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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pedagogy, Assessment, and Research of Social Networks

Recently I presented with Jonathan Bartels, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  and  Joan Rhodes, Virginia Commonwealth University on the literacy practices of social networks. Below is  a summary of that presentation.

Social Networks are becoming a powerful tool to transform the classroom. Instead of learning about a discipline we can utilize the affordances of social networks to have students learn to be a discipline.

At this point, Mendeley offers a great product...just having the ability to clean up your files and save them in a sensical pattern is an invaluable tool for most researchers.

What really sets Mendeley apart from all the other options for saving and indexing your PDFs is their online presence. The desktop version of Mendeley you can download and it will clean up, organize, and index the files on your machine. When you sync your library to their servers, you can then log in to your dashboard on Mendeley.

What follows is part social network, part shared library, part remote access to your library files. You can share your collections...and grow your collections...with other researchers.

You can also search to see what others are reading about, or what they may have published. Mendeley offers a small amount of free space to host your files online...this usually is enough to host your own materials. They also offer more space for a relatively small fee.

Social Networks in the Classroom

Role Play:

Use a social network to teach argumentative writing. Part of the challenge of teaching academic discourse and writing practices is contextualize writing. Rick Beach has done some great work using social networks to support argumentative writing.

If you were exploring climate literacy you could have students play as three characters: a coal conglomerate, an environmentalist, and a chamber of commerce member. Each character could then build a page on a social network. They could critique a source that does not support their position and then add sources that support their position.

Moving beyond Discussion Boards

Social networks allow us to create online or blended classroom that capture identity in a way that simple discussion boards do not. In fact many literacy and teacher educators use social networks to create a community of practice that continues beyond one semester.

As students add profiles, videos, and status updates you build a classroom not just a Q and A Discussion.


Too often our eportfolios are becoming a tool for simply showcasing and caegorizing student work. We can use social networks like Mahara
to use portfolios to truly look at the residue of learning that comes through participating.

Researching Social Networks

  Netnography the online practice of anthropology — could be helpful to advertisers and copywriters as they seek this enhanced understanding. Netnography is faster, simpler, timelier, and much less expensive than traditional ethnography- (Kozinets, 2006)

Content Analysis Protocol- Document the frequency and types of personal, identifying, and contact information they included (e.g., identification of real name, hometown, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, interests, and identifying image). Examine the use of various technical features, such frequency of blog use (if applicable) and blog topics as well as the presence of various visual media (e.g., videos, photos, music player). Note  others’ comments on their pages, including the number of comments, topics commented on, and number of friends in their network. (Greenhowe and Robeila, 2006)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Using Multimodal Poetry to Engage in Critical Literacy

Many of us agree that we need to align our classroom activities with the digitally literate lives our students lead. Yet we still hear of many classroom simply focusing on technology integration.

Simply put this is a mistake. When we look at the shift from page to pixel in terms of technology integration rather than an ever shifting and dynamic text we create a horse race environment where technology never improves learning.

It's like the old Orbitz commercial where a refund is delivered by hovercraft instead of mail.

Just because you have technology does not mean you need to use technology. Instead always ask yourself, "How do these emerging text enhance or inhibit my pedagogical goal?" Do not simply use a hovercraft because you have one.

Multimodal Poetry

One area that I have been working on for the past five or six years is to integrate digital texts and tools into my teaching of poetry. There is something rewarding about using the oldest genre of litertature with the newest forms of text.

I also think poetry, as a potter's wheel of the soul, is a great place to shape ideas about design effecting meaning making. Each word, phrase, stanza, image, or metaphor continuously redesign meaning as a new audience stumbles upon the poem.   The rich words and guttural reaction to poetry allow for a conversations around topics such us color scheme, image placement, font, etc.

Finally I have too often seen poetry taught so poorly that generations of new writers may have never discovered their poems from within. We do not let students work with one poem over time, or to play with meanings. Instead the focus in on literary elements, i.e. find me a one poem with a metaphor, one poem with alliteration, etc.

The humanity is lost in the hunt for the mechanics

Celebrating Poet Laureates

It was decided then that at each year at NCTE we would submit a proposal to celebrate the work of a Unites State Poet Laureate through multimodal poetry so we could get away from what Billy Collins (our first featured poet) called teaching children, "To beat the meaning out a poem with a hose."

In 2009 we highlighted Billy Collins by exploring new ways to respond and author poetry with images.

In 2010 we featured Kay Ryan and went through #Twitpoems and multimodal retellings with iMovie.

This year, in Chicago, we brought in the works of W. S. Merwin and connected to using poetry to make the world a better place. That is our definition of critical literacy-words in action to change or question the status quo for the greater good.

W. S. Merwin and Poetry for Change
W. S. Merwin is also an interesting choice as he has developed a natural suspicion to many things digital. We wanted to show that there is just as much poetry in the design choices students make as in the words they add or leave off the page.

Basically we read some Merwin poems as mentor texts. Next we took ideas from Probst and concentrated on converting prose to poetry. Students had to choose a social justice issue. Then we took he project into two separate directions.

One group of students completed an internet inquiry topic around their issue. They wrote a collaborative paragraph. Next they highlighted important words or phrases in the paragrpah and used those a basis for a poem. Students then, using Audacity and iMovie, created a multimodal version of their poem.

Another group of students went out into their world to find a social issue. They collected cell phone pictures to document the problem. They then searched for similar images online. Using search engines they connected back to the websites that hosted the images and "found" texts they wanted to use in their poems. They then used iMovie or MovieMaker Live to create the poem.

Moving Forward

Poetry has been a great avenue to explore multimodal design elements. We hope to continue our work at NCTE next year, or by simply sharing our work with other teachers. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

TAG TEAM Writing Method

I have been throwing around a few ideas trying to conceptualize my idea of effective writing instruction into a pedagogical model. Being a teacher I of course needed a catchy acronym: TAG TEAM.

For me the term captures the essence of writing as a social practice and a collaborative classroom effort.

Note on a Strange but True Story: I had the the idea of TAG-Targeted Areas of Growth, as a method for differentiating my writing instruction. It was the day I read that Randy "The Macho Man" Savage tragically died that I formulated the model. I share not because I was a huge wrestling fan, not even a fan of Slim Jims, but because it shows that pre-planning and ideas for writing come from anywhere.

TAG- The key to the instruction approach will be to make  individualized pedagogical decisions based on data collected from formative assessments.

Each student, in conjunction with the classroom teacher, will choose Target Areas for Growth based on the District Wide Argumentative Writing Rubric. Setting specific writing goals is an evidence-based strategy for improving writing.
I think the writing rubrics we give to kids over over bloated and useless. Seven criterion with 4 scales of quality do nothing for a kid. They may give us some summative data but they are useless for formative assessments that improve instruction.
So under TAG one student who struggles with organization may just choose to focus on the criterion on your rubric around organization and develop a TAG such as "use details to support a clear main idea." Now through the revision process that student puts all their focus into that TAG.
Then when it is time to assess progress you can have the student highlight the areas in between drafts that address the TAG. This makes your assessment time more efficient and effective.
TEAM This program recognizes that the best writing instruction requires a collaborative environment for students to develop the skills and habits of good writing. Therefore it utilizes research based best practices involving feedback, modeling, and collaborative writing.

Together- The TAG TEAM approach recognizes that a writing classroom requires a classroom of writers. Collaborative pedagogical practices must be the center of any curriculum.
At the student level it requires the teacher and the writer to conference, either f2f or virtually, to identify and asses Target Areas for Growth.

At the group level students will meet to work with each other on editing and revising and to assess their peers on their Target Areas for Growth.

At the classroom level collaborative writing assignments will be used throughout any unit of instruction and embed writing as a tool for inquiry.
Evidence- The TAG TEAM approach recognizes that evidence must  inform practice. Students and teachers will draw from evidenced-based writing strategies for planning, revising and editing compositions across disciplines. Student growth is not simply assessed in the products of writing. Instead the TAG TEAM approach also looks for growth in the feedback students leave for peers, reflections students provide on their own writing, and comments made during conferencing. 

Authentic- The TAG TEAM approach recognizes that writing instruction must offer opportunities for students to write their way into a discipline. Therefore the learning activities must be driven not only by skills of writing but also the unique content demands of different subject areas; and the digital literary lives students lead. Students will use the TAG TEAM approach to follow disciplinary specific writing processes. 

Models- The TAG TEAM approach recognizes that models are a scientifically research based method for improving writing. Therefore students will be afforded the opportunity to analyze models of varying quality and to evaluate annotated comments left by other students and teachers.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Publishing as a Province for Popular Culture

Understanding Perspectives when Reading Online

I hear it all the time as I spend countless hours watching screen captures of students reading online, “This website is reliable because it has all the information I am looking for.”

Why have all of my efforts to teach students to evaluate websites been so futile? I think it is because I relied on the most common approach to teaching website evaluation: providing a checklist of strategies. I now realize this approach relies on two fallacies when reading online: 1:) a stable taxonomy of skills exists for online reading, 2:) metacognition is an “inside the head” experience.

Decontextualized Reading

Creating taxonomy of online reading skills, which can be applied as a universal approach will never work. As fans of Gee and Street note, reading is always a social practice. Using this perspective every inquiry task students engage in is overlaid with the residue of contexts, culture, relationships, and power structures.

When we provide students with a simple checklist we are attempting to strip away this context in search for a set of universal skills. Instead we need to focus in on the practices of reading online while introducing a variety of contexts that recognize how perspectives shape the words and images authors use.

Metacognition versus Strategy Exchange

The second fallacy is that metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is a solitary act that happens in the “mind.” After spending the better part of half a decade researching how students read online I realize it is more about strategy exchange than simply thinking about what good readers do.

Students, when they are engaged in the practice of online inquiry, learn when they can share, collaborate, and remix what works when reading multiple sources. It is more of an issue of social regulation rather than self-regulation.

Using Remixes to Understand Perspectives.

How can I focus on the context and engcourage strategy exchange? Like most things digital I found the answer at NCTE. I recently had the pleasure of attending my first #HackJam in Chicago this year; organized by the National Writing Project and facilitated by Andrea Zellner. At this event we were introduced to Hackasaurus, a project run by the Mozilla Foundation. Basically using their tool, X-Ray Goggles, a Firefox plug in, you can remix any website. I quickly realized this would be the an effective method to get students to consider perspective while reading multiple online sources.

What better way to have students look for markers or credibility as they read by having them rewrite them into websites. My thought was to take two opposing viewpoints on a contraversial issue and have students remix and “flip the perspective”

Reading Remixes

For example they could begin by analyzing remixes I made (in just a dew minutes) and look for markers of credibility. I would send them to my remixed Vegan Action page and my remixed National Rifle Association page. Then we would discuss which pages had a more effective message and better markers of credibility. My students would realize that the remixed NRA page used authoritative quotes, credible sources versus the sarcasm on the Vegan Action page.

Ready to Remix

Then I would have my students “flip” perspectives on a controversial issue. I would first provide brief training videos (similar to this one made for teachers):

Then I would let students loose and work in small groups to remix two websites by providing the simple tutorial tools provided by hackasaurus.

Building Better Digital Reader and Writers

This project would have many benefits. Students would have opportunities to exchange strategies without decontextualizing the reading. They would work with the html code that is still the backbone of digital writing. Finally they would understand how perspectives shape the words and images authors use while building their argumentative writing skills.

Collaborative Case Studies

Last night during the combined #engchat and #sschat some folks were asking m about how I use collaborative case studies to improve argumentative writing. Since my original post was deleted I thought I would try to recreate it.

First I am a huge fan of collaborative writing to support argumentative writing. Not because it is backed by empirical research (it is see Writing Next ) but because I know it works.

Increases Strategy Exchange
I am a firm believer that teaching isn't about learning new strategies to read and write but it is a matter of building in opportunities for emerging reader and writers to exchange Just in Time strategies embedded in literacy practices. Collaborative writing allows for in-depth discussion, meaningful revision, and thoughtful composition over time.

More Efficient and Effective Assessment

Collaborative writing also eases the assessment burden on teachers. Much of my teaching is online and managing hundreds of post while reading twenty essays is daunting. Having students write in groups of 4-5 reduces my load.

The assessment is also more meaningful. I can look for growth not simply in the final product but using the comments on a wiki or GDocs I can see students growth through the process of writing.They leave comments to each other and I can look at these comments to see if student "X" understands supporting details.

New tools also allow for greater accountability. As teachers who have assigned group projects we have all had the pushy parent proclaiming their child was the only productive member of the group. Using the revision history we can show students how we track the work load.

Real Life Experience
We are all now familiar with the adage, "In the real world it is collaboration in schools it is cheating." Last night during #engsschat folks, who had spent time in actual writing careers, commented that my description of collaborative case study reminded them of editorial meetings. If we are going to prepare students to write themselves into the world we need to build in opportunities for collaboration.

How it Works

I begin by giving my students a controversial issue or inquiry question such as is "Google Making us Dumber?" Then I give them multiple sources to consider such as the Cspan book talk  with Mark Bauerlein and Neil Howe debating "The Millennials: The Dumbest Generation or the Next Great Generation?"

Then in groups they decide how they will read the sources and compose a document. They then start composing on a wiki or gDocs.

I then sit back and watch the writing process unfold:

After taking collaborative notes the students plan their essay:

Then they draft and revise:

Finally they publish a piece:

Overall it is very effectice and I encourage everyone interested in supporting argumentative writing to give it a try.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Friday, March 25, 2011

Moving from We Can't to We Must

Something wonderful happened today. I was speaking at the Connecticut Association of Administrator Mentor program and came to a realization:

For the first time I was able to hear a chorus of "We Must" instead of "We Can't" when discussion technology and literacy integration. There were no calls of not enough machines or students too far behind grade level to worry about technology. It seems the critical mass of administrators in Connecticut understand the challenges students face in a multimodal world.

This is a monumental shift that I do not take lightly. I usually hear calls of overwhelmed budgets, resistant staff, cyberbullying. Not this time. It was great to work with a group of such committed folks.

After the talk we gathered to discuss some key strategies that administrators could use to implement literacy and technology in their district. I will do my best to summarize the issues, but I am sure I am missing some key issues. If you attended the talk please feel free to leave your ideas below in the comments.

Encourage Teacher/Classroom Websites

It was agreed that building a classroom presence is the first step teachers should take. As one participant commented, "Having a classroom website meets the needs of special education pre-teaching requirements and lets gifted and talented students work at their own pace." It meets your differentiation needs."

Building a class website frees education from the time and space constraints of schools, increases accountability, and provides a home-school connection.

We discussed the (minimum) types of elements that should be included: notes and objectives from lessons, homework and assignment calendar, a place to publish student work, and links to outside resources.

Encourage Teachers to build their PLN

Professional Learning Networks have greatly improved what I teach. We agreed that administrators must encourage teachers to seek out their peers on online spaces such as Twitter, Facebook, ISTE, NCTE Connected Community English Companion Ning, SMART and Mimeo networks, etc.

I shared some common hashtags for Twitter such as #edchat, #BlackEdu, #cpchat, and #edtech that teachers could use.

Require Hybrid Lessons

If educators are not teaching some part of their lesson online it is impossible to say school systems are graduating college ready studnets. According to recent Sloan Consortium Reports the majority of students enrolled in K-12 will take an online class in college. How can students be college ready if they did not take an online class in K-12.

We also discussed the benefits hybrid teaching approaches have for empowering students who do not always participate in class.

These learning spaces can range from gDocs to wikispaces to discussion boards. The point is students have an opportunity to build their digital footprints with faculty pointing the way.

Create schoolwide email systems

Much of the discussion focused on technology solutions. It was agreed that schools should adopt a schoolwide email system. There are many options out there such as Google Apps for Educators or epals.

We all shared a laugh about how many times an email we wrote is misconstrued. These discussions highlighted the need to include email writing in the curriculum.

We also discussed how email can help alleviate communication issues with students and parents

Have a published filter/unfilter policy

There is nothing more frustrating to a teacher who works all weekend long on a lesson plan who then comes in to find safe sites they need are blocked by a filter. We discussed how important it is for school systems to have a published filter policy that teachers understand.

The unblocking requests teachers file must also be returned in a timely manner with a clear explanation of why the site was or was not unblocked.

Invest more in PD than technology

We spent some time discussing funding issues and agreed that professional development was more important than capital purchases of equipment. You can have the latest and greatest technology but if your staff does not knwo how to use the tchnology to enhance their pedagogical goal the computers will gather dust or just be used to migrate worksheets into electronic forms.

We agreed that a good bench mark would be 50% of the technology budget should be spent on professional development and 50% shoudl go to purchasing.

One strategy shared by a participant was to give out limited resources to teachers who attend professional development or show promise in integrating technology into their classroom.

Have long term 1-1 computing strategy

Another issue we discussed was the choice between laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smartphones. I do not think the technology matters. What is important, and participants agree, that schools should have a plan and place to reduce the computing to student ratio with a long-term 1-1 goal.

We discussed how publishers may start to underwrite tablets with the purchase of textbooks or allowing to access the Internet using smartphones.

Either way everyone agreed access is key.

Encourage and assess students' digital footprints

This was the most critical step. I call it the end of milk crate grading. In fact cafetria staff across the country can rest assured that teachers will no longer need to "liberate" milk crates in order to lug binders and notebooks home. By teaching in online environments students can build a history of where they have been an point to where they are going. Teachers can then look for growth in content knowledge and skills not in final products but over time..all the while providing responsive feedback. To me that is the real power of technology.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Digital Residence and Affinity Spaces

Digital Residents of Affinity Spaces

A recent #edchat discussion centered on Prensky's idea of the digital native/digital immigrant (see transcript). I have never been fond of the metaphor. It is like assuming everyone born during the agricultural revolution produced bushels of wheat. Coming to age during these monumental changes to literacy and social practices does not automatically equate to participation in a digital landscape.

Instead I was drawn to @tomwhitby's idea of digital residence. To me it harped back to James Gee's idea (2004) of affinity spaces. These communities have low barriers of access, offer support for N00bs, and social connections. Unlike the idea of a digital native, howver, digital residency doesn't assume involvement. Affinity spaces, IMHO, require some involvement of the individual as they express their agency through increased participation.

This got me thinking about what kinds of skills and dispositions would be required to increase participation in affinity spaces, or in other words to become an active digital resident. The answer actually came to me not through the readings of scholarly articles or participation in class. Instead it was image driven and the thinking distributed across the folks I interact with in one particular affinity space: Twitter. I came to see that digital residency in affinity spaces required three components: online collaborative inquiry, online content creation, and online reading comprehension.

I chose to represent this with the Zelda Tri-force. Why? Well first it is a homage to a classic video game that created moved a way from scrolling into a world of choices. Next, the trinagle, as the mathematical symbol of change, is a perfect metaphor for the upheaval in the world of literacy that we are currently witnessing.

My Journey to find the Tri-Force

It is not the image I settled on that really matters. Like Link, who had to find the missing pieces of the tri-force, it is the journey that mattered.

It began with a request by @DrAshCasey that was retweeted by someone I follow, and fellow UCONN Grad Student, @DrGarcia. Dr. Casey was looking for an image that would work for the idea of the teacher as a researcher.

In this little exchange I came to realize the power of distributed cogntion over affinity spaces. I also saw the power of thinking in non-verbocentric ways. I began our online collaborative inquiry not with words but with images.

I first started with Flickr. I love being able to search through images marked Creative Commons license (got the idea from another person I follow @mbteach). This also represented an important online reading comprehension skill: locating information.

I started with "teacher as researcher" as a search term. This just brought up iamges of TED talks from around the world. I then kept tweaking my search terms until I picked an image of Pedro Pnce de Leon, one of the founders of deaf education.

I thought this might serve as a perfect metaphor for the teacher as a researcher. As inventing in alphabet for the deaf to use was in fact research. It was also research for a greater social good rather than our current infatuation of chasing effect sizes. I thought it would work perfectly for the classroom.

That idea brought me back to Reinking and Bradley's ideas (2009) on formative design experiments. Reinking often uses an engineer as a metaphor. I thought this was perfect. Instead of Flickr I thought I would try deviantart (a site I can spend countless hours on).

I began with the search term "teacher." The results were not for the faint of heart. Deviantart has a strong anime following and many of the images, were..well...not appropriate for the school audience.

Yet at the other end of the spectrum the images of teachers i could use also reinforced negative stereotypes. It was the classic: A teacher with a button collared, glasses, her hair in a dun, and a scowl across her face. Neither image represented the teachers I know.

So I switched terms, again a key online reading comprehension skill, and used engineer. I settled on an image.

While it was still racy, it is PG in terms of the anime images of teacher I found on deviantart. I also thought it was important to show engineering not as a boring male-dominated career. Especially as a mataphor for teacher as a researcher. First a teacher/research needs a toolbox with many tricks. Second any research endeavor by a teacher is not a neat activity. You are going to make a little mess. That is the joy of teaching.

So I sent these images along to @DrAshCasey. I am not sure if they wer ever used. That wasn't the point. It was an activity in online collaborative inquiry, online reading comprehension, and online content creation.

This realization brought me back to the discussion of affinity spaces and digital residency. I needed some image to represent the skills I thought @tomwhitby's digital residents would need. I thought of change, I thought of the traingle. Then like, Link, I searched for the Tri-Force.

Yet I did not stop there. Online content creation isn't a matter of jsut sharing links or content consumption. There has to be an act of re-design, a transformation of available signs into something new (New Londong Group, 1996). So using Gimp, a free image editor almost on par with Photoshop) I added in some simple text to share my ideas.

In Conclusion

Involvement in affinity spaces, at least increased participation, requires all three elements of digital residency: online collaborative inquiry, online reading comprehension, and online content creation.

I can not take credit for these ideas. It only came about because of my involvement in different affinity spaces and because of colleagues like Ian (who helped coin the term online content creation). What strikes the greatest resonance with me is how image driven my thinking has become. The writing process has in many ways broken the verbo-centric shackles we have thrown on it in the last few hundred years.

To me that is the power of digital media. Connecting new neighbors to the links of the past through affinity spaces.