Friday, September 28, 2012

Go Ahead, Teacher, Say, “I Am a Writer!”

            I’m a bit confused.  What keeps persons who almost effortlessly do messages (for example: email, give directions, jot to-do lists, take notes on phone calls, on meetings) from claiming that they are writers? (See debate in the Atlantic .)  If I were asking a congregation of hermits, that’s different; but teachers!  I’m guessing it’s an indictment of our education system that disempowers do-ers.  Maybe I’m more troubled than confused.
            I’m troubled because I agree with Wilhelm & Novak about the urgent necessity for individuals to compose themselves so we can compose democratic societies (Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom, p. 46).  And going further, we can’t wait to claim the name “writer” until we produce good writing because as Peter Elbow points out, the place of resonance probably comes in where “writing breaks down.”
            And it’s in the resonance (“where the writer has gotten a bit more of his or her self in or behind or underneath the words—often a bit of the unconscious self,” p. 10) where the vitality can be found that’s essential to composing ourselves, our relationships, our social order.  It’s in writing where we practice composing, where we get ourselves ordered, get clear enough to talk sense, to give directions, even to twitter.  William Stafford put it: “the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe--/should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.”
            Wallowing in disfluencies isn’t the pigsty of writers; but to fear chaos threatens our capacity to create order.  The poison of red ink lining out a misspelled word, a comma splice, split infinitive, or (one of my grumps) the use of “less” rather than “fewer” (insert frowny face) might have lost us our inheritance as world-builders, as stewards of a more peaceable kingdom for our children.  It’s time to take it back.  Write!  Write at the edge of consciousness.  Call it writing when you condense hours of living into an accurate status update, when you post on the board directions for the day, when you reflect on the years that composed your capacity so that you can revise what happened today so that tomorrow’s lesson flows with more meaning.  The art of writing participates in the “Meaning of Design” (Denman W. Ross, thanks to Brain Pickings) and happens when we move from disarray to order. 
            Try it, if you like.  Let your resonant field find the word/s (see the display at the top left) that points to the place in your teaching or life and that wants your composing-self to move it to the language that swirls in the creation (suggested by terms in the top right).  See: You Are a Writer!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Everyday Heroes Joining Up with the Digital Natives

the model
the plan
the production

It’s 4:12 AM. Carrying my travel mug with the second cup of hot coffee in one hand and my slightly-open laptop in the other, cradled so the backlight illuminates the stairs sufficiently that I don’t stumble in the dark, I climb back to my home office; sleep’s abandoned me due to gurgling consonants that’re trying to make meaning at education’s surf-edge.  “Disharmony” and “respect” want to enter the conversation about this convergence of “situated learning” and “infusing technology.”  Maybe we’ll morph into a third or fourth space, but equal or greater chance is that inertia or the huge gravitational pull for “same-old” will prevail. 

At least in the pre-dawn hours, I plead for a radical stance in which we honor the courageous acts I’ve witnessed this week.  I saw everyday heroes who laid down their veteran classroom-teacher authority and launched forward into the vulnerability of tech infusion, into the terrain where a potential gang of elementary school digital natives held the advantage with faster fingers and more fearless risk-taking, with greater familiarity of the iconic screenscape, and superior surveillance skills in the technosphere.  Which of us is the alien lifeform here?

EKD Elementary, the partner school with UMdWritingProject, is strongly engaged in the infusion of technology with the 1-1 iPad initiative.  This engagement is also happening significantly in the spirit of Web2.0 involving participatory learning (Challenges of Participatory Learning) and situated learning (Lave & Wenger). 

In order to have integrity with this activity and spirit, our plans for professional development (PD) need to be in fashion with the rapidly evolving context.  For example, in this first week of rollout, teachers are discovering the enacted capacity of all participants as apps they’ve just found expand the response field; the nature of the educational experience dramatically reforms with each step.  To bring pre-packaged PD (even the fed and state mandates for CCS, the county design for curricula, or the NWP-inspired model) onto this dynamic arena would be a travesty; yet, if we act with integrity to the courage of the teachers, our enactment of PD as co-participant will shatter the norms, will threaten to shake the comfort that we all find in our familiar authority stances, our packageable knowledge, our PD pedagogy, our usual delivery systems, and almost all of our previous experiences. 

To be present to the present when it is so dynamic demands a degree of attention and a kind of consciousness that strain the limits of already fatigued humans.  Acknowledging this stress is crucial so that we place high priority on nurturing the “community of practice.”   We, as leaders, need to affirm that it’s more than enough 1) “simply” to name the evolved living space, 2) to articulate the dynamics propelled by changing roles in the interaction of technology, learning, and curricula, and 3) to endorse our identities in the transformed space. 

We also can actively learn in the manner of the students/co-learners in their science and STEM lessons.  They relish the building of their towers.  They use their iPads to record their experience.  Then they rely on the recorded and recording support of technology to articulate their activity, to theorize their practice, and to construct knowledge.  Similar dynamics characterize other classrooms, but each one is distinguished by the situated learning that is true in the inherent and distinct presents. 

Our professional present deserves equal respect and therefore forms its unique character 1) as we rely on recorded and recording technology in articulating and documenting our practice, 2) as we theorize our practice in making connections with enacted curricula, authentic assessments, and valid standards while forming meaningful words, images, and representations, and 3) as we construct and affirm our situated learning in the nurturing of our community of practice.

Typically our comfort zone supports the initiation and sustenance of effort.  Typically comfort results from the predictability of experience, from stability of environment, and from trust in relationships.  When we enter this world of technology infusion, we’re sacrificing at least the first two of these three contributors to the support needed to risk learning.  We must, therefore, devote more attention to trust in relationships, to nurturing the community of practice.

We can do this by reversing direction: instead of bringing in outside expertise, we can prioritize the situated learning.  To do this, let’s begin with and spend most of the PD session having the teachers represent and articulate their experience.  Representations come from: recorded images, artifacts, student work, re-constructing explanations, rephrasing students’ comments, telling about preparation and in-flight decision making, and especially finding the “ah-ha moments.”  These should be prioritized, not the “problems.”

The teachers work in teams so that each team has persons at different stages of implementation and persons with complementary perspectives.  Our leadership team has persons with specialization in curriculum/standards, in Web2.0, in school organization, and in the broader society.  Each team should include one of those leaders who talk little but attend for insight that can be subsequently used for “theorizing the practice.”   Perhaps ¾ of the PD time is spent in representing and articulating the classroom experiences and the final quarter relates the representations to the renewal of the curriculum, to standards, technology, school organization, and society.  Overall, the entire event should validate the community and the everyday heroes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Composing via Dialog among Image, Word, & Tech Features

When I’m reading or listening to our profession’s conversation about digital media production, a particular statement sets me off.  My roughed-up rendition of it goes, “Don’t let the students put their grubby paws on the production platform (e.g., iMovie, Movie Maker) before they have written a good draft.”  As elaborated in previous posts, Taking Tech from Glitz to Deep Learning and Identity Construction, I am aware of the dangers of the glitzy side of technology, but to handle it by “Do Not Touch” tosses out too much of the generative power.  Classical rhetoric began with the canon of “invention”; the dynamic features of digital media offer to fire up that reservoir of imaginative resources.  Let’s learn to use it.  As illustrated below, digital media programs can power up effectiveness in “ideas,” “organization,” and “voice,” in the language of contemporary rubrics and standards.

Composing with digital media, in my view, should not be imprisoned in the linear structure of print before media, write-the-script before opening the program with images, music, and technical effects.  This position reminds me of the notion that you start an essay with a thesis statement.  Such directives seem to come from persons who don’t know “writing to learn” and who haven’t experienced their voice-over forming and transforming in the dynamic exchange among image, word, and other tech features.

The dialog among image, word, and tech features brings in special effects that are not available in the prioritizing of word processing that usually dominates composing in schools.  I’m often pleasantly surprised at the inspiration that comes from the verbal, visual, physical reverberations.  For example, when putting images into iMovie on my iPad, I decided to play with the montage feature.  (Montage is defined in Pinnacle’s Help Manual: “supplied motion graphics templates with spaces provided for your own media. Think of using a Montage when you need an instant title sequence or a dramatic transition.”)

 I hadn’t planned on using a montage but was curious about how it worked.  So on a whim I dragged one onto the top track to see what it would do.  While not expecting to keep it in the project, the spinning shift from slot 1 to slot 2 must have made an impression because this montage later paid off by whirling in a brainstorm for the whole design.

This is how it happened.  As noted in the previous post, in making this digital media project we started by assembling ten images that came out of our working with narrative theory and playing with stories.  My set is shown in the previous blog & the categories are:
1 Photo of self that you like &
2 Photo of self that you don’t particularly like
3 Community with which you identify
4 Community of aspiration but not membership
5 The stranger from the Kanu story with whom you are most connected/identified
6 Representation of the mature masculine as developed in Kanu (other stories)
7 Representation of the “daughter of the village” from the Kanu story
8 Most important story you’ve heard
9 Landscape/seascape/skyscape of “destiny”
10 Image of obstacle/monster/villain

I told the students that this set was just for starters.  They’d probably need and want to add images and would certainly need to reorganize them in making the digital media production that showed and explained their own identity construction.

 In composing their projects, I told my students to imagine order coming out of disorder.  Look at the array of images and see which one might point to a state of confusion, chaos, nonsense, misdirection, or false identity.  Then the sequencing of the images can show how the construction of identity tended to the trouble.  As they pondered this, their voice-over would be composing to explain the movement and the construction of identity.

In working on my production, the dynamic of word, image, & tech made magic.   Some part of my mind held words from John Gardner on the purpose of art as ordering chaos, and this apparently provided a foundation for my process of composing.  Then, surprisingly, it seemed the whirling montage took the lead as I saw how it visualized the meaning as identity formation because ordering chaos involves a spinning out of control and then landing anew.  What images might go in slot 1 and slot 2?

In looking at the array of ten images, I found my focus drawn to the two horseman:

 Abrakadabra--that’s it: begin the production with the vision of the mature masculine (also expressed in Buck Brannaman’s text:  “I know what . . . feel is . . .”) with the second image showing me whirling in prefiguring the new identity. 

My change of identity has involved coming to know “by feel”* in addition to the other kinds of knowing, mostly cognitive, that are valued in academic circles.  The identity construction extended to communities of practice in education, not only in horsemanship.  And thus the dynamic of word, image, & tech gave me the stuff for my production: the structure, the articulating words, and the fire to do it.

The burst of composing, “invention,” also led to the subsequent ordering of my draft.  I imagined how #8—important story (mom & L; Epam2) could follow; and being put in the context of this production, I also gained a deeper understanding of that “nonsense tale.” 

Next, I began to see how the “stranger” (biting fly) and the “monster” (baba yaga) played a role in my engagement with the two communities.  Finally, the sunset (journey) initially looked to be a good closing but when re-arranging the images on the storyline, it provided a good visual and metaphor for the journey earlier in the production; and the horseman image (#7) promised a better closing as it provided the coherence of returning to the beginning.

A few sources on “feel”:
Damasio, Antonio. The Feeling of What Happens: Body & Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Mariner, 2000.
Desmond, Leslie & Bill Dorrance.  True Horsemanship through Feel (2nd Ed). Lyons Press, 2007.
Gendlin, Eugene. Experiencing & the Creation of Meaning. Northwestern UP,1962/1997.    See his notes at end that summarize Hussrl and others
        Focusing. (Second Edition).  Bantam, 1978/1981.
Perl, Sondra.  Felt Sense: Writing with the Body. Boynton-Cook, 2004.
        Sheridan Blau reviews Felt Sense:
        Also see Perl’s book:  On Austrian Soil: Teaching Those I Was Taught to Hate. 
            Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2005.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Identity Construction: Changing Confusion to Order

John Gardner in his 1978 book On Moral Fiction challenges us against triviality, disillusion, and deconstruction; instead our composing should meet the significant nature and purpose of art.  It’s about “a game played against chaos and death . . . Art asserts and reasserts those values which hold off dissolution, struggling to keep the mind intact and preserve the city, the mind’s safe preserve. Art rediscovers, generation by generation, what is necessary to humanness” (p. 6). 

 My previous post elaborated the difference between composing a cutesy intro piece (e.g., my 1 Min Intro) and a more thoughtful work on identity construction (e.g., my On Knowing).   When composing their projects, I told my students to imagine order coming out of disorder.  Each of us had assembled our own array of ~ten images,

and in that set we could search for the nascent confusion, chaos, nonsense, misdirection, or false identity.  I believe composing our projects, as well as our lives, focuses when we look steadily for an imbalance that can be tended with the resources of imagination, creativity, and collaboration.  To do this requires a clear vision that’s not obscured by deception, dulled senses, or glitz.

While I’m a strong advocate for infusing digital media into our K-16 curricula, I also urge an increased vigilance against the dulling of or distraction from our sense of purpose.  Technology offers escape and entertainment; it can also serve our engagement with art, working in line with Gardner’s summons to bring order out of dissolution.  Our digital media project on identity construction, then, needed to emphasize the detection of and naming of the disorder that was to be attended in our composing.

I saw this happening in my own process.  As described in the previous blog, I caught myself almost missing an opportunity to discern a generative place of disorder because I’d picked a relatively trivial photo for the not-liked image instead of one that pointed much more perceptively to an important disturbance.

The initial photo was picked because I was bothered by the superficial appearance of my jeans tucked into my boots; when I realized this was more surface-level than I wanted, I found a better one.  The second one worked better because the disorder points to an imbalance about something of personal significance.  I knew I cared more about the quality of my horsemanship than I did about my exposed boots.

For me, the first image lacked the power to generate exploration into identity that I found in the second.  In making On Knowing, the image that reflected my loss of balance pushed me to look hard into what part of my identity needed work. When the disorder is detected, then the sequencing of images can be arranged to show how the construction of identity tends to the trouble.  As we ponder the ordering of images, words are generated to explain and justify the choices; this organically provides a draft script for the voice-over of the digital media production. In a subsequent blog, I’ll elaborate how this dialog among image, word, and tech effect generates the text better than a pre-written script.

Once again, I want infusion of technology to serve the big purposes of education instead of getting stuck at the technical level (e.g., pushing buttons to jump game monsters or moving pretty pictures around on a storyboard or movie track).  In this case, the emphasis on identity construction pushes past pretty photos to discerning which image opens insight into valuable knowing, character development, and social justice.

Monday, September 10, 2012

From Introduction-Making to Identity-Construction: An Example of Taking Tech from Glitz to Deep Learning

Photo #9. Landscape of "destiny"

My previous post looked at the general issue of infusing technology, and I promised to subsequently explore a specific case.  A fellow blogger’s excellent advice gives us a start.  In Limor’s Storytelling Agora , on How to Handle Characters Too Complex for Telling, August 25, 2012, she says:  “It takes a couple of minutes listening to a tour-guide, a teacher, a storyteller speaking about such a character to figure out the problem – pathos, which is the outcome of trying to capture and deliver something too complex turned national and monumental – if complex was not enough.”  Limor continues:
Problem: How can you relate to such a character?
Solution: By finding your reflection. 

While Limor’s case study focuses on handling the story of a big political figure, David Ben-Gurion, I’ll apply this to my students’ first assignment on digital media production: introduce yourself.  While our characters might not appear “too complex for telling,” if we really look for our “reflection,” we may be surprised.  In addition, the assignment especially lends itself to looking at how infusing technology offers possibilities ranging from skimming happily on the surface to diving for deeper meaning.  Finally, I was motivated to push this assignment past the surface-level introductions because I had found in the previous semester of teaching that in order to teach from feel rather than from the lesson plan, I needed to know my students much better.

In the Introduce-Yourself assignment, I want the composing to extend past the superficialities that often characterize introductions: I teach at the University of Maryland, love riding horses, drinking coffee, & eating chocolate.  Sounds pretty blah but put it in digital media (see 1 Min Intro) and shazam; maybe okay, even an A?  The animation, color, music, and flow of digital media can beguile; do we know when we’re being glitzed over?  I don’t want to let myself or my students skate on the surface without even realizing what we’re missing in terms of knowing ourselves and each other.  The digital media might even help us construct better personal and social identities.   

A sense of identity combines the individual, personal world with the collective space of cultural and social relations” (Grootenboer, Lowrie, & Smith).   While the integration of personal-cultural-social may look to make the task “too complex for telling,” I believe the shift to identity construction promises the right direction.  After all, our course is Good Stories: Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice, and our study leads us to engage our evolved capacity for imaginative collaboration.  I believe if we are to enact our capacity, it may well depend on our constructing identities through the goodness of stories that we study and produce, not fictions but true narratives powerful enough to stand up to the troubles of our time.

Given that huge backdrop, let’s look at the much more simple process.  Based on the stories and journals we were already doing, students were directed to compose or collect ten images (photos, drawings, or other representations):
1 Photo of yourself that you like
2 Photo of yourself that you don’t particularly like
3 Community with which you identify
4 Community of aspiration but not membership
5 Drawing of the stranger from the Kanu story with whom you are most connected/identified
6. Representation of/from the “mature masculine” as related to stories
7 Representation for the “daughter of the village”
8 Most important story you’ve heard
9 Landscape/seascape/skyscape of “destiny”
10 Image of obstacle/monster/villain

  I assembled my set of ten images to illustrate and to have a feel for what my students might encounter.  The first two images should be easy enough, I figured.  We all have photos of ourselves and, if not, we can snap them with our phones and laptops.  Not a big deal, not until I started going through my photo files because then I saw the range of images, a few I liked and a lot I didn’t.  They exposed a variety of quality and significance.  As Limor directed, I wanted to find my reflection; and in probing more closely, I fell through the shimmer of introduction and into the well of identity.  That’s how our infusion of technology offers more than the glitz surface; the lush visual resources also invite movement into art, and perhaps on into Keats’ beauty is truth.

While I certainly don’t claim the grasp of truth, in looking at a few images, I realized that some reflect what I consider more true about me than others.  For example, the profile shot that I have up on my blog has me smiling in a NWP cap. 

The National Writing Project does animate my being because it affirms the teacher’s authority about situated learning and it offers a “community of practice” essential to sustaining professional efforts to transform education into a paradigm of collaboration instead of the existing crucible of external and invalid assessment.  So that photo goes into the digital media production, and notice how it’s already drafting the voice-over track.

In reviewing images, I decided it would also be revealing to show a photo that isn’t liked, one that doesn’t resonate nicely.  I picked this one and joked with my students about not liking the pants stuck in the boot, but I caught my insincerity or lack of depth.  This wasn’t really contributing much to my construction of identity. 

The opportunity with this exploration of identity invites me to go further and to find a reflection that is true and that I really want to see changed.  It’s easy enough for us to snap a shot with tongue sticking out in Photo Booth and use that for the “not-liked” requirement, but it doesn’t promise to build the sense of identity needed for collaboration in social justice.  How can we use the gift of technology that lets us see our reflection in order to reform, to begin re-constructing identity.

So I thought more about the not-liked image and recalled how an earlier project had been driven precisely by such a confrontation.  The production process for On Knowing worked in the “write-to-learn” tradition as the composing led me through the embarrassment of seeing myself reflected in a study of failed horsemanship that led to valuable insight.  The resulting discovery opened, perhaps constructed, an aspect of my identity involving a developing capacity to know by “feel,” the hallmark of “true unity” in riding, my favorite avocation (note Howard Reingold’s on blogging about avocation in relation to Civic Life Online, p. 108).

I want to offer this to my students.  I want to challenge them to go beyond introducing themselves into constructing their identities and our identity so that we can collaborate.  And I want our infusion of technology not to take us further into la-la land but to take us further in our quest for a world with peace and justice.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

DMP for Deep Learning; not the Funnies

Riding for "true unity" requires the technical & goes on into "feel."

 In recent years, when showing my enthusiasm about bringing digital media and technology into the K-16 curriculum, I’ve been surprised at the grim countenances and the resistance from certain cutting-edge, thoughtful professional educators.  I anticipated foot-dragging from the techno-phobes along with incendiaries from the buck-chasing and/or ego-needy experts with their hands in other pies; but from my film activist and professional audio-mixing enthusiasts?  With a bit of probing and respectful listening, their concerns articulated; my synthesis posits the issue this way: Can teachers with limited technical experience infuse potentially glitzy devices into relatively dull disciplinary material so that deep learning isn’t sacrificed to superficialities?

My response: Yes, but not without sufficient attention to a few demands.  Here’s my current top of the chart:

1. Insure that teachers first experience the technology, connect it with their disciplinary knowledge, and articulate the deep learning that is engaged.  This articulation includes considering how the infusion of technology needs to be managed in order for their learners to get past the superficial techy to substantive learning.  In guiding the articulation (or “theorizing the practice”), our process also needs to protect knowing that is only semi-articulate and often referenced as “feel.”  Being able to recognize the “feel” that goes with effective engagement allows a coach to guide learners without forcing a prescribed program.  I’ve recently discussed “feel” in Disfluencies: the Gold Standard.  I plan to elaborate an example of #1 in my next post.

2. Support teachers to work from their passion and personal gift in teaching; not from a focus on “the problem.”  The magnetic attraction associated with digital media and technology presents a powerful dimension with both positive and negative potentiality.  In particular, the vibrant images, dynamic movement, music, and other media aspects push learners’ motivation, but it’s mostly extrinsic and often serving something extraneous.  This magnetic power of media needs to be counterbalanced with authentic intrinsic motivation; in particular, the teacher’s passion that flows from genuine joy connected with the discipline (for example, loving to write).  When teachers know and show their fire for discovery, for expression, for understanding, the learners can be less captured by the sugar-high of tech glitz.

3. Develop and nurture a “community of practice.”  This infusion is simply too tough to go it alone.  Extra effort has to be dedicated to a contemporary version of good old fellowship.  Jean Lave (e.g., Teaching, as Learning, in Practice) and Etienne Wenger provide over twenty years of scholarship on situated learning and the associated community of practice.  The infusion of technology looks to me more like Lave’s discussion of the “apprentice” model.  With tech integration we have continuous innovation that engages all participants in a workplace.  This doesn’t fit in with the existing dominant model of schooling characterized by top-down order, pre-determined objectives and assessments, segregation of teacher from learner, etc.  If we’re going to approach optimal value in the tech infusion, we’ll need to get serious about the significance of the paradigm shift that’s often discussed in the movement from consuming to participating and from the individual-focus to a community collaboration (See Will Our Technology Oppress or Liberate?) 

Big stuff.  What a deal!