Reflection & Resources

With less than two weeks to go until my presentation on “Media Maker” at the New York State Second English Council conference (@nysec_tweets; #nysec), I’m in full revision and presentation making mode. This work has forced me back into the reading, research and inspiration that I drew on when first making the course two years ago.

This reflection and walking back through the history of my own thinking has been really powerful in reconnecting me to the core of what I hoped, and still hope, to accomplish. Mainly, student blogging provides a powerful tool for students to write to real-world audiences, and a student blog is a powerful tool for showcasing student-centered learning.

Since that time, Jennifer Casa-Todd’s (@JCasaToddSociaLeadia has made concrete for me the need to have students create positive digital identities.

As I’m rereading and surfing my digital, cyber ripcurl, several great resources have emerged:

The good folks at Edublogs, namely Ronnie Burt, Sue Waters and Kathleen Morris, put together a great post “100+ Ideas and Prompts for Student Blogging”. I’ve now got this bookmarked and will use it as a reference for when I’m looking for something fresh to throw to my students. It’s also got great tips for educators who are considering starting blogging in the classroom or creating their own blogs.

Another Edublog’s resource comes from Sue Waters, and it’s part of this year’s Student Blogging Challenge. Her post, “Let’s Learn to Comment,” helps students to have the knowledge of the form and the tools to make substantive comments on other’s writing. It got me thinking about the value in blogging for students as a means to teach how to participate in conversations, both on and off-line.

Through reexamining Troy Hick’s wikispace, I came across Bud Hunt’s “Teaching Blogging Not Blogs,” published on October 19, 2010 and found here. Go deep into his article and read the original post from 2005. Doing so will connect you with Will Richard’s comments on the value of blogs for both student and teacher.

Looking forward to sharing this thinking, and discussing these resources further at NYSEC.

Combining Launch Cycle with the Writing Process

The writing process has always been one of the core elements of my classroom instruction. Whether teaching Regents-level classes or International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement or other college-level courses, using the ideas of Peter Elbow, Lucy Calkins and the writers the the Bard Institute of Writing and Thinking.

In the past year I’ve read A.J. Juliani’s Launch and Empower. Both books have pushed me to consider the connections between the design-thinking cycle and the writing process.

Both have much in common. They each begin in generating ideas, then developing drafts or prototypes, and moving through revision, before ultimately sharing that work with the public.

As contemporary composition research suggests that we should spend more time with students working with real-world audiences, the design thinking process puts an important focus into its process. It asks us to consider what problems we’ll attempt to solve, who we’re solving them for, and how what is being created will address the needs of that group. It’s for this reason that looking at ways we can bring this into the writing process can ultimately benefit students.

Every year, I start my English 101 class with an introductory lesson on the Writing Process. This lesson will get some tweaks by incorporating design-thinking vocabulary that my students and I will use throughout the year.

Below is my preliminary thinking about where the two processes overlap and what writing activities might be part of each part of these processes.

Creation Versus Curation: Feeling Good about Remixing

This post was started on Febuary 10, 2017. It’s been sitting in my draft posts since then, but in light of recent readings, I’ve gone back to it, and as I’ve started to understand more about digital literacy, I’ve seen these issues I was considering in February with greater context.  Below is the draft from February, and then my thinking this week.


From February:

When I started my Media Maker class, I had visions of students creating audio and video podcasts, listicles, web pages and all manner of media designed for the web. More specifically, I had visions of them going out and taking their own pictures and videos, using their phones to generate and create their own content. I saw them being creators who were just like me.

As a blogger, I try to generate as much of my own content as I can. Primarily, that’s easy, because for the most part I’m creating text-based media and written blogs. When I want to incorporate images, I typically pull out my iphone and take pictures. For me, part of the pleasure in blogging and designing a blog post, even as simple as they are, comes from the awareness that I’m making all that content myself. As a writer, it’s always been important to me to write my life, to come up with my own stuff. Blogging allows me to make things myself.

As a teacher, I believe it’s important for students to write about their own thinking and to learn how to develop their own ideas. Growing up in public schools and public colleges, the idea of using other people’s material was frowned upon and plagiarism was an ever looming threat. Also, we’re convinced as teachers, that when students are given choice and power to make their own decisions about learning, they are naturally motivated. So, if I let them write about their own interests and passions, my job as a teacher becomes easier, in a sense, because I just have to work on conferring with them about what they are creating and to help them develop to be their best. And, if I give them choice, then wouldn’t they want to create their own content.

That’s not really what I’m finding.

In Media Maker, students are interested in writing about their own ideas and interests, but more often, they are interested in repurposing content they already find on the web. Often, their repurposing and curating material in spite of me. What I’m seeing in their choice of topics, their driving interests has made me reconsider my stance that creating is really always better.  

What brought me here? In a recent project, students were given the choice to focus either on informative or evaluative writing, and that the end goal was to either create web-based texts that might look like Wikipedia style articles, Consumer Reports-based web-pages, Buzzfeed style listicles. One specific direction that I give to students is that they have to generate the content of their projects themselves, or that content that needs to be cited and acknowledged is appropriately attributed to the correct sources.

I got some great projects:

Best New Cars for Teen Drivers

10 Vacations Before You Die

5 Best Conspiracy Theory Photographs

Best Albums of 2016

20 Best New Video Games of 2016

Evolution of the Mario Bros. Franchise

5 Best Boxed, Instant Macaroni and Cheeses

The topics of each of these projects was completely student driven. They did research and used sources to drive the writing, and integrated the research into their own topics, the commentary, discussion or evaluation necessary to develop each of these topics, and for most, used pictures, images, gifs they found on the web already. In only one of these projects, the one of the macaroni and cheese, did the the student actually take pictures and incorporate them into her project. She went and bought five different kinds of mac-n-cheese, cooked them and then took pictures of the bowls of pasta and the boxes. In all the other projects, students found images, cited them, or in revision of a draft of their project went about citing them. Students know that I pull projects from their blogs or that projects will not be marked “At Standard” if they are not cited properly. As part of our mentor text study, I had students examine and identify how professionally generated web-texts acknowledge both text-based sources and non-text based sources.

As students developed their projects, I quickly realized that the idea of generating their own media for these projects was absurd. Of course, the student who was looking at conspiracy theory photographs of the JFK assassination wouldn’t be able to take his own pictures. The kid making a best albums of the year wouldn’t be able to take pictures. What would the kids writing video game reviews take pictures of? These kids were making the kinds of texts that I wanted them to create, and the kinds of authentic texts found on the web.

I also found myself learning about such texts. For example, when studying Buzzfeed alongside of my students, I realized that much of their media is taken from other places on the web and acknowledged with URLs, only.

If anything, I started to see that repurposing content from the web to your own ends is a relevant skills.

The student ISTE standard 1, Creativity and Innovation, states that students “Create original works as a means of personal or group expression,” and standard 3 states that students “select information sources and digital tools appropriate to the task.” While I don’t know if my student consciously made decisions about these tools, and perhaps grabbed and nabbed digital images from the web because it was the easiest thing to do, I’d like to think that they used what came naturally.


And, that’s where I ended in February. Some thoughts from this week:

If you’ve been following the first week of my 30 day sketchnote challenge, you’ll see that early last week, I read Doug Belshaw’s “Essential Elements of Digital Literacy,” and made an early attempt at sketchnoting. One of these elements is creativity, but his definition of creativity is that in being creative, we make something new and of value, but that something is not necessarily original. For Belshaw the remixing of media, and re-purposing of media is an important part of becoming digitally literate. Use this link to see Belshaw’s Tedx talk.

After reading this, I thought of this draft, decided to brush off the metaphorical dust and get it out there. Belshaw gave me some support for my lines of thinking, and as I start to go back into planning Media Maker for the fall, I can know that students remixing and doing re-genre work on their writing and in their blog creations are worthwhile.

 

Trashing the High School English Classroom

In the traditional High School English classroom, there two ways that essays come to be assigned and written. First, the class is reading of a novel, and at the end of the unit of study, it’s time to write an essay. Second, there is a unit of study–Argument Unit, Persuasive Unit, Research Unit, Personal Narrative Unit, Comparison Contrast Unit–and the students work to produce a product towards one of these modes.

I’m going to suggest 2 different approaches to writing and re-imaginings of these traditional approaches, one I’ve tried, and the other, not.

Re-Imagining #1

My first re-imagining, and one that’s probably not a re-imagining, but just a spin on writing workshop models, is the idea that students generate their own topics and ideas for writing. However, I’m going to go much simpler. Student need just one idea or topic to write about. From there, the teacher asks the student to use that idea again and again in different genres, modes, and media forms.

While I didn’t consciously take such an approach, it happened naturally for many of my students in the second half of my English 101 class in the past semester. We started by writing information-based essays on closely related topics such as industrialized process of food production, what makes food organic, the barriers to local food economies. From there, students revised and re-purposed essays into arguments, blog posts, podcasts, infographics. They moved from information-based essays to persuasive pieces, academic research to personal letters. They took eight-page essays and cut them into 30 second Public Service announcements. They created reflective essays on their processes and used their own work as models and templates for others, students in my future classes, to follow.

A student’s struggle, often with writing, is two-fold. The first struggle is to read and to master the content of what he or she is writing about. A second struggle is then to write about it coherently.

The single topic approach may cut away with the first struggle. After a while, there comes to be an intimacy with a topic, the conversations around it, a fluency with the conversations in progress, a knowledge of the details. They develop familiarity and comfort.

Thus, they can focus on the moves of the coherent communication.

Re-Imagining #2

In this idea, the English teacher has no responsibility to create writing assignments, to figure out what students should write about, or to do any of the other traditional approaches to writing instruction as I’ve described in the introduction above.

Instead, the other High School subject area teachers are required to assign reading, and set writing tasks associated with the reading.

In the English classroom, then, the teacher works with students on these assignments. Time is provided, perhaps, to write these assignments, to process, to conference, to revise and to rewrite and to edit. As a person trained in the writing instruction, something that High School teachers in other subject areas are not and a significant stumbling block to cross-curricular writing instruction and the idea with the Common Core that “All teachers are teachers of writing,”these teachers now provide instruction on writing in particular disciplines, towards different purposes, focuses lessons targeted to student needs.

At the same time, it also solves the “All teachers are teacher of writing” conundrum in High School, because it forces math, science, history, business and art teacher to think of assessment in terms of written products.