Thursday, July 23, 2015

#CyberPD - Chapters 6-7: Re-thinking Our Existing Tools

As I was reading through chapters 6 and 7, I was struck with the theme of re-thinking our existing tools and re-visioning them for reading in the 21st century when “reading” is so much more than just consuming text.  Most of us have the foundations of good instruction, assessment and parent communication but we (meaning I) need to spend some time thinking about how our traditional methods translate into digital modes.

Tool #1: Audio Books: Is it reading?

One discussion that was brought up yesterday on the #CyberPD Twitter feed was a conversation about audio books.  Is this really reading? 

Mandy Robek @mandyrobek had been prompted by something @MrsWeberREAD had posted and Mandy replied, “I think about shared reading and shared writing as interactions with text, why not audio.”
Heidi Weber @MrsWeberREAD said, “Makes me re-define “reading as interacting with text…”

Franki Sibberson @frankisibberson chimed in, “I like what @Professor Nana says about audiobook… “I read with my ears.’”

In his book The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life Steve Leveen wonders if we could have a word for listening to books, and he makes up the word “ristening” to books.  In the past, I know audiobooks in schools have often been used as either a reward, a fill-in, or as remediation.  But what if we (meaning I) re-thought what is means to read and really recognized that reading is interacting with text  - any text – print, digital, audio, visual – and began to explore how to help our students navigate all the texts that they encounter in a day. 

Tool #2: The Beginning of the Year Survey: Privileging Print

Like many teachers who have used reading/writing workshop, I too used the standard survey with my students that privileged print books over any other media.  As a teacher educator, I continue to unconsciously privilege print books over other forms of text within my teaching.  Although I have explicitly stated in my syllabus that an e-book is an acceptable form of the course textbook, I have not really helped my college-level students look at the affordances or disadvantages to reading through different mediums.  In class, my students tell me that they like the search feature to return to sections they have read.  But I need to ask myself some questions: What other forms of text am I putting on my syllabus and in my coursework?  Am I privileging print over other forms?  What message does this send to my students and how will they take that into their classrooms?

Tool #3: Assessment

It may seem like an obvious question, but what is the purpose of assessment?  For many people, including myself, that answer tends to be, “To see how my students are doing.”  Frequently this entails comparing the student against a standard or grade level peers.  But, what if we (meaning I) re-thought the purpose of assessment and focused on the individual student and how he/she could increase their learning, not be stamped with a letter or number? The authors of Digital Reading state, “We believe strongly in this stance [that of the NCTE position that formative assessment is a verb] and agree that our assessment techniques should be about moving readers forward in their learning” (p. 90).

Tool #4: Conferences

Franki discusses student-led conferences, which is something I have used in the past.  However, the conferences I had my students conduct were still very paper and print based.  It still required parents to take time to visit school at a designated time that was mostly convenient for the school, not for the parents, and all of the work of the quarter was discussed in a 20 minute conversation.  Digital portfolios or blogs can be updated regularly, viewed at the convenience of the parents, and even be interactive with comments.  Plus, the work submitted can include audio and video of the student actually working, not just the finished piece.   This seems like a win-win all around.  

Now, I need to think about how this translates into teacher education.  One of the things I’ve been thinking about this summer is a way to make my coursework more integrated throughout the semester.  I think my current assignments are too much of the “stand alone” variety that, once graded, gets forgotten. I am thinking about how I could have my students create their own learning logs throughout the semester with each of the assignments building toward the overall goals of the course.  Yep, that would be a portfolio.  

Tool #5: Parent Events

Schools have a tendency to fall into the routine of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and parent events are no different.  In each school I’ve taught at, the Back to School night followed a similar schedule – an introduction by the principal and then the parents followed their child’s class schedule with 10 minutes in each class and a reception afterwards. Although this quick meet-and-greet gets parents into the classroom, the big question is, would they want to return?  The authors of Digital Reading provide some essential questions on page 105 for planning parent events.  Now, the authors gear it to “Considerations for Parent Outreach Events on Digital Literacy” but these questions would apply for any parent event and even teacher in-service events.  The essential questions are:

  1. What is our focus?
  2.   Who is the audience?
  3.  How will this event support students as digital readers?
  4.  What resources do we want to provide our community?
  5.  Is this event for families or is it specifically for parents or caregivers?
  6.  How does this topic relate to them as parents and to their kids?
  7.  What is the call to action?

By using these questions as a planning guide, any event would be more focused and meaningful.

Final Thoughts on the Book

As I’m finishing this book, I am also beginning an online course about using Infographics in my teaching.  Several months ago I signed up for this course, not knowing I would be reading Digital Reading this summer.  But, both the book and the course have a common theme – that it is important to re-envision our teaching and our students’ learning to balance traditional reading and writing with digital and multimedia interactions but not to lose all the great pedagogy we already know are effective practices.  We just need to be reflective and adapt!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

#CyberPD Chapts 3-5 - Authenticity, Intentionality, Connectedness

I’m going to start this reflection with a story.  A few years ago, as a graduate student, I was completing my preliminary exam.  I had two large questions that each required papers of about 30 pages. I decided to conduct a personal experiment (Or would it be called an action research project?).  

For one question, I conducted the research, note-taking, drafting and revising in a traditional way.  I printed the articles I needed to read and highlighted or took notes on the printed copies. I hand-wrote summaries on the back side of the articles. If I used a book, I used sticky notes and paper clips to mark significant passages.  When I was finished reading, I spread out all my materials on the table before me and created a typical outline.  Then I sat down to type my paper from the outline.  When I quoted something, I had to re-type the quotes and I manually created the reference list.  I was constantly flipping between print resources and stacking and re-stacking the sources.

For the next question, I decided to do everything digitally.  I used Mendeley for both my reference manager, reader and citation manager.  I created folders for different aspects of the question and dropped articles into the folders as I found them.  Book chapters became PDFs and my note-taking and highlighting occurred within the PDFs and Mendeley.  When I was finished reading, I basically had my outline created, because I had already created the folders. As I was writing, I used a second screen, so I could read my sources while writing and copy/paste quotations when needed.  Searching for ideas between sources was easy with the search feature or key words.  When the search results were displayed, I could instantly see how my various sources related to the key terms. 

I reflected on the two different methods of research and writing and learned a few things:

1) Using the traditional method slowed me down – which wasn’t always a bad thing.  By flipping through sources and having all of them spread out around me, there were more incidents of serendipity.  By re-reading or glancing at something, I made new connections with other ideas. I had more time to reflect on and refine my thoughts when writing because I had to physically handle the sources. My physical interaction with the text also provided a different way to remember things.  I could visualize the text (pictures, page number and location of paragraph, along with my notes) and recall more about the details of the reading. 

2) Using a fully digital method was more efficient and produced a longer paper.  Using the search feature allowed me to quickly identify the ideas I wanted and the copy/paste feature made using quotations easier – which led to me including more quotations (with explanations) than the traditional method. However, there was less serendipity.  Once I had filed articles and ideas in their folders, I didn’t cross over much and the search feature took me directly to the item I wanted without paging through other parts, which may have led to new considerations. 

3) In the end, both methods worked.  I passed my prelims with favorable comments.  So, neither method was “better” for the end result. That means that when selecting the method (or tool) I need to consider other factors such as time, the need to collaborate, and whether or not I may re-use some of the source material in the future.

But, what is the connection of this long story to Chapters 3-5 in Digital Reading

Authenticity is key!  In Chapter 3, Franki stated that students in her classroom “were not using technology because it was “cool” or because is was the assigned day for a particular tool or app.  They were using a particular piece of technology when it made sense for their learning” (p. 26).  As a new teacher in the mid-90s, I knew that my schools were very focused on making sure students had “technology skills” so I spent time teaching PowerPoint, search strategies and HyperCard (who remembers this?).  But, in isolation – so students didn’t learn to select when to use the tool.  They dutifully completed the software-focused projects, learned the ins and outs of the program, and went back to what they were most comfortable using before the “infusion” of technology.  

Has much changed?  I still see projects assigned that require all students to use the same tools, and the “choice” part of the project is in the topic.  We (meaning I) need to do a better job in exposing students (including pre-service teachers) to a multitude of tools, guide and model thinking about how/when to select a tool, and remind them of the multiple choices available.  As Franki stated, assigning exercises isn’t authentic to what real readers do. Rather than exercises, the work students do should help them grow as readers and writers. Franki highlighted another teacher, Diana’s experience with her 6th graders who informed her “We know how to use the tools, and if we don’t we’ll figure it out. What we need to know is how to use them in school and what you want us to do with them in class. The computer doesn’t get in our way.  It’s that we don’t know what you want from us. We know how we use the tools, but we don’t know how you use them” (p. 31).  Wow – insightful students!

This gets to the point of chapter 4 – intentionality. When I completed my prelims, I was intentional in seeing how the different processes would work for me so I knew how I could incorporate digital technologies into my academic writing toolbox.  To do this – I needed to have an authentic purpose to use the tools without just focusing on learning the tools.  In other words, I couldn’t just attend a workshop or seminar on the tools and be expected to included it in my knowledge base.  As Angela Maiers stated, “Being “tech-comfy… does not guarantee [readers’] proficiencies automatically grow into new and sophisticated literacies or online competencies as infor-sumers, critical thinkers, and savvy participants in digital spaces” (p. 47).  I have learned that just because my pre-service teachers use Twitter in their personal lives, this doesn't mean they know how to use it professionally.  I need to be intentional in helping them apply the skills they have learned to using Twitter as a Professional Learning Network.  They are tech-comfy – not always tech-savvy. 

To do this, Franki illustrates the importance of listening to our students with her story of the two boys who were watching the LEGO videos of football.  By asking them what their learning goal was, Frankis found out how they were analyzing the video for particular football moves – not just watching the entertaining video. We (meaning I) need to take more time to ask questions of our students, give them time to articulate their thinking, and really listen to what they can teach us. This means trusting students to dig deep in their own learning, which is often hampered by the well-being scaffold that we (meaning I) provide through overly structured assignments, rubrics, and graphic organizers. I need to trust students more to select the tools that guide their learning. 

This summer, I’m starting a new experiment – digital reading of Digital Reading. For my prelims, I used Mendeley and PDFs on a computer. That meant using a keyboard and mouse.  Just last month, I got my first IPad and since Digital Reading was available as a download, I thought I would try it on the Ipad.  Just today on Twitter, Cathy posted a picture of a quote she enjoyed in the book and through that picture, I came to realize how I can better interact with the text using the drawing and highlight tool.   

Franki states, “I hadn’t realized how much of my reading goes back and forth between tools and how many more connections I make between texts than I did a decade ago” (p. 68).  As I sit here and type, I have my IPad beside the computer and I’m checking Twitter as the same time.  My smartphone is almost always within reach, because I constantly have questions about what I’m reading or watching.  I love connecting with other fans when I’m watching a TV show or back-channeling with others during a conference.   Being connected and part of a community is embedded in the everyday routines of my life.  

But, Franki warns that “In our hyper connected world where we seemingly have access to information at any moment. It’s important to notes that it’s not just the act of being connected to someone else that helps us make meaning as readers…there must be a meaningful purpose, an authenticity to it and a diligence in our approach” (p.70).  Creating these networks, - between content, ideas and each other is essential for students and their life-long learning. As Sir Ken Robinson observes in this RSA Animated video – our education paradigms have to change to prepare our students for a future that is increasing needing thought workers – people who can think creatively, divergently and innovatively.

Monday, July 06, 2015

#CyberPD 2015 - Chapt 1-2 - Why consider digital reading?

Mike Licht,

Sara’s words from Bill’s focus group resonated with my experience with students in many of today’s schools when she stated, “But if I really want to learn something, I do that outside of school” (p. 5).  My nephews have expressed this sentiment to me several times as the books they are given for required reading don’t interest them (therefore they are not motivated to read).  However, outside of school, my one nephew is an avid reader of hunting, fishing and outdoor life magazines and websites.  He is well-versed in the local hunting regulations and how to skin and sell pelts. This did not happen in school. My other nephew is a gamer and deeply understands the development of online game structure and the connections to others that playing online affords him. 

As a teacher educator of undergraduate students, I have encountered many pre-service teachers who understand social media as a personal space, not as a learning space.  Like the authors state, “Just because students are “good” with technology does not necessarily mean they are literate in the digital age” (p. 6).  I continue to show college-age students how to use the settings on Facebook to provide the type of access they want (or don’t want) and other features that support Facebook as a learning space.  I try to help them see Twitter as a place for professional connections and networking, not just personal promotion.  It can be difficult though, to re-envision a tool under new circumstances. It’s like reading “99 Extraordinary, Creative and Unusual Uses for Ordinary and Everyday Objects” and realizing that tennis balls and Coke can be very useful items in the house. 

“When children are invited to be part of a community and to spend time in school participating in authentic reading activities, they grow in amazing ways” (p. 16). As a classroom teacher, I’ve advocated for the workshop approach in my middle school classroom (and a modified version in high school) since my first year of teaching.  Choice, authentic texts, personal response, and time has been the foundation of how I’ve tried to teach English Language Arts.  However, I’m still trying to help people (students, parents, and administration) understand that reading is an active process that requires more than just Q & A at the end of a reading.  For deep thinking requires time, re-reading, and discussion – a tough sell in an environment of compliance. 

I loved the questions that Franki provided to re-imagine her workshop and review her use of digital reading.  One especially caught my eye as something I haven’t thought much about, “Do I use keyword tags, comments, links, and search features while reading aloud?” (p. 19).  When I submit articles, I have to include keywords and tags, when I search for items, I use them – but I haven’t explicitly talked with students about what they are and how to use them within the context of the reading.  Sure, when instructing students on Google searching, Boolean logic and keywords are important, but tags are different features.   In addition, I’ve never modelled how I make choices on whether to follow a link or not when I’m reading.  This deserves some thought.

In doing this thinking, I want to consider what types of digital reading/writing I do:
·         Audio books on my smart phone (mostly non-fiction)
·         YouTube videos (mostly instructional – how to style)
·         Personal book blog
·         GoodReads account
·         Personal and professional Twitter accounts
·         Kindle reader – e-Reader – Ipad
·         Downloaded articles in PDF – read and annotate
·         Google blog lists and Google+
·         Lots of Internet searches – regular and Scholar
·         On-demand online courses with multimedia instruction and assignments
·         Museum tours with online access either through their technologies or my smart phone
·         Google Maps linked to reviews of places
·         Mendeley – a reference manager and PDF organizer
·         Personal writing apps –, ColorNote, Gratitude Journal

My husband has been a technology director for several years and his motto has been “Don’t just teach the tools, teach the thinking.”  In addition, the tool shouldn’t drive instruction, instead, the tool should support learning.  Too often, we’ve seen teachers spend whole lessons on helping students learn PowerPoint or any other software, just for the sake of learning the software.  But, the software ages, changes or is discontinued and without learning how to approach a new tool, students (and teachers) can be intimidated.  Technological tools need to be part of the learning environment, not an add-on, and only when it makes more sense to use the tool than the traditional approach.  As Franki wrote, “Digital reading wasn’t an additional part of the classroom; rather, it became integral to the nature of our work” (p. 19).

“Figure 2.3. Differences between traditional and digital reading workshops” on page 21 is a powerful chart to show how a workshop approach can adapt to integrate digital technologies for both reading, writing and responding to texts. For me, I need to envision what something could look like, and this chart gave me the snap-shot I needed to begin to imagine how the workshop approach would look different when digital reading was intentional and not an after-thought. 

The authors’ statement of the purpose of their digital reading workshop is absolutely beautiful, “We want our students to be authentic readers and, at the same time, to be intentional, active, and reflective as they read all forms of media. Our workshops are therefore set up with beliefs, routines, and expectations that we hope lead them to live their lives in authentic, intentional, and connected ways” (p. 22). And the questions they ask their readers really help put the focus on the student and his/her active participation within the workshop.  It is NOT a passive place – and I know that some students really struggle with this in the beginning of workshop.  They are accustomed to being told what to read and how to read it.  But, having used the workshop approach for years, I know that it is a powerful way to engage students in reading and learning.