Category Archives: In Practice (Teaching)

Internet 1996 vs 2011: What Does It Mean for Education?

There’s much to say about the changed nature of the Internet circa 1996 and that of Internet 2011, and this infographic from Online University captures several aspects. In this blog, I’ve talked about a few of these aspects quite a bit, such as accessglobal usage and its role in composing practices in the 21st century. What struck me in this infographic was in the bottom portion labeled: “Websites Then & Now,” which displays the differences in design and inherent logic apparent when setting websites from 1996 next to those from 2011.

Here’s a few thoughts, and below, the infographic that spawned them…

Reading the World Wide Web circa 1996 was much like reading pieces of paper—the 8×11 kind—on a screen. Not many people were writing the web, really only those with programming knowledge and server access. The GoDaddy.com site displays this well: In 1996, the site was basically it’s catalog on the screen.

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Digital Tools for 21st Century Content Area Classrooms

A group of us trying the "Getting to the Heart of the Matter" activity.

This is a Guest Post from class members of Language Acquisition and Literacy Education in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts, who are all content area pre-service teachers in math, social studies, music, Chinese language, and sociology at New York University.

This week we discussed the characteristics of communicating in the digital age and how shifts in online communication impact teaching and learning, as well as what it means to knowledge creation and sharing in our content areas.

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We Learn With & With is Messy

I was in Duluth, Minnesota the week school was starting. I was standing out on the lighthouse pier on Lake Superior enjoying the summer evening air and the full moon reflecting on the water when an eight year-old girl walked up with her family. We hadn’t even greeted or nodded when she looked up to me with two things to announce: 1) This is the most beautiful thing ever! and 2) I am wearing school clothes! We just bought them!

The exclamation marks were definitely hers. Her excitement was contagious. And I couldn’t help but to begin to anticipate her first week of school. Would she have a mini-project to make the first morning to get her active and engaged? Would reading time be established early on with great selection, choice and time for interaction? Would she do the science fair or maybe even a language fair this year?

And then as she skipped off, my grin and optimism waned:

Would she fill in a lot of worksheets?

Would that first worksheet be an “All About Me” card complete with questions to try to get at whether reading is done at home or one or two outside interests that her teacher could bring up if she wasn’t engaged. That is if the teacher had the time to read and memorize which info went to which cherub face.

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Tips on Tech in Class: Using a Strategic Writing Framework

Following last week’s blog posts about the affordances of composing with various tools both on and offline, writer and educator @erinehsani and I had a quick exchange on Twitter:

In thinking about “Tips for Tech in Class,” I immediately thought of a section of our  forthcoming book due out to the public any day nowDeveloping Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age:

There are at least three ways digital multimodal composition might be used in our classrooms today. First, the teacher might use digital multimodal composition for delivery of content. A teacher using a Smartboard for instruction is an example of this application.  Second, a teacher may plan to integrate digital technology into the activities students will do to learn content. We see this when students provide feedback to peers on their writing in a writing lab. Third, we can teach the use of digital technology directly, such as learning how to manipulate an image in PhotoShop. All three of these applications are applicable and necessary to teaching writing in the digital age.

Many resources are available to teachers interested in these three applications of digital multimodal composition in the classroom. Check out:  Because Digital Writing Matters (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl & Hicks, 2010) and the National Writing Project companion website ‘Digital Is’ (digitialis.nwp.org). In true Web 2.0 style, this is not a resource website, but a growing compilation of recourses under these areas with interactive discussion boards and threads.

The “Tip” to Rule Them All:

A Strategic Writing Framework

Beyond these three ways of thinking about tech in the classroom (and the myriad of resources available to support classroom use), for me the most important tip for using tech to teach composition is introducing a strategic-use framework. Writing in classrooms often devolves into assignment-completion. Prewriting becomes a brainstorming-by-webbing assignment. Revising is a rewrite-it-neatly assignment. Teachers and students alike quickly tire of such empty work. My worry is that without a re-framing of composition in the classroom, any use of tech—no matter how cool and innovative—would eventually turn into the same. Brainstorming by webbing on paper could just turn into webbing on the computer. “Rewrite it neatly” becomes running it through TurnItIn.com. Still just “assignments my teacher gave me.”

Many people have addressed this problem. The response I most responded to was Deborah Dean’s Strategic Writing framework. In this way of thinking about any tool for composing—analog or digital—is that we are all building a repertoire of tools, activities or approaches that we can use when we are composing—whether we are inquiring about an idea before composing, investigating a genre, considering the audience and purpose of the piece, and producing a product. Then, we work to become strategic in our use of the tools with which we are gaining facility. In addition to introducing our students to digital tools for composition, we work to help our students become strategic or savvy—intentional, creative and critical—in their decisions of which tools to use when to help with what compositional conundrum. We want to orient our writing instruction in such a way that our aim is to guide and facilitate students as they: 1) recognize the tools, activities or approaches they have in their repertoire; 2) build that repertoire of tools, activities or approaches; and 3) become more intentional, creative and critical in their use of that repertoire.

As teachers, a great place to start in re-orienting from writing assignments to strategic writing is working on our own list of tools that help us with our own writing. In addition to Digital Is, as a go-to site for me as a teacher, as a writer I RSS feed ProfHacker to learn of new digital tools that are working for others for particular compositional issues. (This blog post on ProfHackers’ authors’ favorite apps for composing is a great place to start.) I’ve tried several of the apps, tools, software, hints, etc. from the site and many have become part of my repertoire. Here’s a list of some of the digital tools that help me for particular compositional needs. I’d love to hear some of yours!

Compositional Issue

Digital Tool

I need to force myself to write text. www.750words.com (A friend just recommended Write Room. I am going to try that next.)
When I have the wording “just right” in my head. Voice Memo and/or or Dragon Dictation App on my cell phone
When I am designing the final look of a page. I flip my secondary screen vertical and use the Display Extended Desktop option with a 90 degree rotation.
I want to think about the relationship between the ideas in my piece. Make a Prezi.
I need to remember how to do APA formatting. Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)
I can’t remember the specifics of a conversation or an idea. I Direct Message or tweet someone I know will remember. [I did this for this post. Thanks to @briancroxall for quick ProfHacker finds.]

From Positive/Negative to Affordances/Constraints

Yesterday, the International Business Times reported on a couple of studies regarding the relationship between memory and the Internet. Like many titles, the purposefully evocative title of this article, “Google Effect: Changes to our Brains,” was misleading. Instead of “changes to the brain,” the article reported some of the new ways people use their memory capacity and use digital devices as external memory. One of the studies conducted by a team at Columbia University found that people remembered where they saved things rather than the items themselves. The researchers dramatically described the ways the Internet is being used currently:

We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems. We have become dependent on them to the same degree we are on all the knowledge we gain from our friends and coworkers — and lose if they are out of touch.

Again, the use of the digital devices hasn’t changed our brain; rather, we use computers much like our friends and coworkers with whom we chat, the notes we jot, the diaries we fill. We have another external memory device, and since we load so much on these devices, we often refer to them when thinking.

Regarding this article, Carol Jago, past-president of the National Council of Teachers of English, recently quipped in a tweet:

I like Carol’s response. Yes, all the tools we use and all activities in which we often engage definitely affect how we think and approach our lives. Recently, my friend and colleague Tim purchased a 1938 manual typewriter. Not only did it look stylish, it worked. I demanded that he help me find my own. On a bright Saturday afternoon he and I went to a flea market in Brooklyn, we made our way to a booth that specializes in reviving the classic composition tool. I walked away with my very own ROYAL Signet portable manual machine–complete with a carrying case lid.

Tim’s 1938 ROYAL Model O Series and Anna’s 1960s ROYAL Portable Signet

Like riding a bike, it didn’t take me long to remember how to press the keys with intention, if I wanted a letter to be left on the page. I tried, first, to revise a piece I have been working on in my writing group, Harlem Writers’ Circle, and immediately I found that I could not compose as I had. If I wanted to change a word, I backspaced several times and XXXXX-ed out the previous word, and then I continued. [Sidenote: The piece soon looked like the cards my grandmother used to send typed each birthday.] In the time it took between XXXXXX-ing the offending word and typing the new one, I often considered new directions for the story. If I went in one of those directions, I found myself typing the entire piece from the beginning, and in that act, found myself–again–entertaining new directions. Neither with a computer nor with pen and paper did I do either of these acts. Because of the speed with which I could change direction with these composition tools, I would have never considered the options for the piece that I found myself considering when using a manual typewriter. The typewriter was changing my brain.

Obviously, it didn’t actually change my brain. I just have another tool for composing that affords and constrains different composing practices. Most technological changes (i.e. from ink to pencil, and typewriter to computer, and now to digital networked communication) have been framed as a issue of the “ruin” of previous forms of communication. Rarely, if ever, has the new compositional tool completely supplanted previous forms and ways of composing. Instead it has been a “both/and” experience—old practices remain, are influenced by new forms of composing. Instead of positive and negative effects to existing ways of thinking, I’ve found it generative to frame the question as affordances and constraints. Instead of worrying about the effects of new tools, what if we asked questions such as:

  • What kinds of compositional decisions, practices and challenges do digital, networked communication afford a developing writer?
  • What are the constraints of composing with networked and/or digital devices (not necessarily the same thing)?
  • At the same time, what are the affordances/constraints of composing with a pen and paper?

Each of these affordances and constraints has implications for the rhetorical, compositional and framing decisions we make as we compose. Conversations about the affordances and constraints, as well as conversations about the implications for compositional decisions are generative for both teachers and their students to investigate.

What affordances and constraints have you noticed when using particular digital tools? How have you found these to relate to your compositional practices?

Seeing the Writer

Guest Post from Matthew Hall, teacher, teacher educator, and educational researcher at New York University.

As a teacher, what do you see when you look at student writing? We all have our inclinations, things our eyes are immediately drawn to when looking at student work.  Early in my teaching career, I relied on my own school experience to shape what I see. As a result, my first inclination when looking at student writing was to see grammar and spelling. More specifically, my first inclination was to see grammar and spelling errors. That’s what my teachers did for me. That’s what I did for my students. With years of practice under my belt it’s almost as if these errors light up on the page while everything else darkens and my hand instinctively moves toward the light as if it were holding a pen.

What is it for you?

What do you see when you look at student writing?

Like a trusty sidekick, my eyes are singling out misspelled words and punctuation errors. It came as a surprise to me when I found out that Abraham was in Kindergarten when he wrote this. Kindergarten! That changed things for me. Now I’m kind of impressed with the way he spelled ‘frisbee’ and ‘played’. I might push him to add another sentence. My thoughts rush to a recopied version of this piece–free of error–that can be hung up in the classroom or on the bulletin board in the hallway. Look at what a good writer this student is! He’s in Kindergarten!

But look what I did. I spoke only about the writing and I ignored the writer. What was it about this experience that motivated Abraham to write about it?    What kind of choices did he make when he drew the picture? How was he conforming or pushing back against what he’s been taught about writing? What does he think of what he wrote? What does his writing look like in other spaces?

Often, there’s an unspoken story about writing that runs in schools, that the end result of all writing should be error free compositions. It makes sense. That is what we see in the publishing world, error free publications. As teachers we don’t want to send work home that still contains errors because “the parents will think we’re not doing our job,” implying that catching errors is what teachers do when it comes to writing. All this is a symptom of what Anna Smith wrote about in her post “The Two-Faced Coin”:

Chronological time is the ultimate determiner of development in writing. Our benchmarks on this linear scale of time have been based on studies and curricula that are not based on how youth actually develop as writers, but rather how we can logically organize the products, practices and participation across a similar linear scale.

When I examine the surface “errors” of Abraham’s writing, I’m essentially making him invisible in his own education. By focusing solely on how his writing lines up with temporally clustered products and practices, I ignore HIS development and focus on the development of his PRODUCT. What would it look like if teachers felt they had the flexibility to see the writer? Well, I’m giving you permission to try it. Think beyond what your teacher eyes have been trained to see, take some of your students’ writing and see the writer. Then post a comment below and tell us all about your writers.