Sunday, April 30, 2017

Oops and Ouch; Reflecting on my gendered critique of an author

When a renowned ed tech blogger blocked the use of annotation tools like on her blog, she posted a rebuke of readers who employed the tools for commentary and discussion. I responded to her post via Twitter, where I took issue with her public criticism of a tool and a practice that colleagues of mine and I have been using to read and respond socially. After a distributed discussion that played out 140 characters at a time with a few other opinionated readers and the author herself, I felt chastened when she asked me to consider how gendered my critique was, adding, “Please leave me alone. Thank you.”


Though this author is something of an Internet and ed tech celebrity and her audience is huge (she has over 35K Twitter followers), I felt that I was a part of a specific, targeted audience for her post since I have organized professional learning online in which educators have discussions about her writing via I’ve done so because I was a fan of her work and I thought her voice, which is highly critical of ed tech trends, would help foster deep discussions about ed tech and equity. 


I can be dense and headstrong during any interpersonal communication and I surely was forceful in my defense of online annotation. Though I was frustrated by her admonition that my critique was gendered and unfair, I took her advice and reflected on the way our gender identities colored the conversation. On a flight from Seattle to Denver, I reconsidered my critique of her decision to block reader notes. Here’s what I came up with: 

As a white guy who engages in the precarious practice of convening equity conversations online, I have to be willing to say, “Oops,” when I offend. Then I have to reflect and learn. It is my professional work, seeking to understand other perspectives and the roles of identity and culture. Also, it is my professional responsibility to investigate my privilege and the blindspots it leaves me, whether I’m assigning reading to teens or tweeting with a professional writer. 

On the Internet, my identity as a man can be a threat, especially for a popular female blogger. Since she’s been trolled and harassed, I can imagine that she would be wary about the potential for my Twitter commentary to turn ugly, especially as I discussed my critique with other men. My discussion about her choices with other men in a public space could definitely feel to her as though I was rallying support against her. In my fervor to test my analogies and defend a practice, a tweet or two surely mansplained. I sounded judgmental, which is never a good move. That is all gendered and I was blind to these considerations as I tweeted. 


In equity conversations identity matters and shapes the context. My blindness to her feelings stemmed from a few different identities of mine that led me to feel as though I was being fair when the person whose actions I challenged felt decidedly otherwise. My identity as a public school teacher emboldened me as I wrote directly to an author whose work I take seriously. She writes about schools and I work in schools. My identity as a bookworm who loves to discuss a recent read with friends online loomed large. She writes about modern reading and I am a modern bibliophile. Last, I donate a small amount of money each month to her in support of her work, so my identity as supporter and as a crowdfunder also gave me a head of steam.


In another post, I’ll write about the evolution of copyright and the importance of analogy as we seek to understand the digital tools that shape our experiences online. I can and will make an argument in favor of open online annotation without putting a female author at the center of my argument. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

B-Ball and Soccer Drills, and the Importance of Collaboration in Revision

Class began today with Devin drawing up the UCLA drill on my whiteboard. I had challenged him to draw a drill from varsity basketball practice that was really hard, something he couldn't have done in 7th grade or earlier. Devin's been nursing a bum shoulder lately which has him watching more practice than he's participating in, but he willingly drew the drill despite the injury to his writing hand.

He drew the court, the X's and the dashes which symbolize passes. He wrote "85" and "3 mins." Describing the drill to the class, he explained how the team had to make 85 shots in three minutes. If they didn't they would run - line drills, presumably. 

I added the units of measure - shots- and the disincentive, which I labeled "run." 

Cris stood next to Devin and drew a soccer drill. He's playing club soccer, which he claims is even more competitive than the school varsity. To Cris, club soccer during his Junior year is the time when colleges will give him the closest look and consider him for a scholarship, so he's learning drills and trying to get back into playing shape. 

Cris' drawing conveys that drills at his level require him to execute passes through the air and on the ground. He explained to our class that the passes were 30 yards in length and that if they failed to meet their marks, players had to perform 50 pushups, or run- laps, presumably. 

The other students listened with expressions that ranged from rapt attention to feigned disinterest but Tia challenged me to explain what this had to do with the papers students are writing. 

That was all the invitation I needed to talk to my students for just a few minutes about the connections I see between basketball practice and writing practice. 

1. neither of these drills can be done independently.
2. writers, like soccer players and basketball players, need to regularly hone skills like drafting, editing and revision.
3. revision done best, like these drills, requires many iterations and coordinated collaboration. 
The protocol below represents a kind of drill for writers. Like the drills the two boys drew on the whiteboard, the revision group calls on writers to collaboratively employ skills that they probably learned before entering my 11th grade English class. 

They can all independently answer following revision questions that prepare them for a peer support. 

  • What is your strongest paragraph? Which one needs the most work?
  • How is your paragraph that needs the most work like one of the examples? How is it different?
  • What are some things you would like to improve about your draft (besides editing)?

  • What would you ask a reader about their experience reading your draft?

Most students are able to use the protocol below to convene a productive discussion in groups of three or four. 
Afterward, students reflect independently to ensure that they leave the group meeting with some actionable ideas to drive revision. 

What did you notice about the discussion? (I noticed we talked about ______________.) 
How did this discussion change, help or affect your thinking? (When _________ said ____________ it made me ____________ about _____________.)

Though student writers in my class have the discrete skills inside this revision group protocol, the "drill" of self-organizing and structuring a conversation that propels revision forward is something that requires coaching and practice. I left them with a reminder that these drills should inform the way they play in the future and remind them to collaborate as they revise drafts. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Writing into the day: College Ready Writing Project DWP AI

The Denver Writing Project's College Ready Writing Project Advanced Institute met yesterday and our facilitators asked us to begin our day by writing in response to the questions below. The post that follows was born out of that quickwrite, completed at home after I finished assessing my students' latest argument writing.

What mini-units/lessons have you used since we met at the beginning of December? How did it go? How are you observing growth in your students’ writing and understanding of argument? Based on your anecdotal observations, what aspects of argumentative writing do your students need to develop? What have you learned? What are you excited about? What are you grappling with? 

What's happening in my class

We have been writing informal arguments and  conducting research. Wednesday is writing workshop day in my class and since the beginning of December my students have used the Argument is Everywhere "playlist" in on Wednesdays to develop informal arguments. The playlist author, Casey Olsen, has adapted CWRP materials using the LRNG platform for the community. As technical and networked as that might sound, the resources are clear and student-friendly. (I invited students to engage by first sharing with them this Google slideshow.) My students have in their notebooks the seeds of arguments they've developed in response to the playlist's prompts.

On all the other days of the week, we have a more formal prompt that has driven the research and debate work which is our focus in the 3rd quarter:

After researching a contemporary issue, write an essay in which you identify a problem and propose a solution. Support your discussion with evidence from the text.

 Debatable topics pulled from the New York Times Room for Debate provide my students with a host of contemporary issues to read and discuss, and the short arguments written by experts in that space provide practice for students with identifying claims, evidence, and reasoning in the wild. Students subsequently borrow the evidence they find in those short pieces and, more importantly, use what they read in the Times to generate questions to deepen the inquiry. We've experimented with the sentence frame below as a means of reflecting on reading in order to develop search terms to find relevant, credible sources.

After reading ________, (article title) I would like to find out more about _________ (something specific). I will search on ________ (author’s name), or ________, ________ and ________ (keywords) in my search for additional credible sources.
All of this work culminated two days ago in a very busy Friday of writing rough drafts. The resulting papers I assessed at the advanced institute will still undergo peer review and will benefit from a few mini-lessons to support revision of arguments. This assessment work will provide me good formative information about of what students are doing independently. That information and the resources in the extended research materials we looked at in the CRWP today will inform daily planning in the coming week.

What we've been up to

Based on my observations, my students understand evidence and reasoning conceptually. I think they need practice looking at examples of effective paragraphs that present evidence clearly and connect claims with evidence. Developing nuanced claims is an elusive skill that student writers can do in some contexts, like on-demand writing in response to a single text, but struggle to do in other writing situations, like open-ended research. Some students still rely heavily on sentence frames and mentor texts to produce clear arguments (about which I say, Thank goodness for sentence frames and mentor texts!) I'm trusting that more guided practice and revision is the recipe for developing more student independence with this skill. 

Since we've been reading about and debating both sides of controversial issues, we'll be working on crafting counterclaims next.