Conversation about Research Writing Rewired on NWP Radio

Last night, my friend, colleague, and co-author — Dawn Reed — and I were featured on the National Writing Project’s weekly podcast, NWP Radio. Enjoy this episode in which we discuss the interwoven themes of reading, writing, and technology through a conversation about our book, Research Writing Rewired.

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Hosting #engchat on 1/12/15

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CC Licensed Flickr image from JLM Photography.

As more and more students bring mobile devices to school, we have more opportunities (and challenges) to teach reading and writing, speaking and listening.

For next week’s #engchat conversation (1/12/15 at 7:00 PM EST), join co-authors Jeremy Hyler (@Jeremybballer) and Troy Hicks (@hicsktro) as they share some strategies from their book, Create, Compose, Connect! Reading, Writing and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge/Eye on Education, 2014).

More importantly, we invite you to share your ideas about how best to engage students in authentic literacy activities with smartphones and tablets. Some questions we may pursue during the chat include:

  • What is your school’s policy for mobile technologies? If your school has a BYOD or 1:1 program, how did it begin? If not, what do you want to know in order to start one?
  • What are the literacy skills that mobile technology enable? How are you working with students to develop their skills as readers and writers, listeners and speakers?
  • What lesson ideas do you have for mobile tech — daily, weekly, or just once in awhile — what works for you and your students?

We look forward to creating, composing, and connecting with #engchat colleagues soon!

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What I’ve Done on Summer Vacation (So Far)

Troy and Kathy
Working with CRWP Co-Director Kathy Kurtze (shown here), as well as Elizabeth Brockman and Shannon Powell, I facilitated the Chippewa River Writing Project’s 2013 Invitational Summer Institute.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the good fortune of facilitating our 2013 Chippewa River Writing Project and participating in a number of Google Hangouts where I have talked about my new book, Crafting Digital Writing.

I’ve gathered all those videos up and posted them on a page of the book’s companion wiki. All in all, I’ve had some great conversations with some amazing educators, and I hope that you find them as useful to listen to as I found them when I was participating in them.

Also, in the past two weeks, I have had to-coauthored journal articles released, both available for free online. :

Then, last week, I was out in Colorado presenting at the Conference on English Education summer gathering. It was great to talk with other English educators about the power of my professional writing group and some of the research I am working on right now. Needless to say, it’s been a busy summer so far!

Then, next week, I work my way down to the Discovery Education near DC to present at their Common Core Academy with a stop on my way home in Charlottesville, VA, to work with teachers at Albemarle County Public Schools on creating their digital writing workshop. In fact, we had a virtual meeting today to start our conversation, and they came up with a great list of topics for us to pursue next week:

  • Digging in deeper to smart assessment practices and building useful rubrics
  • Among their PLC, creating a repository of digital mentor texts and teaching resources
  • Exploring the affordances and constraints of different forums for students to write and comment on each others’ writing
  • Discussing ways to help parents who may be hesitant letting their students use digital writing tools feel more comfortable about why and how we are teaching with web-based technology

As I reflect on the summer so far, I have been impressed with the willingness and dedication of teachers, all working to understand the Common Core and implications for digital writing with their students. Most of these conversations have been positive, despite the negative political rhetoric surrounding the CCSS right now. I am still not an outright fan of CCSS, but I am confident that many teachers are thinking about how to use these standards in thoughtful, generative, and — dare I say it — even creative ways, not reductive ones. Let’s hope that we can keep the positive momentum going, focusing on how to help students craft digital writing.

One last note — please join in the book’s G+ community and feel free to post. I need to get back in there and stir up some conversation, yet always welcome comments, questions, and insights from you, too.

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Examining Digital Learning Day

As with all educational initiatives and fads, I strongly encourage everyone participating in the Digital Learning Day celebrations this week to do some homework about the history of the day itself, as well as some of its corporate, foundation, and “core” partners (which, for the record, include the two professional organizations I call home: NWP and NCTE).

So, this week I’m playing with Storify and trying to curate a “live textbook” about Digital Learning Day, but looking at it from a critical perspective. In other words, I am trying to follow the money. Thus, as Digital Learning Day enters its second year… I wonder what do we know about the day itself?

  • Who are the corporate partners? Who are the foundation partners? What about some of the “core” partners such as iNACOL, CCSSO, and Pearson?
  • What are the broader themes and messages that we should explore, based on the stated interests and goals of these partners? Who wins and who loses in these partnerships? Teachers? Students? Taxpayers?
  • Finally, what is the vision of digital learning that these corporations, foundations, and “core” partners represent?

I pose these not to extinguish the excitement that so many people have in Digital Learning Day. But, I do want to raise awareness and ask the unasked questions. I’ll be curious to find out what everyone else discovers and reports back this week.

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Reflections on CRWP 2012 Open Institute

CRWP 2012 Open Institute Flyer
CRWP 2012 Open Institute Flyer

As many readers of my blog know, the funding situation that hit the National Writing Project in the spring of 2011 still causes repercussions throughout our network. One way that we at Chippewa River Writing Project have responded is, for this summer, to hold out on offering an invitational institute and, instead, offer a hybrid online/face-to-face open institute (also offered for SB-CEUs and graduate credit). Beginning online June 11 and stretching until July 13, with one week of F2F contact June 25-29, we created Teachers as Writers: Reflecting on and Responding to the Common Core. Here is the program description:

The Chippewa River Writing Project invites K-12 teachers from all content areas to participate in a one-week open institute focused on the integration of a genre-based, technology-rich approach to teaching writing in an era of the Common Core Standards.

During the week of June 25-29, 2012 — with additional interactions online both before and after the institute — participants will work with CRWP teacher consultants to better understand the expectations in the CCSS, explore useful digital writing tools, and engage in their own personal writing.

This hybrid professional development experience, like many other workshops that I conduct with teachers, was both surprising in its rewards and challenging in implementation. My co-directors (Penny and Kathy) and I tried to structure an opportunity that would offer participants a glimpse into the summer institute (participating in teaching demonstrations, although not leading one; writing groups; creating personal and professional texts; engaging in digital writing). Here is a brief synopsis of what we did before, during, and after the institute, with reflections at the end of the post.


When we recognized last fall that we would in fact not be offering an Invitational Summer Institute, we marked “the week” on our calendars and opened up registration via Google Docs. Working with colleagues in the English department, when I realized in the late spring that there would be enough attendees to warrant an application as a CMU Global Campus course for grad credit and SB-CEUs, I began that process, too. What was interesting about this process — as compared to the careful recruiting and vetting of applications for the ISI — is that we had many, many people complete the Google form indicating their interest, and I sent them email updates along the way. However, about five never replied (and never showed up) and about five more emailed me the week before to say that they couldn’t attend. A few more dropped during “the week” due to personal circumstances. In short, this was unusually high attrition. Also, because our ISI usually enrolls people “by hand,” and not through the normal course scheduling process, I hadn’t even thought that some people would enroll without me knowing. Hindsight being 20/20, I could have done more to describe the institute in our advertising.

Once we got to the point where we were entering “class time” and the online sessions began, I knew that having a webinar to go over routine matters on the syllabus and assignments would be helpful. Thus, I used Doodle to schedule a poll of participants and set up a webinar on the Friday before class began to go over these details. I was able to record a screencast of the webinar and send that to those who could not attend. Since participants would be working on two major projects — a “significant professional text” and a “digital belief statement about teaching writing” — I wanted to clarify those assignments. I was still clarifying well into the week, and that was OK because it acted like so many coaching moments.

The other portion of the work before the institute was for participants to share their thoughts about the CCSS and the introduction to the Calkins et al text, Pathways to the Common Core through a discussion board on the wiki. Despite my efforts at encouraging people into participating and replying to one another, only one other person really did (and, admittedly, I did not either because I didn’t want to stifle conversation). The balance between teacher-directed and student-centered online conversations still eludes me, even though I attempt to craft engaging questions and welcome people to reply to one another. At any rate, we used these responses during the institute to initiate conversation about the CCSS and introductions to one another on Monday.


During the week-long institute

Our daily schedule included Writing Into the Day, a teaching demo on narrative (Tuesday), argument (Wednesday), and informational texts (Thursday). Also, in the afternoons, we explored technologies, as generated by participant interest: Google Docs, Prezi, Glogster, Citelighter, WeVideo and iMovie. To the extent we were able, we also had impromptu writing groups. Over the course of the week, I also took time to meet with individual participants to help them frame their thinking for their final projects. From pre-service teachers who were trying to develop lesson and units plans to graduate students creating their syllabi and assignments to veteran teachers and professors thinking conceptually about how to redesign their approach to teaching writing, it was a busy week.

As with most NWP institutes, the magic happens in these interactions, and I wish that I could point to one specific reason why it all seemed to come together. Participants K-college were pleased to have a chance to dig into the CCSS with colleagues who were both interested and empathetic. We had one participant from an urban high school and two who taught adult ed, as well as two teacher educators. Even the graduate students who, not directly affected by CCSS (yet), were interested in finding out more about what students should know and be able to do as they enter freshman composition. On Friday, each participant shared a brief overview of what he/she had learned and would be working on for his/her final project. We used a simple “I think, I like, I wonder” response and the conversations that afternoon were engaging right up until the end.


CRWP Hangout
CRWP Hangout

After a week of vacation with intermittent internet access (which I had warned participants about), I returned home to find their “progress reports” on our wiki page and then had to arrange for two types of online response groups. One group, mostly the graduate students who would be teaching freshman composition, wanted to use Google Docs to offer brief responses to one another’s projects and then participate in a Google Hangout to talk together. The other, mostly those in K-12 settings, wanted to use Google Docs only to offer comments and feedback to one another without any other type of group meeting.

This worked out fairly well, and the resulting Google Hangout I was quite interesting because people were able to share a variety of projects from Google Docs, to Prezis, to wiki sites, all with the embedded features.  more importantly, I think that most of the participants ( high school and college teachers) thought that using a hangout to connect with other writers do something that they could do themselves in a writing group or with their students outside of class time.


As our open institute comes to a close, I am generally happy with the results. We had ten teachers enroll for credit, three more for SB-CEUs. So, it seems as though a one-week commitment with some additional online work is one way that people feel comfortable completing a course. And, of course, we had the NWP spirit infused throughout the entire institute, even though the online portion was not as fulfilling as I would have hoped it would be. We do have a group of people that we can look to for next summer as we begin thinking about recruitment for the ISI (where we will offer a stipend or tuition remission). And, I appreciated the diversity of the group, from new teachers to veterans, from early elementary through college.

In planning a future event like this, perhaps I would have participants do something more substantive online before the institute began (such as create a writer’s profile), although I wouldn’t want the technology to be off-putting. Also, for lack of better term, striking the balance between teacher-centered and student-centered approaches to online and F2F pedagogy is necessary, although I am still not sure what else I could do to engage people (and hope that they don’t drop out along the way). I want to welcome teachers to an institute such as this on their own terms, based on their own interests. Yet, when we expect a certain number of participants to show up and then one-third of them drop out right before or during the institute, that makes the financial costs of running such a workshop seem like a less worthwhile investment.

As for the post-institute online work, I recognize that I need to be much more organized with this. I should have made expectations for group communication much more clear our last face-to-face session. Throughout the weeks people were e-mailing me to ask how best to respond to one another when I naturally assumed that they would be communicating via comments on Google docs and other web-based texts. That said, I do feel that most participants gained from having the face-to-face and then online writing groups, their final projects reflected a deep level of thought and engagement. A few that were particularly interesting include:

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the open institute and I look forward to hearing about how they implement ideas from the common core and digital writing in their classrooms this fall.

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Workshop on Historical Thinking and Argumentative Writing

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

Workshop Planning

When Tim and his ISD partner, Beckie Bush, contacted me about the possibility of co-facilitating the workshop, I was immediately interested given my obvious work with teaching writing in the broadest sense, as well as teaching writing in the disciplines. Together, we agreed that we would use two professional texts for the workshop, aimed at inspiring both historical thinking and a better understanding of argument writing.

Beckie and Tim asked me to bring a focus on argument writing, with the clear goal of integrating credible, web-based sources and, to the extent possible, digital writing with multimedia tools beyond slideware. When we first met, we immediately began constructing a working agenda via a wiki, and I knew that Zotero would be a key component of our teaching and learning. While somewhat fearful that the topic would be one that teachers would find mundane, Tim helped guide us through thinking about Truman’s decision to drop the bomb as a time-period appropriate dilemma that we could use to teach historical empathy and argumentative writing.
Thus, we decided on two main tasks for the teachers to complete over the three days by engaging in a digital writing workshop that would involve lots of research, collaboration, and development of both a written individual essay and a group multimedia presentation from one of three perspectives: Truman’s advisors who supported the bomb, those in his cabinet who were against it, and the scientific community. As Tim led the group through many exercises on historical thinking, DBQ (document-based questioning), and historical empathy, I took the lead on teaching the argument writing.

Day 1

During this day, my primary role was to begin a discussion about the similarities and differences between persuasion and argumentation. With resources from Smekens Education Solutions, and our crowdsourced Google Docs, we began thinking about the subtle differences that teachers will have to make as we move away from teaching “persuasion,” (with its strong reliance on rhetorical appeals and one-sided arguments) and “argument,” (which requires the writer to acknowledge both sides and use reason to support a claim).

Argumentation Persuasion
  • Opinion
  • Facts and Statistics (Both Sides)
  • Support
  • Position
  • Stance
  • Evidence
  • Interpret
  • Refute
  • Debate
  • Validity
  • Agreement/Disagreement
  • Persuade
  • Conflict
  • Details
  • Validate
  • Information
  • Balanced
  • Attitude
  • Acknowledgement
  • Grapple
  • Issue
  • Problem
  • Logic
  • Reasoning
  • #@!%*&? (Cursing or strong language to get a point across)
  • Position
  • Support
  • Emotion
  • Passion
  • One-Sided
  • Propaganda
  • Advertising
  • Facts and data
  • Spin
  • Influence
  • Appeal
  • Aggresive
  • Credible
  • #winning
  • LOCK
    • Loaded Words
    • Overstatements
    • Carefully Chosen Facts
    • Key Omissions

These will be big shifts in the years to come as we implement the CCSS, and I relied on a number of resources to guide us through our thinking about how to create an argumentative essay including Hillocks’ book, the NWP Writing Assignment Framework and Overview, the ReadWriteThink Persuasion Map, a small sample of They Say/I Say Templates, and the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s List of Transitional Words.

Also, on this first day, we talked about how the essay (written from your personal perspective in 2012) would differ from the group multimedia project, meant to be delivered as a factual report to a (fictitious) Congressional inquiry in 1950, built only from evidence available at that time, most of which came from the Truman Library. This was quite interesting, as it forced us to take two different approaches:

Individual Essay Group Mulitmedia Presentation
Mode Argumentative essay (reliant on logical reasoning and multiple forms of evidence from WWII-present) Persuasive presentation (reliant on logic, but also emotional appeals of the era; most evidence was textual, with some images and film footage)
Media Composed in Word or Google Docs, with use of Zotero Composed with a multimedia tool such as Prezi or Capzles
Audience Peers, teachers, general public (op-ed) Peers and teachers, set in roles at a fictitious Congressional Hearing in 1950
Purpose To create a coherent, sequenced argument for or against the dropping of the bomb based on its short and long-term consequences To create a well-reasoned, yet impassioned case for one of three positions about dropping the bomb
Situation Situated in the present, and with historical knowledge from dropping of the bomb, through Cold War, up to present Situated in the past, without knowledge of historical effects beyond 1950.Using the media of today to make a presentation for that era.

Day 2

Screenshot of "Think Aloud" for Argument EssayMy notes here on day two are brief because, for the most part, it was a work day. Lots of trouble-shooting with Zotero as people got their accounts synced up with the web plugin and standalone, connected to our group library, and worked on their multimedia presentations. There were many, many quick conversations with teachers about the affordances and constraints of the technologies — as well as many frustrations — but by the end of the day most of them felt pretty good about the work we were doing. Also, I worked with them to do a “think aloud” of my first draft of my attempt at the individual essay (look at revision history for Jun 20, 1:42 PM). This brought up interesting conversations about the trap of writing though a lens of “presentism,” the use of “I” in writing for history class, and how to best use the They Say/I Say templates and transition words as a way to get started (note the highlights).

Day 3

Screen Shot of "Final" Essay on TrumanMoving into the morning of day three, we talked about ways to effectively integrate peer response groups and did a “fishbowl” model with my essay. Again, this yielded some interesting results as this group of history teachers worked with me to think about what was valuable in terms of both historical thinking and the quality of writing.

We looked at an online rubric generator as a way to keep our conversation focused on assessment, and also discussed the “checklist” type of criteria (Five transitional words/phrases; Three “template” transitions from They Say/I Say) as compared to the parts of the essay that could be judged in a more evaluative sense:

  • State a clear claim and back it with appropriate evidence, from the WWII era through today
  • Develop three main talking points (diplomatic, social, military, political, economic), with two or three sub-points (specific example)
  • Identify and rebut at least two significant counter-arguments

In all of this, we talked about what counts as “evidence,” and many elements were listed including political cartoons, as this screen shot from my “final” essay shows. Also, we discussed the fact that we have to be open to sharing our rough draft thinking with students, even though (by nature) most teachers are perfectionists. One participant noted that if I, as an English professor, was willing to share my writing in this way and not just try to impress the crowd with an amazing essay on the first attempt, then they as middle and high school history teachers should be willing to do the same. I heartily agree.

Then, we moved into the last part of the workshop where groups presented their cases to the “Congressional Hearing.” We tried to complete a speaking and listening guide, as well as some work with Bernajean Porter’s Digitales Multimedia Evaluation Guides, but I have to say that we mostly just enjoyed the presentations. There were, of course, some creative dramatics involved, and here are a few of their results.



Much of what I have to say about this entire workshop can be summarized in the simple, yet powerful mantra from NWP in that teachers must be writers. When I asked them at the end how they felt about the process, they wouldn’t want to do the group work and the individual essay at the same time. Many felt overloaded, both with tasks and technology. So, there is some tweaking to do. But, some of their final thoughts we captured in conversation were useful:

  • What else would you, as social studies teachers, be looking for in the writing?
    • Background information about the topic: era, people, place (set the stage)
      • Historical thinking gurus: one of the advantages of this approach as a process of thinking is that it gives students a chance to apply what they have learned and then they are able to do something with it
    • Defining key terms/vocabulary
    • Key/relevant statistics/data
    • Citations: analyzing primary and secondary sources
    • Gathering data from their classmates/community
    • Cause and effect, sequential, compare and contrast

And, with that, I will put this particular PD experience in my own history, at least for now, until I have another opportunity to do a workshop on argumentative writing, when all of this will come in quite handy.

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