge various economic/power structures youth face as they navigate through (and exit) different stages of their educational lives? How does/should our work interact with public school curriculums?

I find this particular question relevant to me on three fronts this week as I spend time in meetings and workshops for our writing project’s work. Some of it is still up in the air, so I won’t go into detail here, but three additional questions emerge for me based on some things that are happening in Michigan.

First, Allen Webb has compiled a website that addresses the implementation of the new Michigan High School Content Standards. There is plenty more info there for you to get the entire story, but basically it boils down to the fact that many English teachers in MI are feeling pressure to develop common curriculum and assessments, one that are not — in John’s words — developing “marketable” skills or digital literacies. There is also a petition to sign, and I think that it is worth considering the broader curricular pressures that teachers are under in the scope of John’s questions. How, then, do we begin to engage in serious curricular conversations about teaching digital writing when more and more prescribed curricula seem to be coming down the pike that fail to address it at all?

Second, I am currently attending a workshop sponsored by the Eastern Michigan Writing Project on NWP’s Analytical Scoring Continuum, a scoring rubric redesigned from the six traits model. It has been an interesting workshop so far, and his given us lots to think about in our site’s work and what I will be doing with my pre-service teachers in the fall. That said, my colleague Marcia and I were talking in the car on the way home about the fact that this rubric — like all state assessment/six traits type rubrics — seems to be focused on print-based modes of composition and almost inherently neglects the demands of digital writing. For instance, the idea that writing is “clear and focused” can certainly apply to a blog post like this (I hope), but does it apply to someone creating hypertext fiction with a wiki? This is not a criticism of the model so much as it is me raising the concern, again, that schools are not even thinking about teaching digital writing, let alone beginning to understand the paradigm shift associated with teaching it. How do we help make that shift?

Third, we are beginning to plan for next year’s professional development and — besides needing to figure out exactly what we will offer related to tech-based writing PD — we really need to get some info about research in the field and effectiveness of web-based writing practices. I am going to do some searching on the Pew Internet and American Life site, the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Learning site, and UConn’s New Literacies Research Team site to see what I can come up with. So, my final question for tonight is this — if you have an empirical studies on digital writing in schools that you can point me to before Thursday morning, could you please post them as comments here?

Thanks for hanging in there with me on this post. I appreciate all the comments — both online and F2F — that you, as readers, give me about this blog. It is very encouraging as a teacher and writer.

And, just so you know, I am finally thinking about doing a more formal podcast starting soon as I am currently an intern in the Webcast Academy. Wish me luck!