Presentation: Supporting New Literacies

This coming week, I will be co-presenting a session on the topic of New Literacies at a conference sponsored by our state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. I was invited because of my work this past summer and this school year with the state-sponsored New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute, which involves more than 100 teachers, technology coordinators and administrators developing resources around technology and learning. I am one of ten teacher-leaders of the institute, which recently secured funding for a second year for 2011.

The audience for this particular event will be mostly superintendents, principals and curriculum coordinators, which is a slightly different audience than I am used. They don’t need to know the “how” of what we are talking about — they need to know the “why” of why 21st Century Literacy Skills is expanding into multimodal composition. I imagine they’ll be looking through the lens of accountability for student learning. I figure my short time will be best used showing some student work and then making the case for ways that they (the administrators) can support teachers in the classroom.

Peace (in the sharing),

At LEARN NC: Online Reading Comprehension

I wrote a piece that just got published in LEARN NC (which also ran in Instructify, its companion site where I write regularly about tools for learning) in which I sought to provide a framework for considering reading skills when students are online.

I was inspired to write the piece after working this past summer with folks in the New Literacies Collaborative, including Don Leu (whom I will see next week as we are co-presenting a bit around New Literacies to Massachusetts superintendents, curriculum coordinators and such). Their presentations around this topic had me thinking and wondering, and processing what happens to my students when they go online to read.

You can read the piece  — Strategies for Online Reading Comprehension — here.

The chart in the piece that compares traditional reading with online reading was actually created in Google Docs as a cloud-sourcing experiment. I put a call out on Twitter and more than a dozen people went in and added ideas to the chart (which was later edited down a bit).

This is the fourth long article I have written for LEARN NC, but you can still access the other ones, which are on topics of online postering sites (such as Glogster), how teachers can collaborate as writers on the web, and an overview of blended learning. I am now working on another piece about gaming in the classroom.

Peace (on the web),

Report from Massachusetts New Literacies, part two

Yesterday, I wrote about our keynote speaker at the Massachusetts New Literacies Teacher-Leader Institute. Tom Daccord inspired us to think about learning and communication in the changing world. Today, I am going to do a post of lists that came out of the day-long institute on Friday (which was a follow-up to a week in June).

Some online tools and sites mentioned (within my earshot)

Ways NOT to run a hand-on session as a presenter (me)

  • Don’t have enough wireless IP addresses for everyone so not everyone is connected
  • Don’t have break-out rooms — do it in a large room with other workshops so there is a lot of noise
  • Jam people around a small table
  • Don’t have  a projector for your presentation
  • Be forced to “tell” not “show”

What future Mass New Literacies sessions should include (notes from my smaller group)

  • Less cool tools and more bigger picture on New Literacies
  • More interactive work
  • Compelling examples of student digital work
  • Reflections/stories from other teachers
  • A database of New Literacies examples

We need to be (a sharing out to the larger group):

  • Getting technology out of the lab and into the classroom
  • Using “Just in Time” technology sharing for colleagues
  • Bringing administrators on board — sets tone for the entire faculty
  • Dealing with “access” issues for teachers and students
  • Finding levels of comfort to transfer knowledge and skills (learning curve)
  • Matching the right tool to content standard/learning
  • Learning more from each other — reflections from teachers
  • Connecting with other schools — collaboration as a way to learn
  • Grappling with filtering issues — to be open or to be closed?
  • Needing future conversations: cell phones/iPads
  • Reviewing acceptable use policies — reflect the current environment? Or outdated?
  • Creating a database of classroom examples
  • Sharing out our Professional Development materials with each other
  • Using time at staff meeting to share out a cool tool
  • Bringing students and their digital work to School Committees, which make policy

Peace (from the PD),

Report from Massachusetts New Literacies, part one

tom daccord

Yesterday, we had a follow-up session to our week-long Massachusetts New Literacies Teacher-Leader Institute that we held back in June (I am one of the teacher leaders). We had about 100 participants return yesterday, and my hope is to slowly reflect a bit on some of things that took place. Here is part one, the keynote address entitled Building Complex Communications.

Tom Daccord (@thomasdaccord), of EdTechTeacher, took the stage and immediately energized us with a long-view look at how literacies in the workplace have shifted since the advent of the Personal Computer and what that shift towards critical thinking skills should be doing to our teaching practices in the classroom. Tom called these skills as the Complex Communications (the ability to explain a complex idea to others) and Expert Thinking (identifying a new problem and finding a solution to it).

Tom notes that employers “demand and expect that employees come to the workplace with these skills. ” That means that we, as teachers, have be setting the groundwork for critical thinking, and while computers can do a lot for us (and in fact,  have reduced the need for much manual labor), it is our human ability to be literate on a social level (read emotions, have empathy, etc.)  and make different kinds of connections between disparate information to find solutions that is the key.

“Put a computer in a situation with no new data. It will flounder. It cannot adapt. What can adapt (to situations where there is not new data)? We can,” Tom explained.

He then launched into a discussion about the importance of teaching multi-modal literacy, and of finding ways to use an authentic audience for students as writers and producers of content. The world will demand these skills of them as adults, and we need to foster these skills in them as young people, he explained.

“We’re missing the cultural shift going on,” Tom said, explaining the rift between the literacies of the lives of young people outside of the classroom and the way we teach them in the classroom. This system “relegates publication only to the eyes of the teacher” when there are so many ways for students to step up and publish to the world.

Tom then exorted us — the participants of the New Literacies movement who were in that room with him — to be the ones who make the change that needs to occur in the classrooms, in that it won’t happen as a top-down approach. Instead, it needs to be teacher-to-teacher.

“Real change happens horizontally. It happens colleague-to-colleague. It be you, going back to your school,” he said, and this message helped frame the rest of the day’s work around technology and classroom practice.

I’ll try to share out parts 2 and 3 over the next few days.

Peace (in the literate world),

The Return of the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute

Tomorrow, I am off to a follow-up session of the Massachusetts New Literacies Teacher-Leadership Institute, which began in June with a week-long exploration of technology, writing, and reading across the content areas. I am one of 10 teacher leaders of the institute, which has been funded by our state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (The voicethread above is a collection of my reflections from the summer. I’ll be adding to it after tomorrow’s sessions, too).

The focus of the institute has been to help teams of teachers from across the state to undertstand the possibilities of technology, plan out curricular units, plement those units and then reflect on how to share that expertise with other teachers. The week in June was exciting but I wonder how the follow-up sessions (this is one of three over the year) will go. Will folks have dropped out of the program? Will they have begun implementation of their ideas? Will they have met hurdles that are insurmountable? Or seemingly insurmountable? (Read this great post by Troy Hicks about dealing with technology issues when trying to use technology.)

Tomorrow, the day begins with a keynote address by Tom Daccord, of the EdTechTeacher site and organization.  He seems like someone with an interesting background — history and technology — so I am hoping he sets the day forward with a positive message.

Then, we shift into a Cool Tools Smackdown (I hate that term and lobbied to have something different) so that the folks can choose which tool they want to learn more about. I am doing a bit on Prezi. Others are doing Glogster, Voicethread, Dabbleboard, Weebly, Animoto, Voki and others.

Finally, the afternoon will be time for some reflection and planning for the next phase of the project. Hopefully, we’ll be able to re-energize the crowd and inspire them to inspire others back at their schools. That’s the whole idea behind the Massachusetts New Literacies Teacher-Leader Institute.

Peace (in the follow-ups),

Sometimes, the Crowd need help

I’m all for collaboration and bringing many brains together, and I love how technology makes collaboration so much easier. But some recent developments with a project made me realize that there is a limit to “many hands on deck” that I need to keep in mind in the future.

I am part of the Massachusetts New Literacy Teacher-Leader Initiative, which began last June with a week-long institute in Cambridge, and which is set to continue through the course of the year with three professional development sessions. There area about 100 teachers, administrators and technology coordinators involved, and I am one of the ten teacher-leaders who are trying to run and organize the initiative, which is sponsored by our state. (We had help last summer from the New Literacies Collaborative folks, but they have moved onward and left the project in our hands.) The other teacher-leaders are smart, interesting and are on top of things. It’s a good group to be part of.

Since mid-summer, we have been working on coming up with a plan for an October session. Since the ten of us leaders live and work across the state, it seemed to me to make sense to do the planning virtually.

First, I created a social networking space on Grouply, which wasn’t that popular, I guess, since very few of us used it for much at all.

Then, I started up a Google Doc for us to use, but soon realized that there just too many of us to keep track of the changes and ideas floating around.  To me, it became chaos. And even then, not all ten of us were even using the document.

Someone suggested Elluminate, but none of us followed up on it.

We were then left with a wall of silence for a bit, as I think we were all bit confused about where to go now. Plus, school was starting up.

We’ve now reverted to good ol’ email, with two of our team (not me) designated as “project leaders” setting the agenda options and allowing the rest of us room to add ideas (around showing new tools, and allowing the teams time to connect and share out, etc.) in email responses. I like that approach much better, even though I have to give up an amount of control, and tracking the emails can get nutty.

This experience had me wondering: where is that Golden Limit on number of people collaborating where collaborative flexibility transforms itself into chaos and too many voices make a muddle of things?

I think the number for me is about five people trying to plan a document together. After that, the best option is to designate some leaders and resign yourself to the role of a follower-collaborator. And this seems to be one of the ongoing weaknesses of the Crowdsourcing movement, right? Chaos reigns easily. Even Wikipedia has editors or gatekeepers.

Peace (in the organization),

Using Cool Tools: Don’t “just do it”

(I wrote this last week at the New Literacies Institute and shared it at our site, but thought I might share it here, too.)

I’ve been thinking about this issue in light of the Cool Tools sessions in which we have gratefully been given time to learn and play around with a technology tool. For many, this may be a first introduction to Voicethread, Glogster, Jing and more. Once you get past the initial technical barrier (sign up, bandwidth, etc.), it’s easy to get immersed in the technological tool and then use that “wow” moment to want to integrate that tool into our Inquiry Projects. (Spend a few minutes building a wall at Glogster and you will see what I mean — here is a book review that I did on Glogster about The Socially Networked Classroom that I look at now and think, there’s too much going on here.)

I suggest a cooling off period, first. Let the “wow” moment pass and then think clearly about:

  • What are the aims of the project, lesson or professional development concept? What do I want my students/teachers to learn?
  • Does the technology enhance the learning experience?
  • Why am I using this particular tool and not another?

In other words, use the technology as a tool for learning and not just to use the tool. One mantra that I use with my students (but also, with myself) is: Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. It’s easier to say the mantra than it is to enact it, but still, I try.

I suggest there are a few reasons why you would want to step back and reflect before forging ahead with a tech tool integration:

  • Students may become distracted if they, too, get caught up in the technology. Make sure the technology complements the learning you are aiming for. Provide focus and structure and clear expectations of your students. Again, is the tool the right fit for the goal? Remember: it is not the tool that is important, it is the learning (there I go, sucking the fun out of school again)
  • We should always be wary of advertising on sites we bring our students to. Glogster is one that has lately become bombarded with ads. We use Firefox, with Adblock Plus add-on (you should, too), but the last thing we need are schools to become yet another place where our young people are forced into the role of economic consumer
  • Web 2.0 sites die all the time, or get revamped, or change unexpectedly. This is a fact of life in the unsettled connected world. We don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket, or one application or platform. (Corollary: always have a back-up plan for days when a site is down or the filter unexpectedly decides to kick you out.)

I don’t mean to suggest that you don’t integrate technology (I’d be at the wrong conference for that — perhaps the Luddite Convention down the road?) but I do recommend thoughtful integration, with the backwards design model of where do you want your students to be at the end and what tools can help engage them to do their best and most creative work along the way. Keep in mind: What affordances does the technology bring to the learning experience?

Meanwhile, the best way for us teachers and educators to figure all that out is to “play” with the tools ourselves. Put yourself in the role of your student (or your teacher, if your aim is PD) and work with a variety of tools to determine the best fit. This takes time, but it is worth it. Your own experience “creating” goes a long way to understanding the possibilities and limitations of whatever you choose to bring to the classroom.


Cool Tools, shared

On the New Literacies Ning, Ian asked folks to add their own cool tools they have used or that they recommend for others to consider using, and I thought I might compile those recommendations here. It’s great to gather collective resources together.

Here is what was on the list:

In the week, during the various sessions, we also used:

Peace (in the sharing),

Reflections: Teachers are just like Students

I’m continuing to process what I learned from the week at the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute. I am coming at this reflection from a teacher-leader perspective, knowing that we have three follow-up sessions with the 100-plus teachers over the next year, and our friends Don Leu, Hiller Spires and others have moved on from Massachusetts to likely work with others. And, if the state funds it, we may do a second week with all new teachers next summer. In other words, this movement here in Massachusetts that we started this week is now in our hands.

And so, some thoughts that I notice could also pertain to students:

  • Participants were paired up in Dyads, working as a team (or Tryads, if necessary) in order to explore a shared interest or lesson plan or curriculum subject. I liked that intermixing. It forced a networking mentality on folks, even those reluctant to mix it up. Clearly, some teams integrated each other better than others. And some made clear they were there at the week to work with colleagues from their districts and they were determined to do so. Just like students …
  • Part of the week was spent showing teachers Cool Tools (such as Glogster, Voicethread, Zotero, Wikispaces, Word Sift and more). That’s good. Hands-on work is crucial. Here is what I noticed, though. Almost all of the projects used only those tools they were shown in the sessions. I did not notice too many folks branching off to now discover more tools on their own.  Instead, they seemed to become locked in to whatever tools they were shown. Glogster, wikis and voicethreads were all over the place. The danger of using mentor tools or text or projects is that they become replicated around the room. Just like students …
  • Lots of freedom on what their projects might encompass (even with the tools noted above) meant an incredible range of ideas. The lesson here for teacher-leaders is that a framework of learning is necessary for connecting, but then, for the most part, we teacher-leaders have to step out of the way and let the groups make all of the decisions. This put the learning in their hands. Most of the teams took advantage of that freedom. Some teams did not, seeking out exactly what was expected of them, and foundered a bit. Just like students …
  • The collective mentality of all of us seemed to be that technology can inform literacy (I agree, too), but perhaps we should have found more ways to question and be critical of that premise that technology in schools is the right path for education (something the Mass Commissioner of Education did, but then did not leave any time for teacher response or questions). I worry that if we don’t leave room for arguments against technology (shallow reading, advertising on sites, time away from learning, etc.) then we too easily buy into the “wow” factor. Just like students …
  • One of the elements of feedback that came in was that the ‘talking’ parts of the week — the keynote addresses and sessions that centered around research — were too long. People were itching to get to the tools. I thought the balance of pedagogical insight with the hands-on work was fine and crucial for a week that was more than a “how to use technology” seminar, but attention spans became short at times. Just like students …
  • The teachers and administrators I worked with were very appreciative to have me there in their midst, even as the wireless became overloaded and sites did not work quite right. I tried to calm down the frustration by talking through alternatives and workarounds and even a hack here and there. Most of the time, they could step back from frustration, take a breath and then get back to work. But they needed a helping hand to navigate those moments. Just like students …

And just like students, these teachers were able to push beyond their safe zone with technology and dive into the unknown. Our hope is that momentum carries into the school year and back at the distance. We want ripples to happen.

Peace (in the reflection),