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.

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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Initial Podcast from Tech Matters 2007 – Building a Metaphor for Your Site

In this podcast, I capture some of the voices of TM07 as we prepare for our first dinner together and then move through the “Building a Metaphor for Your Site” activity. (Pardon some of the recording problems as I am getting used to my new Sansa Express MP3 Player/Digital Voice Recorder.)

First, I attempt to interview Karen McComas and Paul Allison, and try to find out what Tech Matters is and what it means to them. Then, Peter Kittle, our gracious host, reminds us that we are talking about “geek stuff with like-minded idiots,” at least the facilitation team. For Paul, he talks about community and connection. And Karen reminds us of the transformative powers of TM.

After dinner, we began the activity, led by Chris Sloan and Betty Collum. I first talk to Susan Martens-Baker and Cyndi Dwyer about their ear of corn, who discuss the “golden corny goodness” that is Nebraska, ready to pop out.

I then move over to John Bishop and Paige Cole, who did a very (very) interpretive piece of finger painting. They describe it better than I ever could.

Next, we moved into articulation groups, and I met with Amanda and Garth Cornwell from Lake Michigan as well as Cheryl Canada and Terri Godby from Mid-Ohio. We were asked to come up with our gist (that, gist, G-I-S-T) statement. Amanda discussed how LMWP is on the verge of some changes while Cheryl and Terri discuss how they feel their site is still invisible to local teachers, hidden behind a mask.

Finally, we took a few minutes to interview our teammates and ask questions about things that resonated with them in the larger discussions as well as what they want to explore during the week of TM. So, I was able to listen in with Lavon Jonson and Sonja Mack from Crossroads. They talked about the idea of a statewide tech network in Michigan and finding out more about the many tools that people were talking about.

This was a great introduction to the group and provided a fun start to a busy week. We are looking forward to begining bright and early tomorrow, some earlier than others.

Framing Tech Matters 2007

A little over a year ago, David Warlick blogged about a provocative idea — what would it take to tell a “new story” about education as it is changing in the 21st century. From that post, and our collective understanding of the read/write web, the Tech Matters 2006 team decided to use the three broad themes from his book, Raw Materials for the Mind: A Teacher’s Guide to Digital Literacy to set up the first three days of our institute. The themes are:

  • Rich and Interactive Information
  • Compelling Communication
  • Collaboration with Peers and Experts

We have taken those themes again this year and set up online discussions, writing prompts, and other activities around them to lead participants through a series of questions related to the theme as well as to the work of their site. Paul Allison has been instrumental in setting up our site for the week’s work, a Drupal Ed install that has many features including blogs, a wiki, social networking tools, podcasting capabilities and much more.

To the left, you can see a brief view of what the interface looks like, although this is only a small snapshot that Paul took to illustrate how to make a post. The advantage to a site like this is that everything is there. I think that it is something that many writing projects might consider as they think about creating a web presence.

For the week, then, Betty and I are primarily responsible for organizing Friday morning’s activities and case studies about collaboration. Here is what we plan to do:

Theme for the Day: Collabration with Peers, Experts, and Online Communities

Greetings from Chico

In addition to my regular blog readers, I would like to extend a special hello this week to my RCWP colleagues who, I hope, are following from afar my adventures at Tech Matters 2007. They are in the last week of the summer institute, and I miss being there, but hope that my work at Tech Matters translates back to our site in productive ways.

Getting here today was, fortunately, uneventful. NWA was on time for both flights and, as with all great NWP events, our welcome to Chico would not have been complete without chocolate. As we have talked about in our summer institute this year, I really enjoy going to these national NWP events, seeing familiar faces, and jumping right into the work without having to explain myself and my philosophy.  we all just seem to know what to do when we come to these events, and that makes them very exciting both personally and professionally.
Also, given our experience last year overheating — even in the air conditioned computer lab — Peter found it appropriate to give us a USB powered fan as well.



Tonight was spent with the TM07 team doing some preliminary planning for tomorrow, where we will do a “run through” of the institute. I am responsible for helping facilitate a day on “Collaboration” on Friday, and the other days will focus on “Rich, Interactive Information” and “Self Expression.” Saturday is really a work day for the tech teams who are here to plan out what they want to do with their mini-grants.

So, Chico is a great town. Here is an image of the now-completed Park Plaza. Last summer, all that we could see of this plaza was the band shell peeking its head above fences and orange barrels. This summer, the plaza is done and had both Shakespeare in the Park and a blues band tonight. It is a nice addition to the center of the city.

I was also able to take a quick jog to Bidwell Park this afternoon and I think that there will be other trips to local eateries and fun spots later on this week. The Northern California Writing Project is our host for the week and — as I noted above — they have been very hospitable so far.

I plan to blog a little more tomorrow about the structure of the week at Tech Matters (so as to think about implications for our site’s work) and then give periodic updates throughout the week as cool tech tools and great work from other sites begin to surface. Please feel free to become a member of the blog and add comments — I look forward to hearing from everyone back home and what you would like to know more about while I hang out with the geeks in Chico!

Musings on Multiliteracies

Since it has been a few weeks since my last blog post, I have been engaged in the first and second week of RCWP’s summer institute, the online discussion for Tech Matters 2007, and a few days offline when we took a long holiday weekend up north. So, there are many, many ideas floating in my head right now — perhaps disconnected — that I want to capture before they slip away.

First, we had a great talk today at RCWP about Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies as well as the new Michigan Educational Technology Standards. You can see some of our ideas captured in our wiki page on the book. This was done to both spur on our colleagues as they write their multiliteracies learning plan and to foreground many of the issues that we want to talk about on Thursday when the state director of technology from MDE visits our site. So, more on that soon.

Second, there are some cool things developing from a social network that Kevin started, Tech Friends. Whether you are an NWP TL or not, this seems to be a great network that is focusing their discussions on issues of teaching with technology, all the while considering critical aspects of infrastructure and classroom practice. Join in!

Third, Tech Matters is next week. Paul Allison has done a great job organizing us into a DrupalEd site and the conversations there are rich, too. I am still not quite sure what is public there and what will be soon, but that is where I will be next week and much of my writing attention will be in that site.

Fourth, I am scheduled to do our sacred writing time tomorrow morning and I want to do something with syncronous collaborative writing. I am just at a loss right now for what to have them do. I might have them begin writing a story, although that could quickly get out of hand. I might try to make it more focused and have them discuss their favorite writing spaces.

Finally, I can safely say that I am feeling overwhelmed with maintaining my online identity right now. I tried Twitter for awhile, but I couldn’t keep up with it. My Flickr feed is all but dead. This blog has been neglected for many weeks. And now I have the TM07 and Tech Friends networks that I am joining in, too. I have been woefully remiss in posting to the Tech Stories blog, and I see that they are going to present at K12 Online Conference — congrats to Bonnie and Kevin — another community that I want to get involved in, too.

At what point can/shoudl we expect our colleagues to engage in learning about and learning to write with newer technologies when even the techies are overwhelmed?

Whew. That was random. But, I wanted to share some of my thinking and see if anyone can help me think about how to collect my online self. I tried Netvibes a year ago, but fell out of that habit, too.

Any ways that you can think of to organize all these ideas, activities, spaces, people, etc?

Whoever said being multiliterate would be easy though, right?

Book Review: Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies

Yet another busy week has passed by with too much to blog, and too little time. Our summer institute is coming soon, and I have had lots of reading to do, so the good news is that I now have an excuse to get blogging again — book reviews.

So, here is my first one, written about a text we are using in RCWP this summer and, perhaps, in Tech Matters, too. What follows below is the rough draft of my critical response to the book, to be revised and refined throughout the summer.

Multiliteracies BookTeaching and Learning Multiliteracies: Changing Times, Changing Literacies

Michèle Anstey and Geoff Bull

Published by IRA, 2006

Echoing the countless calls for 21st century literacy or new technology standards, Anstey and Bull suggest that “[L]iteracy pedagogy must teach students to be flexible, tolerant of different viewpoints, and able to problem solve, analyse situations, and work strategically. They must be able to identify the knowledge and resources they have and combine and recombine them to suit the particular purpose and context” (p. 18). In saying this, it seems as though they add nothing new to the conversation about why and how to teach students about various discourses and technology. These demands are commonplace now, in business coalition reports, professional journals, and even in state curriculum documents (usually the last place we see such progressive calls to action).
Yet, this is only the beginning of their argument. And, as a literacy educator, I find the fact that they begin with a claim that most others end upon a refreshing change. In a preview of the text to come, Anstey and Bull immediately add the following to the quote begun above [emphasis mine]:

Consequently, school classrooms and teaches’ pedagogy must encourage, model, and reflect these sorts of behaviours. The content and pedagogy of literacy programs must reflect the literate practices of local to global communities and equip students for change. Educators cannot hope to teach student all they need to know, as this will change constantly. But teachers can equip their students with the knowledge, skills, strategies, and attitudes that will enable them to meet new situations and cope with them. (p. 18)

It is with these closing remarks in their introductory chapter that Anstey and Bull lay the groundwork for their timely and practical text, Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies: Changing Times, Changing Literacies. Rather than focus on a particular technology (or limited set of technologies) or the aspects of a certain discourse, the authors offer teachers a series of chapters that builds theoretical and practical knowledge through careful explanation and thoughtful reflection techniques.

Anstey and Bull create a vivid picture of globalization in the first chapter, suggesting that the reasons to be multiliterate are about more than just economic competitiveness and, indeed, center more on concerns about power, identity, and ethical behavior in a new digitized, globalized era. In the second chapter, they continue this line of thinking and layer in the New London Group’s Pedagogy of Multiliteracies heuristic for helping teachers think about our understanings of text, semiotic systems, meaning making, intertextuality, and critical literacy. They suggest a “Four Resource Model” of the multiliterate person (p. 41), a model that is flexible enough to give teachers and students language to talk about multiliterate perspectives on texts.

In chapter 3, Anstey and Bull go on to offer specific advice for how to integrate a pedagogy of multiliteracies model into classroom teaching and learning, focusing specifically on classroom talk, lesson structure, and materials used. They explain how “[a] dynamic multiliteracies pedagogy is concerned with making decisions about learning that are based on the relationships between the desired learning outcomes, what teachers know about their students, and what teachers know about the way in which successful pedagogy is conducted” (p. 81). I find this approach particularly refreshing as it acknowledges the expertise of teachers and the local contexts in which they find themselves. Even though this quote is (perhaps intentionally) vague, there are concrete suggestions in the chapter that will help a discerning reader make choices about how to integrate such pedagogy in his or her classroom.

Chapters 4 and 5 focus on multiliteracies and children’s literature as well as producing and consuming texts, respectively. Both of these chapters offer specific examples about how and why to use particular children’s texts and lists of questions and terminology that will help teachers find resources and adopt the language of a multiliteracies perspective into their pedagogy. The final chapter moves back to the Four Resource model as a way to begin integrated curriculum planning and, in turn, a focus on whole-school plans for literacy that include students, teachers, and the entire school.

Overall, I find Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies: Changing Times, Changing Literacies a compelling text, and one that I know we will be using this summer in RCWP (and, possibly, in Tech Matters) as well as in my fall pre-service writing methods class. One concern that I have, however, relates to the Four Resource Model. Like all models, students could become scripted — like Harvey Daniels has noted about literature circles — into certain roles and become complacent in them. If the “code breaker,” “meaning maker,” text user,” and “text analyst” take their roles too literally, then a number of problems could occur, the worst of which is that they don’t become multiliterate since they are engaging in primarily one way of reading the text.

That said, I think that the benefits of this book outweigh that concern. Anstey and Bull offer series upon series of useful questions and annotated lists of terms. The also offer periodic reflection questions that could easily be turned into classroom prompts for journal writing and/or discussion. Despite my concerns about the Four Square model, the authors conclude that “[t]o rely on just one approach [to teaching], or on one favoured pedagogy, is to pretend that all students of teachers or schools can benefit from the same treatment” (p. 135). I believe that this is just as much a jab at the standards-based reformists as it is aimed towards themselves and the ways in which the pedagogy of multiliteracis might be enacted, too.

And, because the authors remain critical of themselves right up to the very end, I respect them — and the pedagogy outlined in this book — that much more for it.