Category Archives: In Practice (Teaching)

What Do We “Let the Page Be”?

Today I came across this recording of the spoken word piece by Bonafide Rojas called “In Front of the Class.” In it, he describes a group of youth who, at first glance, may seem hopeless. He says to the young people:

Let the page be a doctor.
Let the page be a therapist.
Let the page be a lover.

Let the page be your enemy, punch it in the face.
Let the page be your best friend
who will never stab you in the back.
Let the page be your Prozac.

Let the page be your hip hop.
Let the page be your rock and roll.
Let the page be that fancy ride you’re always talking about.

Let the page be that bling, bling on your wrist.
Let the page be the underground beat you’re about to rip.
Let the page be your autobiography.

This week I will be speaking with the NYU’s ELL (English Language Learners) Think Tank, a consortium of teachers from across New York City. One of the first things I am going to do is ask us to (re)think the typical definition of writing that we see at work in our schools, and particularly the limited ways we talk about writing when working with those who are learning English. What do we “let the page be”?

photo (5) 2For the young men I got to know while researching how young men develop as writers, “the page” was all of the things Bonafide Rojas listed, and more. At some point during the two years that I traced their writing practices, each of the young men dealt with particular social tensions like for one young man, trying to make sense of having an abusive father, and for another young man, being considered by some to be “too White” and by others as being “too Latino.” To make sense of these social tensions, each of the young men independently turned these literal issues into figurative literary tropes through writing.

Continue reading What Do We “Let the Page Be”?

Teachers as Contemporary Learners

Today I will be speaking with those at the Fordham Literacy Institute about how teachers can harness contemporary literacies for themselves and for their own professional growth. We’ll be taking their already great Guiding Questions and making a little twist in order to ask:

  • Who are contemporary teachers?
  • What is the potential for professional development in an age of Web 2.0?
  • How can we use technologies to build our literacy & content teaching knowledge & skills?
  • How can we use technologies to expand the walls of our professional development?

Ultimately…

  • Who am I as a teacher, and where do I need to grow to meet the needs of contemporary learners?

Continue reading Teachers as Contemporary Learners

Dummy Runs and Schooled Writing

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In December I had the pleasure of joining a group of 5th graders in the high desert mountains of Utah. That week, my niece, Alaina, and her classmates had just asked their teacher if they could have time to write to children in Newtown, Connecticut after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. In a discussion with Alaina about how she decided what to write about, it was clear she (and her classmates) were very attentive to the audiences she hoped would eventually read her note. She was thinking about the children who survived, and how they may be frightened by the thought of going back to school. She also talked about how helpless she imagined the community members must feel. To address these weighty matters, she decided to share a fear of her own that could work as a metaphor for moving forward:

So let’s not look for the rain
Let’s look for the rainbow
Let’s look for new hope
There is always hope

photo 3 (2) Over the next week I had several conversations with Alaina about writing in school. For instance, she was working on an essay comparing and contrasting earthquakes with volcanoes. In class, they had been introduced to the Venn diagram as a way to jot notes. They had lists of transition words for comparison. She was set up for some great content area writing.

Then the time came when Alaina was trying to decide what information to include in her essay. To help her decide, I asked her for whom/to whom she was writing this assignment. I was surprised when she didn’t understand what I was asking–especially considering her attentiveness to audience in her note to the youth in Newtown. She didn’t consider her teacher the audience or her peers who would read it in small groups. There was effectively no audience.

James Britton and others have long ago argued for more attention to audience in school-based writing tasks. In our text Developing Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, Richard Andrews and I reviewed Britton’s studies and contended:

The influence of audience is one of the most well-known findings from this section of the study. Fifty per cent of the 500 written pieces analyzed which were deemed as immature, i.e. with no distinguishable function or audience, were from work completed for English language arts courses. Many of these pieces were considered by the researchers to be ‘dummy runs’ or student products written merely to show a teacher capacity to complete a certain written task (Britton et al., 1976, p. 106). To this day, the importance of creating written assignments with ‘real’ audiences or audiences logically aligned with the purpose of the written task and beyond the teacher as audience is looked upon as instrumental in ensuring student engagement in writing a product, as well as higher quality end products.

Her school district had also begun to use a computerized writing assessment system that has become popular in recent years. In talking to her teacher, her teacher was concerned that Alaina’s scores were not reflecting Alaina’s writing abilities. Determinations about placement and advancement were based on these scores. When I asked Alaina what she took into consideration when writing to the computer program’s prompts and when being assessed by the computer program, she–again–wasn’t sure how writing changed when the rhetorical frame changed. Not only did she not know how to articulate (or have declarative knowledge) about rhetorical frameworks, she wasn’t demonstrating the kind of procedural knowledge she readily applied in writing for her own purposes.

In our digital age, we have more access to distribute written pieces to audiences who previously we could have imagined, but not practically reached. We can compose in varying genres and more easily design with multiple modes to really address topics previously out of reach. In other words, our rhetorical frameworks (form, message, audience) can be realized in the writing we do in schools (and out of school) in ways just a decade ago were far more difficult. However, we’re still seeing “dummy runs” dominate schooled writing, and we are using our digital technologies in ways which essentially distance our students from the “real” audiences they actually have access to. I see many critiques of computer-based writing assessment, but I have yet seen the argument taken up that these programs take writing out of its communicative framework. I think that is an argument we need to make moving forward.

I was pleased to be invited to join Alaina’s class to teach during their next hour dedicated to writing. In my next post, I will share the mini-lesson and guided practice we completed together on the topic of audience. We then extended that discussion into considering what writing for audience means in contemporary times. The young people in that class shared great advice for the demands on writing in a digital, networked age. I can’t wait to share those with you!

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Playfulness, Risk-Taking and the Developing Writer: #engchat Reflection Part I

Last month I had the pleasure of guest hosting the weekly #engchat on Twitter. Sixty minutes zoomed by as the tweets poured in in rapid succession. I knew I would need some distance and time to reflect on the wide range of ideas and extended multiple conversations that happened that night. After combing through the responses to just the first question of the night in the archives of the chat session, I realized that this would have to be a series of reflections. I am no Wonder Woman. So, without further ado, here is the first question and what I saw as a few of the salient points made in just the first 15 minutes of the evening’s chat. Continue reading Playfulness, Risk-Taking and the Developing Writer: #engchat Reflection Part I

Your Invitation to Join Me When I Guest Host #engchat 01/07/13

I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to guest host #engchat on Monday 01/07/13 at 7PM EST. By hosting #engchat, I get to have 100s of dedicated and inquisitive English Language Arts teachers think with me about a topic about which I care deeply. What a way to start a new year!

#engchat is the brain child of Meenoo Rami, an ELA teacher herself. She describes #engchat like this:

#engchat is a network of English teachers connecting with one and another via Twitter to share ideas, resources and inspiration. This conversation happens every Monday at 7 PM EST. To join, search for the hashtag, #engchat in Twitter or use a tool such as TweetChat to help you follow the discussion. Each week, a guest moderator shares a new idea, perspective or vision of what it means to be an English teacher.

Without further ado, here’s my video invitation to join me on 01/07/13:

Questions To Kick-Start Our Conversation:

  • How are we accounting for young people’s writing development?
  • How do you know a child is developing as a writer? What are signs of development?
  • What dimensions do we want to be paying attention to as educators? What new dimensions of writing do we want to include given advances in digital literacies?
  • What tools, approaches, resources are you using to map the development of the writers in your classrooms?

Links for References I Made in the Video:

I hope to be tweeting with you soon!

Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones, but Your Words CAN Affect my Literacy

The following is a Guest Post from Phil Park who is currently studying at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development as a Masters student on a track to teach Educational Theatre and English in Secondary Education. You can join him in the conversation to promote tolerance through literacy education on Twitter by using the hashtag #teachread. Together we can change a nation!

I remember the way that bathroom smelled as I sat, waiting for the hands on the other side of it to release their weight and allow me to go free. I remember the echo of every sniffle and every moan that I allowed to release from my throat. I remember the silence that accompanied my pleas for help, and the laughter that drowned out my questions of why.

I remember their words.

It was after school one day in sixth grade that I decided I would ask my English teacher for help understanding our reading assignments. I don’t remember what those assignments were, but I remember wanting help, wanting to learn. Maybe I wanted to learn too much—maybe if I had been less obvious, I never would have been in the situation I shortly found myself. I got to her room too soon, and instead of waiting, I decided that I should wash my hands, or blow my nose, or the host of reasons that bring you to a bathroom.

I didn’t see them. I had no idea they were there.

Armed with my excitement, I pushed the door to exit, but the door didn’t move. I was trapped. I was alone except for their words.

I remember their words.

In my studies as a pre-service teacher, I recently read Turner and Paris’s (1995) “How Literacy Tasks Influence Children’s Motivation for Literacy,” in which they discuss the importance of what they call the “Six C’s” to influence children’s motivation to read and engage in classroom work. Those six items are Choice, Control, Challenge, Collaboration, Constructing Meaning and Consequences. These features of pedagogical design, based on what we know about learning and teaching sound solid, but I was left with a question:

In cases similar to mine, what happens when bullying outside of the classroom, bleeds inside, rendering kids afraid to engage, subsequently stunting their abilities to infer, question, visualize, interact with peers, critically view the word and world—or a host of other literacy practices needed to be successful as a reader?

Whether any of us would like to acknowledge it or not, as social creatures, relationships, acceptance and popularity are strong influences throughout our lives. We depend on it in business, politics, and even the teachers’ lounge.

Turner and Paris (1995) say, concerning their second C, Control, that “students want to see themselves as originators of plans and ideas, not as followers in a grand scheme they may not understand” (p. 667), and while I agree that this idea will empower kids to feel in control of their education, my concern is that we still lump students together in much of classroom activity—empowered or not. In this context, what voices are heard? Who is taking credit for the originating ideas? To be bullied is to be made invisible, not heard from, insignificant. The result? Not only do those who are bullied lose their voice outside of the classroom, they suffer the same injustice inside the classroom, rendering their control non-existent.

From that moment in the bathroom, until I left high school, reading and comprehension was no longer something I desired—it was the very thing I avoided. If I didn’t understand, it meant I didn’t have to speak, with the hope that my silence would result in everyone else’s silence toward me. After all, my questions didn’t result in improving my understanding, but rather, in an extremely embarrassing and unfortunate situation. Questions were the cause of my torment, and in a desperate attempt to distance myself from that torment, my questions ceased. Reading became an object of dread for me, and there wasn’t a reading comprehension quiz I couldn’t fail if I thought it would help me. My preservation strategies only resulted in the adverse effect on my comprehension, and it would take me until the age of 27 to finish a book cover to cover.

Was my experience all that different from one faced by scores of other students around the country? Absolutely not, and all too often cases are much worse that being locked in a bathroom. Even still, the damage of bullying would stay with me, as I am sure it does for a lot of people. In the new age of high standards testing, and the desire to make our children “proficient” on paper, my question becomes:

How can we make reading in the classroom an all-inclusive event, catering it as an exercise in tolerance? Is there a way that we as educators can return words to their position of power as a learning tool, rather than a weapon of degradation?

In the interest of transparency, I am not sure that a text exists to perform that function. I will remain hopeful that as educators we can take up curricular and pedagogic approaches that will provide students with experiences to increase tolerance, directing them down a path that will promote unity with literacy education. I will dream that one day, experiences like my own will be stomped out by the students themselves, never to affect comprehension again. Someday soon, perhaps even through my teaching, students will leave their classrooms armed with knowledge founded in tolerance, and before standing by and watching bullying happen, they will jump into action saying:

I remember their words.

Turner, J. & Paris S. (1995). How literacy tasks influence children’s motivation for literacy. The Reading Teacher, 48(8), 662-673.

My Month as a “Disconnected” Educator–Part I

In Part I, I describe the Connected Educator Month and what activities I’d participate in if I were not so “disconnected” right now. In Part II, I describe what I have learned from being a “disconnected” educator this month.

Apparently, August is Connected Educator Month.

This is a project funded by the US Department of Education to support educators in building their personal learning networks (PLNs). Their site explains:

Online communities and learning networks are helping hundreds of thousands of educators learn, reducing isolation and providing “just in time” access to knowledge and opportunities for collaboration. However, many educators are not yet participating and others aren’t realizing the full benefits. In many cases, schools, districts, and states also are not recognizing and rewarding this essential professional learning.

I consider myself part of the “hundreds of thousands” who have definitely benefited from the generosity and intellectual curiosity of colleagues around the world who use the Internet, digital devices, apps and social media sites to work and think together.

This month, however, I have purposefully disconnected. I have a massive writing project that needs sustained attention and work to finish, and so I not only unplugged, but I headed out to the mountain deserts of my youth, and next week off to a sleepy, coastal Mexican village.

Like today, I check in every once in a while (and for good reason, my bank has called, there was an issue with a grad student’s grade posting, and on and on). The occasional check-in is the only reason I have become aware of this month’s focus.

The Connected Educator’s Month site has created a (not so) user-friendly calendar of events. The New York Times has posted a quick read in which they asked 33 connected educators two simple questions that resulted in a great resources list—especially since several more educators answered the same questions in the comments section. And the P2PU (peer to peer) network has provided a starter kit that includes daily introductions to several types of social media and digital means of connection. (I’m posting that below, because I am a fan of its daily design. You can also download the entire .pdf at the starter kit link above.)

If I were truly plugged in this month, I’d participate in a few other things going on right now. These are things I’d fully support you doing for me in proxy:

  • I’d be a participant in Hybrid Pedagogy’s MOOCMOOC, which is a Massive Online Open Course about Massive Online Open Courses. These have been in the news quite a bit and it would be great to try one out from the inside, as well as have colleagues with whom to think about the affordances and constraints of the MOOC.
  • I’d be tweeting (@writinglit) and Facebooking (AERA Writing & Literacies SIG) for AERA’s Writing and Literacies Special Interest Group. This is a great group of educational researchers who continually push my thinking in writing and literacies.
  • And speaking of literacies, even though the #literacies chat is currently on hold until September, I would be tweeting with the #literacies hashtag via Twitter and connecting with colleagues about the demands and dimensions of contemporary literacies.
  • I’d check out the link a friend and colleague through a Facebook group sent me. It is to the new public-use, interactive online storytelling technology from the developers of the interactive online games The Night Circus and Fallen London. It’s called StoryNexus and I can’t wait to try it out when I return!
  • And the reality is that I would be engaged and learning in several other unexpected, serendipitous ways.

So, why not take advantage of this month’s focus and try out a few new ways to connect?

The #literacies Chat is Born!

Below you’ll find the birthing story of the #literacies chat, a weekly chat on Twitter bringing together educators, researchers and thinkers fascinated by contemporary literacies.

Our first chat will be June 7 @ 7:00 PM EST. Skip down below to read the post I wrote to introduce our first topic or  just head on over to the new home of our #literacies chat: http://literacieschat.wordpress.com/ 

The Birth of an Idea

If you know me as @writerswriting, my Twitter handle, chances are you know that this last semester I have been collaborating with Emily Pendergrass (@Dr_Pendergrass), a professor at Vanderbilt, who was teaching a course in New Literacies. I was teaching a course on Content Area Literacies and together we used the hashtag #literacies to engage the topic with our pre-service teachers and the wider world.

Phase One: Once the semester came to an end, we definitely wanted to take advantage of the momentum built by having so many of our colleagues think with us about the demands and dimensions of contemporary literacies. Monica Batac (@monicabatac) suggested make the hashtag a chat…and thus our new weekly #literacies chat idea was born.

First, we opened a GoogleDoc to brainstorm ideas and within a week and with over 50 contributors, the GDoc was packed with fascinating topics ranging from the seemingly wide gap between in-school and out-of-school literacies to the role of multimodality in the digital age.

Phase Two: Drawing heavily from Meenoo Rami (@mrami2) and the way she moderates #engchat, we made a website for the #literacies chat to call home. At that site we will post introductions to the weekly topic and archives of the chats.

Phase Three: This is where you come in!

Our first chat will be Thursday, June 7 @ 7:00 PM EST. Please join us to discuss, among other things:

  1. What brings you “to the table,” to the #literacies chat?
  2. What are you particularly committed to in regards to contemporary literacies?
  3. What blogs, texts, links, quotes, i.e. persons, have pushed your thinking in regards to contemporary literacies?

Below is a description of our first official chat topic! It is a repost from http://literacieschat.wordpress.com/ where you can find a description of upcoming chat topics and archives of each chat. You can also find a description of how to join us on Twitter, if you are new to the idea. We hope you join us!

June 7, 2012 #literacies Chat Topic: We are Our Relationships

I find nothing more boring than the constant diatribes against everything and anything digital—in the ways they destroy our language, our relationships, our attention, our intelligence, our morals.

If you find yourself here, reading this, you’ve connected, you’ve attended, and I feel pretty confident in claiming that you must be a smart cookie. My experience in practicing my own contemporary literacies has been filled with such connections, articulated quite well by @MaryAnnReilly (who, by the way, I only know through and because of digital technologies and the literate practices that have followed):

On Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 7:00 PM EST we will be hosting our first official #literacies chat. In the following Thursdays at 7:oo PM EST, we will host a series of topics brainstormed by 50+ contributors with whom we’ve crowdsourced and connected to through—again—digital means. For our first week, we’d like to know what brings each of us to the table, so to speak. How do our educational, research and personal interests in contemporary literacies connect and build on each other? We are bound to learn quite a bit from each other as we share insights, resources, interests and concerns, but before we dive in, let’s take a moment to get to know each other. In a blog post about what drove him to study social networks and write his book Social Network Theory and Educational Change, Alan J. Daly, an assistant professor of education at the University of California, San Diego, commented:

Relationships matter in a profound manner, and it seems the more focused we become on the technical elements of our work, the more distanced we become from the idea that the social connections are critical.

I’ve been thinking of the power of these connections for a while. Around the same time that we lost Steve Jobs, a man whose drive made many of my personal and professional connections possible, we also lost critical race theorist, Derrick Bell. It was fitting that at that time I came across a quote of his that captured exactly what I was feeling:

However self-sufficient we may fancy ourselves, we exist only in relation—to our friends, family, and life partners; to those we teach and mentor; to our co-workers, neighbors, strangers; and even to forces we cannot fully conceive of, let alone define. In many ways, we are our relationships. ― Derrick Bell, Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth (emphasis added)

Join us on Thursday, June 7, 2012 @ 7:00 PM EST to discuss, among other things:

  1. What brings you “to the table,” to the #literacies chat?
  2. What are you particularly committed to in regards to contemporary literacies?
  3. What blogs, texts, links, quotes, i.e. persons, have pushed your thinking in regards to contemporary literacies?

Getting the Picture: Writing in a Parallel Pedagogy Classroom

It has been a while since Joel Malley provided the following video in preparation for a congressional briefing on digital literacies. However, after a couple of months of conference attendance, I think the video is still needed, relevant and effective in providing a picture of the changing nature of writing in the digital age, and the pedagogical changes that must follow. What I appreciate most about this video is the way it clearly demonstrates a “both/and” mentality toward print and digital tools, text types and processes.

Writing in the Digital Age from Joel Malley on Vimeo.

In an article in the Journal of Media Literacy, Richard Beach described a course similar to the one seen in this video in which he attempts to reach goals around print literacies (such as text interpretation, argumentative/creative writing, verbal communication) and digital literacies (such as interactivity, connectivity/linking, multimodality, and social networking). He borrows from Kevin Leander‘s notion of “parallel pedagogies” to explain his “both/and” approach:

Kevin Leander (2009) has identified four stances teachers adopt related to using [digital] tools: 1) «resistance» to using digital literacies, 2) «replacement» of old literacies with new, 3) using new literacies to validate or «return» to older print literacies, and 4) «remediation» in which students use digital literacies to “re-mediate” or transform print literacies. Adopting a “re-mediation” approach involves use of what Leander describes as a “parallel pedagogy” approach, in which neither print or digital literacies are considered as exceptional.

And herein lies my question for you the viewers, (and I’d love to hear from Joel Malley as well!):

Which of these four stances does this video exhibit?

I think I see a “re-mediation” approach; however, the language used to describe the activities sounds like a “replacement” or “return” approach. Malley says that “even though” digital tools are a part of the course, writing (in print) “still” holds a place. “Storytelling” is used as synonymous to “writing” throughout. The “first step” is described as always being to “write extensively,” which in my opinion, especially given the image on the screen at the time, gives premium to writing long-form by hand. Finally, digital writing explained to have “more purpose” and to be “more collaborative.” Both of these attributes may be true in some projects, but I am wary of saying they hold true for the nature of digital literacies as opposed to traditional print literacies. The audience for whom Malley was composing this video obviously influenced the ways each of these statements was phrased. I wonder what the voice-over track would sounds like, however, if the parallel pedagogical approach was able to take the front seat.

Alternative Metaphors for Classroom Texts

This post was written with Teaching Reading in Secondary English Language Arts class members, who are all Master of Education candidates at New York University. These are the same authors of the #teachread project.

This semester we have read several articles and chapters that discuss the selection of texts. Though they each have varied foci, one thing cuts across all these articles: The metaphor used to describe the relationship between “the classics” and other texts, particularly young adult literature.

Here’s the metaphor: “A Bridge to the Classics”
Just as all roads lead to Rome, apparently, all texts used in the ELA classrooms are supposed to lead to classics. YA literature, in particular, is positioned as the way to get kids on the reading path. And once we get ‘em reading, we clasp their hands and start toward the classics, trying to convince them along the way that there’s a connection between the contemporary story they just read and the further removed story they’re about to read. (This sounds less like a bridge and more like a “bait and switch.”)

Continue reading Alternative Metaphors for Classroom Texts