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I'm an Associate Professor of English Education. My time is spent preparing to teach, teaching, reading, writing, working with pre-service and practicing teachers, serving on various committees, and trying to keep my office from over flowing into the hallway.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I attribute my success to the National Writing Project.

I found out about the National Writing Project at my first ever NCTE in Orlando, FL in 1994. I was a Master's student at the University of Tennessee in Dr. Ted Hipple's Paideia program; Dr. Hipple encouraged his students to become involved with NCTE, particularly with ALAN, but I had a love for composition forming long before. Perhaps it was this love that led me to Dixie Gotswami's session where she and several other people were discussion the summer Breadloaf program. After the session ended I approached Dixie and asked her more about the program. She told me then about the National Writing Project, something I would not forget.

When I secured my first teaching job in Charlotte, NC, I was teaching French in a high-needs middle school. At the time the state required all students to take a foreign language at all levels (unheard of, right?), so my French certification would not be ignored. But my love was English--teaching writing and analyzing literature, so when I was able to apply for other positions, I felt very fortunate to secure one at a high school teaching 9th grade English. I knew I needed to brush up on my skills: I remembered my conversation with Dixie about the NWP. I did my research and discovered that the University of North Carolina at Charlotte had a writing project. I called and asked if UNCC had an institute: They told me they did, but that it was invitation only. I was disheartened. Yet, I persisted, calling them back the next day. The director told me to submit all the required application materials, and I would be considered with the other applicants. I was called in for the interview, got a slot in the 1997 summer institute, and my teaching has never been the same.

Through my participation in that summer institute, under the direction of Sam Watson, Karen Haag, and Nodgia Fesperman, I learned

*that sharing is the cornerstone to teaching
*that teachers are the best source of their own professional development
*that teachers who consider themselves to be writers help develop students who see themselves as writers
*that a good lesson can be modified to any grade or age level
*that grading, evaluation, assessment, and feedback are totally different entities when it comes to writing assessment
*that learning to teach writing, like learning to write, is a lifetime job.

I didn't realize I'd learned all this during that intense summer institute. I thought I'd learned some neat tools, how to revise my own writing, how to keep a daybook, and all about portfolios. As my first year teaching freshman English in inclusion and honors classrooms went on, however, I realized some powerful seeds had been planted. I couldn't even look at the hamburger model for the 5 paragraph essay. Certainly, I gave my students tips and tools to achieve success in the test writing genre, but what really became central in our daily interaction, because of NWP, was writing. We wrote something everyday, and I include myself in this because I wrote with my students, as I was taught in my summer institute. We wrote, and we read, and we shared.

Eventually I did leave the public school classroom, but I returned to Charlotte to teach at the same university where I had been enrolled in the Writing Project. While teaching in the College of Education there, a young man emailed me. It was a former student from my days as an English teacher in the high school. I remembered this young man as very quiet in a a large honors English class, with 32 students who kept me on my toes with their brilliance and craftiness. The email from the former student told me that he remembered the writing we had done, that he was working in a bookstore now, and that he was trying to make his living as a writer. I was pleasantly surprised. I don't take credit for this young man's life decision, but I do have to attribute some of my enthusiasm for teaching during those years to the National Writing Project.

As an Assistant Professor at UNCC, I was involved with the Writing Project under the direction of Lil Brannon. Tony Scott and I co-led a NWP Urban Sites grant , and Mrs. Karen Haag and co-led the NWP Teacher Research group. Both of these programs are advanced institutes for teachers to extend their knowledge in areas of significance and importance to them. The ongoing and sustained professional development offered by NWP supports conceptual growth over time, unlike the one-shot workshops and seminars that teachers are forced to attend against their wills in the name of student learning.

The teachers I met through NWP experiences illuminate the false stories of teachers who work for summers off and "free" benefits: Teachers like Lacy Manship, a kindergarten teacher who redefines literacy with her students.
Having moved to another university, I still feel the ripples of NWP through colleagues who were at one time participants. Each of us agrees that the experience of writing with, of talking about, of sharing over time with other teachers of writing changed us fundamentally as teachers.

As the funding for National Writing Project is labeled unnecessary spending, I join those who have been shaped by NWP in calling attention to power this project really has for teachers. I add my voice to those who declare that, indeed, I can attribute my success to the National Writing Project.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Top 10 Teaching and Learning Tech Tools (so far) for 2011

I am contributing to the Top 100 Tools for Learning with my own Top 10 Tech Tools for Learning.
Below are tools (some I've found in the last year) that I have a hard time teaching without any more.

1. Google Sites
I use these for class sites, even though my university offers a Moodle-based course management system. My students use these for their own eportfolios, thought they aren't as pretty. I use them for professional development storage sites. Excellent!

2. Livebinders

This is one of my favorite concepts. You can use this site like you would a three-ring binder. Have a topic (The Westward Expansion, Ipads, Plagarism) put all the sites you find (and more) in this nifty space and let others share.

3. Delicious Social Bookmarking

I don't use the social part of it very much. I've tried to get people on board, but they don't seem to like the idea. There are people I know professionally with whom I share bookmarks, and that has proved fruitful. What I really love about Delicious is that I can tag and search easily, and that it is embedded in many different "share" options. I must be able to access my bookmarks from anywhere, and I've found that Google bookmarks is not as friendly. I've followed the rumors that Delicious is being sold by Yahoo--wish they'd never have bought it in the first place. I just hope someone hangs on to it and upgrades it well because it's a great bookmarking concept!

4. YouTube

I, like everyone else, love YouTube for educational purposes. I've now discovered that you can upload and edit video fairly easily. I created a 6 minute vlog with my cell phone and the YouTube video editor, just to show my students that it could be done. It even has caption and note options.
I also really appreciate the ability to build playlists and subscribe to channels.


I do not have an active Wix page, but if Wix were not available to my students for their eportfolios, I'm not sure what would happen! Wix allows my college students to blend content and style, while experimenting with web design. I can't take credit for finding it; one of my students, bemoaning the spartan templates offered by Google, found Wix and asked if she could construct her portfolio in that platform. What a wonderful example she set!

6. Audacity

Whenever my students start playing around with Audacity, they begin to realize how much they are missing out on in the world of audio. It is such a simple tool, but it allows you to do so much. So glad it exists.

7. Windows Movie Maker

Call me a dinosaur, but I still tip my hat to Windows Movie Maker. I know those of you who are Mac have your IMovie, and your products are often superior just because of your editing capabilities. But for what Movie Maker is, and the fact that it comes on every MS operating system dating back to 1993 makes it a great tool to introduce the basic concepts of digital storytelling. I'm not a hater.

8. Edmodo

I've already mentioned that my university runs a Moodle-based course management system. I really like being able to have my students turn things in online. Edmodo is such a program for public school teachers. Thanks to a wonderful teacher I met in a professional development workshop this summer, I learned about Edmodo and have told others. Those who have implemented this tool in their classroom have been amazed at the reduction of paper and the ease of ability in posting primary documents of all types. One teacher even told me he was able to keep his students from getting behind on snow days!

9. Twitter

I don't use Twitter in the classroom (yet;-), but I do use Twitter to stay informed of the latest information. At the beginning of the summer of 2010 I formed my PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter and have continued to add to it throughout the academic year. Though I have had an account since 2007, I was never an active user; since starting to engage with specific issues, I myself tweet and use the links and information I glean from others in my teaching and research.

10. YoLink

My last tech tool is a new search engine that I've found to be very helpful, powered by Yahoo of all companies, though not so well-designed. YoLink highlights the term you are searching for in the results. It's also very focused for academic researchers. The design problem is that you have to scroll back to the top of the page when you're done with the results and want to move forward, and you have to specify whether you want to search the site or the web.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Want reform? Why not ask teachers for ideas?

Want reform? Why not ask teachers for ideas?

Asking teachers about what the accountability model for their profession should be: What a concept! Are people afraid of this? If so, why? It's back to the same argument--would we get someone outside the profession to judge doctors, lawyers, engineers? I still want to know how easy it would be to get Cathy Black's old job in advertising, applying with the credentials of a former teacher.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Our schools are basketcases of anxiety."

Thank you, Ms. Young! More people need to hear what you have to say. There is already a real problem getting good teachers into urban schools. Now with value-added teacher assessment, why would any teacher want to go to a school where, too often, stressful living conditions due to poverty keep students from performing as well as their peers in wealthier neighborhoods? I already have pre-service teachers who are putting this system together; Future teachers who truly want to teach in inner-city, urban schools, now recognize that the new system will cause their students' test scores to follow them throughout their career. How will we bring teachers into urban schools now?
That all teachers, especially those just starting out, can't be a "superman/woman," a Jamie Escalante (Stand and Deliver), an Erin Gruwell (Freedom Writers), or a Rafe Esquith (Hobart Shakespeareans), is a given. Even Mr. Esquith, who has become famous for inspiring his students to excel by challenging them to read Shakespeare, had to take time to learn. How do we give beginning teachers a chance to establish themselves?
Ms. Young points out the high turn over rate in her own children's school. Teachers quit in the middle of the school year, a common occurrence in urban schools, leaving the students with a substitute, or worse, a security guard in the cafeteria. The teacher who gets these same students next year will be held responsible for their poor test scores. What Ms. Young says is true, and my friends who have taught in and/or attended school in urban settings can attest to the veracity of her statements on some level.
Ms. Young also speaks the truth about the freedom that many suburban and more affluent schools have: These schools do not teach to the test like poor,urban schools do. Parents don't allow it. As Ms. Young points out, the students in her children's schools are hammered with down pressure from teachers, who are pressured from principals, who are getting it from district administrators, who are getting it from the state, who get it from the federal government that these kids in the inner city need to get their test scores up, so give them more test preparation: Teach to the test, when they get a teacher.
That the Esquiths and the Gruwells have movies and documentaries made about them is not surprising. It's not the students that these teachers have to battle. It's not the hallways that are scary; rather, these days it's the scripted curriculum, the looming end of grade tests, the scarlet numbers that will be posted in the newspaper for everyone to see, and the non-educators, those from outside their profession, who are coming in to film, evaluate, and possibly even take over.
Ms. Young, thank you for being one voice that is talking loudly as a parent in support of teachers and ultimately in support of your children.