A Day in the Life: Continuing the Conversation(s)

Another busy day at the UNC Charlotte NWP Summer Institute. One thread that I noticed throughout the day was the importance of creating space for and engaging in (professional) conversations.

We began the day with a conversation about assessment. Lacy led us to consider the different words we associate with assessment and the kinds of conversations that would be necessary to undertake collaborative assessment.

In Steve and Lil’s demo, we considered different ways of entering professional conversations. Steve gave us a demonstration of Twitter and some time to explore various Twitter chats. (Sidebar: All the writing yesterday, plus working through lunch and the drive down from Durham had left me a little fried, so it was fun to have time to play around with something with which I’m familiar today. (Hold the jokes about my Twitter addiction ;)) Steve also gave us a quick introduction to following blogs using RSS. He created a Google Doc with resources related to accessing professional conversations using social media.

Lil then distributed a variety of professional journals. We each took a journal and used it to answer the following questions:

  • What conversations are happening in this journal?
  • How do the topics in this issue of the journal intersect with my inquiry?
  • Who are the key scholars, researchers, theorists who are taken up in this journal?
  • What ideas can I take away from this journal?

We also explored journal access through the UNC Charlotte library and databases like JSTOR and Google Scholar. The juxtapositions of social media research and journals brought up some interesting issues related to gatekeeping and access in our debriefing of the demo. (Sidebar: I think this presentation from the UNC School of Information Studies called Scholars’ Blogs or Scholarly Blogs? is interesting to flip through. I’d also like to plug Hack(ing) School(ing) as an interesting way to continue professional conversations. It’s also a great chance for publication.)

In the afternoon, Rashid Williams, a teacher and former SI participant, visited the Institute for a demo lesson that led us to consider the notion of the American Dream and the Affordable Care Act. We began by discussing the meaning of the term the “American Dream” and to what extent we believed the government should be responsible for preserving the American Dream.

Then we considered a specific law, the Affordable Care Act, and whether this particular law furthered the American Dream or not. We watched a video produced by the Obama administration about the Act then read broke into groups to read sections of this article from USA Today with different perspectives on the Act. Each of the groups then reassembled so that one person representing each perspective was in the group. We took turns writing about our perspectives and then after a set amount of time passed our paper along to the next person in the group. By the end of the activity, perspectives of all the group members were represented on each person’s paper. (Sidebar: This was a great activity, and I’m looking forward to trying it out in my history classes.) This activity provided a way to address a potentially highly emotionally charged issue in a productive way and allowed participants to consider the issue from various points of view.

Reflecting at the end of the day

Publishing About Your Teaching

One of the best panels I went to at NCTE was Becoming a Teacher-Scholar: How and Why to Publish About Your Teaching in Professional Journals. I think the session was so interesting and useful because it named some of what I had already intuited and demystified some of what goes on behind the scenes of a professional journal. My notes are rough as I hastily scribbled them on a file folder and then typed them this morning.

Jacqueline Bach, LSU, Baton Rouge, ‘Publishing the ALAN Review’

I unfortunately did not take notes during this portion, although some of what she said was echoed by Ken later in the panel.

Julie A. Gorlewski, State University of NY, New Paltz, ‘Publishing Mini-Classroom Studies’

Writing is about improving product, thinking about what you do
Reconsidering data- can be qualitative or quantitative, doesn’t have to be a bad word

Essential steps

  • Finding a focus (Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How will we know when we get there?)
  • Identify learning targets- skills/knowledge/dispositions want kids to have (What data will indicate progress toward this?)
  • Determining the baseline (info that clarifies current situation)
  • Conducting study, gathering data
  • Reaching the finish line

Ken Lindbloom, editor of English Journal, on writing for EJ

  • Readers want to know the things you know, audience- primarily secondary English teachers
  • Acceptance rate higher for themed issues (General 10-15% Theme 20%), writing to theme helps narrow focus but article don’t have to stick precisely to questions in call for manuscripts
  • Keep your teacher voice-  speak like a well-informed colleague. Don’t try to be overly academic, but do situate your article w/in larger conversation w/ attributions. Look at back copies of EJ to get sense of how others have structured their articles
  • Imagine attribution as being at a cocktail party and moving among groups of people, taking the best ideas from each, and expanding or challenging them (Kenneth Burke’s metaphor)
  • Use artifacts- samples of student work, handouts, rubrics, questions you ask
  • Draft submitted to journal should be in final form (like open house in real estate), but expect changes to be worked through in the editing process.
  • Pitfalls- heart of article doesn’t come until the end, simply rehashes what’s already been said, story of how you came up with an idea isn’t enough- need to talk about practice, implementation

Anne Elrod Whitney, Pennsylvania State University, University Park , ‘Challenges and Benefits of Professional Writing by Teachers’

Researching why teachers write for publication for her PhD

Why did they write?

  • Stopped time, ability to think about one moment deeply
  • Gives words to describe practices- psychological shift,
  • *Changes things that are hard in the classroom into things that are interesting* (Thing that resonated most strongly with me during this session)

What’s hard about writing for publication?

  • Fear of being know-it-all, telling others what to do. Accusations that you’re making it harder for other people because you do it so well, making teaching needlessly complex. How to address– shift the frame, not telling others what to do, but describing clearly what you see, do, think
  • Feeling constrained/overwhelmed/intimidated by conventions of the article. Temptation to write grad school paper. How to address– think of manuscript calls as party invitations, bring genre study skills to looking at professional articles, do it the way it’s typically done or know why you’re doing it differently
  • Loneliness of writing. How to address– work in writing group, either in person or virtual

Jim Burke, author, on his experience of writing

  • Diverse writing experiences- journals kept as first year tutor, 1:1 teacher, SF Chronicle column (5,000 words cut to 500 by an editor to whom Jim is grateful), Personal essays- EdWeek, Teacher Magazine, Ed Leadership, commentaries for the local NPR station
  • Use blog, English Companion Ning as rehearsal space for articles
  • Cited Anne Lamott’s assertion that the most important tool for a writer is a comfortable chair
  • Personal experience is important but if writing something true, want it to be true for many
  • “If I reflected any more, I’d turn into a mirror”

Final thought- can’t remember who said this-
“When the toilet’s backing up, no one wants to read a history of the toilet.” Write about what you know and do in a way that’s accessible and practical.