Heading to GLS

It’s August and I wonder where the summer went. gls_logoBut I’m excited that it’s time for GLS — the annual Games, Learning, and Society conference at UW-Madison. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends, meeting new people, and learning about what games everyone’s playing and how they’re planning to incorporate Pokemon Go into various learning spaces. I’m especially looking forward to talking with as many teachers as I can. Bringing digital media and DIY sensibilities into classrooms in meaningful ways can be tough, particularly for K-12 teachers who work under intense assessment regimes, and I want to be able to share recent work with my teacher-candidate students.

So: especially if you’re a teacher who is thinking in similar ways, please come join me, Debbie Fields, and Jayne Lammers for our workshop session “Designing for DIY: Presenting Tensions, Lessons, and Questions to Guide Innovative Learning Environments.” Here’s the session link for more info. We’re planning to share experiences from our own efforts to bring various digital media explorations into our classes. We’d love to hear about yours, and we want to think about how we might consolidate these experiences into larger principles, research questions, or agendas. Join us!

Coding for English Teachers


My students learning to use hex tables to create color on the web.
My students learning to use hex tables to create color on the web. They did it!

When you’re building research in digital literacies, it often is very useful to be married to a coder. Chris often helps me think about the perspective of someone who works in the industry and whether what I’m thinking about teaching might actually be useful for students — either immediately or at some point in the future.

Recently, he came in to help me teach my students about coding. All of the folks in this class are English teachers, reading and writing specialists, or headed into pre-service English teaching internships. To say the least, many of them were highly skeptical. They weren’t sure whether they could code, first of all, or whether they wanted to learn. What relevance does code have to teaching reading and writing?Read More »

Shakespeare (A coding exercise)

Below you will find the text of the Shakespeare fan page that Chris made to push my teaching students into learning some HTML and CSS mark-up by compelling them into making some deeply necessary edits. English major humor ahead! I’m leaving it here for posterity, though you should be deeply saddened to know that you’re missing the original, eye-searing aqua-and-yellow color scheme.

The cover image is a Wikimedia Commons image of the “Flower Portrait” of Shakespeare.

Here goes…


“Flower portrait” of Shakespeare.

O HAI you guys! I made this web page so that every one would know that I am William Shakespeare’s #1 fanboy. He wrote lots of plays and poems and stuff. Here is his wikipedia page if you want to read more stuff about him. HE IS THE GREATEST EVAR!

My favorite play is called Merchant of Venezuela. It is about two young people who fall in love even though they come from different sides of the tracks. The both have twins and when the four of them go camping in the woods one night fairies come and turn one of them into a horse or something. But that’s ok because they’re all on an island where a sorcerer lives (he used to be a king but when he tried to divide up his kingdom his kids kicked him out). So in the end there’s this HUUGE sword battle where everybody dies because one of the swords is poisonous and the other is really really pointy. It is SO COOL.

#walkmyworld: Googlemaps Biography

As a part of my School University Dialogues research project, I’ve been visiting high school and college writing classrooms. I spent some time with my UNH colleague Leah Williams yesterday. She’s a creative writer, primarily, and has done some amazing things as far as developing techniques for teaching students about multimodal writing and digital composition. I sat with her students, who were writing stories about first jobs and summer camps, landmarks and realizations.

They were working on Googlemaps biographies —using maps to chart their narratives through physical locations — which seemed like a lovely way to think about this week’s #walkmyworld theme, our Journeys.

So, I tried it. I didn’t include full stories or original photos for every location I’ve lived, but I enjoyed combining the map, my own stories, and images that I’ve made and saved over the years. This snapshots-like technique appeals to the poet who still lurks inside of me (and is a little afraid of long-form personal writing).


Here’s a link to my Googlemaps essay. You can’t see much in this tiny screenshot.

#walkmyworld: Mirrors and Reflections

Hello for the first time in awhile, #walkmyworld folks! We in English 789 have been blazing a bit of a parallel trail, working around our larger research projects, Spring Break for the students, and digging into digital poems. Because few of us have worked with digital texts in deep ways before, I thought it might be a nice way to stick a bit more closely to text at first before composing on our own. We started with several poems broadly about reflections of self, inspired by Ian O’Byrne‘s suggestions for Mirror week:

Two Fusiliers, by Robert Graves
Narcissus, by Alice Oswald
The Shape of Saying, by Mary O’Malley
I Go Back to May 1937, by Sharon Olds

We broke up into groups and started by annotating these poems in Googledocs, marking them up, making sense of them, and thinking about how we might use visual or audio components to help us “see” these powerful words and images in new ways. Shawna Coppola and I worked together on O’Malley’s Shape of Saying, which is about language, identity, and the marginalization of the Irish language under British rule . We spend a lot of time thinking about the sounds of the poem (for instance, listening to Irish speakers), trying to think about how we might represent the sound of a language visually, how language reflect selves and cultures. One person in the linked video talks about “the thought process in Irish” and how it’s distinct.Read More »

#walkmyworld: Identity

For this past week’s #walkmyworld, I spent a long time thinking about various possibilities and events for sharing. I’ve been many different people over the course of becoming the professor I am today, but I’ve thought of myself as a teacher for many years. My first teaching gig was as a teenager, when I taught horseback riding. When I abandoned my original graduate school plans to study education policy — by writing an undergrad thesis, I had learned exactly how much I disliked reading and writing that kind of research — I went with something that felt plausible, comfortable, familiar. I decided to become an English teacher.

harvest-manipIt sounds too easy when I tell the story like that, though.

One thing I’ve found is that there’s very few people have easy, straightforward career stories. In the midst of this unrelenting winter, my methods students have been interviewing for their full-year certification internships. As they jump into planning their own careers as teachers, I can see the tension rising. They’re seniors, soon to be graduate students, and they want to know that their plans will resolve into solidity, too, eventually. So, I’ve been trying to talk through my own life more often. It’s complicated, even in hindsight, and I have to laugh at myself.Read More »

Reading Aloud

At first, I thought that this article from Education Week about reading aloud was interesting on its own. Classrooms full of adolescents are often quiet places with students reading silently or writing essays, working on their own. When I taught fifth grade, I was encouraged by administrators to include at least half an hour of SSR – sustained silent reading – in the curriculum each day, and to have students present their books to the rest of the class. All of this did and does strike me as very reasonable, good for reading and writing development (good writers are readers and vice versa), and occasionally, a heck of a lot of fun. When it came time for the quarterly round of presentations, though, I remember initially being surprised by how many students complained about doing soooo much work right at the end. When you are reporting on a book, isn’t most of the work in the reading?

At the time, I don’t know if I ever consciously realized what my literacy learning classes – and now this article – have made me consider: What if reading silently, pulling meaning from text, and being interested enough to want to pull meaning from text are very different skills and habits of mind? Many students, especially the ones who profess to dislike school or who would rather be found anywhere but curled into a corner with a book, need to be taught how to do each of those things. I wonder now if some of my fifth graders read fluently without thinking about their broader understanding of an extended text enough to boil “why it’s interesting” or “what I liked / didn’t like about it” to someone else – and thus, had trouble presenting even book choices that they enjoyed.

Love of reading, or even willingness to engage in reading, is something that we all must learn. And it seems to me that is where reading aloud to students, perhaps especially to adolescents, could make a significant difference.

“If the only thing a teacher shares is from a textbook, how are you going to get students excited about reading?” – Jim Trelease, quoted in the article.

A hypothesis: Reading fiction aloud allows the classroom to grow past its walls and common practices and textbooks. Reading historical texts aloud reminds students and teachers that history grows from real people and their experiences, not just facts and happenings that we read and memorize later. Reading scientific and mathematical texts aloud pushes the curriculum past the facts and algorithms into the application, the engineering, the “why are we learning this” that is so easy to gloss when you’ve got a unit to get through before testing begins.

Hearing a text read can help draw listeners into its world and potentially draw interest in a certain character, or puzzle, or problem, or scene – maybe enough interest to create motivation to continue and find out what happens next, or to pick up a similar book, or to learn more about a certain technology or time period. Bruner (1996, in The Culture of Education) suggests that we live and understand through narrative and story, which is part of why we are so often compelled by these little snippets of other people’s lives. Students learn technologies, and they see and hear fantastical and realistic epic stories in videogames and movies, and they record the smaller histories of their own lives in journals and notes and facebook statuses and myspace photos. They are interested in story, even if they are not interested in books.

Reading silently emphasizes the reading and the silence – the decoding, translation, and sustained concentration – absolutely vital skills, particularly for school success. I’m not suggesting that any of that is expendable. But adding in some reading aloud emphasizes the stories, and perhaps that reminds us all of why we are getting educated in the first place.

Image Credit: CC image from Wikimedia “Volunteer reads to a girl at the Casa Hogar de las Niñas in Mexico City.” Original here.

Testing: Way Back

Bascom_Hall_at_duskI originally started this blog as a test platform for Teaching and Learning Insights, a web-magazine that I began along with Sandra Courter as a part of a UW–Madison College of Engineering 2010 project. During the time of the 2010 grants, several Engineering departments investigated ways to encourage student retention, particularly among women and students of color, groups that were (and are) generally under-represented in the field of Engineering. The College hired a few graduate students from Education (including me) to help think about pedagogy, and so I spent a year talking with the Engineering faculty about their teaching practices. TLI was intended to communicate both strategies and supporting research related to teaching and learning in college engineering classrooms and it was distributed to all faculty, instructional staff, and students.

I eventually decided to hand-code the template for TLI during the 2007-2008 academic year, and I interviewed many engineering professors in order to write its various articles.

Image credit: CC Wikimedia picture of UW-Madison’s Bascom hall. Original photo (and quite a lot of history of the university) can be found here.