It has happened already, and it is only going to get worse.

When it comes to using digital texts and tools for meaningful, purposeful, and connected learning students born whiter and wealthier  are afforded more opportunities than their peers. This disparity will become another reaffirming gap in the quality of education between the have and have nots.

If you read the trends in the Pew Internet and The American Life project you will notice that access barriers have greatly leveled off (with broadband access still an issue). In fact minority students now spend more hours with screen time when compared to their white peers.

So what’s is the problem? 

It is quality screen time not quantity of screen time that will matter most in education.

I already see this problem in full swing in the state of Connecticut. When I walk into high SES schools students are using computers to complete Voicethread projects, discussing literature on blogs or Edmodo doing multimodal compositions in music, creating wikis in social studies. In other words they are using computers to redefine what it means to be literate in today’s digital society.

I wish I could say the same about students in low SES school district. It reminds my of a maxim my advisor was always fond of, “Those who need are help the most will get it the least.”

In many schools in poor urban and rural districts the computers are used for assessment and remediation. Instead of focusing on new comprehension and composition skills students are tethered to a machine doing self-paced reading classes or looking up  a book they read to see if they earned a few meager points for a free pencil. Whoo-hoo.

Once again the rich are getting richer.

A Deficit of Skills is Emerging

The lack of quality of screen time is already reeling its ugly head. In fact in a recent study with conducted by my peers and I at the New Literacies Research Lab found that  even after adjusting for CMT reading scores, there was a significant difference bon the mean scores of a measure of online reading comprehension between students in a high SES schools and students in a low SES ORCA score, F(1,203) =12.763, p = .000; partial eta squared = .052). This simply means even after accounting for the known gap in reading ability the wealthier and the whiter kids are better at locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating information in online spaces. 

The Common Core and SB 458 Could Make this Worse

Assessment is THE major focus of recent reform efforts in Connecticut. Much of this reform will center on the use of technology to provide faster and more responsive computer adaptive questions (computers picks your next question based on how well you do). There is also the potential to rethink assessment sand embed data mining procedures in computerized activities. I applaud these efforts.

Yet I worry about screen time. Quality screen time

There simply are nowhere near enough desktops, laptops, or tablets in Connecticut’s 165 school districts to provide this level of computerized assessment. Even if there were enough machines every Internet accessible device would have to be monopolized for most of the year to ensure a short enough teting time frame for the results to have any chance to mean anything.

This push to test the Common Core online will exacerbate the screen equity. So could recent changes in SB 458. The law requires two week and six week assessments to be completed in every school identified as needing improvement. Chances are the state or schools will purchase some software package. Say goodbye to your last chance of signing out the computer lab.

Fight for Quality Technology Access

It is one of the major education equity issues of our time. How will schools be able to claim students are graduating college and career ready when all they can do on a computing device is select a multiple choice answer? I fear teachers everywhere are going to need to stand their ground. We need to ensure our computers are not relegated to simply tools for analyzing data. We need to ensure digital texts and tools are used to open dreams.

A firestorm broke out when a study released by Hewlett Foundation suggested that automated scoring systems can produce scores similar (have a high correlation) with those scored by us human folk.

Based on the reactions posted on the #ncte and the #engchat feeds you would have thought armageddon was upon us and Pearson merged with the  Cyberdyne Systems Corporation.

It is affirmative. We do not need to fear the robots. In fact they can be our friends (I will not go into the methodology and limitations of automated scoring systems…mainly because I cannot do a better job that Justin Reich did in his three part treatsie).

Basically the cries over the rise of robots was misguided. It seemed to fall in two strands. The first was they cannot recognize good literature. No one is asking the robots to do this. Basically they are being asked to identify textual elements n patterns that replicate what their human trainers would do.

The second big fear was that the scoring systems could be gamed. Students could  use long sentences and big words but write gibberish. This does not concern me in the least. If you show me a student who is creative enough, and has the ability to say nothing while stringing together a massive vocabulary and complex sentences–well you are showing me a very talented writer.

Overall, automated systems will improve HST testings as it can include the assessment of more complex and open ended questions. However you feel about HST moving away from bubbles has to be a good thing? Right?

High stakes tests and accountability do not get at the practices used by good writers nor does it enage stduents in connected learning. I think the robots, however, can also help on this front.

Assessing the Stream

I recently had the pleasure of setting on in on  #ConnectedLearning Google+hangout panel with Paul Oh, of the National Writing Project, Ellen Middaugh,  Associate Director of the Civic Engagement Research Group at Mills College, and Howard Reinghold. We were commenting on the work of Anetero Garcia is doing wonderful things around agency and active involvement.

A question from the audience came up asking how do we bring in principles of connected and participatory learning in classrooms so focused on student achievement . While these two outcome do seem dichotomously opposed they do not have to be. And the robots can help.

The digitization of literacy creates a lot of data. Achievement folks love data. They salivate for it. Teachers can use this as a hook to demonstrate that participatory learning can lead to gains when you assess what Dan Hickey calls the residue of learning.

Basically, as Justing Reich pointed out in his third post, automated scoring systems can provide wonderful formative assessment data. This also involves assessing the growth over time and looking for gains more in the process and social practices of writing rather than a final product.

Imagine if an automated scoring system could look at drafts of an essay and analyze the amount of sourced material (already possible). You could take this further and what if blogs could be analyzed for their use of having a clear main idea, media, and supporting evidence. The analyzing the stream would allow you to look at discurse patterns in online discussion.

All of this can be used to inform your practice-the essence of formative assessment. The robots just make it quicker-the challenge of most formative assessments.

Replacing the Teacher

Does this mean the teacher isn’t necessary? Of course not. No one said this. All the humans are not gone. You will still conference with writers and set individual goals. That is the heart of what it means to work with young writers. The robots, not even a T-800, would could possibly complete such a feat.

The robots, when trained, can just find elements in a text that we want students to use. I do not think this is a bad thing.

Developing a Complex over Text Complexity?

One of the major shifts, and major misconceptions of the common core revolve around the idea of text complexity. This is a shift in mindsets around from choosing texts at an instructional level to choosing texts at a grade level.

Does this mean we need to throw out all of the research on comprehension instruction? No, by focusing on the specific texts, and not just the reader, make the work that has been done in the field of comprehension even more critical.

For example one of the major instructional tasks to address text complexity is to ensure that we are asking text dependent questions. You know the type of questions that require students to use the text to answer..No, not the first review question at the back of a chapter that requires students to find the first bold word in the chapter. A good text dependent question would require stduents to build an inference while using information from the text.

Teachers need to create an environment where students can see this kind of inferencing and discussion around a text going on. This will not be a simple task One area that I think can not be overlooked is the role of the gradual release of responsibility.

Luckily new tools are emerging that will allow us to define, model, faciliate, and participate in ways that support text complexity. My favorite, like many of you, is Evernote. 

Evernote and Text Complexity
Evernote is built for teachers to address text complexity without abandoning the research based practices for teaching comprehension.

Explicit Definition
First evernote allows students to import and annotate a PDF. Students can delve into these texts with a level of interaction that was not possible a decade ago. 
As a teacher you can use evernote to create visual aides to explain explicit defintions of text interactions during direct (but not always synchronous) instruction.

So if you want to assign a classic in your literature class you can go the GutenbergProject, download a Twain novel, save it as a pdf. 
You can then model with students how you answer text dependent questions by finding details in the text and then making an inference. 
Guided Practice
Evernote is not always useful for pdfs. Students  can also snapcapture, and annotate, websites. What text is more complex than those that students build while they are conducting an online inquiry? What text is full of more perspectives and bias than the websites around a contreversial issue? Students can discuss these texts with each other using shared notebooks.

Evernote will also teachers to vary their level of scaffolding for students that will need extra tools to mediate their understanding of a challenging texts. Using annotations and notes teachers can create a text with varying levels of support for students.

The students can then use their notes to answer text dependent questions you share with them using Evernote.


One of the major goals of classroom teachers when addressing text complexity is to create a classroom that celebrates and reinforces what good readers do in specific disciplines. Evernote will open new levels of participation. Using the shared notebooks students can annotate models, read complex texts together, and draw conclusions across multiple texts.
Independent Practice

Evernote is also a great tool for tracking student growth when dealing with text complexity. Teachers can track what students do across multiple time points. This will allow, for example, a teacher to watch how well a student’s inferential skills are developing. They may start by making no inferences and drawing solely on personal experiences. Next month the student may make an inference to a text dependant question using explicit information. Finally they may draw their own conclusion using implicit information.

Education is at a crossroad. Yet new standards and new technologies do not have to be on divergent paths. In fact our role as teachers must include showing how the most effective and efficient way to address the Common Core is through the use of Digital Texts and Tools.


flickr photo shared by Rudolf Getel under a Public Domain Dedication Creative Commons ( CC0 ) license


h3 class=”MsoNormal” style=”line-height: 200%; >Rosenblatt’s Transactional Theory

literary theory (1938/1995; 1978) diverges from the New Critical perspective that readers examine texts in order to extract “the meaning.” Rosenblatt states that during transactions with literary texts, readers draw on past and present literary and life experience to create meaning and posits that “'[t]he poem’ comes into being in the live circuit set up between the reader and ‘the text’” (1978, p. 14). Faced with traditional curricular and new highstakes testing requirements, today’s literacy educators are pressured by technology’s promise to expand the repertoire of students’ literacy experiences. At this juncture, Rosenblatt’s theory offers an important reminder thatregardless of, and perhaps even becauseof increased pressures, it is the role of the teacher to “fosterfruitful… transactions” (Rosenblatt, 1995, p. 26) between readers and allkinds of texts.  Transactional theory also highlights the active, recursive, and multifaceted nature of reading andresponse, creating a model of classroom reading that values students’ initial responses as a significant first step in meaning negotiation toward mature,
considered responses (1938/1995; 1978).

Transactional Theory and Technology

Bridging Rosenblatt’s theory with 21st-Century technologies, McEneaney (2003) explored hypertext as rooted in transactional theory, suggesting, “[a] transactionalview of text structure… requires us to reject the notion of structure as aproperty of text in the same way [the transactional] theory rejects the notion that meaning is a property of text” (p. 273). As students make meaning fromtoday’s variety of texts, they transact linearly, laterally, and
unsystematically— not only with words but also with infinite combinations of images, sounds, and videos (Kress, 2003). Thus, today’s teachers must not only help students respond to text but also must acknowledge that when students transact
with literary texts, they do more than establish a “live circuit”: they add new transistors and switches (McVerry, 2007).

Transactional Theory, Technology, and Poetry

To enrich the content and affect of the poetry classroom, technology may seem like an unwelcome stranger. Research has found, however, that “multimedia texts and multimodal composingmay actually shift classroom culture toward a more learner-centered paradigm” (Chandler-Olcott & Mahar, 2003, pp. 381-2).  Thus, with careful embrace, technology may create fertile classroom conditions; robust, dynamic new texts, contexts, and representations show promise to crack into marble of New Critical and five-paragraph essay monuments that historically mark reading and writing in English classrooms (Pirie, 1997). We propose that by responding to poetry through non-verbocentric activities and becoming authors of multimodal texts, students will not only explore and refine 21st-century skills, but also, by building contemporary live circuits, they may benefit from new understandings of poetry and a powerful means of self-expression.
Times are tough for recent graduates of education programs. Given the economic conditions of many school districts the labor pool has swelled with teachers who have many years of experience. These recently released recruits are quickly filling the ranks of the few  full-time positions and almost all of the long term substitute positions.

It is that last point that is most trubelsome to new graduates as that was often their first step into a full time position.

Recent graduates need to do more if they hope to succeed in this job market. One area that students need to pay particular interest to is their digital footprint.

Sure many education students are aware of the pitfalls of facebook. Some have gone on to replace their last names with their middle names or mastered the web of ever changing privacy settings. Yet it isn’t enough.

A negative footprint on the web will stand the time as a fossilized impression of your character. However those seeking employment must put even more effort in building a positive digital footprint.

A positive digital footprint is not a fossil. It is more a step  on the beach that ebbs with the tidal flow  Each day new waves of digital content can simply wash away your efforts.

It is simply not enough to vigilantly guard your online presence against images of high school and college shenanigans.

You can rest assure that multiple members of every hiring committee will Google your name. Yes, no bad news is good news, but why not use the web to your advantage? Why not use the Web to build an online presence that puts forward an image of a talented, caring and knowledgeable educator?

You want the committee to have you stand out in a pool of very talented teachers. Here are a few steps you can take (in no order of importance):

1. Create a Google+ Account

Keep Facebook for friends. I find it advantageous to utilize other social networks for professional development. I would think it is strategic to get involved in Google+ as the popular search engine might just favor their own social network in search algorithims.

Google+ is also a great place to find many wonderful educators. You can develop circles, a collection of people, based on different topics. More importantly you can share relevant education resources to your circles.
2.  Participate in Twitter

Twitter has quickly became one of my favorite professional development tools (supplanted now by Google+). Whether you use it to follow leaders in the field of education or to participate in many of the weekly educational chats it is a great place to make connections to other educators.

Twitter results do not show up as high in Google anymore as the two companies did not renew their real time search results agreement but a few retweeted or blogged about tweets can go a long way to solidifying your digital footprint.

3. Join Educational Social Networks

 Another strategy to improving your digital footprint is to join one of the many educational themed social networks. These are a great place to get new resurces and learn how to become a better teacher. The discussions, forums and groups are a wonderful tool for new teachers. As you become more involved some of your posts will begin to show up in Google seach results.

4. Create a Blog

Reflective teaching and learning are at the center of growing as an educator. By creating and posting to a blog you will not only grow as a teacher but you will improve your chances that something beyond local sports results will show up in Google when a hiring committee searches your name.

5. Create your own Website

While I stated earlier that these tips were listed in no order of importance I would stress the importance of creating your own website. Many education programs require students to submit a portfolio. Many students may still put together a binder of their lesson plans and reflections for search committees to ignore.

Instead you should create a website. There you can link to your other online spaces, thus increasing the chances of Google displaying the content you want when a member of a hiring committee enters your name as part of a keyword phrase.

On this website include examples of your lesson plan, a learning philosophy, and  interesting links.

Getting noticed online is tough. Especially if your name is common. If you plan on joining the job market soon I would take steps to ensure your positive digital footprint is not washed away for ever.

craftivism workshop at The Royal Standard arts collective

flickr photo shared by craftivist collective under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Many of us agree that we need to align our classroom activities with the digitally literate lives our students lead. Yet we still hear of many classroom simply focusing on technology integration.

Simply put this is a mistake. When we look at the shift from page to pixel in terms of technology integration rather than an ever shifting and dynamic text we create a horse race environment where technology never improves learning.

It’s like the old Orbitz commercial where a refund is delivered by hovercraft instead of mail.

Just because you have technology does not mean you need to use technology. Instead always ask yourself, “How do these emerging text enhance or inhibit my pedagogical goal?” Do not simply use a hovercraft because you have one.

Multimodal Poetry

One area that I have been working on for the past five or six years is to integrate digital texts and tools into my teaching of poetry. There is something rewarding about using the oldest genre of litertature with the newest forms of text.

I also think poetry, as a potter’s wheel of the soul, is a great place to shape ideas about design effecting meaning making. Each word, phrase, stanza, image, or metaphor continuously redesign meaning as a new audience stumbles upon the poem.   The rich words and guttural reaction to poetry allow for a conversations around topics such us color scheme, image placement, font, etc.

Finally I have too often seen poetry taught so poorly that generations of new writers may have never discovered their poems from within. We do not let students work with one poem over time, or to play with meanings. Instead the focus in on literary elements, i.e. find me a one poem with a metaphor, one poem with alliteration, etc.

The humanity is lost in the hunt for the mechanics

Celebrating Poet Laureates

It was decided then that at each year at NCTE we would submit a proposal to celebrate the work of a Unites State Poet Laureate through multimodal poetry so we could get away from what Billy Collins (our first featured poet) called teaching children, “To beat the meaning out a poem with a hose.”

In 2009 we highlighted Billy Collins by exploring new ways to respond and author poetry with images.

In 2010 we featured Kay Ryan and went through #Twitpoems and multimodal retellings with iMovie.

This year, in Chicago, we brought in the works of W. S. Merwin and connected to using poetry to make the world a better place. That is our definition of critical literacy-words in action to change or question the status quo for the greater good.

W. S. Merwin and Poetry for Change
W. S. Merwin is also an interesting choice as he has developed a natural suspicion to many things digital. We wanted to show that there is just as much poetry in the design choices students make as in the words they add or leave off the page.

Basically we read some Merwin poems as mentor texts. Next we took ideas from Probst and concentrated on converting prose to poetry. Students had to choose a social justice issue. Then we took he project into two separate directions.

One group of students completed an internet inquiry topic around their issue. They wrote a collaborative paragraph. Next they highlighted important words or phrases in the paragrpah and used those a basis for a poem. Students then, using Audacity and iMovie, created a multimodal version of their poem.

Another group of students went out into their world to find a social issue. They collected cell phone pictures to document the problem. They then searched for similar images online. Using search engines they connected back to the websites that hosted the images and “found” texts they wanted to use in their poems. They then used iMovie or MovieMaker Live to create the poem.

Moving Forward

Poetry has been a great avenue to explore multimodal design elements. We hope to continue our work at NCTE next year, or by simply sharing our work with other teachers. 

choose Target Areas for Growth based
on the District Wide Argumentative Writing Rubric. Setting specific
writing goals is an evidence-based strategy for improving writing.

I think the writing rubrics we give to kids over over bloated and useless. Seven criterion with 4 scales of quality do nothing for a kid. They may give us some summative data but they are useless for formative assessments that improve instruction.

So under TAG one student who struggles with organization may just choose to focus on the criterion on your rubric around organization and develop a TAG such as “use details to support a clear main idea.” Now through the revision process that student puts all their focus into that TAG.

Then when it is time to assess progress you can have the student highlight the areas in between drafts that address the TAG. This makes your assessment time more efficient and effective.

program recognizes that the best writing instruction requires a
collaborative environment for students to develop the skills and habits
of good writing. Therefore it utilizes research based best practices
involving feedback, modeling, and collaborative writing.

The TAG TEAM approach recognizes that a writing classroom requires a
classroom of writers. Collaborative pedagogical practices must be the
center of any curriculum.

the student level it requires the teacher and the writer to conference,
either f2f or virtually, to identify and asses Target Areas for Growth.

the group level students will meet to work with each other on editing
and revising and to assess their peers on their Target Areas for Growth.

the classroom level collaborative writing assignments will be used
throughout any unit of instruction and embed writing as a tool for

Evidence- The
TAG TEAM approach recognizes that evidence must  inform practice.
Students and teachers will draw from evidenced-based writing strategies
for planning, revising and editing compositions across disciplines.
Student growth is not simply assessed in the products of writing.
Instead the TAG TEAM approach also looks for growth in the feedback
students leave for peers, reflections students provide on their own
writing, and comments made during conferencing. 
The TAG TEAM approach recognizes that writing instruction must offer
opportunities for students to write their way into a discipline.
Therefore the learning activities must be driven not only by skills of
writing but also the unique content demands of different subject areas;
and the digital literary lives students lead. Students will use the TAG
TEAM approach to follow disciplinary specific writing processes. 
The TAG TEAM approach recognizes that models are a scientifically
research based method for improving writing. Therefore students will be
afforded the opportunity to analyze models of varying quality and to
evaluate annotated comments left by other students and teachers.