So I'm Going To Be Teaching This Class. And Could Use Your Help.

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 “.”  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 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 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.

Here’s a Google Doc where I’m beginning to draft a collection of readings and resources for the folks3 who I hope will take this course.

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.

  1. Er.  Facilitating.  Teaching.  Guiding.  Whatever.  The participants and I will experience it together.  And we’ll all take turns. []
  2. 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. []
  3. Remember – a targeted audience of non-language arts teachers. []

Fuzzy Thinking: Fragmenting Us in Pursuit of, Well, Us.

No fewer than three times today, my brain was tickled into considering the question that I’ve buried at the end of this hurried post. Let me recap:

1. In a few Google+ conversations about sharing1, I’ve seen folks state that the advantage of things like circles2, is that they can help you to narrowcast rather than broadcast noise.

2. During #edchat today, I caught a rather odd notion that we should be taking care to separate our professional conduct from our academic conduct. I still don’t know what that means. Strikes me as silly. More on that in a sec.

3. The prompt of this evening’s #edchat was this:

Tech won’t change a teacher’s basic pedagogical practices. How do we promote needed change in methodology?

I wondered aloud in response that perhaps it’d be more important3 if we instead asked what was worth doing, and what wasn’t – basically, what was the change that needed to happen?

And I didn’t see a good answer. But, I couldn’t stick around to see the chat, so perhaps it surfaced and I missed it.

In each of the above cases, the problem of lots of little purposes, rather than a few big ideas, arises. In the first example, an assumption that I’m interested in one piece of you, rather, than, perhaps, the person that you’re working to be, is present. In the second, the idea that our professional selves and our academic selves should be distinct and separate selves – that ourselves as teachers should so differ from ourselves as learners that we need to tell the difference – emerged. And in the third, we’re skipping the essential questions to focus on the sidelines. Let’s get to the changing before we know what’s worth fiddling with.4

Before I ramble too much on this, at a time when I can tell my brain’s only beginning to emerge from vacation, I’ll pause with a question, probably a poorly worded one, but perhaps you can help me fumble to better language –

Is it better to have lots of selves and goals for lots of situations, to fragment ourselves intentionally in the pursuit of the right self for the right situation, or is it better to have a few guiding principles that transcend our selves and help us to be better us-es in all of our spaces?

I say the latter’s the way to go. Be kind in all spaces.5 Always be curious. Share what you learn as you’re able. I’m sure there are more principles that I could tease out across the contexts and shards of my self.

Certainly, a first draft and fuzzy response to something I want to come back and play with later. And I see at least a couple of problems with my own leaning. Let’s tease them out in the comments.

  1. Actually, in most Google + conversations about sharing – it’s a new space, and folks are figuring it out by comparing it to what they’ve known before. I get that. []
  2. The organizing principle of Google + – one that one doesn’t have to use – but, because it’s there, people do. Tools and they way they’re structured affect our use of them. []
  3. And certainly more useful, although I don’t think I said so at the time. []
  4. Okay. That one might not fit – but it does in my head somewhere, so I’m leaving it in. For now. []
  5. Or at least, strive to be. I’m working on this one. []

#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. []

#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.” []

Still Nothing New Under the Sun. We Pretend Otherwise.

It’s funny.1

I’ve been working with some folks to write about the centennial of English Journal, which is this year.  One hundred years of writing about teaching and learning language arts.  We’ve been focusing on the way that technology has been addressed in past issues of EJ, looking back at articles from the last one hundred years and exploring past brushes of technology and pedagogy.  It’s been a fascinating trip back in time.

My hunch going into this work is that we would find many, many similarities between the issues of yesterday and today.  I expected that we would always see that the transformational technology was right around the corner, and that things would be better if only we would adopt it. 2

What I also expected, but have been both inspired and disappointed by, is that so many wise teachers from our past saw what we really needed to focus on.  They saw that it wasn’t the technology, but the purposes that we put it to, that were what count and what matters in teaching and learning.  And their words were praised.

And then forgotten.

And now many of my contemporaries make the same great arguments.  Arguments that have been made before.  Here’s one:

The tragic lack, as I see the present social order, is that of understanding and intelligent sympathy. Our ignorance makes us indifferent and cruel. We are preoccupied with ourselves.

Sounds like a critique of today, doesn’t it?  But it’s not.  These words are 78 years old.

Further on in the same piece:

If English instruction can help in the substitution of creative effort for scheming greed, if it can substitute social co-operation for selfish individualism, if it can help in the development of men and women sensitive to human suffering and bent on furthering human happiness – in a word, if it can make beauty a dominant factor in contemporary life – the aim not only of English instruction but of all education will have been accomplished.3

Right then, and right now.

As I think about the challenges of today, and the arguments that are and aren’t occurring in schools and about schooling in these United States, I wonder why we forget these voices that have come before.  I worry that they may have figured out much of what we needed to know then and need to do now.  But we moved on4 without them.

So why aren’t we doing it?  What’s holding us back?  Will we do things differently, or will someone stumble across our words a hundred years down the road and wonder similar things?

It’s enough to make me mad.5


  1. Or kind of sad. []
  2. Be it microfiche, radio, television, word processors, computers, or even typewriters.  All are represented as the next great thing in the articles I’ve read. []
  3. Stella S. Center, Past-President, National Council of Teachers of English, from her Presidential Address, “The Responsibility of Teachers of English in Contemporary American Life.” November 24th, 1932.  Published in The English Journal, Volume 22, Number 2, February, 1933. (pp.97-108) []
  4. Perhaps not forward, but on. []
  5. But we know what to do with the mad that we feel, don’t we? []

#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. []

It’s Blurry. But It’s Still a Vision

Lately, I’ve found myself, quite by accident, thinking a great deal about what an “online school” might look like, were I to have the opportunity to be involved in the creation of one.  I’m watching this process unfold in my school district, and it’s started some wheels a’turning.

And this is thinking that, while I’ve done peripherally off and on over the last several years1, has been persistently in my head these last few weeks.  So it seems reasonable to try to write some of it down before it slips away, or as an opportunity to bettter understand what’s going on in my head.  So I imagine this will be a few posts over the next few days, as I flesh out various ideas.  If you don’t want to head down this road with me, here are some links to other distractions that you might enjoy.

First draft thinking.  But thinking I like and find useful.

To begin with, any online school that’s worth building won’t be a district-branded school in a box.  You know what I mean when I talk school in a box, right?  One purchases the curriculum and coursework and so on2 and replaces the curriculum company’s logo with their district logo. This is relatively easy to do, and results in the ability of a school board to say “Hey.  Look.  We have an online school.” But doesn’t really result in a change to, well, pretty much anything, or any advantage to the home school district other than a slight financial one.3
So that’s not good enough.  And it feels, well, funky.  At least to me.  So that’s not doable, in my mind.  Not in totality.  But there are other ways.

In our school district, in the face of a change in state standards4, the curriculum team has been working with select teachers to map our standards into a curriculum framework.  The next step is to begin to map out what new common district assessments might look like and then to give examples of what exemplary work looks like and to build all of those standards, assessments and exemplars into a curriculum map that makes it pretty transparent about what’s up with teaching and learning in the district.5

That’s good.  But let’s try to tie in a few other district projects.  For one thing, there’s a real sense of excitement about the possibility of digital and/or open source textbooks here in the district.  Both the board and the curriculum team and others are beginning to realize that there’s a big opportunity to save some money and to create better materials at the same time through the curation of digital texts.6

I imagine that we could double our curriculum expertise here in St. Vrain, have folks work regularly on curating resources by hanging the good stuff from elsewhere on our curriculum map and writing the rest, and save money in the process.  The distribution model for what folks produce is a bit muddled7, but it’s doable.

Let’s suppose, though, that the aims of creating digital textbooks that are mapped to curriculum and building an online school weren’t disparate.  In fact, I think they’re complimentary.

Suppose, instead of going after a school in a box, you took the opportunity to think of an online school as a lab school, a place of possibility and “what if-edness” that you might use for R&D into new methods, practices, and opportunities for partnership.  Suppose the goal of such a school included being the development and testing ground for the digital resources that you wanted to build?  And furthermore, suppose that you hired teachers to both teach and curate curriculum, so rather than teach full time, or curate full time, they did both things together.

This would give you a space in which to create resources and to, with the aid of students, who would be partners in the work, fieldtest and improve them?


Doesn’t that have a nice sound to it?  I think such a school would need to be a high school to begin with, but that might be an irrational bias8.

And now that we’ve opened the door to cross-purposes, I’d like to explore a few other ones.  There are plenty more.  What might an office of professional development as a partner in an online school look like?  How might an online school be a school-within-a-school that lives across a school district?  What are the essential physical spaces in an online school?  How do you build community in such spaces?

But those’re posts for other evenings.  For now – might something like this make sense?  What places do you see that look like this – online schools with experimental purposes?  Lab schools?  Online?9

I’ve not yet mentioned that, as I wrote and wondered a little while back, it would be essential that there were democratic structures built into the school.  And, although I’m not sure I’ve said so, it would be essential in any online school, that there be advisors in place and an advisory period of some kind that made sense for all students.  Students are less likely to get lost when there’re always folks looking out for you.

More soon.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

  1. “You know,” I say to friends, smart ones, “We should really build a school.”  And then we explore the idea. []
  2. and in some cases, the staff and even the administration []
  3. I say slight because you’re looking to split the revenue returned to the district between a curriculum company and the operating costs of such a program. []
  4. Twice.  Colorado adopted new ones recently, and then adopted Common Core over the summer.  It’s been a bit standards crazy lately, and the state is still figuring out what it’s done, as are many others. []
  5. I really like the idea that the curriculum map, up to and including activities and common assessments, is available to anyone who wants to take a look.  Particularly for a public school district.  Here’s one that a district to the south is doing interesting things with. []
  6. Folks like Bill are doing some good thinking in this area, so take a link break and head over to his post.  Go ahead.  I’ll be here when you’re done. []
  7. Do we go all digital?  Print on demand?  Allow for folks to bring their own devices?  Some combination of the above? []
  8. I was a high school teacher before I went to work as an educational geek full time []
  9. I suspect that many of you have answers to some of the questions I’ve outlined, as well as a couple that I’m reserving for future posts.  I can’t say this more clearly – I’m very interested in hearing from you.  Would love to hear how you’ve answered some or all of these questions in your own online spaces and places.  Or maybe you have better questions.  I’ll take those, too.  Please. []

Democracy Matters in Online Classrooms, too.

I was listening tonight to a really smart collection of speakers offering an alternative voice to the Education Nation perspective.  Deborah Meier’s comments really resonated.  They often do.

She talked about the fact that respect belongs in a school, and it belongs there when and how and because the stakeholders in the school join together and spend time talking together about what respect looks like in the school.  Parents.  Teachers.  Students.  Principals.  The people in the school.1

And I thought back to my last school, an alternative high school, where we met once a week, all of us in the school, for an hour, to celebrate successes and to talk through problems and to make announcements and to dance silly dances and to be in community with each other.2

And then I thought about virtual school, and online school, and school in a box via the Internet.  And I wondered for a moment what a democratic online school looks like.  And I wondered what it might feel like for all of us in an online school community to meet sometimes like that for a face to face conversation.  And I wondered what it might be like to meet other times in a Web meeting room for that same conversation.  And I was really struck by how powerful that community meeting might be, and how empowering it might be, too, particularly for a school where the community is all spread out lots of the time.

And I realized, that for a school to succeed, even an online school3, and to help to develop the kinds of people that I’m interested in developing, people who are engaged and willing citizens in the world, folks ready to participate in a democracy, then we’re going to have to figure out what those conversations, those community meetings,  can and should look like.

And we’re going to have to start having them in our democratic online schools.

Is that happening?

  1. And yes, the janitors and the secretaries and the itinerant counselors and the librarians.  Everyone in the school community. I don’t mean to leave anyone out. []
  2. I wrote a column about this practice for English Journal once, but it’s behind a pay wall at the moment.  Perhaps I should dig it up. []
  3. Perhaps especially an online school. []

On (Purposeful) Play

In the Digital Learning Collaborative, we tell teachers that year one of their two-year commitment is to play with technology.1

And we mean “play” in the best sense of the word.  Fiddle.  Tinker.  Explore.  Discover.  Try.  Fail.  Reengage.2

“Play” doesn’t sit easily with some of the teachers that I work with, nor with several the administrators that I’ve explained the project to lately.  And that’s too bad.  But I understand it.3

There’s an intense pressure to perform right now, to be successful in all that we do with students.  So “playing” seems unprofessional.  Wasteful.

But it’s not.

To play on purpose is to take risks.  To challenge what you know.  To ride the edge between what is and what might be, what never was and what should’ve been.  To admit that there’s stuff worth doing that you don’t know the outcome to. To get silly. To be engaged with the world.  To dare to fiddle with the unfiddlable.

And we need teachers to be in regular, thoughtful, and purposeful, play.4  How are you making time for play in your learning?

  1. Year two is all about teacher research.  To be honest, I’m not sure which year is harder. []
  2. Rinse.  Repeat. []
  3. Even so, I worry when I have to spend so much time reminding educators that it is perfectly acceptable to be swept away by learning. []
  4. Our children, too, need play.  Regularly. []