Thursday, December 05, 2013

Put One Word After Another Until Done

Publish or perish is the axiom for many scholars and academics, and it is true in many cases.  However, that proverb frames the practice of writing as an unwelcome dictum.  For the past few days, I've been gleaning words of inspiration, portraits of struggle, and motivation to continue to make meaning of my life, teaching and research through writing at the Living the Writerly Life session and study group at the Literacy Research Association conference 2013.  Although the genre of academic writing is a bit particular – there are a lot of useful tidbits for writers of all sorts.

One of the most bountiful sessions for inspiration and advise was sponsored by the Living the Writerly Life study group organizers and was entitled “ We All Have Something to Say: Strategies for Living the Writerly Life.”  In this alternative format sessions, well-published scholars speed-dated us in small groups and shared their collective wisdom of writing.

Julie Coiro, from the University of Rhode Island, encouraged many practices that writing teachers in schools encourage – read a lot with an eye to craft; keep a writer's notebook of ideas; write the first draft as a freewrite and craft it for specific purposes later; and find critical friends (especially classroom teachers) to get feedback.  It is important to clarify personal interests to focus a research agenda that is manageable.  As many others reiterated later – aim for a revise and resubmit (R&R), as that means a journal is interested and willing to work with you to craft the final piece.  Celebrate this!

Beth Dobler, from Emporia State University, advised to find the kernel of a topic that you really care about because you will be with it for a while.  In addition, 85% of writing time is really pre-writing – the thinking, planning, and researching of a topic.  Provide the time to do this well and the final piece will be stronger.

Lori Assaf, from Texas State University, counseled us to not just celebrate R&R, but to get them revised and resubmitted as soon as possible.  When they languish on the “to do” pile, they tend not to get done and as time passes, the piece becomes out of date.  As educational researchers, we need to be aware of the various audiences we need to interact with, therefore try to craft three different pieces on a topic or data set – one for a research journal, one for a practitioner journal, and one as an opinion piece.

Laura Pardo, from Hope College, urged us to keep a writer's notebook.  A  consistent place for writing encourages writing as a habit and practice, and should include more than just academic writing.  She has sections and tabs in her notebook for different ideas and purposes.

Doug Kauffman, from the University of Connecticut,  commented that “writing is a blue collar job rather than artistry”.  He encouraged us to get rid of the idea that writings needs to be pretty and artful.  Just get stuff on the page.  With something on the screen, there is something to revise.  If we think of revision as an act of play and experimentation, then we don't have to wait for inspiration to hit.  The artistry of writing comes through revision, not generation.

Beth Maloch, from the University of Texas at Austin, talked about balancing teaching and research.  Her best advise was to hold fast to the suggested allocation of time that many research institutions use – the 40/40/20 of teaching, research and service.  In a 40 hours work week, this means that 16 hours should be devoted to research/writing.  Just like classes and meetings, this should be on your schedule!

Taffy Raphael, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, posed a powerful question, “What do you need to move forward in your writing?”  Identify that need and work to make it happen.  For her, Taffy mentioned the need for collaboration, writing retreats, and discipline (with time and distractions).  Use what you currently do (classes, presentations) to get started on writing.  Tape your conference talks (the best version) to transcribe to a paper.

Besides this alternative session – the daily study group is truly a motivating factor for many people who return each year.  The study session helps us clarify our goals – both immediate and long-term, and provides peer accountability and deadlines for these goals

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Twas the Night Before LRA

Twas the night before LRA, and all through Love Field,
The teachers and researchers were departing their flights.
The program was set, with thoughtful reviews
In hopes that all attending scholars would happily choose.

The students back home were all snug with a substitute,
Or eagerly anticipating a day of peaceful solitude.
As academics with PPTs prepared to show off their learning,
We settled our brains for four days of discerning!

In the lobby of the Omni Hotel there arose such a clatter,
“I haven't seen you since last year – let's have a a quick chatter!”
Good friends and the colleagues we meet only here,
Enjoy the warmer climate of Dallas this year.

Dallas, a site of both cultural icons and historical meaning,
Provides a good space for our personal gleaning,
Transformative Literacy: Theory, Research, and Reform,
Our mission – that powerful, critical literacy becomes the norm.

With R. Beach and T. Rodgers we will soon understand
Digital Texts Through Social Practices, will be absolutely grand.
They soon will be joined by K. Chandler-Olcott, and A. F. Ball,
F. Boyd and T. McCarty – in Plenaries for all.

Besides large group sessions, there's papers for all:
Besides broad categories of quant and qual
We'll dive into case study, mixed methods, and more.
The possibilities are endless, it's so hard store!

As people engage in dynamic sessions,
The Twitter feed #LRA13 will ask many questions.
But don't forget to feed both your stomach and mind,
To be social and meet everyone, especially newbies, is kind.

An then in a twinkling, the conference will come to an end.
With new contacts and friendships, and papers to pen.
We will return to our schools and our colleges fresh,
Recognizing that our LRA community is truly blessed.

Dedicated people and volunteers galore
Provide yearly meetings that refresh us to the core.
Thank you all officers, elected and served,
Our gratitude is endless, and all is deserved.

Let's meet again next year, some place in the East,
While our daily work with powerful literacy will never cease.
And never forget Frederick Douglass's plea
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”