Leave A Little Love for Them

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.))

  1. Google Apps for Education.  We’re excited about it. []
  2. We have it shut down for them by policy. []
  3. 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. []

#ISTE11: On Longitudinal Web Presences for Writing, Learning, Being

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 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.

  1. My words, not his []
  2. Eight years. How many writing spaces do you have that last six months. Learning, folks, is a marathon. []
  3. Probably incorrectly, but playing with words is fun. []
  4. 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. []

#ISTE11: On #engchat & Pauses

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 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?

  1. Fergie’s in Philadelphia.  Great place to be. []
  2. Whenever today is for you when you read this post. []
  3. And I’m hoping that this will lure you over there – there’s lots of good stuff that didn’t make the poem. []

#engchat: Twitter Chat with Purpose?

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?

  1. 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? []
  2. The details are still being worked out, but I’ll let you know when I know. []
  3. 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.” []

Wondering Vulnerably in Public

I had the chance to write this morning with friends and colleagues from the .  They were kind enough to let me come speak with them about some of the things I’m wondering about when it comes to writing and technology lately.

Our prompt, at one point, was taken from a comment Claudia left here the other day.  She asked:

Do your students know how you, the teacher, write? Can they catch you somewhere in the middle of your own learning process, doubting, wondering, as a vulnerable human far from the know-all/authority in the subject ideal?

Here’s what I wrote in response1:

I’ve discovered that more and more, I’m wondering in public. I’m wondering on Twitter, or via Evernote, or here on the blog, or in a half dozen other places, and it’s beautiful.  It’s messy and scary and contagious and weird – and it’s okay.

I used to be afraid of my words being seen or overseen or misunderstood.  Now, certain that they will be all of those things, I am less concerned.

That’s a certain shift – perhaps because of age or maybe overconfidence or just because of comfort with myself – but I’m less concerned about your reaction to my thinking.

No. That’s not right. As a writer and a teacher, I’m very concerned with your reaction to my thinking expressed via my words. But I’m less concerned with that reaction interfering with my ability to understand myself. That is to say – I’m okay with my thinking. And I’m growing more okay if you’re not so okay with it.

So, in writing to learn today, I learned a little bit about myself.  That’s good. Thanks, Claudia, for the great prompt.
You can read all the responses from the group, too, if you’d like.
  1. Most of this I wrote earlier.  I polished and embellished a little before publishing here. []

Letting (Them) Go

Richard Elmore:

I wonder, finally, what would happen if we simply opened the doors and let the students go; if we let them walk out of the dim light of the overhead projector into the sunlight; if we let them decide how, or whether, to engage this monolith? Would it be so terrible? Could it be worse than what they are currently experiencing? Would adults look at young people differently if they had to confront their children on the street, rather than locking them away in institutions? Would it force us to say more explicitly what a humane and healthy learning environment might look like? Should discussions of the future of school reform be less about the pet ideas of professional reformers and more about what we’re doing to young people in the institution called school?

via What Would Happen if We Let Them Go? – The Futures of School Reform – Education Week.

I wonder, often, about what might happen if we ended compulsory schooling.  Glad to know I’m not the only one.


#EduConText Session 4: Why Johnny Can't Read: A Conversation About What It Means to be Literate . . .Today"

I’m a bit tardy for this #EduConText Session 4 preview, but that’s okay.  I wrote myself a pass. 1

Why Johnny Can’t Read: A Conversation About What It Means to Be Literate…Today

Session Four: Sunday 10:30am–12:00pm
Room 204
David Jakes, Laura Deisley
Affiliation: David Jakes: Coordinator of Instructional Technology and Information Services at Glenbrook South High School (Chicago) Laura Deisley: Director of 21st Century Learning at The Lovett School (Atlanta)
Conversational Focus/Audience:
All School Levels
I think that Jason Ohler, whom I heard speak at a state conference a few years back, pretty much nailed for me why I think that reading and writing and thinking in multiple ways and formats is important.  He said something to the effect that “You cannot be manipulated by a form of media which you can yourself manipulate.”  Basically, he was saying that, if you understand the ways that media are made, then you can see trouble when it happens.  I think he’s right about that.
And I suspect, since Ohler’s name was mentioned in David and Laura‘s conversation proposal, that he will be referenced again in their talk about literacy2 and what it looks like right now.
When pushed, I say that literacy is about reading and writing and thinking.  The rest is in the details.  But I’m willing to entertain that there may be new literacies that are worthy of exploration.  With some caveats.  Network literacy3Attention literacy.4  If I were in their session, I’d be asking questions like:
  • Isn’t “Is Google making us stupid?” a continuation of Plato’s ? Can we let that go now? Or are Plato and Carr correct and we should just accept it and move on?
  • Are terms like “media literacy” or “digital literacy” useful for helping us to think about the different lenses that we might wear when we approach particular kinds of texts?  Or are the problematic because they distance us from the basic skills of reading and writing and thinking?
  • How do we encourage depth in reading and writing and thinking in a time of the tweet and the status update?  Hoe do we read and write slowly?
I’d probably be listening lots in this session – I know that literacy is a complicated topic and opinions are plentiful. I suspect there’ll be plenty of food for thought in the room.
How are you thinking about literacy?  Is it different today than yesterday?  Will it be different tomorrow?  Are those differences a product of our culture, our technology?
Lots of questions.  I hope the session is full of answers.
What is #EduConText?
  1. It’s good to be a teacher in moments like these. []
  2. or literacies []
  3. Except that networks are texts and can be read.  So that’s reading.  Traditional literacy? []
  4. Metacognition, perhaps?  An awareness of what I’m reading and writing and why I’m doing so or not. []

Reports From Cyberspace – An Invitation

Last year at NCTE, we began a conversation, Three Reports from Cyberspace. We thank Jeff Golub and Jim Strickland for organizing the session, and Helen Wierenga for being our responder. And, we thank all of you, because what happened during the session was, quite simply, amazing1.

Bud, Troy, and the entire audience were engaged in a continual conversation that moved from notes appearing on the screen, to questions from the audience, back to one of one of them answering on stage, and out to the wider world through Twitter and Etherpad. Sara’s thinking was with us in the room, even though she wasn’t physically present.  Over the course of the hour, we shared a number of examples from our own teaching and research that helped illuminate issues related to filtering, curriculum, assessment, and teaching in digital spaces. We were, in short, completely engaged in the conversation, in “multitasking” at its best. And that brings us to where we are now, preparing to offer more reports from cyberspace.

So, why write about that here, three weeks from the next session/conversation?

We do so as an invitation.

A conference session is a waypoint, a time and place to check in on where we’ve been, but more important, where we’re going.  So before we get to that waypoint, let’s take a moment to share our own reports from cyberspace as a way of starting this conversation.  Here is a link to an open Google Doc where we’ve left space for you to jot some thoughts as we move into our time together.  If you can join us for the session at NCTE, great.  But if not, and you’d still like to report or check in, feel free to do so.

Here are some prompts that will take us into our session.  Help yourself to whichever one(s) will be the most useful in your thinking and reporting:

  • What’s the state of your educational cyberspace at this moment in November 2010?  What’s good?  What’s scary?  What’s working?  What’s not?
  • What needs doing?  Fixing?  Raising up?
  • Where are you focusing your attention?
  • Where are we going with all of this Internet stuff?  What’s new?  What’s good?
  • Finally, what do you hope to leave our session with?  What’s next?  So what?

Please take a few minutes and share your reports from cyberspace. We suspect you have something to teach us, and we’re ready to learn.

If the reporting ends at the session, then we’ve failed. Conferences are notorious spaces, in that we all get together and get excited, but then the momentum seems to die. Help us figure out where to go and what to do next. In a time of increased standards and assessments, when everyone is an expert on matters of teaching and learning, and reading and writing, we need to tell our stories. It’s never been more important to be thoughtful out loud.

Troy Hicks, Bud Hunt, and Sara Kajder

PS – If you can’t make the session, but will be at NCTE, you’ll have another chance to join us immediately after this session at the Middle Level Get Together.  We’d love to see you, and hear your report(s), wherever you’ll choose to join us.

  1. I don’t use this word often.  But it was a really interesting conversation, both in content and in process. []

“You Must Decide How to Read.”

From The Rhetoric of the Hyperlink:

This is an extraordinarily complex construct, because the sentence is a magical, shape-shifting monster. It blends figure and ground compactly; the gestalt has leaky boundaries limited only by your willingness to click. Note that you can kill the magic by making the links open in new windows (which reduces the experience to glorified citation, since you are insistently hogging the stage and forcing context to stay in the frame). What makes this magical is that you might never finish reading the story (or this article) at all. You might go down a bunny trail of exploring the culture and history of Bollywood. Traditionally, writers have understood that meaning is constructed by the reader, with the text (which includes the author’s projected identity) as the stimulus. But this construction has historically been a pretty passive act. By writing the sentence this way, I am making you an extraordinarily active meaning-constructor. In fact, you will construct your own text through your click-trail. Both reading and writing are always political and ideological acts, but here I’ve passed on a lot more of the burden of constructing political and ideological meaning onto you.

The reason this scares some people is rather Freudian: when an author hyperlinks, s/he instantly transforms the author-reader relationship from parent-child to adult-adult. You must decide how to read. Your mom does not live on the Web.

No.  She doesn’t.  So how do we scaffold the meaning making process just enough so that a student can move into it?

Or do we need to?