Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Crave New World

I was going to write “Brave New Tools,” but I liked the word crave. In my previous blog post, I wrote about “ravenous learners” and bringing joy and engagement back to the classroom. Getting students to crave learning in the 21st Century is a feat, a utopia, an aspiration to work toward.

But I digress, a little - to December 8, 1963.

On this date, Laura Huxley, the grieving widow of Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, sent a letter to his older brother Julian, which you can read here. It paints a poignant and touching picture of a man who may have been dismissed by history as an addict who had a couple of moments of clarity, but in reality was a thoughtful and genuinely creative human.

The website that houses this letter is a recent find called “Letters of Note.” The creator of the website describes it as an attempt to gather interesting correspondence, most notably from famous folk. The moment I started reading the blog (which I now subscribe to), I had two thoughts: For one, how awesome would this be in instruction? It has several layers to uncover, opportunities for writing ideas, and opportunities to respond to what’s been written. The second thought was about my own response. I was genuinely touched by the Huxley letter, and immediately started thinking of Brave New World through a new lens of revelations about the author. My brain automatically started making connections. Those connections are what the 21st Century Student needs to be able to do, all within the context of specific skills that will create college and career ready students, not read a book, answer some questions, and watch the movie.

I started thinking about the complexity of the multiple types of text that this particular blog curates, and the informational nature of what is to be found there. I thought about it in terms of interest and engagement, and during my thoughts on this topic, an article appeared in the New York Times called “Teaching to the Text Message.” This powerful article describes the value of the “short writing assignment.” The author describes ways to engage and motivate students with writing for different purposes that represent 21st Century interactions: Texts, Tweets, Comments, Wall Remarks, etc.

When I’m working with teachers, I’m very careful to underscore that 21st Century instruction may or may not involve technology. It needs to involve communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creative problem solving, (from though the reality is that the technology makes all of those skills easier to integrate. As I think about what’s in the Core for Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Language, it’s important to note that the Core document specifically says, in several places, that it is NOT defining methodology. The WAY in which a teacher chooses to teach is their business...the CORE is helping to define the WHAT in specific and measurable ways.

The Huxley letter and the New York Times article started giving me ideas to transform writing instruction in terms of creativity, college and career readiness, and authentic tasks. (And knowing full well what is in the exemplar texts in the Appendices of the ELA Common Core as far as text complexity.) And while the CORE may not define the HOW, I thought it would be cool to share some new methodologies, such as the way the professor in the New York Times article is teaching, or how I personally connected (and began to think critically about connections and past learning) to the Huxley letter through a blog.

What follows are some technology resources that will hopefully serve a couple of purposes. For one, they are websites where you can engage new strategies for writing in an online, collaborative, and creative way. Additionally, the services themselves might give you ideas for writing that are beyond the computer, but still let you engage the students in the 21st Century skills they need to be Career and College Ready, all the while meeting objectives in the new Core Standards.

Check these sites out:

Famous Inboxes - How well would a student have to know a text to create something like this? This could be for popular characters, or could also be engaged in Science or Social Studies as an explorative activity of famous contributors to those content areas.

Shelf Awareness - A website looking for book reviewers. Students could potentially get paid for their writing. How’s that for authentic? How’s that for assessment? The students can start learning to measure the worth of the words they use in a completely new way.

My Fake Wall - Students create a “Facebook” like profile for characters or famous contributors to content areas. Like Famous Inboxes above, students need a very high level of understanding to be able to CREATE something like this. It’s fun, but could also serve as new learning evidence about whether or not they really “get it.”

Storybird and Storyjumper - Both websites let students create books online. Both services offer a real printed product. Both services are very much into the visual component which I think breeds ideas for writing. (And is a specific component of Marzano’s Instructional Strategies - check out Chpt. 6 specifically.).

Group Story - A collaboration website for students (or anyone else) to work on their writing around pictures they took and contributed to the service.

Today’s Meet - A Twitter-Like tool that teachers and students can use to write and respond in the moment, or as an online “side conversation” during teaching moments. It is based on brevity, collaboration, and interaction, and may help to flesh out the nuances of instruction as well as move conversations beyond a 50 minute learning period.

Novlet - (from their website:) Novlet is a web application designed to support collaborative writing of non-linear stories in any language. With Novlet you will be able to read stories written by other users, create your own ones, and choose the plot you like most from several alternatives.
Novlet stories are divided in passages, text sections usually made of a few paragraphs: users can continue stories or add alternative storylines by creating their passages after existing ones. The only limit is your fantasy.

More websites around writing can be found in my bookmarks HERE. Also, this list is where I’m constantly saving new things I find, so you always have an updated list of cool stuff I come across!

I want students to Crave learning in the New World. I want them to be excited and motivated within the learning context. That excitement breeds attention. Attention breeds learning. Learning breeds performance. (Anyone I’ve ever worked with---does that sound familiar?)

In Aldous’ final moments, Laura urged him to go, “onward and up.” She was giving him permission to move on, to let go. As I write this now, I think that’s a good message for what we want both teachers and students to do: “let go” of some of those traditional methodologies. “Move on” to a more engaged and joyful learning environment. Look “onward and up” in the scope of being a learning leader--where learning and performance are not by accident, because we know we’ve laid an incredibly solid foundation.

@fisher1000 on Twitter

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