Friday, July 31, 2009

Update on Pilot!

Today Hattie Deraps, alternative teacher at Mt. Blue High School, and I met for the final time this summer. We have covered many topics over the three days we spent together and will take the rest of the year exploring them as our statewide pilot progresses.

One area we spent a fair amount of time on is the relevance of the social networking provided for our students through the internet - i. e. twitter, facebook, etc. - and how it will reshape our students' lives - socially and cognitively. Hattie shared this online story from NCTE as an example of what is happening in "real time" for our students.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Writing for Now -- Declaring an Audience

This week I heard a newscast on NPR, "Twitter Seen As Tool For Change In China" (NPR Morning Edition July 24, 2009). The gist of the newscast, that some Chinese NGOs held a training course to teach citizen journalists how to use Twitter and other new media in their reporting, made me think of Tiffany Monk, the Florida teenager mentioned in Writing in the 21st Century, the NCTE report by Kathleen Blake Yancey. Tiffany like many young people, already knows how to compose for the audiences she chooses. Tiffany’s mobile home park was flooding with rain from Tropical Storm Fay and Tiffany knew there were many elderly and disabled people who would be unable to get out. 9-1-1 wasn’t an option, so Tiffany took pictures of the mobile home park, posted them on her computer, and sent them out in emails asking for help. Everyone was saved!

Tiffany is like most of our students. She already knows how to compose and, given an occasion, she knows what she wants to say and to whom she wants to say it. We need to encourage this in all our students.

On February 23, 2009, NCTE held a press conference to introduce Writing in the 21st Century and the National Day on Writing. Two speakers who joined Kathi Yancey during the conference talked about writing today in schools. Dan Brown and his student Mansur Muhammad from SEED Public Charter School, Washington, D.C , talked about writing—teaching it and doing it-- both in an out of school.

Dan’s the author of the blog Get in the Fracas and his July 7 entry states in underlined bold, “Students need more than just their teacher to be their audience in order to unlock their finest potential.” This blog entry, “The Importance of “Going Public,” echoing the title of an NCTE publication Go Public! Encouraging Student Writers to Publish by Susanne Rubenstein, emphasizes the need for us to design school writing assignments that push students to write to audiences beyond the teacher and the school. Another NCTE book, Designing Writing Assignments by Traci Gardner, and many ReadWriteThink lessons give us tips on how to help students work with various audiences in their writing.

I have to agree with Dan and with another idea that Kathi Yancey points out in Writing in the 21st Century. 21st century writers write in order to take action, to make a connection. As teachers, we need to provide our students with the opportunity to make those connections, using whatever tools are available and certainly starting with the tools the students are already using. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, agreed with this philosophy in his interview with Rachel Dretzin of PBS Frontline: Digital_Nation on July 14, suggesting to the surprise of many that teachers have students use cell phones for class work.

For me, having students “Go Public” to their selected audience, using the tools of technology that many are already using outside of school, and taking action are three vital components of the writing assignments I need to design for my students. I’ll need to often be more spontaneous than in the past to take advantage of current situations for writing, I’ll need to allow for students to pursue many different topics and audiences, and I’ll probably need instruction from some of my students on the workings of the tools while some of my students will need instructions on the same from their classmates or me.

I’m guessing, too, that like me you’d like examples of writings produced in this 21st century fashion. Here’s an idea for how we can get just that. Let’s have our students publish their writings to the National Gallery of Writing. I’d really love to read self-initiated compositions on issues important to students: a text message or Twitter exchange, a video, some prewriting notes, an article, a letter, or poem. I’m inviting you to see if your students have such compositions, particularly from their out-of-school lives. Have them publish to a local gallery that you start or to the NCTE Gallery.

This article is an excellent confirmation of the study I posted yesterday regarding the students' use of technology outside of school. Hattie has observed the same behavior with her students and has found that the use of technology in her classroom has motivated her students to participate in class enthusiastically - completing assignments and enjoying them, factors all educators know enhance learning.

We can validate these observations with writing research that emphasizes the importance of a real audience with a real purpose to motivate writers. Technology provides our students with these elements by instantly publishing their writing regarding pertinent topics on websites or blogs and allowing for real reader feedback - instantly.

When we look at such social networks as facebook and twitter, we are providing our students with the same opportunities - but within a more informal, frequent context. This is exciting within the high school context, since it provides older students with the opportunity to continue to develop fluency.

A stumbling block for many of us is our lack of experience with the social networks made available to us through technology. Hattie and I discussed this at length. We concluded this medium addressed important issues for our students - a shrinking global community and the appropriate understandings and behaviors involved when interacting with others, clarity and precision of communication, flexible thinking, etc.

(Of course we wondered into Costa's Habits of Mind more on that later).

Given the meta-cognitive framework we both embrace, we focused on the importance of modeling in this area and agreed - after lengthy discussion - that teachers need to have first hand experience in order to model for students - keeping it real. Hattie has been on face book for some time and we discussed that experience. She has found it beneficial for modeling and for keeping students involved and connected within her classroom. So--I signed up!

For the coming year, we will be exploring how to identify trends in responses and identify big ideas - a crucial reading strategy for comprehending in this age of information.

Hattie will be exploring this in her classroom throughout this coming year. We hope her research will culminate in a webinar in March of 2010.

Stay tuned and please share any thoughts or comments with us.

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