Monday, April 30, 2007

Some Relevant Reading

I know everyone's got plenty to read and think about right now, but part of my role here in the AI is to help you think further about how and why blogging is a skill set that I think belongs in the classroom and in your own personal learning. This post by Christopher Sessums is one that might help you further your thinking a bit about how blogging works. His post is specifically about a study about mentoring student teaching, but it seems to me that there's some useful info and research in there for all teaching/learning situations. Here's an excerpt that is really a summation of the post. His writing closely mirrors my own thinking on the subject:

I guess I value weblogging mostly because it is a place where I can share my struggles and brainstorm solutions with others. My blog is a space where I can open up my own line of thinking and invite feedback. My blog is a place where valued colleagues and I can reciprocally reflect on dilemmas. It’s a space where we can learn together, a space where I can learn from my mistakes and make adjustments in my personal and professional practice.

Finally, my weblog is a space where I can be vulnerable and yet still feel safe and supported. For some odd reason, I’ve never been maliciously attacked for my points of view. Instead, I have noticed a wonderful sense of decorum among fellow educators that is truly remarkable if you think about it. I guess that’s why I still feel surprised when professional colleagues tell me they are afraid to blog because they are concerned about not being taken seriously or being overly criticized for their thoughts and feelings. Of course, there is no guarantee they won’t be. I guess it’s a matter of trust in the kindness of strangers.

Take a look at the rest of the post. What do you think? Are you beginning to see a safe space for documenting and sharing your thinking? Can you be professionally vulnerable and take a learning stance through blogging?

revised reading schedule & blogging buddies list

Below, I've posted the adjusted reading schedule and the new list of blogging buddies. Remember that:

1. If you're leading the book club discussion, you'll need to blog your post by the day indicated below.

2. If it's not your week to lead, you'll need to comment at least once in the two-week period between posts but preferably more times so that we can get a good conversation going. It's been going well so far, so keep up the good work!

3. In regard to your own blog on your research project, remember to continue posting at least once a week.

4. Also, be sure to comment on your blogging buddies' entries at least once a week. Nothing's more depressing than a post with "0 comments" :(.

Book Club Reading/Posting Schedule

4/16 – Cindy – Ch. 3 from The Book Club Companion

4/23 – Stacey - “Building on Success” (pp. 43-57)

5/7 – Renee – “An East Oakland Odyssey” (pp. 69-91)

5/21 – Natalie – “Inquiry for Equity” (pp. 11-20)

6/4 – Jason C. – “Introduction” + “Developing a Culture of Inquiry for Equity” (pp. 125-143)

6/18 – Steph - “A Practical Practice” (pp. 145-157)

6/25 – Rebecca - “Partners in Inquiry” (pp. 159-174) – NOTE: AI starts this day, so we’ll discuss this piece face-to-face.

Blogging Buddies

GROUP ONE: Natalie, Renee, Cindy
GROUP TWO: Steph, Rebecca, Jason C.
GROUP THREE: Stacey, Jason, Bud

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

quick, but good, news!

Cam, Rebecca, and I just found out that we'll be presenting our teacher research on book clubs at NCTE in the BIG APPLE. Deborah Appleman will be our chair/discussant. Now that does apply some urgency to the data collection and analysis, doesn't it....

Monday, April 23, 2007

Peanut Butter, Chocolate, and Hindi

Did you know that you can now post to your blog in Hindi? Amazing, simply amazing! And just to keep with the theme of things (and to keep everyone's vocabulary the same) I'm certain that you can post in Hindi while eating peanut butter and chocolate or one or the other or neither. Will miracles never cease?

Pirette McKamey's article "Building on Success: Changing Our Practice to Better Serve African American Students" provided me much to think about. I know I'm supposed to be reading like a researcher, but I keep reading as a reflective teacher and not so much a t-r. I'm still struggling to settle into this new t-r me, so bear with my long post/ramble. I promise, at least I'll try to promise, to get to something that will spark a discussion --eventually? ;0

First, I found the location and demographics of McKamey's school amazing (I also kept wondering what Hilary would do in the situation...) since northern Colorado is somewhat (lol!)lacking in diversity. Yet, however different the racial dynamics of Thurgood Marshall High School are in comparison to Eaton High School, I feel that the challenges academically are one in the same.

"If hard work, good intentions, subject-matter preparedness, dynamism, and administrative support are not adequate tools for increasing teachers' effectiveness in educating African American [insert Hispanic, Native American, low income, lacking supportive parents, etc.] students, what are?"(McKamey 44). Wow! What a questions she opted to tackle. I was impressed not only with the expansiveness of it but that she also had three years with the same students. (I'm glad when they leave after 180 days!)

The challenges within the English Department and (versus?) the rest of the school didn't shock me. Was anyone? It seemed as if they (the department and McKamey) attempted to create a situation with the entire staff that was similar to the department experience. I don't think you can ever truly re-create a situation --even with the same people much less a larger more eclectic group of people (who held some resentment right from the get-go). Should we attempt to re-create a situation? If so, why? how? benefits? Will this provide a topic for discussion? she wonders as she continues to type...

I did like the meeting protocol the three teachers (TRC) came up with. It seems like common sense, but being part of a group, I know how easy it is to become distracted with work related conversation as well as side bar comments. Setting up clear expectations works not only with students but with adults as well. (Hmmm... I'm sensing some overlap with my own research question of writing group dynamics and online postings.) Have we set up parameters? Do we need to? If so, how? Will this be the spark to ignite a fabulous discussion?

Finally, (yeah, finally, you're thinking!) I love that she ended with the power of her TRC. While I have one group who spurs me to contnue with my writing, I'm looking forward to creating another group who will encourage me to delve into t-r with the same enthusiasm. How exactly do we go about doing that? [insert your best Coffee Talk voice here] Discuss amongst yourselves.

*Complete side note. This probably deserves its own post. Be forewarned. Okay, really, this is the last comment. It may seem unrelated, but I’m not sure I’m really getting this book we’re reading. Can someone (Cindy? Bud? Jason? Anyone?) explain to me how the book Working toward Equity was chosen? I’ve read the two assigned articles, as well as the one by Aguilar (“An East Oakland Odyssey: Exploring the Love of Reading in a Small School”) and I’m confused how this book can help me become a better t-r. Is “equity” the thread throughout all teacher research? Is the book not intended to help me as a t-r, but to become more aware of equity or inequity within my school? job? profession? life? Am I the only one not seeing the correlation? Please advise.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Confession or A Blogger's Thoughts on the Author's Thoughts on the Author's Thoughts

This began as a comment to Cindy's book club post for this week. Your comments got my brain working. I started to jot down a few ideas. Then it got big and long and, well, possibly selfish, so I moved it out to its own space so at least it won't interrupt the flow of Cindy's discussion. I hope the post is helpful to the group as y'all are wrapping your heads around blogs and how they fit into teacher research -- and why I think the two probably belong together.

Read on:

Yeah, so I've only been stuck on the issue that y'all are discussing since I became a teacher. It's the reason that I blog and the reason why I can't finish my thesis.

Sort of. We're supposed to be a little self-indulgent in this space -- or did I read Cindy's post wrong?

See, I think a teacher-researcher is more systematic than a reflective teacher. I'm definitely a reflective teacher. Big time, reflective. I think about what I'm going to do before I do it, finally decide on what I'm going to do, sometimes just before I am doing it, and then I'm thinking about what I did after.

But that's not teacher research.
I agree with Cindy, and the authors that she cites, that just being reflective isn't enough. Digging back into data, analyzing it, and then reporting out that analysis is what distinguishes teacher research from reflective teaching.

And that's frustrating. Doing teacher research (and, for that matter, a thesis) means I've got to narrow in on only one thing. Extensively.

I'm not good at doing just one thing at a time -- ergo, I'm not so good at teacher research, even though I think I understand the different pieces of the process and am very curious about others' studies and questions and analysis.

I came so quickly to blogging because I felt that it helped me to approach the bits of teacher research that I was weak on. I blog about my teaching practice, focusing from time to time on specific areas of my teaching in order to help me understand them better, try out ideas, and to share what I'm learning as I go.

That's almost teacher research. It's several steps closer than just being reflective. But it's not the whole shebang, because I'm not specifically analyzing a particular dataset through the lens of a particular question or questions. I could argue that I am, and sometimes it's true, but the blog doesn't necessarily require that I stay with a set of questions or data through to the end product. In fact, I think one of the strengths of my blog is that you can get a little bit on a lot of topics by reading through the writing collected there.

When Cindy and I were presenting on teacher research at our site back in November at the NWP Annual Meeting, we had just had the big "we should put an AI together" conversation on the airplane. We were dreaming big and the wheels were turning in our brains. We shared some of what we had in mind with our roundtable group. Paul Allison, a blogger that I've "known" for a while through blogging and podcasting and commenting, but had never met until that day, was there, and he said something that's stuck with me ever since. And I mean really, really stuck with me. Middle of the night can't get to sleep stuck, if you can believe it. What he said was basically:

We (meaning bloggers) have tons of data. But we never analyze it.

I paraphrased a little, but that was the core of his statement. I can't get it out of my head. That's the flaw in so much of my teaching career. I've got the information. I've asked the questions. I've collected the data. But I haven't done the analysis.

I want very much to figure out how to bridge the practices of blogging (the verb -- here's a post about that) with those of teacher research. It gets tricky right away and the two aren't quite the same, but I think they can inform each other.

Is there maybe a thesis in there?

So, anyway, I've been very selfish about this whole notion of an Advanced Institute. For me, from the start, this has been about putting together the best of the technology and the best of the teaching practices and seeing what works together. I want to figure out how these two very essential items complement and inform the other. I think it's a chocolate and peanut butter relationship. If I can figure out how to document it, analyze it formally, and write it up, perhaps I've finally gotten the thesis out of the way.

Like I said -- a big post. I'd be interested in all y'all's responses, if it made any sense.

Monday, April 16, 2007

the author’s thoughts on the author’s thoughts

Okay, well I hope this entry isn’t as solipsistic* as the title sounds… (*WORD OF THE DAY: solipsistic: adj., characterized by extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one's feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption).

Before I get to those thoughts, though, I want you to stop and read the posting immediately below this one because it includes the reading schedule and an overall sense of how I think this online book club thing can work.

Are you finished reading that post yet? Okay, on with today’s reading…

I originally asked you to read this chapter for two reasons: 1) to see how a teacher-research (t-r) question can stretch out and morph over a number of years, and 2) to see my transition from basic reflective teacher to more deliberate teacher researcher.

After re-reading the chapter myself today, I still wonder what you think about how this chapter sheds light on those two topics. Do teacher research questions ever really get answered in some definitive way? In your opinion, what makes someone a bonafide teacher researcher?

You know all those times you wanted to ask the author what she really meant to say? Well, now’s your chance. Post a comment, and let’s start talking ☺.

reading schedule + how this is going to work

At the bottom of this post, you’ll see the schedule for our online book club. With the exception of the 6/18 reading, everything else is from Working toward Equity, the purple book you got at the orientation. On your assigned Monday, you’ll be responsible for writing the lead post that will guide our discussion of the chapter at hand. I recommend that it’s not super-long, just enough to get us commenting.

So what should you say in your post? If you scroll several entries down this blog, you’ll find a post called “Welcome.” In that post, I offer a few prompts to get you started, but you’re smart people, and I KNOW you have something to say that will get us thinking and talking.

If you’re on the commenting end of things, just visit the blog enough during the week to make at least one comment before we move on to the next article. After a while, I’m trusting that we’ll learn how to have a “conversation” via comments. At least that’s what generally happens on other active blogs I’ve visited. So here’s the schedule:

4/16 – Cindy – Ch. 3 from The Book Club Companion

4/23 – Stacey - “Building on Success” (pp. 43-57)

4/30 – Renee – “An East Oakland Odyssey” (pp. 69-91)

5/7 – Jackie – “Taking Tests” (pp. 93-100)

5/14 – Natalie – “Inquiry for Equity” (pp. 11-20)

5/21 – Sherry – “Introduction” + “Developing a Culture of Inquiry for Equity” (pp. 125-143)


6/4 – Jason C. – “A Practical Practice” (pp. 145-157)

6/11 – Steph – “Partners in Inquiry” (pp. 159-174)

6/18 – Rebecca – “How Colleagues Change Colleagues’ Minds” (English Journal article – Cindy will e-mail this)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

permission from parents

I just finished thumbing through a couple of handy t-r books--Teacher Researchers at Work and Ethical Issues in Practitioner Research--that we'll be looking at this summer to see what they say about gaining permission to conduct research in your classroom. Of course, both of them say you gotta do it, but a chapter in the second book, which is written by a teacher research team in a school district, argues that we do it for ethical reasons as well as legal ones. In fact, the section where they talk about permissions is called "How Do We Protect the Rights of Students and Families While Encouraging Teacher Research?"

They recommend a "graduated process of consent" so that parents can get a sense of how t-r is helping the teacher better serve the needs of the kids and allowing her/him to contribute to the profession via conference presentations and professional publications. Here's what the system looks like:

1. Teachers use back-to-school opportunities like back-to-school night, newsletters, conferences, etc. to let parents know that teacher research is an integral part of their teaching. They ask parents to sign a blanket release to collect student work created in the normal process of the class. They explain that these materials might become part of a professional presentation or publication at some time. They also explain that pseudonyms will be used.

2. When teachers decide to write something up for professional publication and actually want to use an individual kid's work, they send a targeted release form to the parents explaining that they want to use the child's work or quote her/him or whatever. The teacher researcher they mention also sends copies of the final publication to parents if they're interested.

I've personally never used the targeted release form myself, but I can see reasons for doing so. The forms that I previously e-mailed you fall either in the category of blanket release or some combination of the two.

In Teacher Researchers at Work, Marion Maclean and Marian Mohr also talk about permission slips in a chapter on ethical principles where they say that teacher researchers should conduct their research openly with their colleagues, students, and parents (this, btw, is another reason why experimental research studies are tough to conduct). They suggest that parent concerns are rare but almost always allayed if you're willing to "talk calmly and repeatedly with anyone who will listen about the relationship between your teaching and your research" (p. 129). I find it interesting that in all the years I've sent permission slips home, I've never had a parent inquiry.

Below, I've adapted and condensed a form of the permission slip Maclean and Mohr include in this chapter so that you can cut and paste it if you want to:

Dear Parents,
I am a member of the CSU Writing Project Teacher Research group. The teachers in this group study the learning of their students by collecting and analyzing classroom data. As teacher-researchers, we present and write about our research as a way to share what we have learned with other teachers. This year, I am interested in these research questions:


In order to present and write about our research, we often find it necessary to quote students or include excerpts from their work. Before we include any student's comments or work, however, we obtain written permission from parents. In addition, we change students' names and sometimes change details about them in order to protect their privacy.

I would like your permission to quote your child and/or use excerpts from her/his work in the event that I share my research in a professional conference presentation or publication. Please sign and return the form at the bottom of the page if you agree to this.

Thanks in advance for your support!
INSERT YOUR NAME, Member of the CSU Writing Project Teacher Research Group
INSERT YOUR CONTACT INFO. (E-mail and phone)

Permission form
I grant permission for INSERT TEACHER'S NAME to refer to the work of my child, _________, in her/his research report. I understand that INSERT TEACHER'S NAME will use a pseudonym in place of my child's real name.

Signed _______________________ Date __________________

One last thing I'd mention is that when I was teaching h.s., I always gave my administrator the heads-up in case s/he got any parent questions. They were always interested and (luckily) supportive once they heard that the main reason I was doing this was to be a better teacher.

Hope this stuff helps.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Blog Aggregator

I wanted to first thank everyone for a great start to the 1st Annual CSUWP AI. Based on yesterday's meeting, both Cindy and I think that it is already off to an amazing start. That's because of all of the work that you have already begun.

As for the Blog Aggregator, I realize many of you don't plan on using Bloglines and I understand why it may not be the route you want to go right now. But if you are interested, I stumbled into Google Reader, an aggregator that is tied to blogger and seems a bit more for those of us that aren't on Bud's level yet. I never used Bloglines but I'll use Google Reader, primarily because it is easy to follow and allows direct links to blogs and specific entries.

I like it... check it out if you are interested. Click on your account info once in Blogger and follow the links to Google Reader.

See you soon.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

cindy's thoughts on "Finding Myself in My Inquiry"

I only have about 8 minutes before our reading time is up, but I thought I'd try out an entry anyway so that we could get an idea about how this book club blog is gonna work.

What struck me about the overall content of this piece

What I found most striking was Sarah Capitelli's realization that her interpretation of ELD students' participation in her class differed from her interpretation. They actually thought they participated frequently, but she just wasn't seeing it. I was struck by her admission on p. 35 that "...I tend to organize data based on my viewpoint as a white, well-educated, middle-class woman." Throughout her article, I experienced the same surprises she did because I think I would have had the same initial interpretations that she did.

What struck me about her question
Actually, she had more than one. The first one she started with was definitely big, but the smaller questions that spun out of it actually led to more detailed findings than her first questions probably would've.

What I learned about her methods
I learned how important it was to use multiple methods (think how different her conclusions would've been if she had only journaled or only distributed the surveys or only had her teaching assistant (Karina) interview the kids. Same thing about seeking other perspectives. If she hadn't shared her inquiry with her teacher research group, she probably wouldn't have uncovered the realization that I comment on above.

The Inquiry Cycle (in a linear post)

After we introduced ourselves, Cindy asked us to think about the inquiry cycle, as inquiry is why we're here. It's really hard to draw a cycle diagram right now, so imagine that each of these steps fits into each other and feeds each other. Sometimes, we change our question, or we re-collect more data, or we report and that changes our question, etc. Hopefully, this little list will help you to remember the cycle and how it works.

  1. What do I want to know? We get fascinated in or curious about a piece of our teaching. That's asking questions.

  2. How will I find out? We start collecting data about that piece of our teaching. That's, um, data collection.

  3. How do I make sense of what I've found? Looking at the data with a critical lens can help us to identify patterns and connections that we didn't seen before. That's data analysis.

  4. How do I share what I've learned? Now that I understand that piece of my teaching better, how do I share what I've learned? That's reporting or sharing your findings.

  5. Now you have new questions. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

A Good Slogan

We're here sharing stories about significant objects to us as a way to get started and to meet each other. Thanks to Renee's object -- a nine-year-old Snapple lid -- we've got a great slogan for both technology and inquiry work:
Win nothing instantly.


Hello, everyone,
I feel as if every activity in the AI should be preceded by the old routine: "This is a test, this is only test...." I've never participated in an online book club before, and I'm guessing a lot of you haven't either, so we'll see how it goes. At this point, though, here's my thinking about how we'll operate:

Starting on April 16, we'll begin our online book club via this blog. The first article you'll read is my chapter from The Book Club Connection that you received on Saturday. As you'll see, this chapter focuses on my transition from reflective teacher to teacher researcher. You'll also see how a perennial question I had about book clubs evolved over time.

Jason will write the first post and lead the ensuing "discussion" for this chapter, and all of the rest of us will need to visit the blog often enough to participate by making AT LEAST ONE COMMENT based on what Jason and others are saying. I'm guessing we'll visit more than once and will want to comment more frequently, but that's at least enough to get us started.

Then at some point between now and the summer AI session, you'll be responsible for leading a discussion just as Jason did. I haven't written that reading/lead post schedule yet because I'm still narrowing down the chapters we'll want to use from Working toward Equity, but I'll post it early next week.

I'm sure the conversations will take on a life of their own, but some guiding questions that might help you as you read and make your lead post are the same ones we used at the orientation, plus a few more:

* What strikes you concerning the overall content of this chapter?
* What strikes you about the question the teacher researcher is asking? What difference did it make for the teacher, kids, school, or education in general?
* What did you learn from the methods s/he used to answer it?
* What connections did you make between this teacher researcher's approach and the approach you're taking?

Okay, I think that's enough to know for now. I'm eager to see where this goes, and I hope you are, too. Happy posting!
- Cindy

Friday, April 6, 2007

Let's blog. Word.

If you're reading this post, odds are pretty good that you're about to be, or already are, a blogger. This morning, at the first meeting of our Advanced Institute, it's my job to introduce you to the tools that you'll be using as you get going with blogging. You should be thinking about two tools in particular today -- your blog and your aggregator.
The blog is where you'll do your writing, thinking, reflecting, and sharing. The aggregator is where you're going to build a network of writers to help you do the writing, thinking, etc. above. For our purposes, we'll be using Blogger to, um, well - blog. We'll be using a web-based aggregator, called Bloglines, to do the collecting and reading.
Below you'll find some instructions that I've used with some of you to create blogs previously. Don't worry if you've tried to blog and it didn't work out. Today, we start fresh, unless you have a blog that you'd like to continue using from the past.
Here's a link to those instructions. Ignore the time suggestions -- but follow the steps, if you need to. Create a Google Account and then get going on a blog. Once you've written a short first post -- perhaps you want to write about the writing you did this morning, or why you're participating in this institute -- then post the URL of your blog into the comments for this post.
Then go ahead and set up a Bloglines account. You'll want to come back here and get everyone's blog URL to stick into your aggregator. Eventually, all the blogs will end-up in the sidebar of this blog, too, in case you lose track of somebody.
Questions? Cindy, Jason, or I will be around to answer them.

Thursday, April 5, 2007


Welcome to the CSUWP Advanced Institute mother-blog. This blog will serve two functions -- the first is that it'll be the central spot for discussion and conversation around the ideas of the CSUWP Advance Institute. The second is that it'll be the space for the book club discussions around the book Working toward Equity: Writings and Resources from the Teacher Research Collaborative.