ASCD Literacy in a Digital Age Presentation Notes

The following are my notes, reflections, and slidedeck from my ASCD literacy presentation.

I presented this session with Angela Maiers, a true guru in the land of literacy.

Angela and I began our presentation by asking the participants to answer the question, “What is literacy?”  Certainly there has been much written and discussed on this topic, and we explained that our approach to the subject is rooted in communication; specifically, how we input and output through various mediums and modes.

We briefly discussed the work of Luke and Freebody and their Four Resource Model.  We discussed how these four resources work both as we input and output in communication.

We then discussed how important the medium is and how much it has changed.  This change is significant, and that significance is evidenced in videos like this.

We asked the participants to then consider the medium and the mode of communication and which one we most often use as adults.  We typically favor speaking, but what do we require our students to use the vast majority of the time they are working to communicate their learning?  What if we started changing our expectations and removing some of the barriers that trip kids up when they are trying to communicate?  What if we let them tell their stories and demonstrate their learning like this?

We discussed a practical example of the way we traditionally teach literacy by using an example of the book Number the Stars.  We explained how we could be doing so much more with our students and expecting them to dig so much deeper in their exploration of reading.  We showed two videos, and explained how the second led to an incredible learning experience for the entire school based on a comment someone left on the students’ YouTube post.

We wrapped up the session discussing how dramatically the web has changed in recent history, and we discussed the implications for literacy based on this change.  We ended the session with this video and explained how important passion and audience are for our students.

UbD and Technology

Notes from the session “Understanding by Design and Technology Integration” by Mark Fijor. Presented at the ICE 2010 conference on Friday, February 26.

Wiki link:

Start off with an essential question.  Something that is debatable.

For example, “Can technology really enhance and support standards-based curriculum or is it just a passing fad?”

Determine whether or not technology can enhance and support a standards based curriculum.
Collaborate and identify research tools to complete project.
Determine end product to demonstrate learning.

Use blogs or wikis or online discussion boards to demonstrate learning and wrestle with essential questions.

Fijor’s district uses the Big 6 research method.

Establish the question, identify key search terms, use a resource like Google Scholar to conduct research, and then select end project to demonstrate transfer.

Used Turning Point Anywhere to decide as a group which project format we would use.  Options were Power Point, iMovie, podcast, Prezi, web page.

After the project is complete, students go back and evaluate the presentation against the question and determine if they have to go back and revise their project to answer the essential question entirely.

*My reflection*  It’s obvious that technology can play a big role in the implementation of Understanding by Design.  The most difficult part that I’m not sure we addressed in this session is the process of transfer.  Creating a PPT, iMovie, podcast, Prezi, or web page are not necessarily the best opportunities to create transfer.  Transfer is supposed to happen when you take a skill you are learning and demonstrate the ability to use and apply the skill in an unfamiliar situation.  I believe the beginning of the presentation was strong as we discussed essential questions and research, but the most crucial part of the process, transfer, was lacking a bit.

Our Ideas are Interactive

Living together - 187/365

I read a great post by a student in my grad class last week that has me thinking again about the idea of a backchannel.  I wrote about this a while ago, but it seems the topic has surfaced again recently about the value of a backchannel.

The past several conferences I have attended have tried to implement a conference-wide backchannel discussion, and most have failed.  Whether due to poor wifi, poor implementation, or simply lack of interest, it seems to me the idea has started fading a bit.  I don’t know if I think that’s good or bad.

Certainly the story that surfaced this week about the backchannel gone bad at the Web 2.0 Expo is evidence of how this idea can be a complicated matter.  This spurred much discussion on Twitter, and the experience leaves many wondering what is the value in having a simultaneous chat running while a person is presenting his or her ideas.  I still believe, if done well, the chat can add a great deal for both the presenter and the conference attendees.  I really do.  However, as some have noted recently on Twitter and in other conversation spaces, it seems that often times the backchannel fails to connect to the message being presented and breaks down into a virtual cafeteria where the kids are all talking about any and all topics other than the ones being presented.

I found the post above by Michael to be most interesting.  It leaves me wondering what the role of this experience could be in the classroom.  Could it be that if we built this the right way, kids could greatly benefit from the chance of moving from passive listeners to active engagers of what is happening around them?  The idea of allowing students to backchannel during a read aloud is fascinating to me.  It takes courage for teachers to try such a thing, but if, like Michael, the end turns out to yield something of value for students, I think we should try it more.  Allow them the chance to mix their ideas with their peers in a nonconventional way to see what the recipe ends up making.

Maybe it won’t work for your students, or your teachers, or your presentation audience, but I still do believe there’s something to this idea.  It just takes some work and effort to keep the connections aligned with your learning goals, and obviously sometimes we fail at that in our endeavors to get students to invest in their learning through technology.  But if our work with technology does indeed increase student investment, then I say turn on the backchannel and see what you can hear, so to speak.

Thanks to tranchis for the use of the Flickr image.

NECC 2009


Yes, this is my gratuitous NECC 2009 reflection post.  There were too many experiences and too many conversations that took place for me not to stop and reflect on the week as I experienced it.

The most noticeable observation I can make is the comparison of experiences from last year’s NECC to this year’s.  Last year was my first, and it was quite honestly an incredibly overwhelming experience.  I felt rather detached and fatigued as I flew out of San Antonio, and I can directly attribute that to how disconnected I was to this community.  I hadn’t yet started my blog, I was only faintly invested in Twitter, and I knew a total of about five people at the conference.  How a year can change everything.

I began my blog in August and have been learning by exponents ever since.  Not long after, I sought to engage in conversation on Twitter.  Again, the learning experiences quickly heaped one atop the other.  And as my learning opportunities increased, so too did my level of connectedness.  I came to NECC this year part of a very strong network- an engaged network who readily struck up conversations that will fill my foreseeable future with countless moments of pondering.

This experience has left me with no doubt that a learning network can be one of the best things any professional can develop.  Engaging the community and building relationships leave one in a place to break the bubble of solitude and grow in entirely unexpected ways.

I also learned what an outstanding experience it is to meet people face to face who you’ve been connecting with exclusively online.

I learned that

Judi, Anne, Beth, Brady, and Scott M. are tremendous classmates
Angela is every bit as dynamic in person as she is online
Jon B. continues to be on my list of people I call friends (I swear the bracelet must have gotten lost in the mail).
Dean is a crazy good golfer, and I could probably talk to him all day about all things education.
Karl is in the same category of gentle, entirely wonderful human beings as Paul.
Paul is an incredible social organizer
Mike has now seen a baseball game and was the first person I’ve ever known to have a caricature drawn of his dinner rather than himself
Scott F. is a great guy to hang out with
Ketchup chips are as good as Dave says they are, and Dave is as good at riding in coach as I am at not making a mess in sessions
Ken has the voice for radio
Paula is a person you should know
-I have so, so much to learn
Kelly is taller than her avatar and has a charming personality to match her charming southern drawl
Jeff is the man to talk to if you ever get the itch to teach oversees.
Vinny has an astounding memory
Andy was missed
Pat was very busy and had to watch someone eat rabbit
Jen should have been there
Jon O. is a master at the art of digital storytelling (something I’ve known for a very long time)
Hank is a great guy to walk the monuments with
Tim shares my excitement for digital photography
Chris is the kind of principal I would work for in a second
Chad is a great guy despite his love for the Brewers
Mark is as nice as I thought he was
Melanie is an outstanding student and a true humanitarian (see sandal fund)
Cathy, Joe, and Lucy are great company at the airport
-Second Life still creeps me out
Katie takes advantage of good photo opportunities
Teryl knows how to have fun on a panel
-I wish I could grow a beard like Steve
Christine is as nice as any Texan
John does not cross streets properly
Steve learned how to properly use the SMART pointer
Nadine has great style
Darren thinks I work for Sony
Sylvia is a great person to converse with
Scott M. is a person I am proud to call my friend
-I missed my family so much it hurt
-There was no way I could make this list without unintentionally leaving people out; I’m incredibly sorry if I missed you.

All this to say, it’s the people and the connections with each that made this conference one I’m truly glad I attended.

One other observation.  I’m not sure that the future format of a conference should stay as it is.  With our increased level of communication and sense of connectedness, it may well be that the session format needs to be rethought.  Much of what was presented in sessions has been discussed and broadcast at length online.  When such content is so readily available, what is it that gives a conference unique value?  I talked with several people about this, and it’s a topic that absolutely lands on the list of things to keep thinking about, but I wonder if we shouldn’t start looking to incorporate more of an edubloggercon or bar camp construct in the future.  I think this idea requires some vetting, so I’ll leave it open for your consideration as well.

That’s it.  My week in brief.  It was truly an outstanding experience, and I’m better because of the conversations, challenges, and pushes to grow.  Thank you all for that.

Thanks to Erica Marshall for the use of the Flickr image.

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