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 lulu.com. 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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