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.

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.

Infographics: One Genre with Multiple Uses in the Writing Classroom

A year ago, I wrote a blog on my first foray into having students create infographics in one of my courses, and the benefits of those texts as part of synthesizing sources before writing longer, source-based essays.

A year later, I’m back in and kicking it to the next level. Since then, I’m coming back having done some further reading and work on teaching this text. In terms of research to prepare for this, here’s what I read:

In these sources, the authors put forth a convincing case for the power of using infographics for their malleability to a variety of writing situations and purposes. I would highly recommend them, and I say this as I am quickly shredding my copies from overuse.

Back to English 101:

For several weeks, students are reading and watching sources on food systems in the United States in preparation for writing an essay with the purpose of informing. I use the infographic as one step in a process–it brings students to synthesize their sources around a focused topic.

Returning to this assignment for the second year, I made several upgrades to the assignment. First, students would ultimately produce these digitally. Second, I used our LMS, Schoology, to create a page of resources and suggested process for my students.

On this page, I included a mentor study with accompanying texts, Youtube videos on design principles and using PowerPoint to create these texts, as well as links to other free web tools for designing. The page breaks the creation of the infographic into (suggested) discrete steps, with check-in points at each stage so I could monitor student progress. I made a significant design change to this page, which I’ll discuss later.

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My Schoology page for Infographics

 

We spent a little less than a week working through the creation of these texts. Here are some of the products:

infographics

illegal-immigration-

101obesity-101

Moving on:

I was pretty pleased with the assignment, the process I laid out, the resources students were accessing to help them.

I decided to assign this as a task in my elective, Media Maker, as one part of an unit on the Role of Technology in education. Students had already written blogs on their ideas of the value of on-line classes and coursework, engaged in creating various media texts on this subject. However, I wanted them to keep going, and to have them re-purpose their largely text-based writing into new a new form. The infographic would push them to think about how to convey information visually.

However, in this class, students got quickly lost in the steps laid out on my Schoology page. Quick fix: I turned each step into an assignment in Schoology, with something concrete to submit. I also added one element to the student assignment. Because we’re a class that functions completely digitally, we created survey questions, and used student’s social media to distribute the questions, collect responses, and create drafts of the graphics in Google Slides.

What I’m seeing in working with infographics as a student-produced text is that we can use them at any part of a writing process. They can be a formative tool used to synthesize information before turned to more in-depth, formal essays. Or, we can really see them as a valid summative assessment tool that students produce at the end of research, or a way for students to repurpose or re-genre their work.

 

 

#edmakercamp

Inspired this week by Katie McFarland’s (@Katiemc827) #slc2016 Maker Challenge, and reading George Couros’ (@gcourcos) The Innovator’s Mindset, I arrived at a major brainstorm, which I’m calling #edmakercamp.

As 21st century educators, we read educational books, create Professional Learning Networks through social media such as Twitter and Pinterest, we attend workshops, we read blogs by other educators who reflect on their practice, we attend edcamps. We spend a great deal of time collecting data and information on educational practice, it becomes and kind of research where we hope that one day we can put it into practice.

Sometimes we do actually find the time to integrate that stuff into our classrooms. We write curriculum in the summer. We spend August creating a new unit. Often, we find ourselves saying, “When I have time.” We spend a Saturdays and evenings writing new lessons or making activities that evolve from our research. But, it’s not easy.

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I’m making a call for “#edmakercamp,” and here’s the idea. Pull together a group of your educational besties–those teachers who you work well with, but who will also hold all members of the group accountable for actually doing work and creating. Then, go find a work space–perhaps some classrooms, a computer lab. However, try to get away from it all and find a place for a retreat, a place where everyone can work without interruption. Fill it with laptops, cameras, paper, markers, scanners. Fill it with maker items. Stock it with everything teachers need to create for a day.

Then, fill it with teachers and administrators who are looking to make.

At #edmakercamp, the purpose is to take all the stuff you’ve been reading and learning about with education, and do the stuff you’ve been looking to do.

If you’re in need of time to think about your practice and want to grow through self-reflection, spend time writing and then blogging. Been wanting to make some Schoology resource pages for your department, do it. Looking to retool that unit on “Revolutions” in your Global class. Looking to implement the PBL in the first semester of your IB Biology class, use #edmakercamp to do it.

It’s not a research and learn time. It’s a time to put those thinkings and ideas, and to create the stuff to implement, so in the next day, weeks, months, next school year, you can pull it out and use it.

Use the group. In bringing people together, spend the first part of your edmakercamp to share, discuss. Get ideas out. What are people going to work on. What will be each campers outcome at the end of the day. Use the first part of your time to get the gears primed for work.

But then, stop the talk, and move into work time, and work as a group to be focused. Commit to quiet work time. If you’re working in groups, great, but be focused and assign someone to keep the group on task. You may need to create quiet spaces and semi-quiet spaces. Have all participants decide on a how long this block of time will be, say “We’re going to make for the next two hours.” Set a timer. Then, at the end of the block, come out of it, grab some snacks, share and discuss. Talk about what you made. After a brief rest, back into work time. 

Bring to your #edmakercamp some people who aren’t making. Bring some helpers. Some people who can scan items, take pictures. If you need a video file converted, that person can do it. This role could be played by a couple of tech-savy students, or a media specialist who sacrifices his or her work time for the benefit of the campers.

We need time as educators to not only read about innovation, but also time to prepare for those innovations and to create the materials that will be put into practice. We need to give ourselves time to reflect through our blogs and share those innovations with our networks.

Infographics, Synthesis and Informational Writing

As part of my FYC, English 101 class, my students read a wide range of sources, provided by me, about the industrial food system. We’re reading Pollan, Schlosser, Moss to name a few.

Once we’re through some preliminary discussion, which happens both in writing and as part of full-class discussion, it’s time for some assessment. I want to know what they’re thinking, and how they see these sources in conversation.

This year, as part of a formative assessment in reading and synthesis assignment, I’m having my kids create info-graphics to meet these needs. This is the assignment I came up with:

Infographic Rubric

I took a couple of weeks to design this and it owes a great debt to the work on Kathy Schrock’s webpage. Anyone who is thinking about working with infographics or is currently work with them, should check our her page. There’s almost too much there.