The Podcast: Bloggin' in the Rain

On today’s podcast, I attempt to answer a series of Twitter questions from Nawal about how to promote writing environments that help students to (as Will calls it.)  I also rant a bit about “blogging units” (I’m against ’em.)  Somewhere in there, I reference George Hillocks’ really excellent metaanalysis of composition instruction studies (PDF) and Stephen Downes’ recent talk in Buenos Aires, as well as Troy’s book, The Digital Writing Workshop.  I hope it helps, Nawal.

Looking forward to your thoughts, as always.

Direct Link to Audio


US Dept of Education Press Office Won't Talk to (Bud the) Teacher

I continue to ask of everyone I can speak with in Washington and in Congressional and government offices alike: What is the rationale for eliminating funding for the ? It is a simple question, or it seems to be. But I can’t get anyone to answer it beyond broad strokes of “local and state redundancy” and “no significant impact” on students. Since I don’t understand how a national network can exist at the local or state level, and I have evidence to the contrary on impact on students and teachers, I’ll keep asking. It just doesn’t make sense.

An added wrinkle is that one of the folks that I originally started asking the question of is now, apparently, unwilling to talk to me at all. Here’s the story.

Every day this week, before and after work, I’ve left a message with the Press Office of the Department of Education asking for an answer to my question for the rationale behind the elimination of the National Writing Project from the 2011 proposed education budget. On Tuesday morning, I had a very nice and pleasant exchange with one of the women who answers the phones at that line. She was polite as I explained my request, as she read it back to me, and confirmed my phone number and e-mail address. She asked me when I’d like a response. I told her five PM that day, which is a typical turnaround for a media response. She said someone would get back to me prior to that time. She also asked me what news organization I was with. I informed her that I was a blogger, and she said okay.

No one returned that call.

But I’m stubborn I understand how busy people are. So, Wednesday morning, I called the press office back and, as luck would have it, the phone was answered by the same person. She remembered my question, and pulled up her notes. She had my phone number right. But I didn’t get a call back. I asked her why. That’s when she informed me that, as I wasn’t a member of the press, I wasn’t entitled to a response from their office. That floored me a bit.

I asked her to explain who told her that. She put me on hold, and after a few moments, returned and explained that Sandra Abrevaya, one of the folks who manages the office’s Twitter presence, fielded the request and informed the kind phone answerer that she should “only pass along (messages) if he is a reporter.”

I asked the receptionist, who again would not give me her name, so far the only person in the entire Education Department who has actually spoken to me on the phone, if she would get a definition from Ms. Abrevaya as to what constitutes a “reporter.” (I’m thinking that I sure am “reporting” this conversation and my experience.) I have yet to hear back.

I was referred to a general question and information line, which was actually quite helpful. If you’d like to inquire about an educational issue, you may have the best results by calling 1-800-872-5327 and pressing 3. Then again, it might not be THAT useful, because I’m still waiting to hear back from the person to whom I was referred from there, too.

I guess I’d have to express my disappointment in the Department of Education’s Press Office, and specifically Sandra Abrevaya. As one of the folks behind the @EdPressSec Twitter account, she has been, presumably, receiving my replies and requests for information about the National Writing Project rationale for more than two weeks. My voice messages for about a week. And she chose to ignore them. Because I’m not a “reporter.”

We cannot accept a government that simultaneously leverages social media to get their message out but ignores the messages of its constituents. I’m not willing to quit asking my question because I’m not a “reporter.” So, again, here’s what I’d like to know:

What is the rationale for the elimination of the National Writing Project? What is the information that was used to make the decision? Who is the person or persons who ultimately made the decision, and how would they answer others’ data that suggest strong results?

Why is that such a hard collection of questions to get an answer to? Seems like they’d certainly like to hear from us, but not talk to us.

I’ll keep trying. Maybe you will, too.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Bud the Teacher


Klentschy & Thompson – Scaffolding Science Inquiry

I’m sitting in today on a session at one of our elementary schools where the group of teachers is looking deeply at inquiry and how it works at school.  We’ve just been given a copy of Michael Klentschy and Laurie Thompson’s book, Scaffolding Science Inquiry Through Lesson Design and have been asked to take a look at Chapter One and write about our reading.

I have long been interested in Klentschy and others’ work with science notebooks, tools for thinking, questioning, gathering data and making meaning from the data gathered.  I think my blog serves a bit like my science notebook, and I think that blogs could be fine science notebooks for students and teachers to think, question, record observations and use to make meaning from those things, too.  But the first chapter of their book discusses a three-phase approach to lesson planning that’s not a bad model to keep in mind:

Phase 1 – Intended Curriculum – The big ideas that are expected to be taught. (Perhaps standards, benchmarks, big questions)

Phase 2 – Implemented Curriculum – The plan for getting to those big ideas.  In their model, this begins with a focus question, a question that “leads to construction of knowledge about lesson content goals” (page 4).  PRedictions, data collection and recording in a notebook, and making meaning of that data follow.

Phase 3 – Achieved Curriculum – A measure of whether or not what was intended and implemented actually resulted in student learning of those elements and ideas.  The science notebook, as a place to record most of the thinking and questioning and collection that occurred along the way, becomes a big piece of the assessment – and a place to discover where, if it happened, learning went off track.

I think this is a pretty handy way of thinking about lesson design.  It meshes nicely with what I’m learning about Understanding by Design, as well.  Better than either model, though, is the systematic use of the notebook as a place to record and think and write and learn and share.  That’s how learning happens.  We write.  We ask.  We seek.  We discover.   We revise.  We share.  Repeat.

I carry a notebook and also use this space to do those things.  Any approach to learning that helps students to use actual learning tools for realistic reasons is a good step.  It’s much bigger than science, too.  I’m pleased that this school is seeking to use processes and tools across classrooms to model how learning happens.  I’m also pleased to be in the midst of this conversation occurring as teachers write and share with each other, too. Our students need to see teachers engaged in learning using methods similar to the ones they ask their students to use.

Not a bad way to spend the week before school starts back.


The Podcast: Why Technology

Ben Grey asked me if I’d be willing to respond to his recent post entitled “Why Technology.”  I tried to do so in today’s podcast, although I don’t think I broke any new ground or said anything I haven’t said before. (Such a ringing endorsement, huh?)

Direct Link to Audio


Seeing Mindfully, Thanks to D’Arcy

It was about a year ago that D’Arcy Norman suggested that, if folks wanted to, we might challenge ourselves to shoot a photo a day for the year 2008 and share as many of them as possible.  I didn’t do so hot about the sharing part, but I’ve managed to work the question “What’s today’s picture?”

into my daily thinking.  My family, when we’re out and about, makes suggestions about what the day’s picture should be, and we’re building together a wonderful family archive of the photos I’ve taken and the memories that they carry.  This is, perhaps, my most thoughtfully documented year.  But that’s not even the good bit.

What D’Arcy’s invitation, and the group’s examples and conversations, did for me was to literally fiddle with the way that I see the world.  He calls it “mindful seeing,” and explains in a post he wrote last January:

Mindful seeing is the process of turning off the filters, of seeing your surroundings unfettered and unobstructed.

When viewing the world without filtering, even the most boring and banal subjects can become wondrous and interesting. We are constantly surrounded by interesting things that we normally don’t see – textures, lighting, patterns, shapes, objects, groupings, even messages.

Photographers are often described as distancing themselves from their surroundings by “hiding behind a camera” or “viewing the world only through a viewfinder.” I see photography from the exact opposite side of the coin. By mindfully seeing the world around me, I feel as though I am seeing much more than I would otherwise. I see patterns, convergence, divergence, shadows, lighting, juxtaposition, and composition that are likely missed by others. That’s not to say that I am “better” than any other – just that by being mindful of what I am seeing, I am aware of what is around me. And when I am aware, I am better able to take an interesting photograph.

I am paying better attention now that I’m thinking about what to capture, and what will look good, and what’s worth remembering and the like.  And as I begin my second year of trying to take a picture everyday, I’m not worried about whether or not I’ll keep up with shooting (yep) and posting (not so much), but it’s becoming a part of my day, a piece of who I am and what I do.  That’s a big deal.

D’Arcy, I’m grateful for your example.

If you’re interested, the group’s still there, and getting started with 2009.  There are also lots of other groups doing the same or similar projects.  Find one you like and join and start shooting pictures.  You don’t need fancy equipment – I alternate between a DSLR and my cell phone – you just need to be willing to look around and really try to see it.

You’re welcome to take a peek at the pictures that I do share online.  Probably the best way is to just take a peek at my photostream. I’m less interested in the presentation than I am in the capturing and saving and seeing – but one thing I’ll be working on this time around is the workflow that I use to upload, tag and organize my photos – that could use a little bit of tweaking.


“Your Blog is Great!”

This evening, I was playing with the girls as they fiddled with their “laptops” – gifts from my aunt, who knew I was getting an XO for Christmas and didn’t want them to feel left out.

As I stood up to return to the dishes, Ani’s laptop spoke. “Your blog is great!” it told her in a faux-excited voice. I laughed.

Not yet, I thought. But one day.


Web Presence. On Purpose.

I’m writing this morning from the , an event I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved with as a facilitator since its inception last year.  This is the second time we’ve run the event, which is an attempt to provide some time and structure for teams from writing project sites who wish to think strategically about their web presence.  We’ll spend the weekend thinking through the identity of our respective organizations and what we can do online to both reflect and support that identity and the good work that all of us are trying to do in our various locations around writing and teaching and learning. That means lots of things to lots of people, but there’s plenty of intersection in the general trends.

The event is pretty intense, and, while designed for sites to think about their organizational web presences, is very helpful to me as I think about my personal and professional life online.  One of the big questions that we’re asking people to think about is how their web presences are a reflection of and a lens into their work.  My personal web presence should be like that, too.  But I’m not sure that it is.  I’ve got content spread around the web in a variety of places, everywhere from Flickr to Twitter to this blog to my wiki (which is desperately in need of an update or seven) to my work with other groups and schools and people.  There’s plenty of personal mixed in with the professional, and I think the boundaries between those two areas of my life, never truly separate in “real, offline” life, continue to blur and fade and shift from day to day, week to week, month to year.  (That’s a good thing, I think, for the most part.) How do I, as a blogger and a teacher and a learner and a father and a husband and a citizen, do my best to ensure a consistent presence across the Internet that reflects what I believe to be important?  Just as essential – how do I bring all of that content that sits all over the place into some sort of a coherent whole?  Or do I need to, so long as all that content in all of those places, and others, reflects the message(s) that I want so desperately to convey – that learning and writing and thinking and engaging and passionately working for the benefit of others are essential habits and skills for everyone, regardless of background, culture, or profession?

I think, too, about what “web presence” means.  Having a presence and creating a presence are not necessarily the same thing.  Being and doing aren’t necessarily the same, either.

These are some of my thoughts as I head into a pretty intensive planning process, where, if last year is any indication, I’ll learn as much, and probably a great deal more, than I’m hoping to facilitate.  This summer, I’ll be doing a three-hour session on presence tools, a class of software that are about making one’s presence known in some formal and informal ways, Twitter being one of the tools that I’m most curious about at the moment.  I also would like to explore more about digital identity, a conversation I sort of started here a little while back.  My work this weekend will continue to influence that work.  Lots to learn.  Luckily, I’ve got plenty of smart folks here to learn from and with.  We should all be so lucky.


(Re)Creating Ourselves Online

The Reflective Teacher, one of my favorite reflective practitioners, left his blog behind recently.  But now he’s back with another:

Anyway, I figured it was time for a reinvention as a teacher. I see in myself a different person than I was when I became a teacher, and therefore have moved things over to another place. What’s here will be erased but not forgotten. This place is invaluable to me, but I must let it go.

The kids always call me “Mister,” and when they address me, it’s as “hey, mister.” Therefore, you’ll find me at heymister.

Worth subscribing.

As a complete aside, I find the decisions that folks make about what’s public and what’s private, and how they create (or recreate) and negotiate their digital identities completely fascinating.  The rhetorical and practical decisions that go into everything from creating a screenname to deciding what and where to post are really interesting.

I’d love to facilitate a roundtable or panel discussion about this at some point in the future.  Lots worth exploring.  And, of course, for those of you who blog anonymously (which I can understand but not quite condone), we’ll provide brown paper bags and electronic voice scrambling.  Or something like that.

Would you attend such a conversation?


There Isn’t Just One

I didn’t want to let too much time go by before responding to Doug’s post, and the others that have followed it, but I haven’t have time for a thorough response.  There’s plenty of thoughtfulness in the posts and comments, but I did just want to state, again, that I’m pretty sure an awful lot of the “conversation” on the post(s) is based on a bad assumption, which is this:

There isn’t one “edublogosphere.”  Never has been and never will be.  So to ascribe universal characteristics to something which isn’t (universal) is problematic, to say the least.  Here’s how I said it in November:

Mostly, the assumption that’s troubling me so much is that there’s one group (community – whatever) out there that exists for educational conversation via electronic media, and that we should all try to engage and involve everyone in that one (fallacious) group so that we’re all friends and reading and commenting each other.  And that we’ll all agree on where that group should go, when they should meet, and what we’ll all do when we get there.  Or that we ever agreed in the first place.

Ain’t going to happen.  Not now, not ever.  Never did happen, in fact.  We all construct our blogrolls, our Twitter friends, or our other social networking relationships for our benefit and to meet our own unique needs.

Would I prefer to see more reflective or data-driven posts around teaching and learning practices?  Yep.  But me (or anyone else) not seeing them doesn’t mean that they’re not there.  I’d encourage you to read the rest of that November post for more explanation of my position.