I spent the summer presenting at different conferences, edcamps, and unconferences on the value of using digital texts and tools to model, teach, and assess text annotation. I have also discussed the focus on argumentative writing with many district and school leaders. I always stress though that these methods can be be done just as easily with pencils as with pixels. Thus In this post I wanted to share my initial framework for annotating for argumentation regardless of the tool used.

Annotation: What is it?

At it simplest form, mark-ups on a text. A reading strategy as old as texts themselves. Yet at its most useful annotation is more purposeful coding rather than mark-ups dotting a page (Fisher and Frey, 2011).

Purposeful Coding

Purposeful coding is the act of developing an evolving system to mark-up a text to help support your understanding. It requires active and analytical reading, but also scaffolds active and analytical reading. So purposeful coding is always in development.

Most important, annotation must help support your understanding of the text.This requires a purpose for both reading and for annotating. There is no text annotation without purpose. Annotating without purpose is simply known as highlighting. So purposeful coding has a goal oriented focus.

Annotating for Argumentation

In order to support the annotation of argumentative texts you need to agree on important purposes for reading the text. Your students will need a list of different methods for reading a test. In order to develop potential purposes, preferably with students participating, you could examine the Common Core exemplars of argumentative, specifically the discussions of quality that follow the pieces. You could also examine the pilot writing rubrics released by Smarter Balance.

Once you have a list of possible codes: Claims, Evidence, Counter-Claims, Transitions, etc. develop a logical key of codes.

Then choose a a disciplinary text with an argumentative structure. Context is very important, as it is a source of evidence and a place to ground the issue. Every content and trade area should work to identify mentor texts. Overtime student work samples, from disciplinary based writing tasks, could be collected and used as anchor sets.

Model the act of annotating argumentative texts by modeling purposeful coding through multiple reads of the either the same tex or with multiple texts. Start by having students identify parts of the text that most affect meaning: claims and evidence. Code the document for the
central claim— the thesis or argument. Code the text for supporting claims. Then code the text for evidence.

Next code for organization. Have students try to number the Claims supporting claims and the evidence. Have the students annotate common transition words used in argumentative writing.

Then you could code for argumentation. Code the document for possible counter-claims and refuting evidence. Code for sources. Ask first, if sources are present. Then judge the credibility of that source.

Annotating with purpose is critical. Annotating with too much purpose is disastrous. As a teacher do not require t students to use all their codes all at once. Scaffold the act of purposeful coding by returning to a text and reading that text with a different purpose in mind. And of course, make sure to model every step of the way.

Remember, annotating argumentative texts is just one of many important methods to improve the argumentative writing of students. Most important students need exposure to multiple perspectives in disciplinary based argumentative texts. Annotation just provides an important tool for text based analysis.

The effective teaching of argumentative writing also requires the use of mentor texts; the creation of argumentative mini-lessons, both virtual and in-class, but always on demand; and most challenging identifying and providing feedback to encourage growth.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2011). Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives: Comprehending, Analyzing, and Discussing Text. Solution Tree. 555 North Morton Street, Bloomington, IN 47404.

Slider Image:”Highlighter.” Snowmanradio, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

All right, knock this *** off! I HAVE BEEN HAVING A VERY BAD DAY! I just got out of jail this morning! Already I’ve been shot at, I was on a bus that flipped over 17 times, b***h tried to stab me in the bathroom, and somebody blew up my Porsche! I am in a BAD g**** mood! Now I usually don’t step in on things like this, but this “FREE LMS GOOGLE APPS” is going to help me straighten out the rest of my day! So I suggest you all back up, and let us go about our business!

Okay my first 48 hours with Google as LMS were not that bad. Jn fact in terms of rolling out a new LMS the process moved seamlessly. It was our official blackboard account that flipped me over 17 times. Some odd script in the ConnSCU system resets and locks my class every time.

Screenshot 8:30:13 1:59 PM
So what have I learned in my first 48 hours in buidling my clas (note this is a public copy, my actual class is private in order to comply with a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo) :

Hybrid Models

My class is a hybrid model. I am glad. I set the first two sessions just to ensure everyone is able to create a Google ID (using gmail or an existing email), create a Blogger account (with G+ comments enabled),register to Google+, and be invited to our Google Groups.

I did two things to make this happen. I embedded a Google form right on my course homepage. The first assignment was to sign up. I also modeled creating an ID and signing up for Blogger. I then have spent some time today making screencast tutorials (interrupted by a drive to DC and three children who need to learn to sleep around my work schedule).

Signing up students has provided some small challenges. In my class only a sprinkling of students had previous experience teaching and learning in online spaces. That is also part of my motivation of using Google Apps for a Hybrid LMS. As teachers they will not have access to expensive LMS tools. They will be able to use Google Apps.

Discussion Models

I am using two discussion models, both Google Groups and Google+ Community. I did this for two reasons. First I do not believe, as I have written about before, that stackable comments are the best tool for academic discourses. I need my pre-service teachers to practice methods for text based discussion. I want them to engage in discussions that drive them deep into texts. The ephemeral nature of social media just does not offer the right affordances.

Yet I want to create a sense of community. I want students sharing articles and videos and original writing. Thus Google+ community. I have loved the format. Students are currently posting introductions and will soon be sharing blog posts and resources.


I posted a syllabus and I included detailed timelines of all assignments in each module. I was tempted to try and design the class completely module based with students being able to move through the course at their own pace. Yet I was afraid I would lose the critical mass necessary for effective online academic discourse.

The class is also a credit bearing semester long endeavor. If I teach this as a MOOC in the future (with the option of enrolling for credit) I will move to a more open module approach.

In the end of 48 hours, Eddie Murphy is delivered back to prison. Yet in my first 48 hours of Google as a free LMS I am finding it quite liberating.


Karen Brennan sparked my thinking today. She presented her work on using Scratch. The programming, games, and stories children created made a large impact on everyone at the conference.

For me it wasn’t the take away of creative computing I found most moving. It was Brennan’s point that making take two things: creating and community. She argued that you can’t have interactive writers without both.

I witnessed this yesterday, but it wasn’t with coding,computers, or even a classroom. I saw the synergy of creating and community in a dingy basement in a dark dusty bar.

Ian and I were heading home after dinner and wanted to stop in somewhere. We like dives. Dust on the floor, ripped stools, and low lights. That brought us to CanTab in Cambridge. It also brought us to a community of creators.

After sitting down we saw a steady stream of people heading to the basement. We asked what was going on. Turns out CanTab is the home venue for the Boston Poetry Slam team. Turns out Wednesday is Open Mic night. Turns out this was the last open mic before Boston hosts the National Poetry Slam.

What we witnessed encapsulated Brennan’s lesson about community. The camaraderie among the poets flowed through the room. Poets did parodies of each other’s work. Talked about revising together. Read about being struggling artists.

For the CanTab crowd community leads to creation, and creation leads to community. This was Karen Brennan’s take away. So what does this mean for teachers and participants at MNLI?

Community of Writers and Readers

When I am awed by quality literacy teachers it always comes back to community. The students in the room feel, no they know, that they are among readers. They know they can turn to other writers for support. Just like the students in Brennan’s study who remixed, offered feedback, and helped each other grow. A great literacy classroom builds upon community.


Each year at MNLI some of the administrators choose the creation of a PLC, professional learning community as their project. I cringe a little. You can’t force community. Most PLC’s that exist in schools are simply committees that meet more frequently than others. Can schools use PLC’s? Yes, but they need to be interest driven and faculty lead. They need to have open memberships and recognize and build expertise.

Coding as Poetry

The CanTab experience was a serendipitous connection for me. I have little experience with code. In 6th grade I did a show and tell using Basic and made a rocket ship take off based on a dice role. Then during my dissertation work I had to edit XML files as we made a simulated environment. I do not know code but I do see poetry in code. I see these patterns that somehow standout like stanzas. What I saw at CanTab was the type of creating Karen Brennan wants out our students.

It isn’t just about creative computing and interactive writers. We also just need learning experience that create a community of learners both offline and online. We need interest driven classrooms that recognize student expertise. We need connected learning.

A day of makes. That is my take away. Polly had a wonderful keynote ready on the power of creativity in school but she quickly pivoted. Polly decided, correctly, that talking about creativity does not hold the power of unleashing a room full of makers. She posted a series of pictures and ended with an image of bear and a girl on the bed.


Teachers were given no real instructions. Just tell a story in video and share it everyone in the room. No we won’t tell you what tool to use. No we won’t tell you how to share it. You can see many of our bear makes by searching the #NewLit hashtag on Twitter.

It was the most powerful keynote I have heard without hearing a single word. Creativity Matters. Makers Matter. Community Matters.

I then attended Ian’s Digging Deeper session on Online Content Construction. We have spent many late nights and long car rides dissecting the construct. Ian, however, framed this in a recent chapter.

He detailed five steps: planning, generating, organizing, composing, revising. I felt after listening to the talk that something was missing.

“I am done with my make. No what?” In the world of writing we always had publishing. Yet that seems to be a key difference in the digital world. You can’t simply be done when you publish. There is a social element involved.

So I thought about it and thought about, and thought about it. Is it publishing, promoting, sharing? I settled on two possible contenders: Branding and Sharing.


I thought branding maybe the missing step because we talk a lot about digital footprints. Branding would encapsulate cross platform posting. The goal would be to drive traffic back to your content or digital hub. Thus branding would also involve metrics. I am a firm believer we need to get our students thinking about analytics early. Branding would involve audience building.


My other thought was what was missing from Ian’s model is sharing. If we defined it as sharing than we mean publishing. Sharing also details a community. In order to establish that community we would hve levels of expertise. I am reminded of fanfiction sites, minecraft, or scratch. Sharing also would mean a dialogue among makers as revisions, critiques, reviews, and other elements are discussed.

A false dichotomy?

Maybe the OCC model does not need a choice between branding and sharing. Maybe it always comes back to purpose and audience. Depending on your purpose you may want to brand the content you construct. You may share your makes within a community if it is an audience of peers.

Much like Goldilocks I maybe searching for the “just right” answer. I just hope, “I don’t miss the bear.”

I was sad to miss what looked liked an entertaining and informative #hiphoped chat on Twitter Tuesday night. In celebration of hip hop turning forty the community was ranking the top 40 most influential #hiphoped songs.

I woke the next morning and checked out the transcript. I wanted to think about how I could use the chat for purposeful engagement and  classes. Mike Manderino gave me an idea:

I thought how could I make this happen? That reminded me of Mozilla’s Popcorn. I figured this would be a great opportunity to learn the remix device. Basically you can add in clips from Youtube, change the tracks, remove audio/video, add texts. It turned out to be a wonderfully easy but powerful tool.

Here is my first attempt. I used the YouTube clips posted to #hiphoped feed. I want to throw the caveat that I did not try to match the sound, but I did try to get some theme going through it.

Screenshot 8:1:13 10:52 AM

You can see in the image how you overlay different tracks. You can edit and shorten the tracks. Add more tracks. I was able to create a remix fairly quickly.

Classroom Extensions

I wanted to think though how can I make these remixes purposeful. In order to do this I would use the more advanced tools in PopcornMaker.
Screenshot 8:1:13 10:48 AM-2

Students could select the songs and then add in information about the history of the song, historical context of the video, or conflicts discussed in the song. This would be a wonderful Online Research and Media Skills project. First, it requires remixing and creating. Also students would have to conduct an online inquiry project that required online reading comprhension. Finally they could collaborate with each other on reviewing their makes.

Embedding Close Reading in Culturally Responsive Texts

There had been a lot of noise about increasing informational text and analytical reading. This does not mean, however, we have to be devoid of interest driven learning. By creating a #hiphoped remix with historical contexts students would have to engage in close reading activities with online texts.

Students could conduct research online and embed information from the text. The kids could use the maps and create a historical virtual field trip. All of this embedded into a mix tape for the 21st century learner.

I look forward in developing the learning activities for this project and hope to try it out with my Gear Up students from New Haven.

Today I was fortunate to participate my first, and possibly the first ever unhangout. I can not contain my excitement about this wonderful tool.

Unhangout is another wonderful project from the MIT Media Lab and supported by the MacArthur Foundation. It is an open source project and those more familiar with the innards of code can modify and use. Basically, unhangout works as a platform for virtual unconferences.

Screenshot 7:29:13 2:08 PM

Anyone familiar with the BarCamp or EdCamp movements will understand the workflow. There was a lobby where participants could join a Google Hangout OnAir. The lobby had a wonderful chat feature.

Then there were breakout sessions organized into separate hangouts. Thus ten people could join a session.

Today’s unconference was a joint venture from the #clmooc sponsored by the National Writing Project and connectedlearningtv. The developers from the MIT Media Lab also attended. I joined late and entered the room Writing as Making/Making as Writing. Their were seven other participants in the room. The Google Hangout worked, beyond some usual bandwidth glitches, quite well. I was able to share stories of what happens when we “schoolify” making and discussed how writing is both instant improv and a deep reflective process.

There were some limitations. Today’s unconference was small scale. Google Hangouts may or may not have a cap of 10 participants. This would limit the number of people who could actively participate in each breakout session. Yet maybe smaller sessions will allow for more in depth conversation. I cannot wait to see where the MIT Media Lab developers: Philipp SchmidtDrew HarrySrishti Sethi take the project.

Overall, for me, unhangout is one of the most exciting digital texts and tools to emerge in sometime. In terms of classroom use I see many potential opportunities. We could have interest driven self directed professional development (i.e.#edcamp). Students could join book clubs or discuss specific disciplinary texts across districts, states, and international borders. Most importantly students could find others with similar interest driven passions and create their own unhangout experience. This would unite the connected learning principles with emerging pedagogies of digital texts and tools.

Finding Our Voices in Lost Voices

New-Orleans post Katrina Sept 2005: house busted by Katrina's wrecking ball

flickr photo shared by Gilbert Mercier under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

We want every student to leave Gear Up knowing they have a voice. They are “active players and not spectators in life” as Walter Dean Meyers., the author of Handbook for Boys wrote (our shared reading this summer). To this end we had students explore what it means to be a lost voice through poetry.

As many of our readers know I am also interested in exploring how the pedagogy of poetry can be enhanced with the use of digital texts and tools. Over the last six years, my colleagues Sue Ringler-Pet and Ian O’Byrne have been exploring the intersection of poetry and technology. We present a project at NCTE celebrating a poet laureate through technology.

This year we chose Natasha Trethewey and her work with documentary poetry. Trethewey says she attempts to find lost voices in historical events. This seemed like a perfect project for the 100 students attending our Summer Academy.

The lesson plan we used appears below:

Step 1: Read “The Elegy of the Native Gaurd” and “Beyond Katrina”

Step 2: Then discuss the following prompt in the Google+ Community: Trethewey in explaining why she writes said her purpose is, “giving voice to the groups and individuals blotted out of public memory.” In these two poems what groups and individuals were brought to the light? What words, phrases, or stanzas capture the emotion or plight of these voices?

Step 3: Annotate the text using the PDFZen. Identify key events, characters, and emotions

Step 4: Record and upload your poem (written in Language Arts) to SoundCloud
-Set up a Soundcloud Account
-Post your Account Name to Google+
-Follow everyone in the class
-Record your Poem
-Upload Your Recording to Soundcloud

In order to make the projects manageable the students coule pick from the following historical events: Slavery, Civil War, WWII, 9/11, and Katrina. They then had to create a narrator for their poem, draft, and record the poem

Here are a few examples:

My Thoughts

Overall the project went very well. Yet it is not over. These poems will be used as models, and a few as mentor texts, for middle school students in Hartford who will complete the same project this Fall. We will share these voices in Boston at NCTE.

The lesson also demonstrates how good analytical reading does not need to favor informational, narrative texts, or poetry. In fact the best lessons will result in some type of performance piece (the poem) that required students to question and annotate a variety of sources for a variety of reasons.

9/11, with Katrina as a close second, seemed to be the most popular theme among students. I wonder if this is a due to proximity to New York (almost all know of a life touched by the tragedy). The boys (shocking) seemed to gravitate to lost voices in wars.

The poems are a good, but many have an overarching sense of prose, rather than poetry to the stories. Now I cringe at giving students rules when teaching poetry (in fact I asked teachers not to require stanzas at all let alone a minimum number) yet in the next iteration I want students to try to find more poetry in their voices. I may ask students to write their lost voice as a narrative first and then convert this prose into poetry. This had worked in the past as well.

Our Summer Academy is about building bridges to the future in the hope that the entire New Haven class of 2018 is college bound. I hope by exploring lost voices, we helped students find their own so they lear not to be “spectators in life.”

I joke with the few family and friends I have in the analytics business and call them a bunch of “click counters.” Yet analytics as a field is shaping our lives in ways we simply do not know.

Most recently Barack Obama can thank his analytics team for a second term. It was a a socially connected ground game driven by analytics support that help to seal the White House.

In fact Mitch Stewart who directed much of the analytics team drove this point homw to campaign staffers in the eve of the election:

Our analytics team constantly evaluates our program so we can ensure these volunteers are making a difference in the conversations they have with voters, especially after graduating from our interactive trainings.

On the flip side the Romney camp, Rassmussen Polling, and American Crossroads failed to utilize analytics correctly had distorted polls and lost the White House.

This failure was especcialy true for Romney headquaters on election day. They had a voter identification and analytics machine dubbed ORCA. It was more of a beached whale then a killer whale. Politico’s MAGGIE HABERMAN and ALEXANDER BURNS report that the ORCA analytics was a disaster:

Numerous Republicans in and around the Romney campaign called the ORCA platform a total bust, stranding thousands of volunteers without a way of reporting data back to headquarters and leaving Romney central command without a clear view of developments on the ground.

Sure there were other mitigating factors that lead to the President’s win (Romney’s careening to severely conservative principles,  backfired efforts to limit access to the polls, an improving economy, etc) but 2012 was the year analytics helped to win the white house.

This why I tried to stress the issue of social networking and data driven marketing when I spoke at the Connecticut Business Educators Association Annual Conference. My basic premise was if you are not preparing business students for a world in which data drives your marketing decisions then you are not graduating students that are college and career ready.

If 2012 taught us anything it that data is everything. I attach my talk below:

Its Tuesday (or it least it was when I was supposed to write this post) and we are moving into the hard work at the Microsoft NERD Center. Teachers worked to  shape their final products, attended a wonderful keynote by Polly Parker, and got to pick digital text and tool sessions.

I am left with one major take away. Striking a balance is hard.

It has always been our goal at MNLI to be agnostic about the tools and stress the pedagogy, but working with teachers demonstrates how important differentiating technology will be for students.

I came up with my solution. I am not going to teach you how to use a tech tool. Period.

I cannot strike a balance. I have to stress the digital text  side and show you how to transform the classroom.

The Basics

If you want to learn the basics I will show you, but it will be in the context of using digital text and tools to enhance your pedagogical goals.

If you want to learn the basics teach yourself. I have posted videos for all of my sessions on how to use the basic features of the digital tools we will be working with.

Trust me. After doing professional development around technology for the last decade I have come to the conclusion that this is the best solution.

The alternative is me saying, “Now click here” over and over again as I work the room to make sure everyone clicked at the same time. It is not a good use of instructional time.

Play Time

Instead I will offer play time. Experimentation is at the heart of the #MNLI12 experience. You see this in design studio and in the digital text and tool sessions.

So in my DT&T session I offer play time. This is after I share my pedagogical reasons for using a digital text and tool. During play time you can try out the lesson or you can sit and watch the video tutorials.

This approach builds in the level of differentiation necessary for our success. It also frees me up to provide support to participants regardless of their ability. If after watching the one or two minute clips you are still stuck…then I will help. But in the meantime I am going to focus on using the digital text and tool to enhance my pedagogical goal.

 As teachers we should do the same in our classroom. Provide resources to students, whether they are videos, peers, or handouts, that will reinforce basic skills of using technology while as educators we focus on transforming literacy practices.

On day 3 of the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute I hosted a #hackjam. We all fought some torrential rain and found a restaurant with wifi. It was spotty so we couldn’t develop too may remixes but still participants were amazed about x-ray goggles.

Basically a #hackjam is a self-organized event to show some of the great Mozilla tools such as x-ray goggles that allow you to remix websites.

It is such an easy tool to use and a great way to introduce some basic coding to students. I have used it in the past to highlight how words can shape persuasive language.

We began by remixing the New York Times and giving everyone at the table an Olympic medal. We then discussed classroom implications.

No Publishing Feature

This is when we noticed a hiccup. The publishing button for x-ray goggles no longer works. I posted a message to the hackasaurus google group.

Atul Varma, of the Mozilla, Foundation, suggested it was a litigation or security issue. Emma Irwin said it was x-ray goggles getting ready for full deployment out of alpha release.

Either way we needed a work-around. We developed three: screenshots, screencasts, Evernote Webclipper, and Google Drive.


The easiest solution was to take a screenshot. Stephanie did this with her remix of a Facebook page. She created one for a math class studying prime numbers:

The screenshot only worked with very small frames. We could not take a screenshot using Skitch, or Grabit longer than the window.


I used a screencast to share my remix. It was a tribute to our logistics team Zach and Jim. I apologize ahead of the time for the feedback. I should have downloaded the audio track and reuploaded rather than record it through the speakers. It also short as I clicked on a video link I embedded. It must have refreshed while I was using x-ray goggles.

Evernote Webclipper

The work around that I see with the most potential is Evernote. We took a screenshot with Evernote woebclipper and then added it to a shared notebook. I see potential for this for educators. They could share the notebook with everyone in the class. Teachers could then add comments on the remixes and students could add reflections. This would provide important evidence.

Here is Jared’s example

Google Drive

Jared also printed his screenshots as a pdf. He then combined the two documents into one PDF document. He then uploaded that document to Google Drive.

This is nice because you can embed the pdf on other sites.


The #hackjam was very successful. Teachers found new ways to teach code and the ideas for the classroom were huge. I look forward to sharing more events in the future.