Notes from “Negotiating Digital and traditional Literacies in Methods Classes: Preparing Future English Teachers for Teaching Writing”

Wow, March has been like a lion for me all the time. Sorry for the lack of posts.

At any rate, along with seeing New York City, I also saw some interesting sessions at CCCC 2007 last week. I will begin posting my notes and responses here with this session on methods courses.

I thought that the presenters were on the right track with this session, especially given that it was aimed at English Educators who would also be attending CCCC (like, for instance, me). Given that CCCC and the field of composition is generally more amenable to multiple forms of literacy, this type of presentation worked well at this conference. It suffered in attendance from the fact that it was late on Saturday afternoon, but I think that their final answer to my question — “transferability” — made a good deal of sense. So, here are some notes from the session:

Negotiating Digital and traditional Literacies in Methods Classes: Preparing Future English Teachers for Teaching Writing

Chris Denecker, The Univesity of Findlay – “Technology, Identity, and Teacher Prearation in the 21st Century”

  • Background
    • Being an English teacher used to mean onyl reading and writing. Today, teachers must integrate and impart a number of literacies in their classrooms.
    • Studies show that teachers are not as digitally literate as they should be and that pre-service teachers don’t feel confident in their abilities to use digital literacies in the classroom.
    • Technology has added to the conundrum of pedagogy and content, and now must be added into a cumbersome “to do list” for teacher educators.
    • Many teacher prep programs are not sufficiently answering the challenges of this problem according to NCATE, ISTE, and others, both on campus and in field experiences.
    • Educators are taking it upon themselves to implement and model technological pedagogies in their classrooms. How do we use technology and help pre-service teachers use it effectively?
  • Technology and Language Arts
    • ELA teachers often rely on computer teachers in labs. Nancy Deihl sees English teachers position themselves as “techno phobes” when they do Cyber Quests.
      • One of her students said that the Cyber Quest helps lessen the fear about technology.
    • Rising and Pope integrated technology in their ELA prep program pairing students in their teacher prep courses with middle schools students in an “e-pal” peer response group.
      • Pre-service teachers and middle school students enjoyed this.
    • Faculty doing these types of activities show promise and this needs to be more of a part of pre-service programs.
  • Overcoming Obstacles
    • New teachers need to overcome their own fears and maximize the time that they have available. Technology makes demands on teaching staff.
    • If we do this during teacher prep courses, then the pre-service teachers will have models to work from when they entre their own classrooms.
    • Technology can be motivational and help students publish good work and control their own learning.
    • For teachers, it can help store and retrive info and communicate with students and parents. All of this needs to be communicated to teacher educators preparing new teachers.
  • Why?
    • We need to assess the purposes for using technology. If we mirror traditional pedagogies, then it is not useful.
    • What are the goals attached to a digital literacy project? How does it contribute to the “whole” of their digital literacy?
    • Jester (English Education, 2002) – integrating technology into the writing process, focusing on multimedia and hypertextual aspects.
  • Personal experience
    • Use of Blackboard to share drafts, pre-write, revise, etc.
    • Kristine Blair’s “studio review” — have students move from computer to computer and put comments on the documents with Word.
  • Technological Pedagogies
    • Research shows that students do engage with technology
    • Begin with email, digital cameras, and iPods
    • Students can respond to one another through virtual pen pals, snap pictures and then write about details, engage in cyber quests, poetry websites, how-to speeches/videos, create newscasts, research and create PPTs
    • Incorporate place for a class “common place book” as a space for students to document and comment on their evolving relationship to writing (grabbing quotes and other materials to create a discussion starter)

Christine Tulley, The Univesity of Findlay

      • Background
        • As director of English Education programs, she sees many people: non-English majors seeking certification, second-career seekers, teachers wanting to move to community college, and graduate students seeking a certificate and degree all at once
      • Looming Problems with this kind of class
        • Writing Theory
          • These students do not have a writing theory course in their background (process vs product) for instance
        • Technology
          • They come to the program with a variety of program experiences and uses of the internet; skills from the workplace without direct connection to pedagogy
        • Training College Teachers (Methods)
          • Trying to meet the needs of those who want to become English Educators
      • Solutions
        • Writing Theory
          • Doing something with students each week with a practical applciation of a writing technology.
        • Technology
          • Use the technologies that they already know so they are comfortable with it and can think about it in different ways (comments and tracking changes in Word) and then they give feedback to students in her first year composition courses
          • Use traditional things that everyone has access to and do them in a different way. For instance, use PPT to express creative writing with graffiti writing and flash poetry
      • NCTE and alternative licensure
        • NCTE does recommends doing this by integrating technology into the coursework as well

      Emily Kemp, Groveport Madison High School

      • What do you wish you learned in your writing methods class in college?
        • I still struggle with revising and editing, trying to help students figure out how and why to change what they have written. They are concerned with how long it needs to be and what they need to do, and they are not concerned with making the writing better. I have to go back to the basics and use lots of form writing although I am trying to challenge them to get into creating digital texts.
      • What would you say technology is affecting you?
        • Using wifi laptops to have students compose PPTs and bring in United Streaming materials to show videos.
      • What was taught well in your methods classes that you think we should still do?
        • In doing a research paper, I enjoy showing students drafts of early and poor work so that they can learn from the models. Kids see other people’s writing and are better able to understand what it is that they are supposed to do. I have students use the rubrics from my college comp classes and write reflections on what they have done when they create a paper.


      Teachers need to be digitally literate do that they can have timely, student-centered approaches to instruction. Also, teachers need to be confident with technological practices so that they can encourage students to be digitally literate, too.

      My Question for Them with Their Responses

      So, the tension lies between the types of writing that are assessed (generally formulaic) and emerging genres in writing (multimedia and hypertext), what do you suggest as a balance of assignments in a writing methods course?

      • Have them create a problem/solution paper based on a topic in writing (for instance, how to get students revised or motivating a reluctant student).
      • Skills that they learn need to be transferable from one context/platform to another. So, talk about the literacy skills embedded in the technology, not just the technology in particular.

    Nobis and Cook: Connecting Comics and Essays

    Nobis Nobis and Cook: Connecting Comics and Essays

    Mitch Nobis and Rick Cook are teacher consultants from Red Cedar Writing Project, and presented a number of ways that they connect graphic novels and expository writing in their writing classes. They will also be presenting a similar session at Bright Ideas.

    • Thinking about what comics are and how they fit in to the curriculum
      • People’s perceptions of “graphic” novels
        • Is it a long comic?
        • Are they just for entertainment?
        • Rick showed up and found out that he had to teach Maus, Mitch always wanted to teach it.
    • Why Comics?
      • Comics offer a way to teach visual literacy
        • Now, Michigan high school content standards address visual literacy and graphic novels
        • Comics are connecting an old media with new technologies
      • Comics offer an engaging meium for memoir
      • Comics invite expository porse and demonstrate how to read with exposition in mind
        • How can comics and graphic novels, especially a vignette, turn into something traditional like an expository essay
    • Comics and Literacy Response
      • Check out McCloud’s Understanding Comics for more on all of this
        • Iconography – everything is a visual representation of something else
          • In a way, we are so involved because we identify all comic characters
        • Closure – the gutter between panels lets you step in to the story and make meaning between the panels
        • Paneling – thinking how motion works between panels
          • From one image of a person to another image of the same person
          • From one moment to another
          • From one idea to another
        • Amplification through simplification
          • Comic art moves from complex to abstract and, in so doing, makes things more general
          • Comics are popular with kids for this reason, because they can connect so easily
          • Universality – we all look like that
      • One of McCloud’s main points is that iconography combined with closure makes something a comic
    • Looking at Maus with McCloud as a lens for visual/literary response
      • Utlizes students familiarity with the graphic medium
      • Capitalizes on the “breaking the rules” nature of using comics in schools
      • Introduces academic discussion of graphic techniques and symbolism
      • Provides scaffolding as students arrempt literary analysis responding the the visual with the verbal gives students a “blank slate” to fill with original responses
        • They are able to go from image to words, whereas they are used to going into the author’s words
      • Introduces using “text” as evidence
      • Text / Terms = Effect
        • By looking at the text, and talking about it with the terminology of visual literacy, they can discuss the effects that the author acheives
    • Comic Prompts for Expository Writing
      • Missouri Boy by Leland Myrick is a graphic poem that covers many adolescent themes
        • Chapter 1 is a prologue about how his grandmother is dying as his mother prepares to give birth to him and his twin brother
        • Writing When You Don’t Know: Visual Memoirs and Research Writing
          • Writing personal experience
          • The move from personal to public
        • Generating prompts = exploring what you want to know more about
      • Moving from personal to public
        • How does Myrick’s birth at the time of his grandmother’s death influence his relationship with his mom?
        • Find broad generalities such as “how do our origins/environments affect who we are?”
          • Context specific: how does farming breed character (it is not the story of growing up on the farm, or the statistics about farming, but the half-way point between the two)
          • How does the structure of school influence laziness, work influences personality, growing up in a church affects morals, etc.
          • How do concrete things have abstract meanings?
            • How is an iPod a shield?
            • How is a football field home?
            • How is a photo a story?

    Notes from Christopher Paul Curtis’ Keynote

    Curtis Notes from Christopher Paul Curtis‘ Keynote

    These are partial notes, as I was taking lots of pictures at the beginning of the session. Curtis shared some stories about his youth and talked about how some younsters get the “Scarlett B” on their forehead and how he didn’t have one. One story that he shared was when his parents bought a set of encyclopedias and that his sister would read from them to him.

    He then went on to discuss how he liked reading as a child, but he didn’t like fiction. He would spend time reading Newsweek, Time, and Mad, among others. SRA brought about some great memories, including attaining the level of “plaid.” He couldn’t find a book that “touched him” as a child because there were no books for, by, or about him — from an African-American perspective. For the level of a book being “touching,” there has to be something about you in the book. Many of the books that he read, didn’t give him the “I know where you are coming from” feeling.

    Today, he knows that his books, Jacqueline Woodson’s, and Walter Dean Myers’ offer something to a young child who will know the wonder of reading well before he did. Perhaps some time in the future, an African-American can reference one of these books when asked, “What book touched you as a child.”

    He talked about himself as a writer and referened his parents, both of them avid readers. His mother is 82 and still “knocks off one book a night and two packs of cigarettes.” His mother was protective, and he shared a story about how trick-ot-treating was off limits in Flint during his youth. Instead, she would go to different rooms in the house and they would go door-to-door. By the kitchen, the thrill was gone. (He told the story better than I am typing it, of course!).

    What makes me work as a writer? In the Watsons Go to Birmingham, he talks about how he modeled Byron off of himself as a young man. He talked about a scene in the book between the son and the mother that verges on child abuse and reflected on how that fits in only because it is contextual and related to the spirit of the times. (NOTE: I find that this makes for an interesting point, given the current issue with censorship in Howell.)

    As a writer, you are a powerful person. You can speed things up. You can slow things down. You can also use your imagination. Right now, he is working on what is currently his favorite book. It is called Elijah of Buxton. This is a place in Canada, a site of the Underground Railroad. This was a utopia for the excaped slaves. He adopts the persona of a young boy concerned with his place in the community.

    From there, he read from his upcoming book, much to the enjoyment of the audience.

    Collaborating, Cooperating, and Co-opting

    So, I have finally caught up on my RSS reading. Sort of. I keep getting side tracked and have been looking at two collaborative tools — Zoho Writer and ThinkFree — that I’ve known about for awhile, but came up in my reading tonight. (To digress for a moment, my goal this next week is to read my feeds in Google Reader every day. We’ll see how that goes…).

    That said, I am interested in thinking more about the entire notion of collaboration that the discussions of the read/write web and school 2.0 have generated in the past year, and especially in the last month or so. It seems that every podcast that I listen to or blog that I read points to “collaboration” as one of the “new literacies” and that social networking (as a proxy for collaboration) holds such great promise in schools for rethinking the teacher student relationship, curriculum and instruction, and just about everything else.

    What I find lacking in most of these conversations is a discussion of what would happen if schools do/are already co-opting some of the collaborative and social tools that students are using outside of school for classroom use. Now, this is not to say that I don’t think that we should try (or else I wouldn’t blog about these topics on a regular basis). However, I do think that we need to carefully consider what it means to “collaborate” as compared to just “cooperate” and what happens when we try to use tools in school that students gladly use on their own, but may (or may not) like to see in schools.

    My concern stems partially from the many, many curricular documents that seem to be touting 21st century literacies and, inherent in those literacies, the idea that students collaborate. To the extent that we see collaboration happening, all the better. Yet, I don’t know that schools encourage collaboration (where the sum is, indeed, more than the total of the individual parts) so much as it promotes cooperation (hey, let’s get along so we can finish this project). There are many power structures in schools — from the community to the school board to the administration to the teachers to the students to cliques and types of students — that may say they want collaboration, when in fact what they want is cooperation.

    This becomes problematic. When we teach under the guise of collaboration, yet all students are not expected to contribute meaningfully to the project, then we shortchange all the students working on it. We have all been a part of a group or taught a group of students who foist the work upon one or two students (or, contrarily, choose to take it upon themselves as martyrs). Moreover, there are times when group work is meant to be busywork and cooperation, not collaboration is the goal.

    I don’t know that I have a strong thesis for this argument so much as I just want to express some thoughts and concerns about the current discourse surrounding the word “collaboration.” I would be curious to hear how others are interpreting that term in different contexts and to know whether or not I am thinking clearly about it. That, I feel, would be a powerful, collaborative discussion.

    End of Year “Reflection”

    Well, I’ve held off on using the “R” word for any tagging on this blog, but I guess that it is the end of the calendar year that causes me to think about reflection, even though it is a term that is fraught with problems, as my adviser, Lynn Fendler, points out.

    At any rate, a few things have happened this year that give me thought to pause, one being this blog, so I figured that I would do that here. Besides, I collapsed from post-holiday exhaustion and pre-sinus infection sickness earlier tonight, and now I have insomnia. What else to do but write, right?

    So, I want to start with something recent. Wes Fryer talked about digital storytelling and, as I recall, how he has his daughter, a pre-schooler, creating them. When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, my supervisor had mentioned how I might be able to use some of my digital literacies to capture some family memories for posterity. Well, though I have yet to make my own digital story, my daughter (age 4) and I collaborated to make a story as a gift to mom this holiday season. Everyone asked, “How much of this did you do, Troy?” and I tell them that I really did very little. I showed her some basic controls in iMovie, helped her look through our family pictures, and then set up the mic. She did the rest. It was amazing, and made for many conversations over the past week. It also cemented the feeling for me that digital storytelling is something worth academic and personal pursuit, a feeling that I had long pushed to the side. At any rate, it is on You Tube, but I have it marked as private (I still feel weird sharing my kids’ images and voices online to the general public), so if you want to see it, send me an email and I will invite you.

    Another recent thing to think about has been the “Top 100 Education Blogs” list that came out about a week ago. This has inspired much controversy, and the conversation on Bud’s blog captures some of the other bloggers’ feelings about it. Personally, I am not much of one for lists, just like I am not one for how-to guides, but the recognition was nice. Along with a nod on MSU’s “Blogs for Learning” site earlier this fall, I feel that I must be doing something right with this blog. However, there are many others doing blogs right, too. Maria, for instance, is quite modest about her work and I think that Paul got overlooked, too. But, when it is all said and done, edublogs are official now, and I rememeber that they weren’t when we looked them up at Tech Matters in July.

    The other main thing on my mind right now, besides my wife’s health, is that I am on the job market and will be soon giving a job talk based on the following prompt: “Situate your research in terms of the current state of the field of English education and talk about how that research informs your teaching.” If ever there was a time when I am asking what English education is, that time is now. Given the general state of education (which I won’t belabor here), and the palpable sense that some edubloggers like David and Will among others, seem to be expressing, I wonder if this is the year that digital writing becomes a legitimate topic for writing teachers and not just an add-on to an already rubric-packed curriculum of pre-formed essay prompts. There are so many possibilities that I am trying to pursue right now (not the least of which is my dissertation focusing on digital portfolios, although that seems to fall to the back burner every day) that I think are engaging and worth scholarly pursuit at the K-12 level: collaborative writing projects with wikis and Google docs, student blogging (ala Paul’s model), free and open source applications for digital writing, digital storytelling, and podcasting. If the Time cover story about You being person of the year is right, then the time is now to push for these literacies as a part of our English teaching. And, oh yes, the state standards call for them, too, says Time. Given all the attention that these literacies now command, I don’t think that we can ignore, or filter, them in school anymore.

    So, what will I say about my research and the field of English education? Well, I think that I will acknowledge that being an English teacher has always been and will continue to be complicated. The interesting new twist to the complicated lives of English teachers — the one that I think encompasses all the other issues of linguistic diversity, challenging the canon, cultural literacy, encouraging citizenship, and other main tenets that came from the 2005 summit — concerns new literacies and the ways that ICTs are changing what it means to be literate. I think that the notions of purpose and audience that teachers using a writing workshop model for the past 30 years have been good, but to be perfectly honest, beyond the school newsletter, the letter to an author or editor, or something else fairly local, they were never fully realized. Now they are. Blogs, podcasts, and wikis enable global conversation. English education needs to prepare teachers and students to be a part of that conversations, and new literacies play a pivotal role in doing so. This requires a major change in the way we think about teaching and learning writing. I will elaborate on this idea more in the next few weeks as the job talk nears, but I felt that I need to get some first draft thinking in this reflective post. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about it.

    Well, I think that I have reflected enough for now (and, I hope, cured the insomnia). Thanks to everyone — friends and colleagues — who inspired me to start this blog and contribute to the ongoing conversation around it. I look forward to continuing the conversations in 2007 and beginning a variety of new projects, many of them in collaboration with all of you. Take care and happy new year.