In today’s podcast, I talk about a couple of projects that are keeping me pretty busy this fall – finishing my thesis and building a course for P2PU’s new School of Ed with some friends from the NWP. Oddly, they go together. Which is a good thing. Keep your fingers crossed. And, as always, would love to hear your thoughts in response to mine. This time, I could definitely use the help.
This afternoon, Mary Ann and WIll were talking a bit about Kindergarten standards. I butted in.1
And Mary Ann and I, and some others, worked our way into a
conversation back and forth talking at one another chat about a post of Mary Ann’s. You should read the post2. As I read it, I was struck by the notion of connectedness – and the implication that it was about online. Now, the Gee concept she references3, and I’m about to requote, does state that:
An affinity space is a place where informal learning takes place. According to James Paul Gee, affinity spaces are locations (physical or virtual) where groups of people are drawn together because they share a particular common, strong interest or are engaged in a common activity. Often but not always occurring online, affinity spaces encourage the sharing knowledge or participating in a specific area, but informal learning is another outcome.
But even though these spaces don’t have to be online, I got the sense from the post that the online-ness of connected children’s experiences might be the unique thing.
And I want to push back on the assumption that connected of today is somehow significantly different than the connected of yesterday. Just as I wonder about the importance of the Internet in the notion of connective writing, so, too, would I wonder about the necessity of the Internet for the creation of the modern connected child.
That’s not to say that it’s not a factor, that speed and access are not better than they’ve ever been4. But I want to push against the idea that they’re new. That wanting to know what’s going on somewhere else as quickly as possible is a trait of only the 21st Century. That seeking an audience for one’s efforts is a notion of those of us born after 1985. That being in conversation with someone from a different place didn’t happen prior to Skype.
Easier? Perhaps. Likely, even. Faster? Often. But new?
I don’t think so5. And when I say that I wonder about connectivity, or connectedness, this is what I’m talking about. Certainly important. I want my children, and their schools, to be about connectedness through the tools of today. But what makes them differently different than all the children that’ve come before?
But I’m not so sure that’s new6.
- That’s one thing Twitter’s good for – having open conversation – both so that you can model what that might look like as well as allow folks to intrude. And, yeah. I know I just wrote this. And am now praising Twitter. It’s a contradictory night. [↩]
- And most of what she writes. She’s wise. [↩]
- By way of Wikipedia [↩]
- Too many nots there – of course it’s faster and better than ever. But that’s mostly been the case for the last several hundred years. [↩]
- I may well be wrong. I argue with myself about it. Frequently. [↩]
- I’m grateful for Pam Moran’s gentle suggestion that I should pause to write this up. She was right. [↩]
Rebecca Blood, a lifetime ago in Internet time, wrote of weblogs:
We are being pummeled by a deluge of data and unless we create time and spaces in which to reflect, we will be left with only our reactions.
And when I read Dean yesterday talking of owning one’s space to share one’s words, and then Tony’s post about the value of Twitter, I am reminded that I lean on Dean’s side of this conversation. Twitter is to relationships as wheel decals are to roller skates. Nice to have and to use, but far from essential.
Twitter is the spice that flavors what you’re putting on the table. It might be the after dinner snack. It may well be the connective tissue that flavors the stew1. But it’s not the meal. It’s part of the deluge2, and we must push against it, building spaces where we can be thoughtful.
One of the honors and privileges of my current position is that I get to work with some really smart people. I mean wise folks. The folks I want my children to learn with and from.
And I get the opportunity, from time to time, to see these smart folks in action. This year, on the first day of school, MIchelle and Kyle and I took a lap around the district and happened to wander by Kevin’s classroom a few minutes into his year.
And, boy, was he in the zone. Already. Inside a few minutes.
He was introducing reading notebooks to his students when we happened by. We were approaching the classroom, no appointment, just saying hi, when we heard him say this:
We are going to have thoughts as we read, and it’ll be good for us to write those down so we don’t forget them.
And so we turned around and kept right on walking. Kevin’s students didn’t need us to interfere with some very serious exploration of what it means to be a reader, writer and thinker. Nope. Anything we might’ve done in that situation would’ve been an interruption. They were in quite capable hands.
Of course, the more I think about that one sentence, the more I think it sums up so much of what I think school should be – people exploring thoughtfulness. Thoughtfully.
And I am grateful for folks like Kevin, who works with 4th graders, because I know that they are well served because he is there exploring their thinking with them.
If your school year’s just getting going, I sure hope that you are reading something interesting, and asking your students to, and that you’re all pausing from time to time to write something that you’re thinking about down.
And if you’re not – why aren’t you?
I like new frontiers. That’s why I’m excited to be participating in Karen’s attempt to create a School of Ed at P2P University this fall. It should be a neat opportunity to fiddle with what it means to do PD.
I couldn’t be more excited to be facilitating a course we’re calling “Common Core & Writing: Deeper Learning for All.” I pitched the course as “a course on writing to learn for non-English teachers” and that’s almost exactly what I’ll be teaching1. Better yet – some of my friends from the National Writing Project will be helping me to develop the course.
The six week course, which will begin mid-October, is going to begin with a deep look at the Common Core State Standards, and particularly the section of the standards that addresses the role of writing across the curriculum.2 Then,’ we’ll tackle writing in the classroom from two distinct lenses:
1. Writing to Learn – the habits and bits of writing that you do to make sense of whatever it is that you’re learning and exploring.
2. Writing for the Disciplines – the writing that’s specific to content areas other than language arts. How do historians write for each other? Scientists? Mathematicians? And why does that matter? How can we help our students to write in these ways?
As a final project, participants in the course will use this protocol from the NWP to help them develop some writing assignments for their own classrooms that should result in some thoughtful writing for and with students. We should all get some good ideas.
As I’m developing the collection of resources, I know that NWP’s Digital Is will be an important text for the group. And I’m also reminded of Peter Elbow and Donald Murray and their essential contributions to writing as process and writing as something that teachers just, you know, do.
But I could use your help.
I’d sure be grateful if you’d offer your favorites and help keep me honest by pointing participants to actual examples of the two areas I outlined above.
And of course, this entire experience is, for me, first draft thinking. I’d be open to your ideas, suggestions, and feedback as I’m working to construct an experience that’s ultimately useful to teachers and results in increased use of writing in their practice.
Thanks in advance. And perhaps I’ll see you in class? Sign up opens soon.
- Er. Facilitating. Teaching. Guiding. Whatever. The participants and I will experience it together. And we’ll all take turns. [↩]
- Yes, technically, this is a rather large section. Pretty much the entire language arts section. But we’ll hone in on the specifics of writing for the disciplines other than language arts. [↩]
- Remember – a targeted audience of non-language arts teachers. [↩]
I’ve been teaching an awful lot of Google Mail and Calendar classes lately, as my school district is moving into its new email platform1. And I mention during these classes that students will have email next year. In fact, it’s one of the big advantages for us – student email, somebody in the IT department figured, would cost us, at a minimum $500,000 – $600,000 to handle licenses and other odds and ends under our old system.
And the response to that’s been pretty positive. We said when we started that we’d be offering email for secondary students only. And then the elementary teachers started asking for mail for younger students. Eagerly. And we’re thinking about it and talking about how to make that work.
But I have to remind folks during the training that, even though the younger students are in the universal directory, and have access to Google Docs and other tools and services, they can’t yet access their email2. So if you send a younger student an email, they won’t get it for several years.
It was when I said this out loud today, not the first time I’ve said it, but the first time I was struck by what that might mean, that I realized that there might be a feature in there.
Suppose that when these students do get to access their email boxes, they’ve a few important notes written by people who care for them waiting during their email orientation. We could, if we wanted to, use the dormant email accounts of younger students in our district as a sort of time capsule for sending good stuff their way ahead of time.
I see plenty of reasons why the messages might never be read, or get lost among the clutter of notifications and odds and ends and whatnot that will also be waiting for those students when their mail’s turned on. But wouldn’t it be neat to send care packages to the future versions of our students today? Quick notes and longer messages of moments where they chose well, or were worthy of a moment’s pause. An occasional picture or two or a piece of work that really, really stood out, perhaps?
It’s likely wishful thinking3 , but I suspect the sending of the messages, received or not, would be a useful and productive pause for each of us. A time to honor the students our children are, and the people they may well be. It couldn’t hurt to take a moment to write down a few words to a child.
And I like the idea that sometime in the future, a student in the middle of a moment of doubt would stumble upon a note from a time when they did something well, or worth doing, or worth sharing. I like that perhaps they might get a chance to remember.
I say yes. That’s worth doing. Let’s make our digital spaces just as warm and inviting and kind as our physical ones. ((And let’s make sure our physical spaces are warm and inviting and kind, too.)) Of course, our students who’ll have email access today, well, I suspect they wouldn’t mind a kind note or two, either.
So let’s get right on that, okay? If you’ve five minutes this week, jot a note, electronic or otherwise, to a student who’s up to something interesting. Make their day. And mean it.((And, if you’d like to write to your future self, there are certainly services that you can use to do that. Try it out.))
- Google Apps for Education. We’re excited about it. [↩]
- We have it shut down for them by policy. [↩]
- And perhaps overly optimistic. I suspect some people who stumble across this post will worry about the fact that they’d be communicating with a student, that the communication might be dangerous because of future litigation. To those folks, I’d say something like: let’s not let the worst of us eclipse the best of what we might be. Choose your words carefully, but don’t stop being a good person. Good and kind and thoughtful people are necessary when there are so many not good folks, or so many folks trying to prey upon our worst fears. The best way to battle a bully is, of course, to provide a compelling model of better behavior. [↩]
I had the opportunity to hear Paul Allison, one of my favorite teachers, talk at length about his work with Youth Voices yesterday. Usually, Paul’s asking about others’ work, or showcasing the work he’s doing – but not talking about the thinking behind the work. And I like it when he does so. I hope he’d do that more.
He said that the pedagogical and philosophical1 recipe for Youth Voices was something like:
- James Beane and his work on breaking down the curriculum barriers and asking good questions
- plus Paulo Friere’s thinking on asking learners to look for generative themes
- with a dash of Peter Elbow who reminds us of the power of making things through free writing.
I need to return to all three of those folks and dig back in to some of their thinking.
But he said something, off the cuff, that I thought was really important. He mentioned that he’d been in the Youth Voices work for eight years2, and that students who started in tenth grade were able, in eleventh and twelfth, to return to the space and pick up where they left off. They didn’t have to learn a new space, and their work from previous years was right there.
That’s powerful and important and worth unpacking a little bit. Teachers who are using interesting technology with their students find themselves too often in the setup and infrastructure business – and that’s fine sometimes. But not every time or every lesson or every year.
One of the reasons I went to work for an IT department was because I wanted to help make spaces that had a life beyond one classroom. A student shouldn’t create one blog to suit the needs of every teacher that asks for work to occur in such spaces. Students create short term tools for what should be long term work, and they find themselves create blogs every time they start to do interesting work. The assumption becomes that the work they’re doing in these temporary spaces is throwaway work. When the unit, semester, or year ends, the space dies and the student is asked to create the next one.
That’s not how it should work.
What I love about Paul’s work, and the work of other folks who are thinking about the long game of educational spaces where work lives and breathes and mingles with other work, is that they’re building what I call3 longitudinal Web presences. Spaces where the portfolio happens as the collection grows. Places where the stuff a student made yesterday and the stuff a student makes today will be around for a student to add to tomorrow. Places that don’t die every few months or are subject to Teacher A or B’s personal web tool preference.
When Karl or Michelle or I talk about digital learning ecologies, or Paul talks about Youth Voices, I think that’s what we’re talking about. Teachers shouldn’t have to be in the creation and infrastructure business all the time. Nor should they be helping kids to cram important work into temporary places.
If you’re a tech director or a CIO, I hope you’re thinking about how to create these spaces. I also hope you’re thinking about how to help students return to them over time and to think through what they’ve made and how it resonates, or doesn’t, as they expand their knowledge and experience. In St. Vrain, we’ve built a few tools that help with this, but we’re nowhere close to figuring it out.
We do, know, though, and have been charged by our school board, that we are stewards of the work our students produce. That’s an important word – the IT department is responsible for looking after the students’ work. We’ve got to make sure it’s well taken care of and preserved and saved until they leave our care. And that they can take it with them when they go.
That’s what a portfolio should be. That’s worth making. Thoughtfully.4 I continue to be inspired and pushed by the work of folks like Paul who are building places of learning that last on the Web.
- My words, not his [↩]
- Eight years. How many writing spaces do you have that last six months. Learning, folks, is a marathon. [↩]
- Probably incorrectly, but playing with words is fun. [↩]
- Sometimes, the curbs matter and the making of the containers are essential, in no small part because the traffic on the road and the stuff in the boxes is precious and worth looking after. The road needs to last for a long, long time. [↩]
So last night’s #engchat, I think, went well – a good opportunity to be in physical fellowship and conversation with some folks and some virtual fellowship and conversation with others. Thanks to Meenoo for letting me play along and for my friends at the National Writing Project for arranging the live venue1.
I think the process of pausing to write longer thoughts and ideas made for a better conversation in the chat – although it might’ve fiddled with the flow of the Twitter chat experience in a way that changed that – it was different, and puzzling, and, ultimately, useful.
For me, useful is high praise, so I’m feeling okay about the experience. I will probably say more about the logistics and my takeaways in a future post, and I know that others are working on some reflection, as well – I’d ask folks to share their posts on the original Google Doc so that we can aggregate the experience.
I could think of no better way to summarize last night’s conversation than to use the words of those who shared in the prompt document – there’s lots of interesting reflection there, and you might want to read it in its entirety.
But, if you can’t pause today2 to read the whole thing, perhaps you’ve time for a found poem I’ve attempted. All the words are from the Google Doc – many of them signed, but many others unsigned. You can see the original attributions on the Doc itself.3
Here’s the poem – I hope it’s useful, too. How’re you finding time to pause today?
So I’ll be hosting #engchat on Monday, June 27th. For the last few months, I’ve been wondering about Twitter chats in general, and their effectiveness. Of course, to determine their effectiveness, one has to have a sense of their purpose. And I can’t aways seem to tell the purpose of Twitter chats in general other than to say that they’re topical conversations. Folks get together and talk at one another, presumably about a particular topic. Then we run off to the next thing.
I’m sure there’s purpose in topical conversation. But I wonder about Twitter as the place for purposeful conversation. Things move so quickly. So briefly. Does useful discourse occur via Twitter?1
More important – in the race for folks to talk, talk, talk, might it be possible that we’re forgetting to listen, listen, listen? Or, worse still, are we skipping the thinking, thinking, thinking?
Seems to me that’s worth exploring. So, on Monday at 7pm Eastern, we’ll do just that, or at least make an honest attempt. #engchat will happen both at a physical location2 as well as via Twitter. In addition, there’ll be pauses for writing together, as well as reading what we write. The conversation will be punctuated by pauses.
That might be a useful thing. It might not. Here’s a page where I’m compiling a prompt or two and a rough schedule for the hour. Would love your feedback in the comments or, if you’re feeling brave, as comments on the Google Doc itself3.
And, of course, I’d love to have you join us to consider the place of pauses in digital writing. See you there?
- Or, at least, does the purposeful sort that one would hope to emerge from a topical conversation emerge from Twitter? I’m not saying Twitter can’t be purposeful. But do Twitter chats foster learning? Or are the the 21st Century version of drive-by PD? [↩]
- The details are still being worked out, but I’ll let you know when I know. [↩]
- If you’ve never made a comment on a Google Doc, then highlight the text you’d like to comment on, then go to the Insert menu and select “Comment.” [↩]