Stephanie J. West-Puckett

writing, teaching, studying digital writing and rhetorics

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Hanging Out (On Air), Messing Around, and Geeking Out

Being in the Hangout was an effortless way to connect.  It made the MOOC feel like a place where real people with real bodies and real voices could meet and connect.  They made me feel welcomed and supported– and that’s a critical part of collaborative inquiry and social learning.

Melissa Techman, School Librarian and CLMOOC Participant

One of the most exciting features of the Making Connected Learning Connected (#clmooc) experience has been the regular Google Hangouts On Air we’ve hosted during each Make Cycle.  As synchronous events broadcast live and archived on the NWP Make With Me blog page, these sessions provided an opportunity to share what we were working on during each week’s Make Cycle, invited participants into the larger conversation, and helped us dig deeper into the Connected Learning Principles that underpinned each week’s explosion of making and sharing.

A week or two before the Make Cycle began, lead facilitators would coordinate with the #clmooc team to choose an hour that would work across time zones and publicize the Hangout on Air in the weekly newsletter, on the G+ Community, and with the #clmooc hashtag on Twitter.  Depending on the theme of the conversation, facilitators would invite particular participants to join the hangout in advance and post the hangout link in the G+ Community for those who wanted to pop in last minute.

Unlike a Hangout generated from your G+ profile, hangouts you intend to broadcast and archive are generated from the Google Hangout on Air page.  After clicking the blue button, you are taken to a screen that asks you you to name your hangout, invite participants, and reminds you that your hangout will be streamed through both your YouTube and your G+ Account.  This means that anyone who has you in a G+ circle and anyone who subscribes to your YouTube channel can watch your hangout in real time.  To reach a wider audience, however, you can click on the embed link in the center screen, copy the embed code, and paste it in a public website as we did at the NWP Make with Me Blog page.  Once your hangout is done processing and you and your guests are ready to go live, you can click on the Start Broadcast Button.  For more on the technical aspects of hosting an On Air Hangout and using other social media tools, check out Joe Dillion’s fantastic guide.

screen shot hangout on air pageHangout Screenshot #2third screenshot of G+ hangout set up

embed and broadcast screenshot

During the broadcasts, viewers could watch live, converse in the chatroll–also available on the Make With Me page, and join the hangout to video chat with the group on air.  Just like regular hangouts, Hangouts On Air are limited to ten guests.  We decided ahead of time that if we had a good number of participants who wanted to join, one of the supporting facilitators would drop out to make space.  Often folks would join or drop out midstream, and facilitators pretty quickly learned the etiquette of pausing conversations to introduce new participants and bringing them up to speed if they weren’t already following along.

As you can imagine, Hangouts on Air can be frenetic.  With the multiple channels and modes of conversation that are happening simultaneously in the chatroll, backchannel conversations in Hangout chat, and the main frontchannel conversation being broadcast, we found it helpful to have facilitators take on different roles.  Typically, the lead facilitator would initiate the Hangout on Air and send the embed code to an NWP staff member who would plug that into the Make with Me Blog Page.  Lead facilitators would also host or invite other participants to host as we did in Week Five to start handing off responsibility and leadership opportunities to participants.   A supporting facilitator would monitor the chatroll and serve as a liaison, bringing questions and ideas from the chat to the Hangout.   We also tried to play with the insider/outsider perspective, a fishbowling of sorts, and had people in the chat who were deep into the week’s makes and Connected Learning principles along with an outsider who could prompt us to articulate and surface many of the threads we were picking up on from the Twitter chats and the Google + community.

In many ways, the On Air Hangouts, while procedurally formalized, provided space for informally hanging out, messing around, and geeking out, a practice that Mimi Ito describes as essential for building peer networks that drive learning.   And while hanging out “on air” was intimidating at first, over the course of the summer, I learned to be more comfortable showing up without a script, sharing ideas that are only half-baked, and using digital tools to facilitate conversation instead of delivering content.  This is the ethos of #clmooc, and Hangout on Air is one of the tools that helped us construct it.


Make. Share. Learn.

When NWP staff contacted me back in April to ask if I’d be interested in working to help create and facilitate the Making Learning Connected #clmooc, I blindly and enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity.  Over the last few weeks I collaborated in real time and in lag time with my fellow facilitators in calendars, hangouts, documents, dashboards, chats, and communities with NWP staff and #clmooc facilitators to make a vision and make a plan for this massively open online collaboration.

Y U No #clmooc meme

And still, two weeks into the #clmooc experience, I am finding myself simultaneously frustrated and amazed, fearful and confident, overwhelmed and invigorated– very similar to the way I felt in 2007 when I participated in Tar River Writing Project‘s inaugural summer institute. With such an amazingly capable and brilliant group of people thinking in such deep and sophisticated ways about learning and design, people who could have made this whole #clmooc thing completely perfect without me, I keep wondering about the ways I can contribute.  I keep asking, “Why am I here?”

Wednesday night, I felt all of these conflicting emotions most poignantly when I hit the “end broadcast” button on our Make With Me On Air Google Hangout for Make Cycle 2.  I had never hosted a live video conversation from my dining room, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  While #clmooc co-facilitator Terry Elliot regularly reminds us to “do one impossible thing every day”, I am much better at doing one impossibly stupid thing every day.  I just hoped it wouldn’t be on air.

By the way, if you didn’t join us live, you can watch it here.  Impossible or impossibly stupid? Don’t worry. No spoilers.

What I can tell you, though, is that our conversation helped me to see the connections between the practice of toy hacking and the possibilities inherent in Connected Learning— particularly the ways that making, sharing, and connecting across generations, across time, and across spaces can support learning and build healthier, more equitable communities.  I want to return to some of these ideas that we surfaced and string them out here in words and sentences, as that’s one way that I find I can hold onto and make sense of the beautiful chaos of semi-structured conversation.

For most of us, playing with toys is a shared childhood experience.  Toys, even the most basic kind we see in this wonderful TED talk shared by Michael Buist on the #clmooc G+ community, are accessible and tactile. Toys speak to our need for joy, our desire to play and our capacity to make believe.  As objects, they hold stories and possibilities, and as tools, they help us unlock our imaginations and identities.  As Sandra Cisneros writes in her short story “Eleven, ”  we are not just 28 or 38 or 58 or 78 years old, we are also 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and all the numbers between ten and your current age.  Toys help us make those connections, to connect our old selves with our new selves, and when we hack them, we learn to re-see, to re-design, to-remake ourselves and our world.

Through toy hacking, we can make worlds where ponies and dinosaurs engage in civil conversations about diversity and gender stereotypes.  We can make our favorite books spring to life as images and stories pop off the page and into our lives, shaping our beliefs, our values, and our actions, creating civic-minded fandoms like The Harry Potter Alliance and Bronies.   We can cover the world in chalkboard paint and rewrite the code of our existence, and we can live in a world where pigs fly and meaning crosses platforms and media from objects to memes and back again.

And as Chad Sansing reminded us while he furiously hacked an homage to Adventure Time, toys are a great place to start developing  a hacker identity and a maker-centered ethos.  Toys are made to be played with, and as kids, we quite naturally push their limits, break them, take them apart, and intervene in their workings to see what makes them tick.  If we can develop our capacity to tinker and hack in small, accessible low-stakes systems, like toys, and if we can develop our capacity to leverage the collective intelligence of our networks to solve problems like how to make Storm Trooper puppy drop its R2D2 bone, then we can grow into humans who can think through larger social, political, environmental, and governmental systems.  Through toy hacking, we can develop our individual and collective agency to change and build new systems that recognize every person’s need to contribute.

Wordfoto storm trooper toy hack

WordFoto by Ashley Hutchinson

Often in our conversations about school (system) reform, we hear words like “standards,” “rigor”, “college and career-readiness,” words that make a language that privileges rules over relationships.  Our conversation last night and the larger conversations about connected learning and the #clmooc have a much different texture.  The words we are using here– playing, sharing, experimenting, trying, listening, contributing, inspiring, loving, exciting, interesting, building, making, connecting, understanding– are more human, more humane.  And while I’m generally pretty slow to come to these things,  I think I’ve figured out a good and smart answer to that pervasive question about my role and purpose in the #clmooc community, that philosophical preoccupation that plagues our kind and makes us ask, “Why am I here?”

I am here to learn.

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If It’s On the Web, I Can Use It, Right?

For the past three years, my students at ECU have created digital stories to remediate the standard narrative assignment for First Year Composition.  They are encouraged to work at the intersection of images, sound (including a voice over), and alphabetic text to create a multi-modal composition that matters– to others and to themselves–and to share it broadly through social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Students often report this is one of the most powerful writing experiences they’ve had as they grapple with so many choices– both rhetorical and technological.  In this project, they are called to learn new software tools such as Audacity, PicNic, iMovie and MovieMaker or to repurpose those technologies for an academic project.  They are called to think through visual rhetorics of color and placement, typeface and size, cropping and panning; sonic rhetorics of volume and tempo, pitch and chords; narrative rhetorics of character and plot, scene and motif.  They are called to think of themselves as digital writers with all the rights and responsibilities imbued thereunto.

One such digital writing responsibility that is repeatedly repudiated is that of abiding by the laws of copyright.  While we read about copyright, discuss relevant provisions in class, and examine scenarios, students have grown quite comfortable breaking these laws as there has been little consequence for them in doing so.  And as a teacher, I don’t have time to join the copyright police, but with real audiences on the World Wide Web, I often don’t have to.

Every semester, as I review digital story drafts, I ask, “Is that photo yours? Do you have permission to use it?  How much did you sample that song?  It plays for a while… You did calculate your fair use, right?”

“Yes, Ms. West-Puckett,” I hear, and I nod my head.

Then the deadline rolls around and zombified students walk into my class.  They underestimate the time it takes to render a video and have it upload and prepare, but they are proud of what they’ve composed.  “OMG.  That was so much work,”  they say, “I want you to see it!” So we prepare the big screen for a director’s cut screening.  “You’re going to love that new Taylor Swift song I added in the intro,” they whisper to their classmates.

Then comes the ultimate blow.  They stare incredulously into a black          screen.  Sad face.  Copyright infringed.  Late Assignment.

“What did I do wrong, Ms. West-Puckett?”  the students ask. Frustrated, they start to panic. “How do I fix it?  Am I going to fail?”

Then we start the real work of all writing tasks, digital or analogue– revision.  We look back through the raw file and analyze the what, where, when, and why of copyright infringement.  Much like justifications for plagiarism, students a) don’t think anyone will really notice if you used 38 instead of 28 seconds of that rocking song, b)meant to go back and find another picture with a creative commons designation but ran out of time, c) believed one of the common myths about copyright such as “if there’s no sign, it’s all mine”, etc., etc.

The links below are some of my go-to resources for working with First Year College students to explore these issues and help them become savvy digital composers and sensible digital citizens.  From interactive flash tutorials with elementary graphics to the definitive US Library of Congress Site, these sources provide useful guides for students and teachers wondering how to navigate the rights and responsibilities of digital writing.  Use them. And be prepared to re-use them when students are working to untangle the natural consequences of working in spaces where all of us are basic writers.

Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum for Grades 9-12

Share and Protect Your Work with Creative Commons licensing

CyberBee:  Copyright Questions Answered in an Interactive Flash Video

10 Myths About Copyright Explained

US Copyright Office

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Contingency As Possibility

Considering the Contributions of Off-Track and Off-Model Work in Composition

As a fixed-term faculty member teaching writing and taking classes in the Technical and Professional Discourse PhD program in our department, I am mindful of the in-betweeness and liminal nature of my work and my research in composition.  My history and my title situates me as a contingent faculty member but my study in the PhD program and emerging understanding of the field of composition as a discipline is, for me, calling into question the narratives that define the field.  Thus, I’ve become interested in situating contingent faculty narratives about the work we do and the ways that work is valued and de-valued in our department and in our university.

Because of increasing first-year student enrollment and unfilled tenure lines, my colleague and co-resarcher Jenn Sisk and I have been employed by the same university, teaching writing for a combined 15 years, which seems more of a surety than a provisionality.  In this context, it seems more appropriate to explore other definitions of contingency that speak not only to the notion of chance—an event that may occur but is not likely or intended– but also to possibility.  Contingency as possibility enables us to consider the unique or invisible contributions that non-tenure track, adjunct, and part-time faculty can and do make to the field.  In seeking to document and understand these constructions of professionalism, we think that our work could chart new territory on Zebroski’s map, spaces for acknowledging the work that is being done by contingent faculty, and could offer additional possibilities for contingent faculty who are seeking a way of connecting or re-connecting with their colleagues.

We are excited to share our project with you and look forward to your feedback.  As you think with us about our research, what comments, questions, or suggestions do you have?  What should we be thinking about or considering?  What surprises, bothers, frustrates, or excites you about this work?  Please take a few minutes to tell us what you think!  Contingency as Possibility Slideshow

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Writing Across the Curriculum on Digital Learning Day

Digital Learning Day

Elbow’s article doesn’t offer us much in terms of teaching writing with digital tools, but we can forgive him (just this once) since he wrote “Writing for Learning– Not Just for Demonstrating Learning”  in the mid 90’s, several years before the proliferation of Web 2.0 tools and participatory digital environments like blogs, microblogs, wikis, and social networks.  But since today has been deemed the Inaugural Day on Digital Learning, we’d like to fast-forward Elbow’s cassette tape and play with some newer technologies for writing and responding to student writing.

To quote Elbow (badly), the key to good writing is the breathing of experience into word.  Digital writing environments can help us breathe new experiences into words–and remix words with sounds and images to create multi-sensory texts–compositions that speak to our digitally mediated experiences.  In celebration of empowering students and teachers to use technology to make meaning in the world (and, of course, in the disciplines and across the curriculum) we invite you to  play with us in these spaces and think about how we we might include them as rich grounds to grow a writing-to-learn pedagogy in our classrooms.

Warning: Today’s reading discussion will include no full-group spoken discussion.  Awkward, right?  Not for many of your students.

Backchannelling with Today’s Meet:  Hyperlocal chatroom and digital conversation archive (10m)

WAC Backchannel

Daybook Flashwrite (5m)

In your daybook, describe the kinds of writing you assign in your classes.

Daybook Coding (5m)

According to Elbow (who is really good at this himself), we should teach students to have a conversation with themselves about their learning.  Having students re-read and work with their daybook writing can promote that kind of reflexivity.  So try this.  For the last prompt, use two different colored markers to distinguish between the kinds of writing you assign: Writing-to-Learn and Writing-to-Demonstrate.  What’s the ratio of Writing-to-Learn to Writing-to-Demonstrate?  Are some assignments blended or outside of those categories?  What are you trying to get students to do in those assignments?

Private Writing  (1m)

Elbow says we don’t need to read everything that we assign.  In fact, students might not want an audience for some of their messy thinking.  Fold the page you were working on in your daybook in half length-wise, a.k.a. hot dog fold.  Mark it “Private”.  Done.

Pair-Share Thank-You (5m)

Students need to become more comfortable sharing in-progress writing and messy ideas.  Early feedback is a crucial negotiation between writer and audience.  Trade daybooks with someone near you.  Read their flashwrite and coding notes.  When done, you may make a brief comment about what you liked or ask a clarifying question.  Most importantly, say thank you. Return your partner’s daybook.

Pair-Share Responses (5m) 

Now trade daybooks with someone else.  Read their flashwrite and coding notes.  Write a real-reader response under that flashwrite.  What surprised you, intrigued you or bothered you?  Why?  What should the writer think about?  When done, hand back your partner’s daybook.  If time allows, continue the written dialogue or use the written responses to initiate spoken conversation.

Electronic Sharing and Response with Voicethread (20 m)

Separate into two groups and gather around the Mac Airs.  One group will read Alethia’s flashwrite that has been uploaded to Voicethread and comment with typed text or recorded voice.  The other group will watch Stephanie’s video that has been uploaded to Voicethread and comment with typed text or recorded voice.  Again, what surprises you, intrigues you, or bothers you about Alethia or Stephanie’s response?  What do you resonate with or react against?

Stephanie’s Response

Alethia’s Response

Exit Slips (5m)

Teaching and Learning Resources

National Writing Project’s Digital Is

Troy Hick’s Digital Writing, Digital Teaching Blog

Digital Media and Learning: The Power of Participation

Today’s Meet


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Wicked Problems, Indeed

Click here for your ticket to the Slide Show

As a Tar River Writing Project Professional Development Facilitator, I was asked to do a workshop about reflective writing for high school graphic arts teachers at the Printing Industry of the Carolinas Fall Conference in Kiowah Island, SC this weekend.  In my first-year composition classes, I’ve been using Wycoki’s Compose, Design, Advocate text and working with idea of writing as design while thinking about recent scholarship in college composition that redefines “writing” or “composition” as a social process that integrates alphabetic, visual and oral modes to communicate effectively with an audience.  This writing-as-design concept metaphor will, I think, be a useful way for this image-oriented audience of graphic designers and graphic design teachers to think about multi-modal communication practices.

What was interesting to me in my own process of articulating this metaphor and integrating research-based approaches to the teaching of writing with a more recent turn to design in composition studies (Marback, 2009) is the way my thinking changed and restructured it as I moved from a page layout Word Document to the big screen SlideRocket platform that I used to create the presentation.

Much of the original content that I included in the Word Document did get remediated into the slide show,  although in a different order, but the SlideRocket interface pushed my thinking beyond just the explication of the design metaphor and the sharing of a teaching strategy to encourage metacognition and reflective writing.  With the linear progression of slides, I started to think more chronologically about how the Designer’s Memo is sequenced to support other writing scaffolds that result in the eventual production of student portfolios for course evaluation.

In my conceptualization of this presentation and the early writing that I’ll include here below, I had planned only to briefly mention Design Plans and E-Portfolio Cover Letters, but the a-contextualization of the Designer’s Memo seemed odd when translated into the slideshow medium, so I fleshed out the other strategies I use to scaffold student awareness of process and products, making what I hope is a more useful presentation for teachers who might try these instructional approaches in their classrooms.

What is more strikingly obvious in the slideshow is a scarcity of visuals and voice.  With the exception of images of student design work, there are no visual appeals as I had real difficulty using the image and drawing tools available in the Sliderocket program.  Even adding basic shapes to create graphic organizers was problematic as I could not effectively manipulate their placement and didn’t have the time to really learn the visual tools before producing this text-heavy communication that is required of me by Saturday.  And neither did I bother to include a voice-over narration since I’ll be performing the content live– with embodied voice and gesture; however, I am thinking of recording my presentation and splicing in audio and perhaps video for web-delivery– yet another remediation meant to satisfy broader audiences and contexts.

But despite my argument for integrated communication modalities, my audience of graphically-minded teachers will clearly see that I am more proficient with words than I am with visuals and these exigencies do indeed produce “wicked design problems” (Rittel, as qtd. in Marbeck).   I just hope I can pull off a good delivery in the room– two out of three won’t be half bad.

Word Document Write-Up

In recent years, the field of composition or writing studies has moved toward a design approach that recognizes writing as designing.  Much like the architectural designer conceives a material structure that both draws on her own complicated values (environmentalism, minimalism, structuralism, regionalism etc.) and meets the complicated, sometimes contradictory needs of the client, the writer/designer shapes texts to communicate with an audience and meet human needs.

And since writer/designers are working to meet human needs—a job that is never efficient, easy or straightforward– they writer/designer has to make the best decisions at a fixed point in time to produce an effective communication.  Design Theorist Horst WJ Rittl described this messy complicated process as a “wicked problem” because a single process can never produce a perfect solution given the multiplicity of audiences, purposes, and contexts that call one to produce a design (Marback, 2009).

And while producing effective texts is difficult enough when the methods are unimodal, meaning a message is only being communicated in one mode, such as alphabetic text, this “wicked problem” is compounded when writers/designers use multiple modes of communication such as written, visual and oral modes—employing images (moving and still), color, voice, gesture, font, document design, and music to persuade an audience.  With the proliferation of digital tools for writing and designing that enable multimodal texts, writer/designers have to develop even more refined metacognitive strategies that allow them to control both the process of design and the products of that process.

Role of Metacognition in Design

To pose effective solutions to these “wicked problems in design, writer/designers have to have both process knowledge and product knowledge.  Process knowledge includes the ability to set goals, evaluate one’s own progress toward a goal, and the ability to adjust one’s process when it is not working toward the desired end.   Product knowledge means having an awareness of design types, their structures and their organizations.   Experienced writer/designers have learned to scan both their memories and their physical environment for the raw material of their compositions, keep both purpose and audience in mind, draw from a repertoire of strategies/ styles, choose arrangements (layouts) that meet audience needs, and work in a medium (webpage, poster, essay, brochure, Flash animation, etc.) that is appropriate for the writer/designer’s purpose, audience and context (Sitko, 1998).

As teachers, we can foster the cognitive development of our students and help them develop metacognitive strategies that transfer to multiple design contexts.  And while an expert orator who can control her voice, inflection, body language and gestures in an oral delivery may not work as effortlessly when communicating in visual modes, having more difficulty in arranging type, choosing effective typefaces, and selecting color with intentionality, we can employ strategic instruction to help student writer/designers set goals, translate ideas into products, and reduce cognitive overload when working through these messy problems of design (Sitko, 1998).

Designer’s Memo

The Designer’s Memo (adapted from Sommer’s Teacher-Student Memo, 1998)  is one strategic intervention that helps students gain control over design process and design product and develop metacognitive awareness through guided reflection.   A useful scaffold that can provide raw material for a more comprehensive portfolio or e-portfolio cover letter, a rational for the Designer’s Memo includes:

  1. Prompts the designer to reflect on her processes of composition and consider the flexibility of those processes
  2. Encourages the designer’s sense of agency (control) and responsibility for her design
  3. Engages the designer in soliciting the kinds of feedback that they desire from an audience and negotiate meaning with the audience
  4. Requires the designer to critically read and evaluate her own work—noting both the strengths and weaknesses in the design product  (Broad, 2010)

The Designer’s Memo is typically written in later in the process but before a designer submits his or her work for response.  In the classroom, this can be a peer audience and/or a teacher audience; however, the memo questions assume a collaborative design process–that the designer has already received some feedback and talked to others about the work, possibly even the receiver of the memo, before she writes the memo.

As an in-the-moment snapshot of a process and product, the Designer’s Memos can be a useful tool in fixing the particular problems, successes, and questions a designer is addressing as well as an early evaluative response to a product in process.  While portfolio cover letters can trace the larger narrative of the students’ growth and development as a designer and a student of design, the Designer’s Memos will be snapshots or scenes that the writer can splice together, edit and use to produce the larger story of the portfolio cover letter.

Designer’s Memo Prompt

Use the standard memo headings: To, From, Date, Re

Paragraph #1: Trace the evolution of this design project. When did you decide on this approach to the design problem? What other approaches did you reject in favor of this one? How did your approach evolve from what you knew at first to what you know now? Is there something else the audience should know or consider before reviewing your design?

Paragraph #2: Discuss the specific changes or revisions you’ve made to the design. What suggestions did you get? From whom? Which did you choose to use? Why? Which did you reject? Why? Where in the project did you make these changes? What effects do these choices have on your project/your audience? Why? Be specific about who helped you and what the reviewers suggested!

Paragraph #3:  What specific skills and technical knowledge did you develop while working on this design?  What prior knowledge did you use in the design process?  Where in the design can the reviewer best see evidence of that skill?  What skills and technical issues are you still struggling with?

Paragraph #4:  Come up with at least two or three questions that you really want answered about this design.  Ask for the help you want.  Don’t be afraid to ask your reviewers hard questions as they will are practicing critical reading/reviewing skills as well.


Composing the White House

LtoR: Stephanie West-Puckett, Will Banks, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

A big thank you to our friends at Wellstone Action! for inviting us to the White House to talk about education, literacy innovation, and achievement and a special recognition of the Thomas Hariott College of Arts and Sciences at East Carolina University who funded our work.  Dr. Will Banks, Writing Program Director at ECU, and I, along with other representatives from both the Council of Writing Program Administrators and the National Writing Project, met in the East Wing this past Friday, October 7 during the Community Leader’s Briefing Series, listening to the administration’s education priorities and talking about our own work with writing, literacy and professional development in Eastern NC and across the country.

The White House Community Leader’s Briefing Series, an outreach of the Office of Public Engagement, brings local leaders to Washington to learn about the president’s agenda and speak with senior White House staff about how the administration’s initiatives and policies affect our work and our communities, and in this case, our teaching and our schools.  Morning presentations in the Eisnehower Executive Office Building included economic updates, schilling for the American Jobs Act, and an overview of administration initiatives such as Joining Forces, a program that provides additional support to military families and Let’s Move, Mrs. Obama’s campaign to prioritize exercise and provide healthy, fresh food in low-income neighborhoods and communities.  In addition, we were encouraged to review the website and submit profiles of our work to Champions of Change, a campaign that spotlights community leaders and innovative projects that “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”

During the afternoon breakout session, our groups met with Department of Education (DOE) policy advisors to discuss the administration’s education policy, specifically the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Assessment, and state waivers which allow for more local control in school transformation and reform, and Sponsoring Effective Educator Development (SEED) grants that congress has set aside out of Title II funds for teacher training and development.

Linder Adler-Kassner, Past President of the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), applauded the inclusion of writing in the CCSS, considering that the previous administration’s No Child Left Behind focused on reading instruction at the expense of writing instruction.  Linda, however, went on to critique the narrow bands of writing that are prescribed by the CCSS, saying that drilling students for twelve years on the three modes–argument, description, and exposition—does little to prepare them for college and career writing readiness.   Fifty years of writing research, she and WPA Vice-President Rita Malenczyk argued, shows us that good writers are flexible.  They can perform in different writing situations—writing for different audiences and for different purposes—and possess habits of mind that are explicated in the newly released CWPA Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing, which we shared with DOE officials.

We asked Karen Cruz and the other DOE representatives why writing teachers, writing scholars, and organizations such as CWPA and NWP were not invited to the table to give input in the drafting CCSS for writing.  She answered by noting that CCSS is a federated approach to curriculum reform and that our groups should move forward by reaching out to the assessment consortia (Smarter Balance and PARCC) as well as state-level education departments to create sustainable partnerships between writing teachers, writing scholars, and those whose work will define the implementation of CCSS.

Obama’s education policy advisors lauded the administration’s investment in the $86 million initiative, College Pathways and Accelerated Learning, that expands Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and dual/early enrollment programs which drew sharp criticism in the room as Writing Program Administrators including Dr. Kelly Ritter from University of North Carolina at Greensboro pointed out that these programs encourage a hurried approach to reading and writing instruction with the goals of memorization and completion as opposed to engagement and metacognitive reflection on writing and learning.  Advanced Placement course work and assessment, CWPA members argued, does little to develop effective writers as those programs have little basis in research-based practice and little or no input from writing teachers and scholars in the field.  Dr. Will Banks also pointed out that we need to support good reading and writing practices not merely for the “talented 10th” who are served by these programs but for the ever-growing numbers of students from rural, first-generation, and under-represented groups who now, more than ever, need access to higher education.

Leaders at the table discussed the imperative for higher education faculty to get more involved in K-12 education reform and discussed creating spaces and coalitions for articulating a vertical writing curriculum that would foster career and college-ready writing instruction.  Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Programs Director for the National Writing Project, reminded folks that this cross-pollination is already occurring throughout the NWP network as K-16 faculty are engaged in collaborative professional development experiences such as Invitational Summer Institutes and school embedded professional development programs.  She applauded the congressional set-aside of SEED funding that will enable NWP to continue some of this work, despite losing its federal funding when its status as an authorized program was misconstrued as an earmark, and underscored the significance of assessment in these discussions.  Machine-scoring of writing, she noted, is both efficient and cost-effective; however, the value of writing and making meaning with real audiences is undercut when machines focus on surface-level correctness as opposed to knowledge-making, learning, and communicating in authentic contexts.

Our trip was successful in that we were able to share our research, talk about our work, and highlight the role that teacher and research-based networks like the National Writing Project and the Council of Writing Program Administrators can play in reshaping both local and national responses to literacy innovation and achievement.  In addition, we were able to network with other organizations and to brainstorm ways to bring federal dollars to North Carolina to support reading and writing and address the particular concerns of students and teachers in the Tar Heel State.  As our University’s slogan touts, Tomorrow starts here– but it doesn’t start without vision and leadership.  There are many organizations, small and large, that will join this sort of work and we know that with the right leadership we can locate those donors. The same is true for the connections we need to make among our universities, our K-12 schools and our community colleges.